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

Sink or Swim (or Walk)

Almost two months ago, I left Peter precariously sinking
and Jesus joyfully reaching. (See last post.)

Looking back, I think I wrote that because I was in the same boat.

On June 30th, PB and I stepped out of full time ministry after serving churches for 35 years. We weren’t sure how to walk into this new thing called retirement. The solid ground of schedules and Sunday services and cyclical seasons gave way to uncertain footing, wind and waves included. Two months have passed and although we haven’t sunk, we still feel a bit precarious, so I finally returned to Peter to see what happened after Jesus reached out His hand and caught him.

“And when they climbed into the boat…” (Matt. 14:32)

Think about it.
Jesus pulled Peter out of the swirling waters.
And then they walked together back to the boat.
On the water.

They didn’t swim back to the boat. Why would Peter dog-paddle when Jesus was standing there, holding his hand, smiling? Of course they walked back to the boat! On the water! In the wind!

“And when they climbed back into the boat, the wind died down”.

All of this change and restructuring of daily life will eventually die down. We will get the hang of this new season. In the meantime, wind and waves won’t take us down if we are holding on to our Life Preserver. Instead of focusing on the uncertainties, we will fix our eyes on Jesus and walk with Him wherever He leads.

Sink

I’m glad Peter stepped out of the boat and walked on water.
He showed what it looks like to walk by faith.

I’m even happier that Peter began to sink.
He demonstrated what to do when faith falters.

But when he saw the wind,
he was afraid and,
beginning to sink,
cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Matthew 14:30

We don’t know if Peter took two steps or twenty.
We aren’t told how far he got from the safety of the boat.
It is not reported if the water came up to his knees or his neck.

All we know is that Peter panicked and thought he was going down.
So he shouted that magnificent prayer: “Help!”

“Immediately Jesus reached out His hand and caught him.”
Matthew 14:31

Immediately.
Jesus caught the fisherman.

And He did it, according to this artist’s rendering, with a smile on His face.

There is no tsk-tsk-ing, no disappointed sigh, no frown of rebuke.
Instead, Jesus rejoices in any step of faith, even if we flounder.
He smiles and catches us so we can try again.
And again. And again.

In my distress I screamed to the Lord for his help.
And he heard me; my cry reached his ears…
He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
He drew me out of deep waters.
Psalm 18:6, 16

Jump In

I’m not a swimmer.

Although I took swimming lessons as a kid and spent lots of summer afternoons at the pool in town, I avoided the deep end and certainly never dove off the diving board. I attribute this to the fact that I couldn’t wear my glasses in the pool. Due to my extreme nearsightedness, I had trouble keeping track of my friends and I was a little scared I might jump in the wrong end. And drown. That would be embarrassing. So I hung out on the edges of the pool, admiring my buddies who could cannonball with wild abandon. (I couldn’t see them, but I felt the splash.)

As an adult, I continue to be a toe-dipper, ever-so-gradually working my way into a pool. Since having lasik eye surgery over 25 years ago, my excuse is invalid now, yet the lack of confidence remains. Pretty sure I wouldn’t last more than a few minutes in the open sea.

Peter and I have a lot in common.
When Jesus invited him to walk on the water,
Peter hesitated for good reason.
Jews didn’t swim.

The Israelites were more at home traversing the desert than taking a dip. Seas represented chaos and symbolized unpredictable evil. The “deep” was a place where monstrous creatures lived, namely Leviathan. Jews in ancient times didn’t spend their days off at the beach.

Fishing, in particular, was considered an extremely dangerous profession since it required proximity to water. It wasn’t uncommon for fishermen to fall overboard while pulling in nets filled with fish. Drowning accidents took many lives, further proving the vile threat of the murky, watery depths.

Jumping out of the boat,
Peter walked on the water to Jesus.”
Matthew 14:29

For Peter, stepping out of the boat onto the turbulent waves was akin to a death sentence if Jesus didn’t do something miraculous. Peter wasn’t trying out a “Jesus-trick”; he was demonstrating the length his faith would go to obey the Lord. If Jesus said “come”, then Peter would put his life on the line to go. Maybe this was the point when Jesus knew: Here was a man with enough guts to go into all the world, make disciples in every nation and build a church.

One disciple got out of the boat while the other eleven watched.
Lord knows, there are enough of us observing from the safety of our boats.
Sink or swim, let’s jump in.

“Guard my life, for I am faithful to you.”
Psalm 86:2

Jump

Can anybody give me a jump?

This is what I think I need.
I sit and wait for some kind of electrical spark to jolt my words back to life.
I hope for a new form of inspiration to come along and charge me up.
I assume that a transfusion of external energy is the answer.
I think I need a jump.

But maybe this is what I really need.
I need to jump.

What does it mean to jump? Author Shelene Bryan defines it like this:

Jumping is an act of your will to use your God-given gifts to affect others. It is an action, a choice followed by movement, a decision resulting in moving feet. Jumping involves moving from a state of inertia. If you are not using your God-given gifts to help others, you’ve got to expend some energy to get moving. You have got to jump.

Love Skip Jump, Shelene Bryan

Since my last post in February, I admit I have been in a state of inertia. That happens to me when I’m in the midst of major change – I freeze. And PB and I are smack dab in the middle of a big one. We are moving out of our home of 18 years and moving into a whole new season of life. It’s exciting and terrifying.

I usually don’t like to write about things until I’m safely on the other side, having thought it through and figured it out. But for four months now, I’ve been pondering and processing what this thing called “retirement” means and I’m not even close.

So I’ll dive back into my “small drop of ink” with no answers, but loads of curiosity about life and faith and family. I’m ready to jump.

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

I Like You

PB and I exchange cards on Valentine’s Day.
That’s it.
No flowers, no candy, no fancy dinner out.

Even buying a card seems extravagant these days. Next year, I’m going to take my love to Walmart and peruse the valentine section, pick out a card, have him read it, then put it back on the rack. I may even give him a kiss right there in aisle three. We might hold hands as we walk out to the parking lot. With the money we saved, we could pick up a burger and fries and eat it in the car on the way home. Sounds perfect.

This year, however, we did splurge on cards
and PB found just the right one for me.

Forty-two and a half years ago,
we promised to love and cherish each other.
I’ve never once doubted PB’s love for me since that day.
We never promised to like each other though.

And there have been many days since August 25, 1979 that I’m pretty sure he didn’t like me too much. I know that because there were some days I didn’t like him either. But we loved each other still.

Love is a given.
We vowed to love each other
and every day we choose to make good on that promise.

But to be liked?
That’s different.

It means he would choose me for a friend even if we weren’t a couple.
It means he appreciates my quirky ways, even finding delight in them.
It means he’s genuinely interested in what I’m doing and where I’m going.
It means he would rather have me along than go somewhere alone.

He doesn’t just put up with me.
He likes me.

I think it’s possible that my Valentine card is a reflection of Divine Love.
Sure, God loves us. He has to. He promised He would.
But I also think He really, really likes us.
He chooses us,
delights in us,
is interested in us,
desires us to join Him.

“This is what the Lord says… You are mine.” Isaiah 43:1

How sweet it is to be liked by You. ❤️

An Ocean of Ink

Last week I came across the words of an old hymn,
“The Love of God”.
It was written by Frederick Lehman in 1917.

Lehman pastored several churches in the midwest, but what he really loved to do was write songs. At age 50, he came up against some hard times and moved his family to California where he got a warehouse job packing oranges and lemons into wooden crates. After hearing a rousing sermon on God’s love one Sunday evening, he couldn’t sleep. Words to a song began to form and he continued composing as he packed fruit the next morning. Soon two stanzas were complete. He felt it needed a third verse, but nothing came.

Several days later, he opened a book and a handwritten poem fell out. It had been a gift from someone who explained that the poem had been found 200 years earlier, written on the cell wall of a prison. One of the guards had found it after the prisoner died and he jotted the words down before painting over it.

When Lehman read the poem,
he knew immediately it was his third verse.
It was a miraculous, perfect fit.

Later, it was discovered that the poem dated back to 1000 A.D. and was written by a Jewish Rabbi. Somehow the Hebrew was translated to English and found its way to a prison cell. Somehow it was preserved by a guard and passed through hands until it landed in a book on Frederick Lehman’s shelf. Somehow the rhythm of the poem matched the meter of Lehman’s song exactly.

The hymn was completed in 1917, while these world events were being played out:

  • America declared war on Germany, sending the first combat troops to France
  • A world-wide influenza pandemic struck, killing 20 million by 1920
  • 15,000 African Americans silently walked down 5th Avenue in New York to protest racial discrimination

Things haven’t changed much.
We still need the love of God desperately.

“Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made;
Were every tree on earth a quill,
And everyone a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure;
The saints’ and angels’ song!”