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


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

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

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. ❤️

Love Mandate

“A new commandment I give you: Love one another.” John 13:34

Mandates are not real popular these days. It seems nobody likes being told what to do. Some people expend enormous amounts of time and energy either supporting or opposing mandates that come down from places of authority. The debate rages on between standing up for our individual freedoms and laying down our rights for the good of others. I’m not about to wade into those murky waters. Our silly arguments pale in light of Jesus’ final words to His followers.

The night before Jesus was killed, He issued a mandate to His disciples:
Love one another.

Growing up Jewish, the disciples were used to commandments. They knew the Big 10, they were well versed in the 613 precepts found in the writings of Moses, and the hundreds of added Pharisaical laws were familiar to them. There hadn’t been any new commandments for hundreds of years. The people had their hands full trying to obey all the old ones.

This command was different.
It was not a suggestion.
(“You guys might want to try getting people to love each other.”)
It was not based on emotions.
(“Love people when that ooey-gooey feeling overtakes you.”)
It had no conditions.
(“Love people, but only those who are lovable.”)

This command was new.
Love was to be the distinguishing factor in the movement that was about to take over the world.

This begs some questions:

Can you command someone to love? Apparently, yes.
Do we need to be commanded to love? Evidently.
Does Jesus have the authority to command this? Yep.
Is this commandment optional? No siree.
Who are we commanded to love? Other believers.
Why do we need this commandment? Because it’s not our natural default.
Does God expect us to obey this mandate? Absolutely.
Where can we find an example of this? John 15:13

Do Christians have the right to not love?
I say no.

What say you?