The Lesson of the Peony

 

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“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 
and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.”
 – 1 Peter 1:3-4a, NIV –

Today, my friend Lizzie and I drove back and forth across town on a wild treasure hunt for a flower.

I’ve never grown peonies before , but I’m reading Roots and Sky by Christie Purifoy and her Instagram photos of impossibly-delightful peonies inspire me. Fall is in the air, and with it, my dreams of fluffy, dreamy, extravagant blossoms awaiting in the next gardening year.

So I needed a peony.

Now, my town is quite small. Only the arrival of tourists a few times a year manages to tip us over 3,000 people. “Driving across town” only takes about ten minutes. And our gardening options were very limited. We started with our favorite all-American corporate chain, proceeded to a grocery store with a tiny, empty 8×8 greenhouse, checked the lumber store’s collection of plants –actually the most impressive thus far–then drove to the local farm supply. It was our last great hope. But alas. No peonies in the whole town.

We thought our search was in vain. I picked up a few discount packets of seeds in a distant hope of spring planting and waited in the farm supply line to check out…and then the lady standing next to us overheard us lamenting our fruitless search. “There’s peonies at the lumber store,” she says. We explain that we had already looked there, among the spring bulbs. “They aren’t displayed with the bulbs,” she tells us. “She has them in pots.”

Liz whips out her phone and calls the lumber store greenhouse. Sure enough, they have a whole collection of $12.99 peonies.

Back across town we go and there they are…a cluster of black pots with tiny, gnarled, crispy-leaved plants tucked into the top layer of dirt, poking up little wrinkled limbs well past their prime. The tag promises a giant, perfectly-coral blossom.

“They die back in the fall and go dormant in the winter,” the gardener explains. “They’ll come back in the spring.”

So I buy a big black pot with a tiny, crusty-edged leaf hanging on to a twisted root half-unearthed. It costs $12.99. Almost thirteen dollars for a dying hope that won’t blossom at all until later.

I hand over a $20 bill and continue to pepper the woman with questions about how to care for this tiny, twisted hope. “Don’t be surprised if it doesn’t bloom for a few seasons,” she smiles. “It has to get big enough first.”

I nod and let my mind wander to a possible planting place. I’m dreamy with thoughts of spring.

So Liz and I load up the almost-vacant plastic pot into the back of the van and drive home. We grin because our treasure hunt was not in vain. I think finding a treasure after a long hunt must be the best part of an adventure.

The peony plant is safely tucked into the garage now, waiting for me to decide on a sunny growing place for it to call home. As I go about my day, I keep thinking back to that tiny, twiggy promise of a plant. People look at it doubtfully, because it really looks like the dying end of something.

My heart keeps jumping when I remember that this is not a dead and dying thing. My peony is a living hope. It is quiet and sleepy and browning. But it is alive. Something stirs in me when I think that the whole glorious potential of a 3-foot tall bush brimming with giant coral blossoms lies dormant in this dead-looking twig.

My peony keeps telling me stories, because it is itself a story, and a tying-together of my story.

I have no idea what tomorrow brings, what I will do in a year, or what changes may crop up moment by moment. While still a fragile, uncertain thing itself, the potential of the peony teaches me about steady things that anchor us in the middle of the ups and downs of life.

Planting this little whisper of spring is like putting down my roots and saying, “I will be fully here, as long as I am here.” It is a reminder that what I do today lasts, even as the moments fade away. It is a reminder that my Jesus put me here now, for this season.

This peony teaches me that there is an overarching story to the moments that I string together like pearls. Unique and tiny as each moment is, it is adding up to something bigger.

Sometimes I think anxiously about the future, wondering what it will bring.

But something about the peony ties my today and my tomorrow together in a rhythmic strength. Spring will come, as long as the earth remains, and when that spring comes, this dead-looking twig will jump to life and burst up with joy and blossom out in abundance.

And I smile when I think that all this life is packed into the wispy, fading, half-buried root waiting in my garage.

Lizzie says that maybe we are not just planting the peony. Maybe the peony is planting  us, down deep into life. Deep into faith in One who chases winter away every year with a new resurrection of creation.

“Spring will come,” the peony whispers. “There is more life here than you could ever imagine.”

“Look, the winter is past,
    and the rains are over and gone.
The flowers are springing up,
    the season of singing birds has come,
    and the cooing of turtledoves fills the air.

 – Song of Solomon 2:11-12, NLT –

When Jesus Says Hi

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 “And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him.”

– Matthew 28:9, ESV –


I imagine that they were having a rotten day.

Surely the disciples had never been more discouraged. After the crucifixion, grief numbed them. Guilty for running, angry with the injustice of it all, they hid.  And how empty they must have felt. What, after three years of following the Teacher, did they have to show for it? What’s more…where did they have to go?

Sometimes, when I read their story, I forget that this was real, that these disciple names belong to eternal souls that I will meet in person one day.

And, among pages and narrations, I forget the humanity behind the words. They were surely at their darkest moment spiritually. Lost without a leader. Petrified that they would be next to be condemned and left to suffocate on a cross. Absolutely alone, even as they huddled together. Absolutely miserable.

Matthew says that two women–both named Mary–went to see the tomb (Matthew 28:1). Other gospels mention that a group of women went with spices to put on his corpse (Mark 16:1-4; Luke 24:1-3; John 20:1). Maybe they just wanted to see one more time, to assure their doubting minds that, yes, He was really gone. He was really dead.

These women, who just went to see the tomb, saw a whole lot more than they bargained for.

Angels in blinding white. Sprawled guards, tumbled every which way. Ground that trembled with unutterable joy.

And the words.

“He is going  before you.”

So they ran.


This is where it gets good.

Because I have been in tough places. Haven’t you?

I’ve been through some of those times when you just don’t know what comes next. It all seems dark. You thought a rescue was on the way, but it doesn’t seem to be coming.

And then it happens.

You’re trudging on your way and Jesus shows up.

And what does He say?

Not “Ta da!” Not “I am here to rescue you.” Not “You sure were impatient.”

He showed up in those women’s path and said hello.

“Greetings,” some versions say.

My family read this passage yesterday, and this greeting struck me as odd. These women have been grieving Him as dead for days. Plus, they’ve just had the shock of their lives, being told by a real angel that Jesus had risen. Talk about whiplash!

And then He shows up and says hi.

So, curious, I looked up this strange word.

“Greetings,” the ESV records.

But it is a strange, wonderful word, this greeting.

Chairo. It is Greek, and it means “greetings, salutations, hello.” 

But it also means, “Rejoice!” The common New Testament words for joy (chara), and grace (charis) comes from this root word for “greetings” or “rejoice.”

And it thrills through me.

How when all was lost and dark and hopeless for these sorrowing women, Jesus showed up. And there is no rebuke, no victorious declaration. Just a greeting.

A greeting that says to them, “Be glad! I am risen! So be full of joy.”

Two things stand out to me about this passage.

First, when we think Jesus has abandoned us, He still shows up. Whether we are in a deep pit of hopelessness or in a tizzy of doubt and disbelief, or overcome by wondering “Is He really back? Do we dare believe the light and the voice, saying that He is living and powerful?”– He still shows up. And, in coming, He calls us to rejoice.

Second, I am overcome by this greeting. Wow. To have such powerful ideas wrapped up in one word, Chairo.

Chairo. Hi there. Rejoice. There is hope. Don’t give up. Jesus is back.

And I wonder how we can speak Chairo. Ann Voskamp, in her One Thousand Gifts, talks about eucharisteo, a related word for giving thanks. She orients her whole thesis around this Greek beauty of a word, aligning her sorrowing soul with its teachings, reminding herself of the blessing of obeying in the command to “give thanks always” (1 Thess. 5:18).

Something like that can be done with Chairo, I think. There is a lifestyle wrapped in this word. Like being a light, or being salt. Like this picture Jesus paints:

“Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” – John 7:38, ESV

Can you hear the fountain pouring in that Chairo greeting? It is the sound of all the hope and joy and possibility flowing back into the lives of all who loved Jesus.

So, I want to speak Chairo. When I say hello, I want to be overflowing with this message: “Hi there. Rejoice! Jesus is alive!”

Sometimes it will be words. Sometimes, maybe Chairo can be held in a smile, or a loving touch, or a hand reaching out to give help.

But there will always be a message behind Chairo. For all those in darkness, Chairo signals the beginning of the light.

Even today, He says “Chairo” — “Rejoice!” — to our doubting hearts. Philippians 3:1 says “Chairo in the Lord, always”! And the joy bubbles up, because Jesus was not in the tomb. He was right alongside the women, and now He is right alongside us.

The tomb days are over. The resurrection life has begun. So let’s live out this chairo, this rejoicing.

Because that’s what happens when Jesus says hi.


“When the heart is full of joy, it always allows its joy to escape. It is like the fountain in the marketplace; whenever it is full it runs away in streams, and so soon as it ceases to overflow, you may be quite sure that it has ceased to be full. The only full heart is the overflowing heart.”

– Charles Spurgeon –

Whitewash and Passover Lambs

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“Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas to the Praetorium, and it was early morning. But they themselves did not go into the Praetorium, lest they should be defiled, but that they might eat the Passover. Pilate then went out to them and said, ‘What accusation do you bring against this Man?’ “

– John 18:28-29 –


I was cooking breakfast last week, listening to the book of John on audio CD, when this passage above started playing.

And it struck me.

The Sanhedrin, after conducting an illegal trial all through the night, appear at Pilate’s doorstep with Jesus in hand.

But they won’t go in.

“…lest they should be defiled…”

After all, that would be breaking the Law. Far be it from them to do that.

Their audacity–to flaunt themselves as religious examples to the rest of Israel, to drag God’s own Son to the judgment court of Rome at dawn–shocked me in a way it never had before.

Then I had to ask it (a good question to asked whenever we are shocked and angered at the sin of someone else):

Am I guilty of the same thing?

Like the Sanhedrin, do I have my own set of moral standards that are only used to make myself look good, better than others? Do I break God’s law all night and then have the guts to say in the light of dawn, “Oh, no, I could never do that. That would displease God.”

That reflection made me pause a little while, but then I ventured on to the next phrase.

“…that they might eat the Passover.”

Let that sink in a moment.

They didn’t want to go into a Gentile’s residence so they would be clean, so they could partake of the Passover.

Do you see?

In Exodus 12, God instructed Moses to institute the Passover. It was the last night of the Israelites’ 400-year stay in Egypt, and the hard-hearted Pharaoh had gone back on his word over and over, still refusing to release the Israelite slaves.

So God told His people to take lambs (one for each household), eat the meat, and paint the blood on the doorposts of their houses. God was sending judgment on Egypt, and only the homes covered by the blood would be spared.

That night, all of Egypt’s firstborns died, while Israel exited their land of exile with rejoicing.

Passover, for the Jewish people, is a time of remembrance, even today. In the day of the Sanhedrin, the Jews celebrated it regularly, journeying to Jerusalem from afar to corporately celebrate God’s salvation.

So…the angry Sanhedrin members stop at Pilate’s steps that morning, unwilling to make themselves ceremonially unclean just before this sacred festival. They want to eat the Passover lamb.

But they don’t realize something.

In their fascination with cleanliness, in their preoccupation with the minutiae of the Law (or at the least the parts of it that they liked), in their zeal for eradicating Israel of this rabbi who eats with thieves and prostitutes–they don’t realize the most important fact of all.

The Passover lamb was about to die.

And He was standing right in front of them, clothes tattered by now, face swelling from where they had struck Him (Matthew 26:67).

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. – Matthew 23:27

Jesus had earlier spoken these words about this group of religious leaders–perhaps many of the same men that had just spent the night striking him and twisting his words into some semblance of guilt. And Jesus was right.

They had the outside looking pretty good: Passover lamb purchased. Check. Bitter herbs growing in the garden. Check. Stayed ceremonially clean all day. Check.

But it was all whitewash, wasn’t it? Just a way to gloss over the fact that inside they were full of stench and rottenness. And so they stood on Pilate’s steps shouting for Jesus to be condemned–not realizing that they were offering up the Last Passover Lamb.

They didn’t know that, with all their zeal for the Law, they were about to crucify the Lawgiver Himself.

They didn’t know that, with all their ceremonies and decorum, they were executing the very God they claimed to serve.


As I reflect on this startling moment, I feel deep in my bones that I am like those men of the Sanhedrin.

Prone to dressing up the outside while neglecting my inner life. Prone to deadly myopia, not seeing the God that surrounds my every moment. Prone to conjuring my own version of God’s law–a version that I can keep and apply to other people.

But, you know…as profitable and convicting as those reflections are, I want to leave you with this idea. Please, let it sink in and flood you with joy:

Jesus was the Last Passover Lamb, the truest one that had ever been killed, the last sacrifice that would ever need to be slaughtered.

And when He was hung between heaven and earth, His joyful obedience in going to the cross was like a giant paintbrush across the dark heavens.

In strokes of dark blood, the skies were, in essence, stained with this message:

Covered by the blood.

The souls of all His chosen ones were stamped with this eternally-effective bloodstain (John 17:1-3). Protected. Covered. Sealed everlastingly.

It was an unspoken message to Almighty God, His Father.

It is finished, Father. Pass over these little ones.

So in a paradox of metaphors, Jesus was both the Passover Lamb and the Condemned First-born of Egypt. His blood was the seal that made God’s wrath pass over–and He himself was the Wrath-bearer, the firstborn son that died in God’s judgment of rebellion.

See, we’re the white-washed, and we’re the blemished lambs, and we’re the condemned children.

But then the everlasting God becomes the everlasting God-Man.

And strung up like a bandit, bleeding from the cruelty of His own creation, He laughs death square in the face and marches to the grave with His head lifted high.

Dying mangled, torn, and absolutely victorious, because the children were ransomed from wrath. The lambs were redeemed from slaughter. The white-washed tombs can now be white through and through.

The glory of cross outshines our failings, our miserable sinning, our dedicated rebellion.

Without the Last Lamb, all our attempts to be clean for Passover are nothing.

Without His blood on our doorposts, the wrath of a holy God will not spare us.

But with it…

With it, we have everything.

We can sit down to a true Passover feast, because God’s judgment fell on one Man instead of on us. The blood has covered the sin that whitewash could not hide.

The Firstborn has died that the others might be heirs together with Him. And, just after that Passover, he did something that no other Passover sacrifice had ever done:

By His own power, he left death in the dust and came back to life.

That is what I learned from a mob of angry religious leaders–that my whitewash doesn’t work.

That the Passover Lamb has come and conquered.

And the feast of that celebration is only just beginning, ignited by one holy, joyful Sacrifice.


“Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him;
He has put Him to grief.
When You make His soul an offering for sin,
He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days,
And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand.
He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied.
By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many,
For He shall bear their iniquities.”

– Isaiah 53:10-11 –


* All Bible verses taken from the New King James Version

These Subtle Weavings

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“This is what the past is for!  Every experience God gives us, every person He puts in our lives is the perfect preparation for the future that only He can see.”
– Corrie ten Boom, The Hiding Place


The apostle Paul called our earthly life a dark glass for a reason (1 Cor. 13:12). We can only see pinpricks of light, shadows of a reality to come.

Although our Present moments are often chaotic and the Future is murky, the Past is one direction that God seems to shed a little more light on than others.

Past.

What does that word stir in you? Thoughts of childhood? Joy? Bitterness? Thankfulness….or regret? Embarrassment? Or, perhaps, a mixture of these things?

Unlike other points in time, the past is unchangeable, something our plans and intentions can never influence. The Past can be a Tormentor or a Teacher.

If I stop to think about it a moment, the Past can assault me with all the ridiculous things I’ve done. It doesn’t take long for one embarrassing episode after another to pop into my mind, making me groan. “How could I have thought that was a good idea?”

As I reminisce, I think of my more recent escapades, especially a not-long-ago phone call that could have resulted in disaster. “What possessed me!” I think. Then I remember that this particular “bright idea” was barely six months ago. Forget bewailing my indiscretions as a five-year-old! At twenty-one, I’m still keeping up with the blonde stereotype quite nicely, thank you.

What a Tormentor, with the memories of friendships broken, things that were and things that will never be! They can haunt and hound me, nipping at every day’s heels. The Past, sometimes, seems like a merciless enemy, intent on sucking us in and trapping us between the re-living of nightmares and the impossibility of beloved things lost.

But, it can be gentle too, the Past as wise and insistent as a gray-headed teacher, commanding our gaze, pulling us again and again from the Future’s window. God so often commands us to “Remember” and that is what the Past is truly for. Although a redeemed Past does not hide us from the ugliness of our committed sins, with the right way of seeing, a journey into the Past can be a path to hope.

“How,” you may wonder, “can all my mistakes and foibles and sins and wanderings be hopeful?”

Because, my sweet sisters, the very Past that has the power to torture us is the same Past that God has in His hand. No horrible rebellion, no hopeless destruction, no fathomless pit, no dark forest, can make us so lost and so unreachable that God cannot reach into it and bring us out safely. While not diminishing His disgust of sin, our God can take a lost soul–like you and I were–and dress that soul in His own white holiness, purchased at the price of the very life of God Incarnate.

“The very Past that has the power to torture us is the same Past that God has in His hand.”

But it is not only the death of Jesus that brings hope to our Past. It is the LIFE of Jesus! If He had remained in that tomb, we would still be hopeless ( 1 Cor. 15:12-58). But His rising showed that His death-price was accepted by the Father, freeing us from the chains of the past:

“It’s not that I have already reached this goal or have already been perfected, but I pursue it, so that I may grab hold of it because Christ grabbed hold of me for just this purpose. Brothers and sisters, I myself don’t think I’ve reached it, but I do this one thing: I forget about the things behind me and reach out for the things ahead of me. The goal I pursue is the prize of God’s upward call in Christ Jesus.” -Philippians 3:12-14, CEB

 In Christ, we can move beyond our sins and failings into joy. When we look back to the Past, the Tormentor no longer has any power. Why?

Because God is not just in the business of redeeming our Present, or our Future. He is not limited to our approval ratings or our acknowledgement of His sovereignty. He told Moses His great name I Am, illustrating His perfect, eternal, unmarred control of Everything–my self-destructing Past included.

His touch is all over the places we’ve gone, the days we’ve lived and forgotten, the moments we wish we could hold onto forever, the times we wish we could sink into the ground and disappear. He was–IS–there, in our Past as much as any other time. Though history is inaccessible to us, God stands outside our limits and oversees it all, according to a plan we can not imagine for its sheer glory. God is not only the Master of storytelling. He also has a penchant for the surprising, the unlikely, the irredeemable and the unbelievable. In the way only He can, He molds scarred history into Redemption, a Messiah who takes the shame, becoming the Thing that must, above all, be believed.

Paraphrasing Romans 8:18-21, scholar and pastor J.B. Phillips wrote:

“In my opinion whatever we may have to go through now is less than nothing compared with the magnificent future God has planned for us. The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God coming into their own. The world of creation cannot as yet see reality, not because it chooses to be blind, but because in God’s purpose it has been so limited—yet it has been given hope. And the hope is that in the end the whole of created life will be rescued from the tyranny of change and decay, and have its share in that magnificent liberty which can only belong to the children of God!”

This glory is not wholly left to the future. Have you ever seen a Sparkler on the 4th of July? It darts and dances in the air, shimmering with combustion, warmth, power. Sometimes, we can look back and see a sparkle of God’s light in the places we’ve walked.

It is hard to see when we’re passing through. Often, we have nothing to go on but faith in the darkness, but looking back, the spidery fingers of glory still trail behind us. The lights flash dimly through this dark, foggy glass. But, for a moment, we can look over our shoulders and see, kindled for an instant of recognition, a sight that teaches us to hope. It is His shadow, the impression of His feet as God moved, unseen, in the dark places of our Past.

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The Paradox of the Holy Fire

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Then Jesus said to his disciples, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me.  All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me will find them.”
– Matthew 16:24-25, CEB –

We’ve talked about Love.

A language, a gift, a labor of prayer, a tree, a song.

For me, this Practical Love Series has impacted me in an unexpected way…


Love has grown from “practical” to Immense.

I can’t pretend I’m an extremely loving person anymore, because I’ve grasped a little more of Extreme Love. Seeing this, seeing Him, I feel no closer to application. I feel like I’ve stumbled into a Magnificent presence, and all I can do is empty compared to His fullness.

I’ve tried to figure out how I can practice Love.

But each day, I wake up on auto-pilot and my own gratification seems to be the destination.

I’ve gotten to Step A: I am not a very loving person.

Even Step B: There’s no way I can love the way I’m commanded to, on my own power.

But where do you and I go from there?

Let’s stop pretending.

People are NOT easy to love. People can be nasty, annoying, selfish, tactless, offensive, apathetic, distant, unjust. Frankly, pretty rotten.

BUT…Sisters, this practice of Love stopped being about “those people” a long time ago.

The problem is not Out There.

It is In Here.

Something inside me has gone desperately wrong and I cannot patch it up on my own.

Love is not a matter of getting everyone else fixed so I can stand being with them.

Love is very much like lighting a bonfire. The light gives–it must, by its nature. Love does not depend on how its object receives it, just as light shines on all around it. Some things reflect back the light; some only absorb it.

But to possess this fire, something in me must burn.

On cricket-creaking nights, I’ve sat by a campfire and seen dull, dry wood kindled. The fire animates it, a resurrection in miniature. And soon what was dead crackles with life–potent orange-blue flickers of heat and light.

And yet, though now alive in a way those branches never could have been on their own, they are being consumed. Living, they die.

In this same way, sin’s entrance into the world abruptly halted the previously unbroken exchange of Love, Creator to creature.Yes, in me, in all of us, something careened off the track. Our taste for good turned sour.

Love became a light that we blind men could not even see.

Now, Love’s restoration requires death. Jesus alone could bridge Love and unloving, or open eyes so the light could come. He, as Love Himself, defined history with the ultimate act of love: His own death.

Love dies.

I shrink from this. It sounds so final, so painful, so awful. Because I don’t want to die. My will doesn’t want to die. I like maintaining my own way, following my own road, chasing my own dreams.

To love, though, I must first die.

It was that way at the beginning, when I first began to breathe resurrection air. Dead in sin, He raised me up. The dry branch was hit with a spark of living fire.

That Spark in me began a cycle of flame that both enlivens me and kills me. It turns deadness into sparkles of flaming glory, but at the same time, it burns away part of me.

In his book Mere Christianity, C.S.Lewis talks about the sanctification of the believer:

“The principle runs through all life from top to bottom, Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Fire-starting is a radical thing. At the outset of our faith, we committed ourselves to unabashed following. What many people do not realize is that this commitment does not keep our hearts focused. We have to re-commit each day.

Each day, we must again die–every minute, if necessary. “Oh Jesus, take my life and let it be Yours, forever. Set my feet on Your path and not mine.”

The flesh that battles in us must be battled with this Holy Fire of Love until Jesus comes back to complete our transformation.

Until then, as long as we keep fighting with the power of God, life will be springing up in the ashes where the fire has scorched our sin nature.

Only as we give ourselves to flames can our light begin to shine.

Our parasitic sinful self, as it dies, makes room for our new self to flourish, a fire-brushed masterpiece of the Creator God.

Only then can we get down to the business of Love, as a practical thing.

Dying, we live.


 Join me next week as I launch a Grand Love Experiment! I don’t promise a burst of genius, but I do think it could be revolutionary for my life, at least.

It is simple, but not easy. It is achievable–but not without Jesus at my side. Will you come along?


 “Give me all of you!!! I don’t want so much of your time, so much of your talents and money, and so much of your work. I want YOU!!! ALL OF YOU!! I have not come to torment or frustrate the natural man or woman, but to KILL IT! No half measures will do. I don’t want to only prune a branch here and a branch there; rather I want the whole tree out! Hand it over to me, the whole outfit, all of your desires, all of your wants and wishes and dreams. Turn them ALL over to me, give yourself to me and I will make of you a new self—in my image. Give me yourself and in exchange I will give you Myself. My will, shall become your will. My heart, shall become your heart.”

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity ―

 

 

 

Eden Replanted

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“What the world calls virtue is a name and a dream without Christ. The foundation of all human excellence must be laid deep in the blood of the Redeemer’s cross and in the power of his resurrection.”

– Frederick W. Robertson –


What power does it take, I wonder, for a dead man’s stale-aired lungs to refill with living breath?

For a still, quiet heart to lurch into a victory march,

For decomposing tissue to knit back seamless

And blood to gush and pulse in gloriously awakened veins?

To restore soul and body ripped apart by death takes the same Divine breath that enlivened Adam’s first stirring.

In a garden, God breathed and the first Adam rose,

And, after millennia of death-throes, a maid of Adam’s flesh begets a greater Sequel.

He, too, awakes in a garden, a living, unblemished soul, filled with the breath of God,

Beyond time and years and ages, a Man so far above the first, yet stooping to humanity’s form (Philippians 2:5-11).

So long before, the garden-dweller of the beginning thought to make himself god by following a serpent, as the serpent also had coveted the high throne of God (Isaiah 14:12-15).

The second, the new yet ageless, the Divine, thought to make Himself man, and this second Adam set to crushing the crown of that snake who sought to make an everlasting Waste of Eden (Genesis 3:15).

But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.”

– 1 Corinthians 15:20-22, NKJV –

In the garden of tombs, Mary went to weep over a good man’s body–a good, dead man’s body. But no–he was gone. Perplexed, Mary turned to search, and through tears saw a man.

The gardener? So she thought.

And wasn’t it true, that it was the gardener? It was He, the Gardener of a new, forever Eden, springing up from the earth, where like a dying seed He rose up again to new life, resurrection for more than Himself–food for many hungry and drink for those who thirst (John 12:23-26). Planting Himself as a mighty Vine to flood life into dry branches, this Gardener joined the plants of His own tending as one of them, a plant to bear seed that would make the whole garden sprout new-creation green.

What did Jesus come for? Why did He die? And, once dead, why did He have to rise?

“He came to undo the disaster and tragedy that Adam had effected. Adam had been set in the garden; it was almost as though God did for Adam what a kind father would do….God gave his son Adam a little start. He said to Adam, ‘Here is a garden. Your task is to tend this garden and to expand this garden until it fills the whole earth.’ Strikingly God commanded Adam to do this until, as it were, all the kingdoms of this world were his. If Adam had done that, just like a child who accomplishes something even though his father gave him a significant start, he would have brought it all back to his Father and said, ‘Father, look what I have done! I want you to have it all!’ So Adan’s fall was not just a matter of personal sin; it was a matter of cosmic disaster. He lost the world and Satan gained it….Our story, as human beings, began in a garden. Adam turned the garden into a wilderness, and Jesus went into the wilderness to deal with the enemy, in order that he might turn the world into a garden again. Isn’t that wonderful to think about? To return to Mary in the garden: John, who seems to love double entendres, records that Mary saw Jesus and supposed him to be the gardener (John 20:15). Jesus wanted her to see him like that, but it wasn’t just that little space that he was gardening. By his resurrection, he was ‘gardening’ the whole cosmos.”

– Sinclair Ferguson, These Last Days, from pages 9-10, 12-13, emphasis mine –

 

Suddenly, for me, Eden is a personal possibility. If the victory belongs to our glorious Christ, then why on earth do I need to go on living defeated? Why should I keep living with the shallowest love, the flightiest joy, or the most tenuous peace?

The resurrection means I have everything I need. I am not merely cleansed–I have access to God Himself, and will Him, everything necessary to obey Him.

If Christ is risen, and He, too, is mine, then what can I lack?

At my fingertips is the “exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead” (Ephesians 1:19-20).

Grace, costly grace, asks not a penny from me. But with the outpouring of cross-forgiveness comes its sister, the power of His rising.

Can I be content to go on living in slums when the riches of His abundant grace are mine by inheritance?

Why should I go on in weakness when He is strength at my side, alive and ready to fill me?

So it’s true: Because He lives, I really can face tomorrow. Because Jesus is alive, I can have joy for today. Because He rose, I now can love as I ought, because the power He promises me–that sin-breaking, exceedingly great power–is the very same power that lifts bodies from death.

If God can wake the dead, don’t you think He can fill this new-created child with Himself?

Raising His son, God the Father looked down on His atonement and smiled.

And it was good, very good. Good as earth had not been since the first days,

Full of grace and power and love again,

Eden Replanted.

The power for a dead man’s stale-aired lungs to refill with living breath…the power of Christ–Christ in you and Christ in me,

Christ the Living, the Resurrected, the Hope of glory,

The One who will bring us to completion, until all His bought ones shine with His light.


“And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.”

– Colossians 1:18-20, NKJV –

 

 

 

Thank you to Public Domain Pictures and Larisa Koshkina for today’s lovely photo!

 

 

 

 

Not Even Room

old-fishing-nets

What if we dared enough to take God at His Word?

What if we stopped succumbing to satan’s lies long enough to open our eyes?

If we stepped out in faith

On the Words of One who cannot, ever, fail.

And made our stand there?

It was a number of days after the crucifixion of the God-man and a thousand hopes.

Confused disciples returned to stiff nets and barnacled fishing boats, three years seemingly wasted. They had left all to follow a rabbi who spoke in mind-boggling parables and kingdom-words that turned upside down everything they’d ever known.

But then he was dead…or did he now live? The eleven in a room had seen him, but nothing was happening. If He was alive, and more than a vision of wistful hearts, a dream that made them glad for a moment before it vanished, why wasn’t He driving out Rome? No kingdom was coming. The turning over of all their dreams was for nothing.

So they slogged through silty waters that lapped cool up their calves and pushed out creaking, reeking vessels and went fishing. It was always wait, wait, wait with Him. If it wasn’t a dream, why wasn’t He acting? But if His words were not true, what else was left to them?

And a man, one lone man talking a solitary walk on a bare shoreline, started to kindle a fire.

Perhaps over the salty breeze whipped the scent of fish baking among coals, and the heady, yeasty fullness of bread warming among ashes.

Maybe the fishermen didn’t notice. Or their stomachs rumbled and they grumbled curses because their own efforts to feed themselves were utterly failing.

Perhaps John, that one that lay on the bosom of God in flesh, smelled the drifting scent and remembered the Bread of Life, those words of eating and drinking of flesh and blood.

Impatient Peter, ripping nets up from the water, perhaps now threw them down in disgust. Once he could fish; now, he could neither fish nor follow. Follow what? A vision that bid only to wait, with no victory in sight?

But now—hear—a voice. That man on the shore is waving.

“Throw your nets in on the other side. The right side.”

Maybe Peter laughs, low and bitter. “All night,” he grumbles.

John, that loved one, gets a light in his eyes and motions to guileless Nathaniel, who once said he believed. Peter grunts and pulls himself off the floor of the boat to give them a hand. What will it hurt, after all?

I just wonder, how wide their eyes opened then, after a night of sleepless watching for just a scale shining among the tawny fibers of net?

I just wonder, how brilliantly that morning stole up behind them, glittering on the silvered backs of one hundred and fifty-three of the sea’s largest fish?

How that vessel must have at once exploded with shouts and jumping over cast-off clothing and dredged-up piles of sea debris in the rush for the teeming nets. Shoulders muscle-knotted with lives of labor—unable to pull up the catch. Just too many.

And then the silence. “What kind of man is this?” Did the whisper come again, like the refrain of a symphony, through lips that had once spoken it before? (Matthew 8:27)

The nets groaned with flapping, gill-gasping life. The brawny, weather-cut hands are still, open in wonder.

And life fluttered within seven disciple hearts gone limp. Peter looked at John. John’s eyes widened. “It’s the Lord.”

One book I read recounted this:

“But when Jesus came and stood in their midst, they merely had to let down their net once and such an abundance was caught that they didn’t even have room in their boat to contain it all” (Set-Apart Femininity by Leslie Ludy, page 168).

Not even room to hold it.

This abundance that fills over capacity and yet does not break the nets.

This filling that only the universe’s King can bring to a heart—and makes a dry spring overflow with life-water joy.

Maybe they had cursed their inability to feed themselves after a night of toiling, sweat-dripping fishing.

Don’t we do the same? Grind ourselves into the ground just to survive, just to eat and live.

But the man on the shore beckons to the right side.

His side, the side of right, the side of the pierced wounds.

Throw there, just there.

All of you—throw overboard all your labors, your nights of wearying, your own way of doing it.

Throw yourself too, there, at His feet.

And just see if the windows of heaven are not thrown open and your hungry mouth is filled.

“Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace,

that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

– Hebrews 4:16, NKJV –

Thank you to photographer Karen Arnold in conjunction with Public Domain Pictures.net for the fishing net image.