The Story of the Trees

spring-tree-1335527884wpA

“Spring shows what God can do with a drab and dirty world.”

– Virgil A. Kraft –


 

Winter is over, because the trees say so.

Driving the Arkansas hills this weekend, I saw the proof. Budding fruit trees—pink cherries, the snowy-white of the pears, the deep magenta of the red bud tree and flagrantly-golden forsythia—line side roads and dot the valleys and farm houses with splashes of color.

Spring is here. All is new.

I didn’t know how much I wanted the spring until it arrived. The hay bales lie sodden brown in the rain-soaked, brown and gray fields. Rain has greened up some of the grass on either side of the yellow-lined road. Cows speckle the mottled hills, finding the first tender blades of springtime between the straw stubble.

But my favorites are the trees.

Wordlessly momentous, they wear the wedding colors of spring.

It means something just out of reach. The brilliant simplicity of the trees carries a weight that I feel, but cannot yet quite grasp.

Maybe it is the abundant life sprouting up in the middle of the bare groves sticking their splintery branches into the sky.

Maybe it is the insistent return of joy.

Maybe it is the trees dressing up for no reason, just because it is a good day to be alive under the blue, blue dome of heaven.

Spring is springing, and my heart springs along with it.

Is life perfect? No. But His times and seasons are, whether sunshine or inclement weather, drought or abundant rain. Struggles are real, longings deep, battles hard.

But all is well. Spring is here. All is new.

It is a promise to the world, once again. “As long as the earth remains, there will be planting and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night…” (Genesis 8:22, NLT.)

God says, “Do it again,” and again the celestial orbs take their places in line, to reenact the elliptical dance they know so well.

The renewal of spring reminds us of the refreshing He can always bring to the souls of His children.

“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” – Romans 12:2, NLT

And the bright budding of spring tells a tale for which we wait:

“And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”“Behold, I am making all things new!’ ” – Revelation 21:5, ESV

Even as we wait for the world’s crowning day, daily He brings us newness, springtime in our hearts. “Your mercies are new every morning.” “There is therefore now no condemnation.” “The old has gone, the new has come.” (Lamentations 3:22-23; Romans 8:1; 2 Corinthians 5:17.)

Maybe that is why “my heart with pleasure fills” when I look out the car window at the triumphant white of the pears springing up in the fields.

Spring is the world going on, birthing life out of death.

Spring is God’s metaphor for what He does in our lives everyday. Refreshing. Renewing. Filling our bare branches with living color.

Today, again, He is declaring Springtime over our longing hearts.


 

“Spring is when life’s alive in everything.”

 – Christina Rossetti –

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Repost: Why We Must Zakar

Nativity-4

Last year, I wrote this post as a reminder of why celebrating Christmas is something I hold dear. This time of year, people are especially hungry for love and meaning in their lives, giving us a great opportunity to share the gospel. So, whether you celebrate this season or not, please take time to remember the coming of our Lord and reach out to those around us who have no hope. Because we have hope, sisters! This day, and everyday, we have joy in the most precious gift ever given: God Himself coming to pay the price for our salvation. That, truly, is cause for celebration.


“He was created of a mother whom He created. He was carried by hands that He formed. He cried in the manger in wordless infancy. He, the Word, without whom all human eloquence is mute.”

 – Augustine of Hippo –

Zakar is Hebrew for remember.

Some things must be remembered.

One set of people holds these things dear by celebrating them all year long, because these things permeate all days, not just one or two.

Others recognize this, but also value a set-apart day–needing a reminder of the wonder, a day to refresh all the year’s living.

One of these days is Christmas.

We’ve always celebrated it at our house. And yet, dear friends choose not to. It’s okay, really. One of those things God lets us choose—let those who celebrate the day, do it to the Lord. And those who don’t—they do it for His glory as well.

And truly—Christmas. Christ with us. Emmanuel, always—not just on one holly-decked square on the calendar, but forever.

It’s the same with other days.

It’s impossible to cram into one day the wonder of His rising, of His death-quenching. It’s ridiculous to think it can be stuffed into a hundred thousand Easters. Millions of Sundays would not suffice.

A day of Thanks—as if all the other days were to be full of complaining? Not at all. But something in the soul is refreshed that the idea is important enough to have a day of remembrance. A day when the whirling-away  and the head-spinning and the busy commercialization must stop so that thanks can snuggle deep into the soul.

Just as a friend is every bit as special the rest of the year as she is on her birthday. Just as special. But to have a special day to say it? This is good. Maybe your friend knows you love her all the time. Friendship—her life—is just as much to be celebrated any other day. But that one day is for you—not her—in a way. Yes, on that day you thank God for her. But really…who is it that needs reminded of the wonder of having a friend? She may get presents on that day, but it is you who receive the greater gift. You are reminded of just how much you have, on her birthday.

Isn’t it the same for His birthday? The date does not matter. The tinsel does not matter—neither do the molasses-dark cookies shaped like pudgy men or the lights twinkling or the cinnamon drifting from the kitchen or the gifts nestled under an everlastingly-green tree.

The Tree

Ah—but the tree can remind us, help us Zakar. Some call it pagan. Whoever, ages ago, worshiped a tree or chronicled it as a symbol of paganism—this man did not corrupt God’s trees. The trees on this planet still lift leafy faces to the heavens. They don’t hang down or die away because their purpose has been stolen away. Not at all. Still, tree crowns grow high, pointing skyward to a Creator enthroned beyond our glory-stealing schemes.

And that one spicy pine or fringy spruce or musky cedar with which the halls are decked–its green fades a bit when the life is cut off at the roots. The holder of lights, stretching out limbs to cover everything, guarding the secrets till the Christmas dawns. An everlasting tree dying. Something like an Everlasting God-Man dying, cut off to be the gift. The Holder, Maker, Shaper of light, stretching out His limbs to cover it all, to flood every sin with bloody grace.  The great Secret of the ages, foretold in a host of whispered, echoing prophesies, now shouted out to the world. Emmanuel! Emmanuel! He’s here, with us. With us!

The Gifts

The gifts remind us. Those oddly-shaped packages swathed with way too much metallic wrapping paper. The little tucked-in-the-stocking goodies. Every tiny sneaked-in item that a relative crept around the store with, trying in vain to keep secrets on a mass shopping trip where every family member ends up hiding, arms full, in a separate checkout line.

“Christmas is based on an exchange of gifts, the gift of God to man – His unspeakable gift of His Son, and the gift of man to God – when we present our bodies a living sacrifice.”

– Vance Havner –

Gifts remind us that God stepped down out of splendor to be curled and vulnerable in a womb. Christmas is a refresher course in generosity, a day when prayers seep in deep and stinginess can seep away. A special set-aside time when a hunted-for gift is placed in quivering, open hands and delight begins its ecstatic dance in two pairs of eyes. Close your eyes and remember. Zakar for a while.

“For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given…”

– Isaiah 9:6 b –

The Nativity

Okay, so the wise men weren’t really there that first night that the angels proclaimed the royal birth. But a glance at the manger, at the faces bowed in awe, they too can help us Zakar.

“He lived among us…He made a throne out of a manger and a royal court out of some cows. He took a common name—Jesus—and made it holy. He took common people and made them the same. He could have lived over us or away from us. But He didn’t. He lived among us.

He became a friend of the sinner and brother of the poor. He touched their sores and felt their tears and paid for their mistakes. He entered a tomb and came out and pledged that we’d do the same. And to us all…He shared the same message. “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me….I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also’ (John 14:1,3)

Some pretend that He doesn’t exist….Others hear Him, but don’t believe Him. It’s not easy to believe that God would go so far to take us home….But then a few decide to…venture out of their corners….”

– Max Lucado, from When Christ Comes –

While the contagious laughter rises around you and the coffee mugs clink together in the sink and the lights on the Christmas tree twinkle off the glittering ornaments, remember why He came. To seek and save the lost, so they could come home. Isn’t Christmas a foretaste of a forever-home?

“Some pretend He doesn’t exist.” That He never came. That Christmas is about hullabaloo and December 26th sales, chubby mall Santas and seasonal eggnog.

“Others hear Him, but don’t believe Him. It’s not easy to believe that God would go so far to take us home” (emphasis mine).

Zakar. God did “go so far to take us home.” Remember this, savor it with all your might. He came once. And He will do it again.

“And when we give each other Christmas gifts in His name, let us remember that He has given us the sun and the moon and the stars, and the earth with its forests and mountains and oceans–and all that lives and move upon them. He has given us all green things and everything that blossoms and bears fruit and all that we quarrel about and all that we have misused–and to save us from our foolishness, from all our sins, He came down to earth and gave us Himself.”

– Sigrid Undset –

For this Christmas, and every other, remember all His goodness.

Zakar. Always.

Thank you to Atalie with Atalie Bale Photography for today’s lovely Christmas photo!

From the Roots of Grace

sunset-behind-trees-at-trail
“Love is a good thing…Do not fear…

Cause it’ll break your will, it’ll change your mind,
Loose all the chains of the ties that bind.
If you’re lucky you’ll never make it out alive, and that’s a good thing.
Love is a good thing…”

 – Andrew Peterson, from the lyrics of “Love is a Good Thing”


Join me for Part Four of my Practical Love Series! Today, I’ve shared my own struggle with understanding Love. To catch up on the other posts in the Practical Love series, check out the links below!

Part One: The Language She Knew By Heart

Part Two: Cedar-Lined Love

Part Three: To See Like You


The sycamore in our yard was huge. Broad green leaves unfurled like flag-ship signals every spring and shriveled into crunchy litter on the ground each fall. It was the kind of tree that just begs to be made into a tree fort, or support a swing. Generations could have grown up on that swing.

But, instead, one spring arrived and the tree never awoke.

Trees die many ways, I suppose. Insects or diseases can devour the leaves, or lightning can strike, or a drought can hit.

I’m not sure what did our sycamore in. Maybe it spent itself out. Maybe it had too much competition. Maybe it stopped drawing power from the earth. Roots have to dig deep, nestle into subsoil watering places, and seek out nutrients if a tree is to survive.

I’ve been thinking about that.

If Love is a tree, then its roots are Grace.

And right now, my Love feels a lot like that dead sycamore–powerless, decaying,unrooted.

Where do I even get the strength to Love other people?  How do I find the desire?

Because Love, it seems to me, isn’t as glamorous as they say.

It is dragging myself out of bed in the morning.

It is holding my tongue when I want to lash back to that family member’s thoughtless words.

It is trudging down the road to help out a neighbor even when I’m emotionally drained.

Sometimes, it is coaxing my silly little goats onto the milk stand when no one else has time.

It’s a thousand little things that I don’t feel like doing.

And Love hurts.

When a person gets serious about learning an important Biblical truth, it is amazing how quickly roadblocks will pop up. Since I’ve begun the Practical Love Series, Love hasn’t gotten easier for me. It has become harder.

I’m realizing what an immense, improbable, wonderful, and terrifying thing it is to Love.

Did the sycamore fear to stretch its fingers into the sky and grow up? Did it realize that each inch it climbed, the more limbs it exposed to whipping wind, the more bark it bared to the snow, and the more delicate leaves it opened to the scorching power of the sun? Did it shrink from the swinging sticks of the children who ran past, shouting and flailing in their antics?

There is only one way to Love.

That one, single, flaming way is to meet Him, Love Himself. To be submerged in Grace, swallowing it, swimming in it, inhaling it like an unborn child inhales amniotic fluid, the sea in which he moves. “Amniotic fluid is inhaled and exhaled by the [baby]. It is essential that fluid be breathed into the lungs in order for them to develop normally….Amniotic fluid protects the developing baby by cushioning against blows….” (Wikipedia.) This is what Grace does in a Christian: filling us, becoming our inhalation, exhalation. Divine Grace–inside, outside–is the fuel of our sanctification, the outer cushioning that also nourishes us.

So…you’ve  been waiting for three weeks for me to tell you what Love is, how to show it to others.

And, the truth is, I still don’t quite know.

All I know is that, to truly have Love, you  have to meet Jesus.

The tree doesn’t plant itself, the baby does not conceive itself, the Christian girl does not sanctify herself.

You will find the way to Love only through a Grace you cannot control.

Join me in praying, praying to really see. Praying for Grace to swallow me up, and for me to swallow Grace, so that I can see the magnificent Love poured out on my behalf.

Join me in reading, searching the Bible like the mountain of treasure it is, seeing how Love Himself dared to enter this mess of mine.

So….we really want to know how to Love?

First, we have to know the Grace-Giver.

And it is only from that Root of Grace that Love can bud out, a tree unafraid to stand in the sunshine.

See what kind of love the Father has given to us in that we should be called God’s children, and that is what we are!

– 1 John 3:1, CEB –


  How has the work of God in your life shown you what Love is really all about? Has this changed how you see others?

Comment below and share!


Thanks to Yinan Chen at Public Domain Pictures for today’s lovely tree photo!

 

Why We Must Zakar

Nativity-4

“He was created of a mother whom He created. He was carried by hands that He formed. He cried in the manger in wordless infancy. He, the Word, without whom all human eloquence is mute.”

 – Augustine of Hippo –

Zakar is Hebrew for remember.

Some things must be remembered.

One set of people holds these things dear by celebrating them all year long, because these things permeate all days, not just one or two.

Others recognize this, but also value a set-apart day–needing a reminder of the wonder, a day to refresh all the year’s living.

One of these days is Christmas.

We’ve always celebrated it at our house. And yet, dear friends choose not to.

It’s okay, really. One of those things God lets us choose—let those who celebrate the day, do it to the Lord.

And those who don’t—they do it for His glory as well.

And truly—Christmas. Christ with us. Emmanuel, always—not just on one holly-decked square on the calendar, but forever.

It’s the same with other days.

It’s impossible to cram into one day the wonder of His rising, of His death-quenching. It’s ridiculous to think it can be stuffed into a hundred thousand Easters. Millions of Sundays would not suffice.

A day of Thanks—as if all the other days were to be full of complaining? Not at all. But something in the soul is refreshed that the idea is important enough to have a day of remembrance. A day when the whirling-away  and the head-spinning and the busy commercialization must stop so that thanks can snuggle deep into the soul.

Just as a friend is every bit as special the rest of the year as she is on her birthday. Just as special. But to have a special day to say it? This is good. Maybe your friend knows you love her all the time. Friendship—her life—is just as much to be celebrated any other day. But that one day is for you—not her—in a way. Yes, on that day you thank God for her. But really…who is it that needs reminded of the wonder of having a friend? She may get presents on that day, but it is you who receive the greater gift. You are reminded of just how much you have, on her birthday.

Isn’t it the same for His birthday? The date does not matter. The tinsel does not matter—neither do the molasses-dark cookies shaped like pudgy men or the lights twinkling or the cinnamon drifting from the kitchen or the gifts nestled under an everlastingly-green tree.

The Tree

Ah—but the tree can remind us, help us Zakar. Some call it pagan. Whoever, ages ago, worshiped a tree or chronicled it as a symbol of paganism—this man did not corrupt God’s trees. The trees on this planet still lift leafy faces to the heavens. They don’t hang down or die away because their purpose has been stolen away. Not at all. Still, tree crowns grow high, pointing skyward to a Creator enthroned beyond our glory-stealing schemes.

And that one spicy pine or fringy spruce or musky cedar with which the halls are decked–its green fades a bit when the life is cut off at the roots. The holder of lights, stretching out limbs to cover everything, guarding the secrets till the Christmas dawns. An everlasting tree dying. Something like an Everlasting God-Man dying, cut off to be the gift. The Holder, Maker, Shaper of light, stretching out His limbs to cover it all, to flood every sin with bloody grace.  The great Secret of the ages, foretold in a host of whispered, echoing prophesies, now shouted out to the world. Emmanuel! Emmanuel! He’s here, with us. With us!

The Gifts

The gifts remind us. Those oddly-shaped packages swathed with way too much metallic wrapping paper. The little tucked-in-the-stocking goodies. Every tiny sneaked-in item that a relative crept around the store with, trying in vain to keep secrets on a mass shopping trip where every family member ends up hiding, arms full, in a separate checkout line.

“Christmas is based on an exchange of gifts, the gift of God to man – His unspeakable gift of His Son, and the gift of man to God – when we present our bodies a living sacrifice.”

– Vance Havner –

Gifts remind us that God stepped down out of splendor to be curled and vulnerable in a womb. Christmas is a refresher course in generosity, a day when prayers seep in deep and stinginess can seep away. A special set-aside time when a hunted-for gift is placed in quivering, open hands and delight begins its ecstatic dance in two pairs of eyes. Close your eyes and remember. Zakar for a while.

“For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given…”

– Isaiah 9:6 b –

The Nativity

Okay, so the wise men weren’t really there that first night that the angels proclaimed the royal birth. But a glance at the manger, at the faces bowed in awe, they too can help us Zakar.

“He lived among us…He made a throne out of a manger and a royal court out of some cows. He took a common name—Jesus—and made it holy. He took common people and made them the same. He could have lived over us or away from us. But He didn’t. He lived among us.

He became a friend of the sinner and brother of the poor. He touched their sores and felt their tears and paid for their mistakes. He entered a tomb and came out and pledged that we’d do the same. And to us all…He shared the same message. “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me….I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also’ (John 14:1,3)

Some pretend that He doesn’t exist….Others hear Him, but don’t believe Him. It’s not easy to believe that God would go so far to take us home….But then a few decide to…venture out of their corners….”

– Max Lucado, from When Christ Comes

While the contagious laughter rises around you and the coffee mugs clink together in the sink and the lights on the Christmas tree twinkle off the glittering ornaments, remember why He came. To seek and save the lost, so they could come home. Isn’t Christmas a foretaste of a forever-home?

“Some pretend He doesn’t exist.” That He never came. That Christmas is about hullabaloo and December 26th sales, chubby mall Santas and seasonal eggnog.

“Others hear Him, but don’t believe Him. It’s not easy to believe that God would go so far to take us home” (emphasis mine).

Zakar. God did “go so far to take us home.” Remember this, savor it with all your might. He came once. And He will do it again.

“And when we give each other Christmas gifts in His name, let us remember that He has given us the sun and the moon and the stars, and the earth with its forests and mountains and oceans–and all that lives and move upon them. He has given us all green things and everything that blossoms and bears fruit and all that we quarrel about and all that we have misused–and to save us from our foolishness, from all our sins, He came down to earth and gave us Himself.”

– Sigrid Undset –

For this Christmas, and every other, remember all His goodness.

Zakar. Always.

Thank you to Atalie with Atalie Bale Photography for today’s lovely Christmas photo!