Spring Ice

IMG_8231 editEveryone around here seems to have spent the last couple months and weeks waiting eagerly for the ice to break up.  And by “everyone around here”, I mean us and our feathered neighbors.

The swans have been patiently spending their days here for almost two months now, two faithful white lumps out on the ice standing guard over their nesting grounds.  The eagles began checking in next, periodically soaring in to keep tabs on the status of the frozen mass obscuring their fishing grounds.  Then the geese arrived, honking in and out (far less devoted than the swans), and the ducks, squeezing in to paddle around the tiny puddles opening up along the edges. 

And finally, just yesterday, the loons arrived with their wildly haunting calls.  They never show up until there’s a long enough runway open for their lengthy takeoffs, so it this was the surest sign yet that ice out was imminent.  IMG_4490 edit.jpgIMG_8325 editToday, there’s a giant pancake of ice floating out on the lake, and around it’s edges, the waves are moving again for the first time since November.  The wind is shifting it from one side to the other, slowly crushing, consolidating and wearing away at the ragged edges.  I’m watching it recede before my eyes as the day wears on.  In a day or two, or maybe even by morning, it will be gone. 

I can feel the exuberance of the waterfowl in my own soul as I watch the lake come alive after it’s long winter’s sleep.  I, too, have missed the twinkle of sunny waves through the shoreline trees, the soothing movement of the ripples reflecting the colors of the sky, the energy of the waves driving before the wind, and the smooth glimmer of its liquid mirror on still evenings.  I think I am surely just as happy as they to know that the reward of our mutual long and hopeful wait is right around the corner.

But I wasn’t worried that it would come, because the promises of God are always true to those who wait for them.  That goes for the change of seasons, as well as a lot of other things too numerous to list here now.  It’s good to remind ourselves of that, especially right after Easter.  The story isn’t finished yet!

“Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” (Hebrews 9:28)

Easter Week: Resurrection

IMG_3913 edit.jpg“After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.

Suddenly there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, rolled away the stone, and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards trembled in fear of him and became like dead men.

But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; He has risen, just as He said! Come, see the place where He lay. Then go quickly and tell His disciples, ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him.’ See, I have told you.”

So they hurried away from the tomb in fear and great joy, and ran to tell His disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” They came to Him, grasped His feet, and worshiped Him. “Do not be afraid,” said Jesus. “Go, tell My brothers to go to Galilee. There they will see Me.” (Matthew 28: 1-10)

And all I have to say is: Hallelujah!

Easter Week: Garden Tomb

IMG_9697 editDown in a garden in a rich man’s tomb,

Lies a man condemned to die;

Wrapped hurriedly in linen cloth

As the Sabbath eve drew nigh.

 

Most friends had long forsaken him,

But a devoted few stayed true,

Risking their reputations,

To bury a despised King of Jews.

 

Their tears fell bitter in the shadowed crypt,

On the newly hewed out stone,

For the beloved friend they’d lost.

For cherished hopes now gone.

 

Darkness falls across the land,

As grief-stricken they leave,

The haunting scent of aloe and myrrh,

Wafts through the olive trees.

 

Up in the city, along the streets,

Quiet rest of Sabbath reigns,

As still as His body, bruised and pierced,

Bound by death’s dark chains.

 

But the fans of palm are whispering,

Along the garden path that winds,

Echoes of hosannas sung,

More than memories on their minds.

 

“Wait and see,” they seem to say,

“The story’s not complete,

This One they begged to save now,

Does not lie here in defeat.”

 

Just as a kernel cannot grow,

‘Til it’s buried in the ground,

The requirement is death,

Before new life will be found.”

 

“But Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a seed; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:23-24)

Easter Week: Last Words from the Cross

IMG_3787.JPGThese are the His last words, spoken from the cross.  Meditate on them as you remember the pain and agony He endured that day…not because He had to, but because He loved YOU.

“When they came to the place called The Skull, they crucified Him there, along with the criminals, one on His right and the other on His left.

Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:33-34)

“One of the criminals who hung there heaped abuse on Him. “Are You not the Christ?” he said. “Save Yourself and us!”

But the other one rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same judgment? We are punished justly, for we are receiving what our actions deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom!”

And Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43)

“Near the cross of Jesus stood His mother and her sister, as well as Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw His mother and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then He said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” So from that hour, this disciple took her into his home.” (John 19:25-27)

“At the ninth hour, Jesus cried out in a loud voice… “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:34)

“After this, knowing that everything had now been accomplished, and to fulfill the Scripture, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of sour wine was sitting there. So they soaked a sponge in the wine, put it on a stalk of hyssop, and lifted it to His mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished.” (John 19:28-30)

“It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over all the land until the ninth hour. The sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn down the middle.

Then Jesus called out in a loud voice, “Father, into Your hands I commit My Spirit.” And when He had said this, He breathed His last.” (Luke 23:44-46)

 

Something to beautiful to listen to: “What Wondrous Love is This”

Easter Week: The Last Supper

IMG_2683 edit“It was now just before the Passover Feast, and Jesus knew that His hour had come to leave this world and return to the Father. Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the very end….Jesus knew that the Father had delivered all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was returning to God. (John 13:1, 3)

“When evening came, Jesus was reclining with the twelve disciples. And while they were eating, He said to them, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray Me.”

They were deeply grieved and began to ask Him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?”

Jesus answered, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with Me will betray Me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about Him, but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed. It would be better for him if he had not been born.”

Then Judas, who would betray Him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?”

Jesus answered, “You have said it yourself.”

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, spoke a blessing and broke it, and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is My body.”

Then He took the cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in My Father’s kingdom.”

And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” (Matthew 26:20-30)

IMG_2684 edit.jpgI can only begin to imagine the range and depth of emotion coursing through Jesus on this night.

Urgency?  This was His very last chance to teach and instruct His disciples, and prepare them for what lay ahead.

Love?  He tenderly washed their feet.  He comforted them.  He prayed for them, and for all who would believe in Him thereafter.

Dread?  He knew that by morning, He would be arrested, betrayed by one of His own inner circle, turned on by the fickle crowds of Jesusalem, sentenced to cruel death.

Anxiety?  Later in the night, we know that He shed His first drops of blood not on the cross, but in Gethsemane as He agonized over what was coming.

Sorrow?  He told Peter, “My soul is consumed with sorrow to the point of death.” (Matthew 26:38)

Fear?  In His humanity, He asked His Father that He might be spared the agony that He knew awaited Him.

Abandonment?  He watched one of his inner circle walk out the door intent upon betrayal.  He asked his remaining eleven friends to pray with him; he found them sleeping.  Later, they would all run away or claim they never knew Him.

And yet, determination?  He told His Father, “Yet not as I will, but as You will.” (Matthew 26:39)

“Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? No, it is for this purpose that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify Your name!” (John 12:27-28)

Easter Week: Anointing

IMG_4528 edit.jpg“Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, the hometown of Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. So they hosted a dinner for Jesus there. Martha served, and Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with Him. Then Mary took about a pint of expensive perfume, made of pure spikenard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” (John 12:1-3)

“When the disciples saw this, they were indignant and asked, “Why this waste?  This perfume could have been sold at a high price, and the money given to the poor.”

Aware of this, Jesus asked, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful deed to Me.  The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have Me. By pouring this perfume on Me, she has prepared My body for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached in all the world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” (Matthew 26:8-13)

It was a tradition in the time of Jesus to anoint the heads of the rabbis who attended marriage feasts with fragrant oil, and very honored guests in your home were sometimes given the same honor.  What Mary did was not strange to the onlookers.  What really got their attention was the kind of perfume she used.

This was no bottle of artificially scented body spray from Bath and Body Works.  This was pure spikenard, a product of the far-away, remote Himalayas, literally the costliest anointing oil of that day.  It could be afforded by only the very wealthy, and as a gift was generally reserved for royalty.  To put it into perspective, the quantity that the Bible states Mary used would have cost about 300 denarii, which was equivalent at that time to an average year’s wage.  In modern-day USA, according to statistics, this would be around $50,000.

Just like that, $50,000 dollars, poured out, gone.  This was the incredible depth of Mary’s devotion.

This is the same Mary who lay aside household chores to sit at Jesus’ feet, drinking His every word.  This is the same Mary who, distraught with grief for her dead brother, still clung faithfully to her belief in who Jesus was.  Where others struggled, Mary seemed to have always comprehended the significance of who Jesus was—and this last recorded act of her devotion was perhaps the most telling of all.

Did she know that she was pouring perfume considered fit for a king upon the feet of the King of kings?  Did she know, when He spoke of His burial that day, that it would occur in less than a week?  Did she have some premonition that this was likely the last thing she would ever do for Him before His death?  Even if she had some inkling, she could not have fully understood.

What she did understand was that no gift was too costly a sign of love for Jesus, and that nothing given to Jesus is ever wasted.  

We do not always know, either, the significance or long-reaching impact of things we give sacrificially to Jesus, but this is not the important thing.  What is important is that we give freely, like Mary, simply because we love Him.  He is worthy!

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:12)

 

Easter Week: Lessons from the Fig Tree

img_4761-edit.jpgOne does not encounter many fig trees in northern Minnesota, let alone fresh figs.  So it’s not surprising that up until a couple years ago, my experience with figs had been severely limited.  A Fig Newton sampled at a church potluck, a handful of dried figs eaten during studies of ancient Egypt in school.  I was unimpressed by either.  It wasn’t until I became an adult and a favorite restaurant paired glazed dried figs with mascarpone and the most delicious almond cake, that my opinion of figs improved dramatically.  But still, I had never even seen a fresh fig.

So when I walked into the grocery store one day and saw a row of little green plastic baskets full of plump deep purple figs, I was so fascinated by this novelty, I bought them on complete impulse.  At home, my husband asked what I was going to do with them as I excitedly showed off my exotic purchase.  “I have no idea,” I said.  What do you do with fresh figs?  It was time for some research.  You can see the results of that research in these pictures.

Recently, however, my ignorance of figs cropped up again.  I was reading through the events of the week leading up to Jesus’ resurrection and came across this fascinating account just after His triumphant entry into Jerusalem:

“The next day, when they had left Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if there was any fruit on it. But when He reached it, He found nothing on it except leaves, since it was not the season for figs. Then He said to the tree, “May no one ever eat of your fruit again.” And His disciples heard this statement.”

“As they were walking back in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered from its roots. Peter remembered it and said, “Look, Rabbi! The fig tree You cursed has withered.”

“Have faith in God,” Jesus said to them. “Truly I tell you that if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and has no doubt in his heart but believes that it will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”  (Mark 11:12-14, 20-24)

This, upon first glance, is simply a striking lesson on the power of faith.  If you have faith, literally anything is possible.  Lesson over.

But there’s one little line in this story that has always puzzled me: “it was not the season for figs”.  Why would Jesus so severely curse a tree for not bearing fruit when it wasn’t even the season for fruit?  It just seems rather unfair to the poor innocent fig tree and unusually whimsical for Jesus. 

My experience with the Bible, however, is that if you are willing to put in the effort to study, there is always an answer to be found to the even the most puzzling of questions.  It was time for some more fig research.

And sure enough, I learned two enlightening key facts:

1) Fig trees produce two main crops of fruit per year, one in early summer and one in late summer/fall, and sometimes a third in the spring if the tree is in a sheltered area.  Fruit is literally possible during every month of the year except probably January and February.

2) The fruit of the fig tree appears before the leaves.  Therefore if one were to see leaves on a tree, it was natural to conclude that there would also be fruit present.

So though it was the not the time for the main crop, when Jesus saw leaves on this particular fig tree, which are ordinarily a sign of fruit, he was not at all wrong to walk up to it expecting to find some.  What he found instead was a barren tree, full of false pretensions, and this is why He cursed it.IMG_4769 edit.jpgEnd of the fig tree story, right?  Actually, it continues on to become even more fascinating, because this is an object lesson with double significance.

When Jesus cursed the fig tree, he was not only giving us a lesson in the power of faith, he was also making a prophecy strongly linked to his imminent death and resurrection, and the future of Israel.  Throughout the Old Testament, Israel was frequently symbolically referred to as a fig tree, a tradition that Jesus continued in his own teaching:

“Then Jesus told this parable: “A man had a fig tree that was planted in his vineyard. He went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the keeper of the vineyard, ‘Look, for the past three years I have come to search for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Therefore cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’

‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone again this year, until I dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine. But if not, you can cut it down.’” (Luke 13:6-9)

Israel had become a barren fig tree, full of false legalistic and religious pretensions, but void of true spiritual fruit.  In sending Christ to live and walk among them, God (the gardener) had given them that one last epic chance to turn their hearts to Him.  Tragically, they had rejected it.  Spreading the good news of gospel of Christ to the world should have been Israel’s greatest privilege and joy, but instead God would soon be turning over this great honor to the Gentiles.  The cursing of the fig tree was a sad, but fitting picture of what was to come for the nation that had been called God’s people but too long rejected Him in their hearts.