Jesus Christ the Apple Tree

I had never heard this 18th-century Christmas carol until very recently but it has since been playing in my mind, at once familiar & fresh. Penned by Richard Hutchins in 1761, it has inspired music by, among many others, Elizabeth Poston in the last century and another performed by Lee Nelson & the Wartburg Choir in 2013. (I’ve posted both versions below.

The metaphor of the apple tree appears in the Song of Songs, when the bride says of her Beloved: “As an apple tree among the trees of the forest,/so is my beloved among the young men./With great delight I sat in his shadow, and his fruit was sweet to my taste” (Song 2:3).

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The Time is Now: Daily Reflections for Advent

It’s been two days since the first Sunday in Advent, so it’s not too late to share once again a video series of short daily reflections that I found to be a cornerstone of family devotions one past Christmas season and whose benefits, I believe you will find, linger through the year.

The Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics has put out a series of daily reflections for advent which provide a beautifully meditative context for our individual prayers and reflection. Each medit…

Source: The Time is Now: Daily Reflections for Advent

Understanding Thanksgiving, post-Thanksgiving Day!

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It’s after Thanksgiving Day and let the postmortems begin! I’m only half-joking. For many of us who rarely see family members because of time, distance, or circumstance, Thanksgiving Day gatherings simply add new scars to old wounds or put to sudden death relationships that hang by the most meagre familial ties. History looms over the proceedings, manacling participants to doomed conversations haunted by the past, bitter blasts that erupt from beneath the thin crust of apple pie amiability.

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Birds, Poets and Preachers

Every prisoner who can look outside his prison bars and see a bird in flight, or on waking hears its song, feels his heart drawn upwards in hope. So do those on beds of pain or suffering. The simple sight or music of birds accomplishes what songs and sermons cannot at times, wordlessly drawing our thought to heaven, to consider the power, the wonder, the love of God for His creation, even the least of us. “Consider the ravens,” said Jesus, pointing out the most common of birds. “They neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!” (Luke 12:24)

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Francis Schaeffer & Dorothy Sayers

from Francis Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live? (1976)
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“No totalitarian authority nor authoritarian state can tolerate those who have an absolute by which to judge that state and its actions. Christians [have] that absolute in God’s revelation.”

from Dorothy Sayers, Creed or Chaos? (1940)
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5105N7SP7VL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_I believe it to be a grave mistake to present Christianity as something charming and popular with no offense in it …. We cannot blink at the fact that gentle Jesus meek and mild was so stiff in his opinions and so inflammatory in his language that he was thrown out of church, stoned, hunted, and finally gibbeted as a firebrand and a public danger. Whatever his peace was, it was not the peace of amiable indifference.”

Jesus in the Day of Small Things

For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice ….”

– Zechariah 4: 10
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Constitutional Convention Assembly Room, Independence Hall, Philadelphia

Anyone who hasn’t turned on the news and come away disheartened isn’t paying attention. The years that saw men and women strive for noble ideals in the interest of their countrymen, when the Constitutional Convention assembled to debate the great truths that should be enshrined as the foundational principles of a nation, those days are long past. The leaders that strode across the canvas of time – George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson – seem shrouded in the distant past replaced by the frontrunners of our current presidential primaries, a morally and intellectually bankrupt buffoon and an equally corrupt power-hungry crony capitalist.

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Eastertide

Sea of Galilee
Sea of Galilee

Ah, LORD, what am I
that You would provide
for me, a sinner,
the feast of life
the true life of all
the breath of You
body and blood
sinless Lamb
incarnate Son
my Lord and my God!

Hesed Love

A wet stone in my open palm
and the water trickling down my arm
returning to the brook like tears,
the only sign that eyes
set like stones yet can weep.

Such moments deserve better frames
from the hand that sends them
down the assembly line of time
even the luxury to inhabit them endlessly,
a black hole until all feeling is gone.

Holding on to the resentment kept me sane,
kept me from screaming, until I entered
into the rock, limestone hard glitter
so that Elijah-like the earthquake, the storm,
the fiery shaking of world passed over me.

What I feared the most was the whisper
when it came, that would not break a bruised reed
or quench a smoking flax, that would not leave me alone
but sought me out as if this Person
from whom I have a right to expect nothing
would give me everything.

Hesed. Lovingkindness. Waiting for me
to come out of the cave-harbored wretchedness
into the healing light of grace unlooked for,
undeserved, mine to harbor
forevermore.

John Singer Sargent,
John Singer Sargent, “Magnolias” (c. 1890)

1 Kings 19:9-13

There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He said, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Isaiah 42:1-4

Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.

Note: In this poem, I use a line from the following excerpt:

“In the Old Testament, God defined himself by the term hesed. This is an untranslatable Hebrew word which is sometimes rendered mercy, loving kindness, covenant-faithfulness or even love. It takes a whole sentence to even begin to translate the term, but this is a good place to start. When someone from whom I have a right to expect nothing gives me everything, I experience hesed.” – Michael Card

Advent

IcySnowTree
The Urals, photography by Sergey Makurin

She was dead she thought
The leaves gone gray with frostbite
Fullness of life pinched like the last rays
Of twilight and the seed rotten
In the grave of her heart where it lay
Thick corpse unlooked for, unhoped for.

Then the recrudescence of the unseen cloaked –
Birth pains preceded by incredulous laughter
Behind three visitors, welcome yet sorely
Testing her faith that after all these years
The barren belly and breasts hanging loose
Like the flaps of Abraham’s tent would swell
With child and milk and passion flailing
In her arms in cries of longing.

Still yet would the muted prayers of her heart
Confuse a blind priest and escape like drunken speech
From a spirit overburdened with years of enduring
Whispers interspersed with “poor Hannah”
And taunts hastily stifled between pursed lips
Escape the earth to a listener in the heavens
Beneath the frozen stare of endless reeling stars.

Oh, birth that fell upon the girl betrothed twice:
First to the gallant, plainspoken carpenter by trade
Then to the shame that lay as heavy upon her as the child
Ripening within, immortal Savior, promised to a broken remnant
Who had almost ceased to believe their barren vineyard –
Stripped, plundered, bruised under heel of pharisee and emperor –
Would find its fruit at last in the promised seed of God
Eternal hid here in the virgin’s bespoken womb!

Now to ready the still beating heart beneath the flesh
That spawns decay, loss, grief, hate, pain and misery
Unbroken by relentless time, but that time itself stoops
To enter into a stable wherein lies a gurgling babe,
The hope of every longing heart
The joy of bright expectant eyes
The peace of life newborn where once there was none
Now in this advent of his return.


Isaiah 9:6-7
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

The Time is Now: Daily Reflections for Advent

How are you “preparing the way of the Lord” this advent season?

Dreams from a Pilgrimage

The Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics has put out a series of daily reflections for advent which provide a beautifully meditative context for our individual prayers and reflection. Each meditation begins with a passage of scripture read by David Suchet and then a five-minute exposition by Amy Orr-Ewing which places the scripture within the framework of God’s unfolding design of salvation. The reflections “dwell on God’s preparation of people and events in history, which made the incarnation possible,” with the focus being on how God works in chronos time to achieve his kairos purpose, the coming of the Messiah, Christ Jesus. The introductory video does a good job of explaining the Biblical use of the two Greek words for time, chronos/kairos, kairos being used by the New Testament writers to “communicate the idea of God’s time; it is eternal reality breaking into the now.”

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Selkies, Us All: The Curse and the Cure

There she stood, in a pool of light on the stage, and in the silence between songs she told a story from her native land in the western isles of Scotland, of children born to the king and queen of Norway, born only to be cursed to dwell in the ocean as seals, “always on the shore, never able to go home.”

800px-Small_waves_grinding_the_rocky_shore_of_the_Bengtskar_island

I didn’t at once think of the selkie-folk, stories of whom abound in the northern climes, including the Orkney isles where they are believed to be fallen angels that fell into the sea rather than on land like the faery-folk.

I thought of the damned around us, immortal like us who are Christian believers, but for whom eternity will be in the “lake of fire” (Rev. 21:8), the “fiery furnace” that Jesus warns us of in Matthew 13:50 and Mark 9:43.

Once I too was damned, cursed like the selkie children of folklore, cursed for my sins, born of a sinful nature which I had inherited from my parents, from the race of Adam. As a sinner I too had been banished from Eden, always on her shore – longing for perfection from myself, longing for a perfect world free of hatred, violence, war, famine, disease, pain, and suffering – never able to “go home” to that garden where God descends to walk “in the cool of the evening” (Gen. 3:8) as a Father with His child, made in His own image.

But He didn’t abandon us, sinful creatures though we had become, His image defaced in us by our sins. He took on our flesh. He came down to the shore and walked with us, teaching us, healing us, and reminding us of His love. And He allowed Himself to be spat upon, beaten, torn and nailed to a cross so that “His appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind” (Is. 52:14).

He allowed the atrocity of His crucifixion out of love for us who were damned. He bore upon Himself the judgment that was ours. All the wrath that was due to us for ours sins was poured out on Him.

But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed  (Isaiah 53:5).

What, then, are we healed of? What peace do we have?

We are healed of the curse of sin. We can shed our “selkie” skin and be clothed with His perfect righteousness. We have the peace of eternal reconciliation to God our Father.

Dear Reader, are you healed? Do you have this peace? Or will you be doomed to the shores until that day when you will be judged for your sins and suffer the eternal punishment of the damned in hell?

Believe now in the Lord Jesus, and by faith receive the salvation He offers you, and you will be saved (Acts 16:31). He is waiting for you, as a loving father waits longingly for his wayward child (Luke 15: 11-32).

You don’t have to remain a “selkie,” trapped in the coming flames of judgement you richly deserve for your sins. You can go home.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17).

 

 

Exorcising the Zombie

Sometimes when you “express yourself,” you’re just exorcising the zombie you’ve become – or attempting to. It’s a rare moment of self-awareness when you want to break free of the accumulated dead cells of all that stifles life. Writing is one way for me, especially if it begins and ends with a deeper awareness not just of myself but also of my Maker and my God! The following verse was written in a burst of frustration as thoughts began intruding into my quiet time:

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Death’s Shadow

A friend told me once that she was most afraid of failing to die well. It was a glorious warm and sunny day and in the middle of it, just out of the blue, she says she’s worried about death.

We live in the shadow of death. Like winter, we know it is coming. We must be ready. An ominous chill, the harbinger of death, the first frost settles on the green leaves of summer, stealing life, sapping strength, leaves turning, withering, falling in the autumn rain. No power on earth can turn back the hands of time. A casket stands by an open grave.

It’s not simply that life has an end, that death has the last word. It’s not simply that death brings us to the end of ourselves as well.

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Koinōnia

κοινωνία

There you sit, you strange little Greek word, daring me to say you:
koy-nohn-ee’-ah. Heard it on the grapevine. Neeah. Neeah. Coin O Neeah.
Koinōnia. Can’t scare me. Fat plum you are. Soaking in the sun.
Shiny little purple friend, all decked out on half-promises. Fellowship, is it?
Comraderie? Smarmy times of togetherness maybe. Then a kiss and a shove out the door. And leave your wallet behind if you please. No joke.
Cynic, am I? Just leave me alone. Jesus and I get on just fine.
Walking through a church door, community-of-believers door,
praying together, sharing together, caring, feeding,
hungering, thirsting together, finding courage and staying together,
that’s not me, that’s someone else,
wandering, seeking, and finding
that you can’t pick and choose the family you belong to
when God plants you there, like you can bloom where you’re planted.
Sunflower-clichèd, when it’s coming up roses just where I am,
just as I am, accepted for who I am by the One
who is the great I Am, finding grace and mercy,
redemption in the Lamb, slain for my sins, leading me
to drink from the fountain of salvation, giving me new life,
born again and adopted into His family, a new family,
in the house that He built.
Walking through a church door,
seeing is believing, and I see people belonging,
who were lost and now are found,
sending workers into the harvest,
fellowshipping,
still growing past imperfect,
stepping on toes on their way to the altar,
unruly sinners repenting, singing and crying,
praising the God who loved them enough
to send His only Son
to die upon a cross
and bring them home to Him.
Koinōnia.
You don’t scare me, you plum of a word.
Not now.


John 13:34-35  [Jesus said,] “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Acts 2:42  And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship [koinōnia], to the breaking of bread and the prayers

Romans 12:9-13  Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.