A Tree, Cross, Sword and Seedling

I absolutely love my Monday Night Bible Study girls.  They are inspiring, honest, vulnerable and some Jesus lovin’ individuals who seek to sharpen one another in love.  I’m so grateful for them.  We’ve shared and witnessed struggles of marriages on the brink of divorce, transformed to revived and vibrant unions.  We’ve prayed for babies and births together; suffered death together.  We’ve witnessed healing and continue to pray for more.  We’ve shared burdens and held each other up in prayer, even in places where we didn’t know.  We make mistakes with one another, give and receive forgiveness, grow and do the messy parts of life together.  And we hold that sacred space of bible study in confidentiality; you know, what’s said at bible study stays at bible study. 

Our group is smack in the middle of Lisa Bevere’s study, Girls with Swords.  We’ve been talking about the cross and God’s Word, and how God’s Word is a God Sword (shift the letters and take out the apostrophe).  During the session last night we spoke specifically about the cross, and during the video session Lisa had us close our eyes to do a mental exercise.  Here’s a little portion from the book part ::

“Close your eyes for a moment, and imagine a wooden cross.  I want you to see that what was once a beautiful living tree is now fashioned into a lifeless instrument of death.  Stripped of all it’s branches and bark, the dead wood is roughly hewn and splintered.  The harsh pieces are artificially joined to form a wooden cross, and when it is erected, it looks strangely like a sword with its point in the ground.

Now imagine Jesus, the Word made flesh and God’s glorious Son, with his naked, beaten body stretched the length of this horrid sword blade.  Nine-inch nails have anchored his hands to the cross-guard,and behind our master’s head is the wooden sword’s grip.  Perhaps in heaven crosses and swords are one in the same.” (Lisa Bevere, Girls with Swords, pg. 64)

My minds eye followed along, but then all of a sudden my botanical mind took over and I saw something different.  I saw the once vibrant tree stripped of bark and now dead and formed into a cross, then it came to life.  This tree turned cross, turned into sword stuck in the ground, and then came back to life in the form of a strong and life-giving seedling.

white-oak-seedling-10-1I began to see this oak tree seedling; as it germinated, a long tap root was sent down deep into the earth much like the blade of the sword buried.  “And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.  And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.” (Matthew 27:51, ESV)  The portion seen above ground grew, sending up two cotyledons, the cross-guard of a sword’s hilt.  After a long pregnant pause, the rest of the tree began to grow.  It exploded into rapid and vibrant growth, beautiful and lush, producing fruit and a multiplying.  It was beautiful!  

Rooted in unfathomable love, Jesus’ death on the cross was the beginning of new life!  The tap root, botanically called the radical, was sourced in a radical and powerful love for each of God’s creations.   Just like swords, roots have a hard, sharp and pointy end to break through the toughest of earth.  “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sward, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12, ESV)  We must be rooted in love, a pure and powerful love sourced in our Creator. 

I see the cross for what it is, “a beautiful living tree now fashioned into a lifeless instrument of death”; but I also see it as the seed of life eternal.  A seed that has grown and sprouted into something more beautiful than I could ever imagine, producing fruit for generations. 

“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old.  Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not receive it?  I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”   (Isaiah 43:18-19, ESV, emphasis mine) 

God’s love springs forth!   

Rear-view Mirrors

So many of life’s lesson’s are learned after going through an experience, looking back on what has transpired.  Our questions may go unanswered for years.  The lightbulb goes off after the conversation is over.  The moment passes to share a loving embrace or an ‘I love you.’  Regret.  I don’t do or say something that I should have; or perhaps its the other way around, I do or say something I shouldn’t have.  It’s these valuable life lessons that we learn after the fact, which can provide a way for us to do things differently in the future.  Often, its looking in the rear-view mirror that gives us a different perspective.  It’s a different view of life. 

But staring into the rear-view mirror, living in the past, with the “what if” questions can keep us from ever moving forward.  The woulda, shoulda, coulda statements can cause some trouble.  It does for me.  My dad is really great at reminding me about when I “should on myself”.  “I should do this or that.”  “I should have done…”  You get the idea.  It’s not the true kind of life I want to live, or exemplify for my children and family.  It is the the difference between living in the past, living in the future, or choosing to live in the present. 

While driving home on the highway last week, I had a funny thought about my rear-view mirror.  While driving, the rear-view mirror is a powerful tool.  And living life, looking back can be a powerful tool.  A powerful tool keeping us in the past, or a powerful tool as we move forward.  However, just like driving, we are to face forward and drive straight ahead.

What a gift to be able to take a glance and see what’s behind me!  It was a great feeling, being able to grip the steering wheel and move forward with confidence and power.  I could take a glance in rear-view mirror, but I wasn’t going to live looking back.  It was physically impossible to live in the present while looking back. 

fullsizerenderRear-view mirror living requires us to sit still and unmoving, or it can send us sailing into a ditch.  Upon graduation from high school, I’d heard people say our their best years were behind us.  How sad?  I’m excited about the years ahead!  In my experience, it just keeps getting better and better!  I’m grateful for the rear-view mirror in life, it’s a powerful tool; but I’m looking ahead, griping the steering wheel and rolling the windows down for a wild ride!  It’s been that thus far, and I’m coming to a place where I don’t expect anything less.

1 Peter 5 :: Suffer

In this 1 Peter 5 study, we’ve already looked at the words humble, cast, watchful, and resist.  We’ve finally made it to the suffering .  Thanks for being patient, I decided to stop posting it on the blog until after we had talked about it in our Connection Class (Sunday School) at church.  And, we talked about suffering for three weeks.  THREE!  (All of our fabulous discussion and learning isn’t reflected here.)  I was so not expecting that.  In fact, I was not expecting to spend three months on 1 Peter 5:6-11 when we started this back in June.  So thanks for sticking with it.

Oh, suffering.  That’s such an enticing word, isn’t it?  Initially it sounds painful to me, something I want to avoid and not experience.  However, I have a new appreciation and dare I say understanding for what suffering is and what it means to suffer.  There’s not a single human walking this earth that has escaped the experience, therefor making it a universal connector amongst us all.  But there is something much greater, that overcomes the suffering, connecting us.  Love.

“Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.  And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” 1 Peter 5:9-10 (ESV)  I love how scripture says that we will only suffer for a little while and reminds us that our brotherhood throughout the world is also suffering.  It reminds me that I’m not alone, and that others are experiencing it.

My husband starts something new with his job soon and needed a specific shirt as part of his uniform.  While standing at the check out counter in the store, a woman I know walked up behind me to check out and said hello.  I was surprise to see her and asked if she had the day off of work, to which she replied no.  Her mother and father had both passed away that week, and she was preparing for their funeral and needed some clothing items.  My heart aches for her, and can not imagine the suffering she was experiencing.  We usually don’t know when someone is suffering just by outward appearances.  It’s an internal experience, that only sometimes bleeds over into visible places.

We will all experience suffering, there’s not one of us who will escape this.  Way back in Genesis, the suffering began and it will continue until our last breath.  I don’t say this to be a downer, it’s the truth.  Remembering that we all suffer makes me want to reach out in love to others, even when I don’t feel like it.

The word suffering in the Hebrew is pathema and means something undergone, hardship or pain, subjectively an emotion or influence.  The emotion part sticks out to me, because sometimes my “I don’t feel like it” or other emotions override action in a not-so-great way.  I’ve come to the place that if I’m going to suffer, which will happen, I want to suffer well.

When you experience suffering, what do you do?

Sometimes I question myself, trudge through in my own power and roll around in the muck, stuff it down, complain.  Maybe you like to wade through self-pity, or wear the suffering like a badge of honor?  There are so many different ways to suffer, and I simply want to do it better today than I did yesterday.

What are we supposed to do, or remember, when we suffer?  There’s a few things that come to mind.  Staying mindful of who I am in Christ, a christ-consciousness, is huge for me.  It not only reminds me of who I am, but who others are as well – creations of the Creator. (1 Peter 2:19)  Rejoicing and giving thanks through the suffering has pulled me up out of the pain on more than one occasion.  (James 1:2-3, 1 Peter 4:13)

There are so many ways to suffer well, and our ultimate example being Jesus on the cross.  I’m so grateful for his loving example.  I would encourage you to seek out what scripture tells us about suffering well.  And remember, it’s only going to last a little while.