The tree of life

We read in Genesis chapter 2 that in the Garden of Eden, man’s first home, God grew up every tree producing fruit pleasing to the sight.  In the middle of the Garden grew two very specific trees, the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  After placing man in the garden God gave him as a gift to eat of every tree in the garden except one, the tree of the knowledge of good evil, “for as soon as you eat of it, you shall die.”  So that leads me to believe that Adam and Eve were permitted to eat of the fruit of the tree of life.

As the story continues along though, the serpent, Satan comes to deceive our first father and mother to eat from the tree that would bring death.  The fruit was pleasing to the eye afterall and so they ate, ignoring the bring death warning and instead believing the lie that they would be like God, knowing good and bad.  And so the curse of sin enters God’s perfect world because of a choice to feed the flesh and ignore the divine order that sends a ripple effect throughout all of creation, ushering in a new age that we still feel the effects of today.  No longer are they permitted in this state to eat of the fruit of life and so they and we are banished from the garden, but not forgotten.

It was praying the Our Father, the line, “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” that got me thinking of these two trees, two trees that we are still presented with today, now that we live in the age of redemption.  In every situation we are presented to choose between life and death.  Will we react in a way that we pluck the fruit of the tree of life to eat and taste and be nourished from, or will do we listen to a lie of our flesh calling out to be fed from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thinking it will make us divine beings on our own terms?  I think that’s why Jesus asks us to pray these words.  He knows our flesh is tempted and weak, desiring to be satiated in any way possible and so to remind us of what that choice brought to Adam and Eve and the rest of creation he calls us to plead with God to lead us away from that tree and to the tree of life.

And what does the fruit from the tree of life look like, why the fruit of the Spirit of course, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  The more we eat this fruit, it’s seeds are planted in us to grow and produce more of it in our lives.  In turn, it will be the fruit that we have to offer all those around us so that a cycle of life continues on.  As long as we stay connected to the true Vine then the Gardener will cultivate the fruit of life in us and through us.

When I pray that line, to lead me from temptation, I add in that God would lead me instead to life.  I imagine myself before these two trees in the garden and physically turning from the one that will lead to my death and towards the one that will give me life.  I ask that I will intentionally pluck its fruit and be satisfied by its taste, and let its goodness fill me to overflowing.  I want to choose the nourishment that my Creator made for me to not only live on but to thrive on.

Both/And

I’m reminded often as of late of approaching life with the lens of “both/and”, not “either/or”.  I first put on these new lenses while I sat at my father’s bedside as he died.  Up until that day I thought life could only exist in “either/or”, I could feel one way or I could feel the other.  But at dad’s side, simultaneously I felt both the greatest sorrow I had experienced to that point in my life at the loss of my father, but also the deepest joy and peace that dad was free from the chains of this life and I was so glad for him.  In my grief that followed, I also experienced at the same time the awakening of my soul.  Perhaps I could feel two things at once, and perhaps I could feel them more deeply when experienced together.

As I live with my new lenses I am seeing that this new approach lives out in many ways.  I notice for instance that if I seek to bestow true forgiveness to others in life and the freedom that it will give me, I must at the same time delve deep into the pains and hurt that caused the wounds in the first place.  I don’t know about you but that pain and hurt were enough to experience the initial time around, why go poking around into the mess again?  This time around I don’t go by myself though.

My Brother offers to hold my hand, illuminating our path as we enter into parts of my heart that have been locked away.  I offer the key and we go together.  God shows me where He was present all along before, I was just blind to His presence, and where He is now, His Love large enough to catch every tear and heal every wound.  When the great Healer comes in to make me whole again, my new self is what identifies me, not the old self of victim and shame.  Forgiveness can come from this new place, with these new lenses.

I learn along the way though, that a companion of forgiveness is confession, my own confession, “both/and”.  I must reach a place where I see the depravity of my own sin, the plank sticking out of my own eye.  The more deeply I confess my own sin, to own it, I can receive forgiveness myself.  The Healer comes to me in a different way, to remove my plank and set me free.  What I learn from the gift of mercy is how it is bestowed, with gentleness and with compassion.  This was a “both/and” I could not see before.

I hid away my confession because I thought it would be met with judgment and anger, I was bound by fear.  The longer I have spent in the embrace of Love I rest in its assurance so fear is driven out and I can let my guard down.  Confession can flow more naturally because now I know the “both/and” it is accompanied by is more Love.  How is that possible?  Because it is Divine Love, not human love.  As I confess myself and receive compassion the more willing and able I am to grant forgiveness.  A snowball starts rolling and just won’t stop.

If I desire more good in my life, more love, more freedom than I must be willing to experience the “and”, the suffering, the loss, the pain, the death at the same time.  I can not separate the two any longer.  If I fear the pain then I will settle for a shallow love, “either/or”.  Instead, I can choose courageously to step deeper into Love but then Love will also call me to step deeper into the pain, I will have to experience “both”.  But deeper, Holy Love promises this, to never leave me or forsake me.  It promises me to see life with this new set of lenses, a new teaching, a new yoke, that will not burden me any longer, and with it my new self, my soul will find rest.  It is in giving that we receive and it is in dying that we are born again into something new, into the eternal.

Holy and Love

Ten years ago I had a conversation with a young woman, we were discussing the characteristics of God.  She said she had a heard a speaker one-time share that yes, people go around saying that God is love but first and foremost we must always remember that God is holy.  Hmm, God is holy.  Holy.  Set apart.

Well, I clung onto that thought and somewhere in it set apart transformed into far apart.  His holiness, His perfection was distant from my sin and couldn’t draw near.  And when God is far away He sits in judgment.  There fear steps into the place of love, but isn’t fear of the Lord the beginning of wisdom?  True, but if you can’t draw near to wisdom, then how can you obtain it?

With this transformation my faith became transactional, to get to the love I so desperately sought after, I would need to perform to do to obey because Jesus instructed that if we loved Him then we would obey Him.  Obedience is easy because you can tell when you’re doing right and doing wrong, hoping that the doing right was inching you close enough to the favor you sought and the love that you hoped for.  But to view God as far away meant that love was always far away too and no amount of transactions would get me to the point of satisfaction to a judgmental God or a judgemental self.

Now, well now I’m seeing that maybe I got everything all wrong.  It started with this notion that God is Love.  I had focused so much on holiness that I left off in discovering Love but thankfully it never left seeking after me.  When Love began to awaken me I could finally sit in its presence, in all its glory and beauty.  And for the first time, it wasn’t distant but it was still holy.

I couldn’t understand Love or God in His totality because I was trying to understand Him with human constructs and beliefs.  I realized that when I thought of love I thought of the sinful way we use love, love as merely a feeling of the heart or give me love and I’ll show you love in return, hurt or harm me and I withdraw.  This is not God’s Love.  God’s Love is holy, it is set apart and that’s what makes it beautiful and life-giving.  I start to start secure in Holy Love first.

To immerse myself in a Holy Love I must die to myself though, the self that clings to the human construct of love.  If I continue to try and squeeze love into those standards no fruit will flourish into abundance and I would never truly love God, my neighbor or myself.  I have begun to have a foretaste to what taking up my cross and dying to this false self will mean.  It means seeing the true depth to the depravity of my own sin so that Holy Love can bestow compassion and grace and gentleness to me.  It means bringing Light to old wounds, as painful as that might be so forgiveness, that is bathed in compassion can be truly bestowed and so I can stop living in denial and instead know healing and freedom.

So in my transforming view of life from the “either/or” to the “both/and” I am seeing that God is both Holy and Love, He’s actually Holy Love.  We can not separate the two lest we get hung up on the one characteristic apart from the other.  No, they must be married together.  He must be Holy and He must Love, but it must be Holy Love.  I still have much to learn about Holy Love but for now, I’m enjoying just being with Him and letting that gentle truth wash over me.

(Meditate on 1 John 4 to sit with Holy Love.)

The other cheek

As I step deeper into Love and let it transform me I have become aware that I see things differently, read things differently because this Love is different and is giving me a new lens to look at life.  I’m reading through the gospel of Luke right now and came to a place where Jesus is teaching his disciples what Love looks like.  He tells them (and us) that Love loves their enemies, that when someone strikes your cheek, you offer them the other cheek in return.  Love is helping me to understand this differently.

My oldest son gives into the fruit of the flesh with bursts of anger and rage from time to time.  He might have partaken of this fruit through generational sin, maybe.  The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.  But the good news is, some new fruit is growing on my tree, the kind from the Spirit that is uprooting this generational sin.  One day during one of his outbursts instead of offering anger back I let Love step in and it felt like I was absorbing that anger, not feeding off of it like before, and then I was able to offer my other cheek to my son that came in the form of open arms ready for an embrace.  I encouraged him to let it out, that I could take it, Love could take it and when he was done we hugged in a deep hold.

Now my son is certainly not my enemy, far from it, but I think God is giving me an easy start into this whole love your enemies sort of thing.  It was easier to offer love back to my son’s anger because of the relationship we already have established.  I can see how practicing in this kind of Love will help when the real enemies come my way.

I also saw in a very tangible way how God’s love absorbs our anger that we throw at Him every day while like the Prodigal Father, He stands there with open arms ready to embrace us.  In the passage of Luke, I was referring to earlier at the end of this section Jesus states that if we are able to love our enemies, (and do good and lend without expecting a thing in return) our reward will be great because we will truly be children of God.  Jesus says we must be merciful, just as our father is merciful (Luke 6:36).  I think this is because we first let Love transform us so that we become Love itself.

The only way this Love will transform us is if we spend time together, in new ways, in real ways, in quiet, be still kind of ways.  I’m asking more and more every day what it means that God is Love, so that I might be a Love incarnate that can offer my other cheek.  How will you spend time with Love today?

True Refuge

Did you know you are meant to be hidden? As children, I think we feel this acutely. Walking into a new, strange place we hide behind our parent’s back, shy with our words and our gaze. We want assurance from them that this place and these people will be safe and will welcome us for who we are.

When we grow up we think we should grow out of this need, this fear, this questioning. We say we’ve grown out of our shy phase but truth be told we never do. As adults, we hide behind the persona that we’ve created, behind our accomplishments, our status, our accumulations. Sure we are no longer hiding behind our parents anymore and walk with boldness into these new, strange places but inside we’re still questioning if this will be a safe place that will welcome us for who we truly are.

Truth is, it is our nature to desire to be hidden in a safe place, a refuge. And this is not because of the Fall, no it was a desire woven into us at the Creation of our race. Sin merely manipulated this truth, as it always does to draw us to seek our refuge in other places that do not satisfy and protect or to put us in denial for so long that we do not even recognize our true need for what it is, part of the fabric of our being.

This morning as I was reading Scripture I came to Psalm 16. Read it with me;

Protect me, O God, for I seek refuge in You.

I say to the LORD,

“You are my Lord, my benefactor;

there is none above You.”

As to the holy and mighty ones that are in the land,

my whole desire concerning them is that those who espouse another god may have many sorrows!

I will have no part of their bloody libations;

their names will not pass my lips.

The LORD is my allotted share and portion;

You control my fate.

Delightful country has fallen to my lot;

lovely indeed is my estate.

I bless the LORD who has guided me;

my conscience admonishes me at night.

I am ever mindful of the LORD’s presence;

He is at my right hand; I shall never be shaken.

So my heart rejoices,

my whole being exults,

and my body rests secure.

For You will not abandon me to Sheol,

or let Your faithful one see the Pit.

You will teach me the path of life.

Your presence is perfect joy;

delights are ever in Your right hand.”


When I was done reading I was reminded of the first time God reminded me I was created for refuge in Him. I had been living in denial when God had the scales fall from eyes while reading the first chapter of, “Waking Up Grey,” by Jennie Schut. (I’ve shared several times of how God has used this as a guide book during this leg of my journey). She writes, “Hiding in God is something that is strung throughout Scripture. God is referred to with such names as Refuge, Hiding Place, Fortress, Shelter. Do you know that it is okay to feel the need to hide? Don’t interpret your strong desire to stay hidden as something of cowardice, sheepish foolish or bad. He understands our need for refuge and has made provision for it.” The lie had told me my need was bad but now the truth told me it was good. And that provision He has made is Himself, more specifically Christ.

When I find my refuge in the LORD it says that “my heart (will) rejoice, my whole being exults and my body rests secure.” When I’m hidden in God it means I am in His presence and there I will learn, “the path of life” and “perfect joy.” No other refuge I have sought has ever given that.

The challenge, of course, is to stay hidden in our proper hiding place. Like the prodigal sons are nature is to wander and leave but thankfully we have a Father who is always looking for us and runs to meet us, welcomes us home and throws a banquet in our honor. When I remember my true identity and join the Father at His urging plea to refuge in Him I find the safety and freedom to come into my true self. I must set about me reminders of the truth to call me home.

A Person’s A Person

“A person’s a person no matter how small.”

Last night I had the privilege of overhearing a conversation between two friends that centered around human history, our story. My wise friend spoke of the creation of people. When God got together and was setting about creating an image bearer on this creation they had made He formed human beings and the only division that He felt was necessary was one of gender, male and female. And when He was done He declared this human race very good. The creation of the world was complete once He rested.

In college, I remember learning that race, that little box they have you check off on forms, is merely a human construct meant to bring order or division or whatever it is that race does. Last night I was able to connect this lesson with what my friend saying. In the beginning, God felt there was no need to divide His people beyond male and female, and that it would be the joining of two that would bear a fuller image of Himself. And it would have to be believed that the diversity we see in God’s image bearers, that we see in skin and hair and physical stature and features would be a reflection of Him. I mean just look at the different number of species of butterflies or flowers God has created. Clearly, He likes variety. God did not create human races, He created one race, the human race.

I was reminded recently that so often we start with life at the Fall, when everything went bad and needed redemption and we forget that God started with Creation, when everything was perfect and declared good. We seek our identity in the Fall and redemption but before redemption was even necessary our identity was declared Beloved, very good in Creation. That is who we are first and foremost, and that is who every person we come into contact with is first and foremost. They are not a sinner saved by grace or a sinner in need of grace or a sinner that I need to convert and shove grace in their face. No, everyone I come in contact with is Beloved.

This morning I woke up with that quote from Dr. Seuss’s book, “A Horton Hears a Who,” that gets repeated over and over again. “A person’s a person no matter how small.” In the book, it’s talking about the physical size of a person but I began to think of it in terms of the smallness that society places on someone. When we divided ourselves, by race, by class, by ethnicity, by anything we conjure up, we made people small in our eyes and by making them small we thought we could forget about them. We pushed them out, and we sent them away till their cry for help became a whisper to our ears. But if we can slow down and begin to listen we will hear them, our human race speaking to one another, and my prayer is that I will begin to see them as the Beloved and start there, with love.

A Missing Piece

For years I’ve known that my identity rests on being known as a daughter of God. Nothing I could do could take away or add to this foundation of who I was, who I am. A concept that is simple in theory but not easy to let take root in my heart. Through constant reminders and repetition, this being of who I truly am has taken shape and is the truth I fall back on time and time again.

Recently though I’ve sensed God’s love drawing me deeper, pursuing me to understand my identity and Him in a way I could not before. Last year I described it as a second conversion because this deeper pursuit was on a whole new playing field than before and it was the best words I had at the time to describe it at the time. When God beckons us closer to Himself I have learned to listen and heed the call and much of the last year has been about lowering my defenses and learning to listen with fresh ears.

And what I have begun to discover is that God is Love. Again, a simple concept in theory but somehow I missed it before, or at least I was missing the expansive nature of what that Love really was. When we take the lid off the box we’ve stuffed God into all these years, letting Him become to us the infinite and expansive God He truly is, we become overwhelmed and dare I say, a little scared by this God of never-ending, everlasting, sacrificial Love.

The more I came into a deeper awareness of Love and let it take hold of my being, the more I realized that I was Love too. Love calls me the Beloved. If we as human beings are created in the image of our God than it only makes sense that we too would become Love incarnate ourselves, expressing in our own unique ways the Love that created us, knows us and holds us. But the Love that calls us home, to rest and refuge is also the same Love that suffered, gave up all and died. Can I become all that Love calls my identity as a daughter of God to be?

These last months I’ve struggled with the sacrificial nature of Love and if I could become it, to the point of death? To me, this depth of Love will demand a vulnerability from me, which I’ve done a good job of hiding from all these years. Vulnerability opens us up to the possibility of hurt and the more deeply I love the more deeply I hurt. I’ve hurt in the past and I don’t know if I want to hurt more. But I’ve also loved in the past and I know that I want to love more. To become Love we must do both. We must love more deeply than we ever thought possible and we will hurt more deeply than we ever thought possible but we can not hold on to both Love and fear at the same time.

I had been holding onto fear, but then I realized something about my identity that I had been missing. As a daughter of God, I am an heir of God as well. All that He has is mine. Upon reading Henri Nouwen’s reflection of the prodigal parable in Luke 15 in his book, “The Return of the Prodigal Son,” the father meets the elder son’s complaints and bitterness which are really fears and hurt with the assurance that, “My son you have been with me always and everything I have is yours.” I am with my Father always and all that He has is mine. Again, nothing I do can diminish this or add to it. The question is will I live into my identity and my inheritance?

If Love is my identity and my inheritance than I see no other choice than to live into it. And not out of duty or obligation as I have in the past but because the Father and I are one just as Jesus and He were one (John 17). What my Father wants will be what I want and what He lives out will be what I live out. Yes, this way of Love will hurt and it will sacrifice but my Father is with me always, my safety and my refuge and what I feel He will feel and our Love will be one. The other day I decided to stop holding onto fear and step instead into the embrace of Love.

Incarnation​

Two things God has given me fresh eyes to see lately.  The first, God is Love.  Plain and simple yet so profound and somehow I missed the depth of it before and still probably am.  But at any rate, God is Love.

The second is this, God came and dwelt among us.  The second thought is, of course, related to the first and so is no less profound.  With the birth of Jesus Christ, God taking on human flesh demonstrated a new dimension of how far God would go to be with His creation.  This, of course, was not the first time He took steps to dwell among us.  While wandering through the wilderness the people of God were guided by His presence, a cloud by day and fire by night.  He took up residence in their camp.

But that wasn’t enough.  He needed a true place to reside with them always and so He commissioned the Tabernacle to be built and for a tent to built around it.  Eventually, the tent would become a more permanent establishment with the construction of the temple, but both housed the Holy of Holies in its center.  There God’s presence would reside but behind a veil, present but not with them.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

In the dawn of a new era, God decided it was time to reside with His creation in a new way.  It was no longer enough to just be present in one place, it was time to demonstrate the depth of His love and magnitude of His greatness and so He became like the image bearer He made, He took on human flesh, what we call the Incarnation.

Love wants to be with that which it loves, its beloved.  Love wants to know what it knows and feel what it feels and think as it thinks.  Love wants to laugh and cry and eat and sleep and stay up late contemplating life together.  Love is so simple, yet so profound.  And then God showed us the extent to which love would go for its beloved when Love became so vulnerable and sacrificial that it died in place of its beloved.  Why would God do that?  Why would Love do that?

So the veil could be torn and God could take up residence with His creation, His beloved whenever and wherever they would roam.  Love is no longer confined to Tabernacle.  It is no longer confined to a man in space in time.  God as Spirit can now reside within us and we can become the Love that He already is.

This Advent season a quote keeps popping up wherever I go.  I’m going to paraphrase it (which means not give it the justice due to it).  It says something like this, God became man so that man may become like God.  Simple, yet so profound.  I keep turning that over and over again in my head.  I think there is a link there between Love and the Incarnation.  Love become flesh to dwell among us so that we may become Love and dwell among us.

God is Love.  God came and dwell among us.  We are now Love.

Soul Place

Does your soul have a safe place to come out?  A place that is quiet and still where it tentatively creeps out of hiding and into the light, to be honest, and speak the truth about how you really feel, what you truly think, what’s going on under the mask?  Does your soul know where to go to meet face to face with your God?

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For me, it is a garden, that I named Eden because it is there that I go to walk in the cool of the day with God.  The first time I set foot into Eden, I knew I could come out from behind the bush and not be scared of my nakedness.  I know God’s presence is with me always but there is something special about the garden.  Each time we come to meet I know God will do a special work and heal my soul.

The first thing I do when I enter the garden is to take a breath, a long deep breath.  I’m aware that breathing up until now has been quick and short.  As I begin to walk I am conscious of my hurried pace and I begin to slow down so that the click of my step on the path is drawn out.  Nothing needs to be rushed in the garden.  This place and time are set aside for holy work.

As I slow down my senses open up and become enlivened.  I see, I smell, I hear differently.  They become more full and complete.  I seek out the same view each time to see how the perspective has changed as time passes between visits.  The view is big, the sky is limitless because that is the God I want to give my heart to.  Not one in a box or defined by a list, but one that can encompass all.  His love must have no end.  He must be free and wild.

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I recognize that this place, though safe is not without fear or pain.  To expose our soul fully and freely, to really listen to the what it feels in the deepest places will stir up much.  To face the person in the mirror will mean we will come to know them.  Only a God of immeasurable love can listen and heal and bring to life the beauty that up until now we’ve been too afraid to see in ourselves.

Do not step into the safe place unaware, but do so with courage and with an expectation to meet with your God and meet who you truly are.  God’s love is steadfast and he is always in the business of redeeming and restoring life.  You are no exception, my friend.

 

“As for me, nearness to God is good;

I have made the Lord God my refuge,

that I may recount all Your works.”

~Psalm 73:28

Remember, you are free

“That very day the LORD freed the Israelites from the land of Egypt, troop by troop.” ~Exodus 12:51

What day did God free you?  Can you look back and mark a specific day and place and time?  The Israelites can and every year they celebrate that day lest the forget the power and majesty of their God and whose hand it was that truly saved them.  After residing in a foreign land for 430 years God’s people were heading home, to a land of milk and honey.  But first, they would make a pit stop in the wilderness that would be the reshaping of their lives.

After living so many years in bondage and captivity, under the lordship of their enslaver, the Israelites had grown accustomed to their slavery.  It was rooted deep into their being and became their identity.  On the day God freed them there were so many weeds of lies embedded in their hearts it was hard to distinguish what was true and what was false.  Though their captors no longer physically stood over them in the wilderness, their words of deceit and oppression still spoke haunting whispers in their thoughts.

They didn’t know how to live in freedom and release themselves.  Patterns of their slavery ran deep and when the life of freedom didn’t look as they expected they kept trying to go back.  At least in Egypt they had food to eat.  At least in Egypt they had a place to rest their head.  At least in Egpyt, they had a quota of bricks to define their life.  At least they knew what to expect.  They ran back to the idols they could fashion for themselves.  Slavery was a life of control, but who was really in control?

They traveled through the wilderness for 40 years, yes as punishment for their sin, for not glorifying God for who he was and is, but I also believe that God left them there for so long so he could weed out the lies of slavery and remind them of their identity in freedom.  Yes, the life of control seems attractive.  The great enslaver deceived them to believe it’s a life worth living and continues to deceive us even today.

And so a story that happened thousands of years ago, continues to play out still today.  I see in my own life this pattern, that even though yes indeed, God has freed me, I can mark a day and a time and a place, that I keep going back to slavery, believing the illusion of lies that slavery was a place I was in control of life and that somehow that’s better.  It’s true, a life of freedom is one we have no control over because it’s a life lived under the control of God.  But I must remember that when I was enslaved, I cried out to God to save me, that what seemed like control was really oppression and living my identity trapped by a quota of work I do leaving me feeling worthless.

A life of slavery is addictive though because it is weeded deep into us.  We wonder why we keep going back to our enslaver, whether it be a physical substance, an abuser, a thought process, a pattern of behavior?  Weeds this deep take time to uproot and only God is skilled enough to remove them.  So we spend time with Him in the wilderness, a long time, where He can separate us from that which is harmful to us, remove the lies and guide us and feed us and instruct us on the truth of our identity as His daughter or His son so that we might be prepared to enter the land of freedom of our inheritance.

Be patient with yourself in the wilderness.  Ask God to show you what is a lie that keeps drawing you back to slavery and then ask him to uproot it.  Don’t be afraid to give up control to him because he will guide you every step of the way.  Listen to His instruction and truth and let it sink deep into your being.  Don’t be afraid to live a life of freedom, for in it you were always meant to live and in it, you will find your true self.

” The Messiah set us free so that we could enjoy freedom!  So stand firm, and don’t get yourselves tied down by the chains of slavery.” ~Galations 5:1