The Familiar Unknown

I had quite a unique sighting yesterday. My parents and I were driving back from the local grocery store and right along the main street in town I saw a lovely large bird. It was a sleek swan. Unfortunately, its feathers were merely rubber, and its insides were made of air. This large pool toy was floating in the above-ground pool display at the local pool store. I’ve driven past this store, obviously a renovated small house, for most of my life, but never had a reason to go inside. I looked through the windows and could only see the products standing right next to the windows. For some reason, I thought, “I’ve never been in that building. There are a lot of places in town that I know exactly where they are, exactly what kind of stuff is inside, but I’ve never actually seen inside.”

This past month it was time for my cats to get their annual shots so I made an appointment at a local vet clinic, again a renovated house on the main street. The outside is painted a dark green with warm cream trim and has an inviting wrap-around porch. I was quite surprised to open the door and find clean white walls; a tall-ceilinged, light-filled waiting room; lovely light grey tile floors; and stainless steel counters. Not at all what I expected from the outside, but a welcome look for a vet clinic.

I’m not sure why I suddenly became intrigued by these familiar buildings that, in reality, are unknown to me, but it made me think of the way that we tend to have hidden nooks and crannies in our hearts that we may let God have a peek at while we show Him around the rest of place, but we never let Him all the way in. That would be like saying my heart is an office or restaurant where God is a regular patron, but He never gets to go into the storage room or kitchen. My heart is supposed to be God’s house. He should know it the same way I know where to step in the hall to avoid squeaking the floor in the middle of the night. God should know His way around like that. We should be joint inhabitants of my heart-house, rather than host and Guest.

There are verses in the Bible that talk about our hearts being God’s home, the “temple of the Holy Spirit” (I Corinthians 6:19). As God often does, He gave me this thought yesterday, and in today’s message at church, the pastor used one of the verses these thoughts brought to mind.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; Psalms 139:23

David, the man who wrote this verse, known as a man after God’s own heart, knew that God already knew everything about him and was not afraid to have God search every hidden corner of his heart. Despite the fact that David was human and sinned as all humans do, he knew that trying to kick God out of His home would only make everything worse.


The Proof

I serve a risen Savior

He’s in the world today.

I know that He is living,

Whatever men may say.

I see His hand of mercy;

I hear His voice of cheer;

And just the time I need Him

He’s always near.

He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!

He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.

He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!

You ask me how I know He lives?

He lives within my heart.

The Future

It is hard for me to get out of thinking about Jesus as otherworldly and somehow inhuman in the best possible way. Of course I realize that He is God which makes those descriptions ultimately true; yet, we are told that He was “fully man.” While He was on earth, He was human just like everyone else. The Bible tells of times He was amazed (Mark 6:6, Luke 7:9) and compassionate (Luke 7:13), He wept (Luke 19:41) and was full of sorrow (Matthew 26:37-38), He was indignant (Mark 10:14) and perceptive (Mark 12:15), and perhaps most of all, He loved (Mark 10:21, John 17:23, John 13:23, and John 11:5). And yet it is still difficult for me to think of Him as being a “normal” person.

There was one thing completely different about Jesus: He knew exactly what His future held. We never hear about Jesus praying for the Father’s direction for His life. In fact, we’re told that at just 12 years old, Jesus tried to begin the ministry the Father had sent Him to earth for (Luke 2: 41-50). We all know how often kids change their answers to the question “What are you going to be when you grow up?” But Jesus’ purpose never changed. The only time we see Him even slightly question the Father’s will is when Jesus is praying in the garden right before His betrayal, and this wasn’t a question of what God’s will was. It was a question of “can we do things another way?” We’re not told that the Father answered that statement, and maybe He did, but Jesus moved straight from the question into what He knew was the answer, “Not My will, but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:42) I am grateful that Jesus knew His purpose, and that He never truly wavered from it. I may not know my immediate future, but through Him I know my ultimate future.

“If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come back and receive you to Myself, so that where I am you may be also.” John‬ ‭14:3‬ ‭HCSB‬‬

The Greatest Friend

On Sunday, we sang the song “Whom Shall I Fear” by Chris Tomlin and I was struck by a specific line in the chorus – “He is a friend of mine.” That doesn’t seem like a profound statement unless you realize I didn’t capitalize “He” because it was at the start of a sentence. The song is all about how I don’t have to be afraid of anything because God is there for me. He’s not just there as an impersonal guardian, or as a referee making sure you follow the rules. He is my friend. When I sat down to write this, I started thinking of another song for which the chorus is “I am a friend of God. He calls me friend.” (“Friend of God” by Phillips, Craig & Dean)

But, does that really appear in the Bible? I remember Abraham being called a friend of God and Moses talking face to face with God as a friend would. Where does it say that I am His friend – that someone without the historical significance of these great men can claim that title? Let me check…

John 15:14 – “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Well, that seems pretty clear. All I have to do is obey God and He will be my friend. But what about the times when I am rebellious? I’m pretty sure God isn’t just a fair-weather friend.

John 15:15 – “I do not call you slaves anymore, because a slave doesn’t know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have heard from My Father.” – Ah, so we are His friends because He taught us everything He heard from the Father. We were slaves, so we were kind of obligated to listen, right? Not true. A slave or servant can choose not to listen to their master. There will likely be consequences, but it is something they can do.

Luke 12:4 “And I say to you, My friends, don’t fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more.” Oh, that’s just Jesus talking to his disciples. I’m not literally His friend like that. Jesus may have been speaking to certain people face to face, but I’m pretty sure He is talking to all believers, too.

John 15:13 “No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends.” Hmm, I guess Jesus really was serious about using the word “friend” to refer to believers, because this verse combined with the next one makes a pretty strong point. You bet!

Ephesians 5:2 “And walk in love, as the Messiah also loved us and gave Himself for us, a sacrificial and fragrant offering to God.”

Jesus Himself said that someone who dies for his friends has the greatest love for them. I can’t think of any greater friend than Jesus.

The Very Different Tree

I love being in the forest. The commanding presence of the trees feels comforting and secure. Clearly, I’m not the only one to feel this way, since forests are often used in stories and folklore as places of hiding (for heroes and villains), as shielding barriers, and as valuable resources. Each type of tree has been ascribed attributes and described as if they are benevolent entities or sources of power in many pagan traditions. After sifting out the mysticism, here are some of the things I learned about how Europeans historically viewed and used different species of trees.

Alder – the alder tree is found throughout much of the Northern Hemisphere, usually in wet areas. This may have led people to discover that the oily wood is quite water resistant. In fact, many of the foundations in Venice, Italy, are made from alder wood.

Ash – the wood of the ash tree is straight-grained, sturdy, and somewhat flexible. Through history, ash has been a wood of choice for spear handles, which needed to be straight and strong. It can also be found in the structure of old looms for weaving cloth or split and bent as supports for baskets. Today, it is a popular choice for baseball bats, guitars, and stair treads.

Birch – birch trees are very good at establishing themselves in bare patches of ground, often founding new forests. There are so many historic uses for birch! The bark was used to write on and to line the hulls of canoes, the inner bark contains compounds able to treat different diseases, much of the tree is edible, and the sap, which can be made into syrup, was a source of sugar in northern climates.

Elm – elms are particularly resistant to cracking and splitting. It is considered a very stable, supportive wood. The inner bark is often cut into strips and used as cane to weave the seats and backs of chairs.

Pine – considered a “sweet” tree, pine was often used for its aromatic properties. The scent is used to help clear clogged lungs. And if you don’t mind the strong taste, the needles are a good source of vitamin C.

Poplar – poplar trees often grow in damp areas, giving shade to marshy ground. The wood is strong and was used to make shields. Because of this, it is seen as a very protective and comforting tree.

Willow – willow is widely considered to be a very flexible tree. Weeping varieties even have branches that droop, giving them a sad appearance that represents mourning in literature. One of the important features of willow is that the flowers appear very early in the spring, even before the leaves, giving bees a good source of food early in the year.

Yew – though most of the yew tree is poisonous, the flesh of the berries can be used medicinally. In fact, there is even a treatment for cancer derived from yew berries. The wood is very strong and flexible, making it a popular choice for bows, both for hunting and for battle.

You may be wondering what sparked this sudden interest in the qualities of trees. Well, on Sunday I arrived at my church to see that they had changed the decorations on the platform to a wintery scene. The back of the stage was lined with leafless birch trees. Lights shone up from the bases of the trees to paint them with colour. Contrasted against the black wall behind them, the trees radiated eerie beauty. But my eyes were constantly drawn to one particular tree. It stood in the very center and contrasted with the white and coloured bark of the birches. It was a cross. Though it doesn’t grow leaves or send roots deep into the soil, the Bible often refers to the cross as a tree.

I Peter 2:24 “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that, having died to sins, we might live for righteousness; you have been healed by His wounds.”

Galatians‬ ‭3:13‬ “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, because it is written: Everyone who is hung on a tree is cursed.”

Acts 5: 30 “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had murdered by hanging Him on a tree.”

So as I looked at the cross in the middle of those birch trees, I thought of it as a tree rooted in my heart. It is a strong foundation, like an alder. It is sturdy like ash. It is nourishing like birch. It is resistant like elm. It is sweet like pine. It is protective like poplar. It is a symbol of sorrow like willow. It is healing like yew. The cross is the most special tree of all.