The Apple Tree

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“Like the finest apple tree in the orchard
    is my lover among other young men.
I sit in his delightful shade
    and taste his delicious fruit.”

Song of Solomon 2:3, NLT

Jesus is the subject of many different metaphors. We know him as a shepherd, a door, and bread. There are many other ‘pictures’ in Scripture, that speak of his ministry and life. There is one that strikes me today, that of Jesus Christ as a life-giving tree— an apple tree. Song of Solomon 2:3 and Revelation 22:1 are the ‘roots’ of this wondrous thought.

“On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations.”

Rev. 22:2

To think of Jesus as ‘the tree of life’ or an apple tree is both a honor to Him and a strength for us. We can swirl metaphors around all day and never exhaust their truths. Jesus (a.k.a. “the apple tree”) is seen imparting life and healing by his fruit. He is the source of everything good and grand in our lives. Eating his fruit is not only recommended, but  encouraged. (Like most things in God’s Kingdom.)

The young maiden in Song of Solomon has given us her take on Jesus— her shepherd, lover, and king. She sees him as the finest in the forest. He provides shade to her, as she eats the fruit of his branches. Oh what a worthy picture of Jesus our savior. We can look at this all day. As we come to him we can see One who is gifting each of us of his blessings. We do well to consider him this way.  The first few lines set the tone for us.

“The tree of life my soul hath seen,
Laden with fruit and always green:
The tree of life my soul hath seen,
Laden with fruit and always green:
The trees of nature fruitless be
Compared with Christ the apple tree.”

 

The song, based on an anonymous poem, first appeared in a New England hymn collection by a New Hampshire preacher in 1784, so it has a history. Many people sing this as a Christmas carol, although there is nothing in the words that refers to Christmas. Go through each stanza. See if it fits for you. Perhaps it will cause you to see Jesus in a new way. Here is the poem in its entirety:

Jesus Christ, the Apple Tree

The tree of life my soul hath seen,
Laden with fruit and always green:
The tree of life my soul hath seen,
Laden with fruit and always green:
The trees of nature fruitless be
Compared with Christ the apple tree.

His beauty doth all things excel:
By faith I know, but ne’er can tell,
His beauty doth all things excel:
By faith I know, but ne’er can tell,
The glory which I now can see
In Jesus Christ the apple tree.

For happiness I long have sought,
And pleasure dearly I have bought:
For happiness I long have sought,
And pleasure dearly I have bought:
I missed of all; but now I see
‘Tis found in Christ the apple tree.

This fruit doth make my soul to thrive,
It keeps my dying faith alive;
This fruit doth make my soul to thrive,
It keeps my dying faith alive;
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the apple tree.

 

“Consider Jesus. Know Jesus. Learn what kind of Person it is you say you trust and love and worship. Soak in the shadow of Jesus. Saturate your soul with the ways of Jesus. Watch Him. Listen to Him. Stand in awe of Him. Let Him overwhelm you with the way He is.”   

John Piper

 

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Always Like Little Children

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 “About that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Matthew 18:1-3, NLT

I used to think that maturity meant sophistication, something to out-grow. Applying it to spiritual matters was a natural fit. I tried very hard to accelerate things and attempt to move beyond basics of the faith. Jesus’ cadre of disciples needed this lesson. They were given very specific and pointed instruction:

One day some parents brought their little children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But when the disciples saw this, they scolded the parents for bothering him.Then Jesus called for the children and said to the disciples, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. 17 I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.”

Luke 18:15-17

“Children are the hands by which we take hold of heaven. ”  

Henry Ward Beecher

Jesus makes a special effort to get his followers to see their need. He voices the dictate that they must become children again; that they must learn that the basics are the core. Real faith remains childlike even as it gets old.  As we see the children that are in our midst, we should see in them the pattern for us as we connect with the Lord, and with each other. It’s a paradox, but we mature as children, and this doesn’t ever change. Jesus told us that the Kingdom belongs to those whose faith is childlike.

Childlike faith seems to have three focuses:

  1. Areas of intimacy, in the presence of the Lord as sons and daughters,
  2. Areas of relationships, between each other as brothers and sisters
  3. Spiritual warfare,  facing the daily battle with sin and darkness.

Holding a child’s faith works its way into us in deep ways. At its essence is a humility (mixed with brokenness) that shapes how we move through our lives. There would be many embarrassed people if they were suddenly clothed in nothing but their humility. (I think we should make more of it then we do.)

Becoming a person of childlike faith will take a lifetime, that is why we should start now.

“God created the world out of nothing, and so long as we are nothing, He can make something out of us.”  

Martin Luther

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Being Sick

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“So Miriam was kept outside the camp for seven days, and the people waited until she was brought back before they traveled again.”

Numbers 12:15

To be numbered among the chronically ill often can mean a transition into frustration. We can not do what we want, we are ‘trapped’ by a disease we never asked for, and held hostage by our minds and bodies. It seems apart, from the management of our symptoms, we have little time to do anything else. We once had a job– a career… and our time was occupied by that. We were accustomed to something more than this illness.

I once was a pastor of a small church here in Homer. I also taught for many years at the Alaska Bible Institute. I loved both. They defined my identity and gave me purpose. I loved helping people and teaching the Word. I strived to be faithful in the ministry. My wife and two children were also significant and all of these things led me to think they would always be there. I was living my dream (in a good way.)

With the sudden onset of a brain tumor, followed up by a diagnosis of Bipolar disorder (BP), I knew I had to step out of the ministry. I simply could not function. My depression grew more profound with the stillborn death of our third child. Things suddenly ground to a stand-still as we tried to process what has happening to us. I guess I just couldn’t understand and more or less just shut down. I spent months in bed, unable to function.

Some people were jewels. Others were mean and uncaring. (I had to learn to take the good with the bad.) I suppose I should have been more forth-coming, but things were so tangled up inside I couldn’t verbalize a thing. The post-op surgery was an ordeal, as I had to learn many things all over again. I still walk with a cane (which I hate.) Years later I ended up on disability; I was unable to work, and no one would hire me. My symptoms were so unpredictable, and things were too erratic. The BP was giving me it’s customary depression, as well as paranoia and hallucinations.

Sometimes, like Miriam, we are quarantined by the Lord for his purposes. The isolation is worse that the pain it seems. We wonder why this is happening, and fabricate lies about our worthiness or God’s goodness. In our isolation things seem polarized to extremes. Our value seems to be ripped apart by our illness. We can feel cursed, or worse.

I have been slow to learn this: God brings good out of the dark. I’m embarrassed by my lack of acquiring this truth.

“We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.”

2 Corinthians 4:7

This light must shine. The treasure is found in clay vessels. Brokenness only means the treasure is now seen clearly. It’s important to note: treasure loses none of its value by being surrounded by broken clay.

“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.”

2 Corinthians 4:8-9

Troubles of various ilk come to us. They are variegated and unplanned. No matter what their nature, God holds his people in place while everything else is falling apart. But there is no magic wand; the pain will probably continue. But for the broken believer, there comes another dimension; a new supernatural layer of grace to bolster our beleaguered faith. We will triumph through this thing, and we will stand– because He makes us stand.

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I Come, Clinging

 

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I will come and cling

 “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.”

Romans 3:23, NLT

I know myself pretty well.  I fully understand how dark I can be.  I’m nasty and mean, selfish and destructive.  I am the “King of Filth and Deceit.”  (That is my official title, look it up.)  King Midas turned everything he touched into gold.  It seems that everything I touch turns black and putrid. I have come to understand Martin Luther’s own assessment, “Sin boldly, but believe in God more boldly still.” He wasn’t encouraging sin; nor was he giving out ‘a license to sin.’ He was simply acknowledging our nature. He was also speaking of God’s wonderful gift of grace, and the faith needed to obtain it.

But I have heard that there is a place where I can be made white and bright; fully and truly cleansed of an immensity of evil.  He can heal me, and I do not have to continue to produce such wickedness.  I do not have to hurt His dear ones anymore. When I accept Him, His blood releases me. He makes it possible for me to have a new life.

So I come to Him, and cling.  I will not let go, I grab Jesus and hang on.

I won’t slide back into this painful darkness.  I will latch on to Him with everything I have. I cry out for ‘the spiritual velcro’ of Grace. I do this over, and over– until it works. Just give my sin-addled soul Jesus. I’ve had enough religion, now I want Him.

I’m learning that I must learn to forgive myself.  He has already forgiven me.  A weaver works diligently on a rug that he is making.  He uses even the dark thread as he does his work.  In the same way, those deep transgressions must become a part of the Spirit’s work from my life.  He takes it up, without flinching, and weaves it into His work. What He does is miraculous.

God’s specialty is turning rascals into sons and daughters.

I see sadness and confusion, and He sees glory.  I see nothing but evil, and He chooses to turn it into a special grace.  And so, I cling to Him and wait for the Lord to meet me.  He is not overwhelmed by my stains, and He promises a complete deliverance from my great darkness.  So I cling, as a drowning man latches on to a life preserver.

Oh, dear one.  Someone has been looking for you.  Jesus has been searching, trying to save you.  You can go your own way, but I predict nothing but a difficult sorrow, if that is your real choice.  But, there is a way of escape, and it is full of joy and peace.  And it is real.

I know, (first-hand,) that it difficult, but that is just the first stage.  There is a raucous joy that is waiting for you.  You will find such a purpose and completeness that will make your head spin.  He will launch on you into a love and a kindness that you will hardly be able to contain.

“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,
    for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
God blesses those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.”

Matthew 5:3-4

 

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