The Living Vine

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit.” ~John 15:4-5IMG_5956eOver the last few weeks, I watched the plum and apple trees for blossoms. We have had some heavy frosts, and I was concerned the buds may have gotten frozen off or even that parts of the tree could have been killed by the winter’s cold. But today, I saw a white mist clinging around the plum tree – bountiful pale flower clusters. The tree is alive. The flowers are the precursors to harvest. They evidence life and health.

“Abide in me,” Christ said. “I am the vine; you are the branches.” He encouraged and admonished his disciples to rest in him, to bear fruit. Healthy fruit comes from a thriving branch. A thriving branch only comes from a living Vine. Bear much fruit. He told this to his disciples, men who had sacrificed everything for him to follow him and participate in his ministry.  And then he was executed like a common criminal.

Resurrection Sunday comes and goes every year, and we hear the same message every year: He is risen!  “He is risen indeed!” we respond. We can go through the motions of celebrating Resurrection Sunday as if the Resurrection were old hat. Perhaps we even feel a little sheepish, maybe a little too counter-cultural with all of the empty tomb and back-from-the-dead talk. Not to mention, Easter has been so commercialized, all the plastic eggs and chocolate bunnies and pastel colored paper shreds. We lose our wonder in the colorful array of secular trappings, the childish nature of the eggs and bunnies and cute chocolates. Maybe we wearily approach the bustle and expectations surrounding Easter, and question the significance of setting aside a day like this. Maybe in the whirlwind of “celebration,” we forget Who and Why.

Because Christ is alive, and perhaps that more than any other truth in Scripture is what must be dear and real to us. Christ is alive, and he is sitting at the right hand of the Throne of God (Hebrews 12:2). Through his life, death, and resurrection he has given us the right to become Children of God (John 1:11-13), to be reconciled to our Heavenly Father (Romans 5:10). It isn’t through his life and death, but through his life, death, AND resurrection. Because if Christ hadn’t risen, then he is no better of a sacrifice than the Passover lambs or the sin offerings, then he is no better of a king than King David or King Josiah, then he is no better of a prophet than Moses, no better of a father than Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob, no better of a priest than Aaron. They each in their own way foreshadowed the coming of and our need for a Savior – the Lamb, the Sacrifice, the Prophet, the Priest, the King, the Father of Many Nations. But they had no power over death. They each died. But Christ did not. And that is of utmost importance.

For the Christian, everything hinges on the Resurrection, everything we say we believe, everything we say we hope for. If the Resurrection did not happen, then we have hoped entirely in vain, and all Christ’s commandments about abiding in him are null. In fact, if Christ didn’t rise again on the third day, then the entire Bible is a pack of lies. That is how important the Resurrection is. It isn’t just an interesting anecdote. It is Biblical record that is absolutely vital to faith. Because our hope hinges on Christ’s power over death. If he, the “resurrection and the life,” has no power over his own life, how can he promise life to us? (John 11:25-26 and John 10:17-18)

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied,” Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15.  The Bible has no merit if the Resurrection didn’t happen, because the entire Bible depends upon the Resurrection for its completeness. Without the Resurrection, then everything from Genesis onward is pointless and fraudulent. Without the Resurrection, there is no hope, there is no life. Without the Resurrection, then our Vine, the Vine from which we are supposed to draw sustenance, is dead.  If he is the Vine and he is dead, we are unable to bear the fruit we were commanded by him to cultivate. If he is the Vine, and if he is dead, then our faith is a dead faith, sealed in the tomb along with the man who claimed to be God Himself.

But that is not what we believe. That is not the end of our faith.  Because Christ’s story didn’t end at the  tomb. “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead,” Paul continued in Corinthians. Because the next morning, the tomb was empty. Gloriously empty.

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”  So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb.  Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.  And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in.  Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there,  and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself.  Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed;  for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.  Then the disciples went back to their homes.

 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb.  And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet.  They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”  Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”  Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).  Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”  Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her. ~John 20: 1-18

So, abide in me. Christ is alive, and only because of the Resurrection are we able to truly abide in him. We are not part of a dead Vine. We are part of a Living Vine, a Vine which is bearing bountiful, beautiful fruit and has been bearing fruit for thousands of years. The ax of false doctrine and the winds of persecution and the fire of the culture have no power against our Vine. It is in perpetual flower, perpetual fruit-bearing. We have something to be excited about on this wonderful day! We have a faith that springs from and abides in Christ, and he is alive today. Reflect on that truth and revel in that hope.

 


 

 

Father’s Day

Father's Day 2016We observe or celebrate a lot of holidays – Patriotic days, like the Fourth of July and Veterans Day and Memorial Day, religious holidays like Christmas and Easter and Good Friday, national days of observance like Thanksgiving, and dozens of other lesser-known holidays. But I have to say that one of the best holidays, after those that celebrate Christ, has to be Father’s Day. We live in a society where the father’s role has been undermined, partly because of a society set against manhood, and partly because of self-sabotage. And I don’t get the impression that our culture as a whole really cares. The disappearance of the leader-father is overlooked in the shadow of other epidemics and controversies that ignite zeal and spend energy. How amazing, then, that we still have one day out of the year where we as a nation celebrate our fathers!

Father's Day 2016We celebrated today with a spur-of-the-moment jaunt to Lakota Lake for a little kayaking and enjoying of the fresh air and sunshine, and got ice cream on the way home at Rushmore Cave. Dad is handy with a grill and with a gun, so he grilled us up some venison from his hunting this past fall. Nothing quite like good venison steak and fresh corn on the cob, especially for a family who almost exclusively eats chicken. It’s a running joke. Watermelon up at Grandma’s, and an episode of the TV series Christie topped off our evening.

Father's Day 2016God’s design for the father is that he serve as leader in the home. He is to be the spiritual leader, and lead his children in the fear of the Lord. He is to love God first and foremost, and love his wife and cherish her, and teach his children to love and cherish her as well. He is to be a man of character and integrity, lovingly and gently leading his children, disciplining when necessary, and not provoking his children to anger or discouragement. That’s a tall order. And one, I believe, that truly requires God’s grace.

Father's Day 2016I’ve been so blessed to have a father who not only loves his family, but who has led his family consistently and courageously in Godliness. He sets an example of humility, of faith, and of trusting God in all things. He has a testimony of faith that is awe-inspiring, a testimony that proves that God can save anyone, no matter how wrong their life trajectory is, no matter how many bad life decisions a person has made, or how much they have rebelled against God. My dad’s testimony proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that a relationship with God truly is transforming.

UntitledDad’s life since he was saved has been characterized by a submission to God’s will, in the face of extreme odds, in the face of skepticism and criticism and lack of support. We wouldn’t be out here in South Dakota if it hadn’t been for Dad’s determination to submit to God’s will and to make his decisions based not off of practicality or the world’s model of success, but to make his decisions based on what would be best for his family, from a spiritual standpoint. Dad wouldn’t be in seminary right now at the age of 57 and pursuing full time ministry if it wasn’t for his determination to submit to God’s will, no matter how crazy it might appear to onlookers.

Father's Day 2016He has modeled love and faithfulness in marriage, he has modeled humility and gentleness in parenting, he is the man I love most in the world, the person I go to for advice and help and counsel, and as I get older he has become a friend as well. He isn’t perfect. He is a sinner just like I am, saved by the grace of God. But he loves the Lord with all of his heart, soul, and mind.

And I am so glad he is my dad.

Laura Elizabeth

 

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Daily mysteries

IMG_8486Sometimes it takes a country song and moonlight to rattle me out of my own self-centeredness and back into a state of gratitude before God. Last night, I was tired and grouchy and feeling a little sorry for myself when Montgomery Gentry’s song “Lucky Man” came on the radio. I felt rather sheepish. Then light from the almost-full moon peered over my shoulder and brushed my cheek. I looked back and there was the moon, rising above the rugged hills on the road a few miles from home. What in the world do I have to not be thankful for? Thankfulness in all circumstances should be the state of the Christian heart, but it took a country song and moonlight to remind me just how good my circumstances are, and how petty and pathetic and wrong my complaints are. And how good God really is – how incomprehensible!

This morning I restocked our wood supply for the Miner’s Cabin. Up the hill at Grandma’s house, there is a whole woodshed of old dry pine that probably hasn’t been touched in years. Squirrels have used the shed as home-base for probably a decade, so there is a decade’s worth of pine cones and pine cone pieces piled all over the woodshed, which make great fire starter. I brought down enough wood and “fire starter” to last awhile, and spent a good chunk of the afternoon sorting and organizing and straightening.

IMG_8796.1It is so pleasant to sit and listen to the crackle of the fire, to hear the metallic rush of sound as a log collapses, to feel the heat slowly warm the room. Wood heat is exquisite. It is simple and sweet and fierce. I love to watch the glow of the embers beneath the logs, in the place where the very air seems to burn and blaze. I love the dance of the heat along the edges of logs, the blossoming of flame, the crackle and release of sparks. I could sit before a fire for hours.

Moonlight and flame, and the God who created both – Three beautiful mysteries.

Laura Elizabeth

 

 

Sundry Sunday adventures

DSCN0671.1   The Sabbath should be the central day of the week for Christians. Not because the Jewish ceremonial law still applies to Christians (Matthew 5:17 is clear about the ceremonial law and Christ’s redemptive coming having completed it), but because God has given us a day which we still, 2000 years after Christ was raised from the dead, which we still set aside to be a time of devotion to God and fellowship with other Believers. What a gift! If you’re not enjoying it to it’s fullest, you’re sadly missing out, and I recommend a prayerfully considered change.

DSCN0673.1And by “enjoying it to it’s fullest,” I mean taking advantage of the fact that Sunday is the one day of the week where a substantial part of the day is set aside for worship of God and fellowship with other believers. Why wouldn’t a Christian want to savor that time, and make it last as long as possible? The world is a lonely place, and as the world becomes more hostile to Christianity, I find fellowship with Believers sweeter and sweeter.

DSCN0682.1And what a day–What a day!  After a wonderfully applicable sermon about fully identifying with Christ, and our lives being dictated by what we believe about God and what we desire, we headed over to Stockade Lake to give Anna a dipping, and to celebrate through a baptism Anna’s decision to publicly identify with Christ. What a joyous time, to celebrate a Believer’s desire to fully identify in Christ! Our culture calls us to identify as many things–Anything we want, really. But to identify with Christ? How counter cultural! What a blessing to be able to identify with Christ! How humbling and wonderful and glorious.

After the baptism, we went back to church and were officially welcomed into the membership of Southern Hills Bible Church, and enjoyed our weekly potluck, which was all the better for it being with our own church, the congregation of Believers we have chosen to attach ourselves to. God willing, we’ll be there for years to come.

DSCN0666.2And as if that wasn’t enough, some of us “young people” headed out on a hike, enjoying an extended time of friendship and fellowship and reveling in new relationships centered around one important thing: Jesus Christ’s redemptive work in our lives. What a gift. All of us young people, Hannah and Jacob, Roy and Jessie and Isaak, Sarah and I, all of us are relatively new to this congregation, and, speaking for myself, I have been tremendously blessed by these new brothers and sisters in Christ.

If you’re reading this wondering how in the world a bunch of Christan (homeschool or homeschooled) kids can possibly have fun together, let me tell you, it doesn’t take alcohol, it doesn’t take R-rated movies, it doesn’t take cell reception and texting, and it doesn’t take rebellion against rules and authorities. We know how to have fun and how to spend time in a meaningful way, and it doesn’t take anything more than another person with whom to share life. But we had more than that. A wooded path is an invitation into God’s beautiful Creation. Fellowship with Believers is a glimpse into eternity. The delicate petals of a flower are a living testament to God’s handiwork.

DSCN0680.1The unceasing conversation, the frequent laughs, the mutual enjoyment of God’s Creation, all made for a delightful afternoon. We explored an old mine tunnel, marveled at grass snakes and flowers, stones and toadstools, got soaking wet in a little downpour, talked theology and politics, delved into one another’s lives, and, speaking for myself at least, we could have gone on for hours more.

DSCN0686.1And hey, I even found an arrowhead. A little bonus for today.

Laura Elizabeth