The Theology in a Snowflake

Do you know the spell of a fresh snowfall? That unmistakable something that is in the air and in the blood, the dazzling beauty, intense and subtle and wild and gentle, transforming the world with tiny feathers of frozen water.  I want to stare and stare, and soak in all the delicate magnificence of the silent poetry of a snowfall. It is calming yet exciting, mesmerizing yet energizing. I want to laugh, and run, and dance, and exclaim like a child on Christmas morning. There is a little flame of pure joy in the heart of every snowflake, and millions of them dance through the air at a time, turning our little country hollow into a fairy land. I don’t know what it is about a fresh snowfall, particularly the first couple of the season, but somehow it gets into the blood like a little spark and surge of energy. The cold somehow doesn’t seem as cold. The wind, sweeping up eddies of snow, doesn’t seem as bitter. The blinding white makes me want to open my eyes even wider and take in even more.
IMG_9240e“A million feathers falling down, a million stars that touch the ground. / So many secrets to be found amid the falling snow.” Thus reads a line of one of Enya’s songs, which haunts me every winter. Each of those snowflakes is a tiny heavenly mystery, a tiny theology lesson, each attesting to the creative might of our Creator God and His power over all things great and small. Each is obedient to the laws of nature which He set in place, obedient to the freezing point of water and how water molecules align themselves when cooling, obedient to gravity, obedient to updrafts and downdrafts. Not a single snowflake acts outside the will of the Father. Each is unique. Each is a miracle. Each is a masterpiece. Each by their beauty and uniqueness attests to God’s perfect goodness and graciousness. What a glorious “extra” that God wasn’t at all bound to provide! So much glory poured into one perfect snowflake! And what a transformation is brought about by a whole sky full, loosed upon our Hills! IMG_9246eSo out I ventured this morning into the snowglobe world of whirling, dancing snowflakes, with my camera and the dogs, to wonder and marvel and delight. True to form, the dogs loved it and the cats hated it. The cats sulked while the dogs played. Trixie and Opal snapped and snarled in frisky ferocity, sometimes trotting down the driveway like little first grade girls, then running madcap around the whole yard, out across the dam, tearing around and rolling in the snow.

They clearly enjoyed the snow every bit as much as I did. Although I’m guessing they weren’t struck by the theology lesson.

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The Simplicity of Thanks

Thanksgiving is almost entirely an uncomplicated holiday. I suppose we’ve kind of spoiled that with the Black Friday and Cyber Monday insanity, but Thanksgiving Day itself could hardly be simpler. Compared to the other holidays we observe culturally, such as Easter and Christmas, or even St. Valentine’s and St. Patrick’s Days, all of which have modern traditions and trappings that do something to secularize and obscure the original meaning, Thanksgiving has been relatively unsullied. There is little in the way of complication. Get together, eat together, pray together, laugh together. Its terribly simple. Yesterday, we enjoyed the company of friends and family as we always do, our traditional meal, beautiful pies, homemade bread and jams and jellies, a hike to Hole-in-the-Wall, and a Christmas movie after everyone had left. Sweet and simple. And so typical for us. IMG_1287eIMG_1307eIMG_1306eIn a culture that craves the new experiences, the best foods, the best clothes, the best vacations, where #YOLO and we desire to be the envy of those around us, and to outdo one another in matters that don’t even matter, for one day we seem to set all of that aside in favor of the familiar, the simple, the old-fashioned, the typical, the rustic. What could be less elegant or progressive than turkey and pumpkin pie? Yet that somehow brings us all back to the familiar idea culturally that we have so much to be grateful for. Even those who don’t acknowledge God understand that there is a level of gratitude we owe to someone or somewhere outside of ourselves. I’m just glad I know to whom I give thanks. And it isn’t to me or to some impersonal force of fate.

Gratitude is simple, like turkey and pumpkin pie, and it is the same now as it was in yesteryears. Biblically, we are commanded to give thanks in all circumstances. Period. There are no qualifiers, no ceremonies to perform, no special prayer to pray, no specifications, instructions, or complicated user manual. Just the command to give thanks. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess. 5:16-18) Not just to give thanks when the table is laden with food and my needs have been met. Not just when I am comfortable and making as much money as I think I need. Not just when I’m certain of where I’m going and what I’m doing and I’ve got everything under control. Not just when my vehicle is reliable and my relationships are enjoyable. Not just when life is good and I feel admired and needed. My gratitude can’t be put on hold until I’m married and living the life I thought I’d be living by the time I turned 27. I can’t put my gratitude on hold until medical bills are paid, my savings reaches a certain amount, and I feel like things are going the way they should be. My gratitude cannot be conditional. If it is…then it isn’t gratitude. It is simply a reasonable response to a good thing. But my gratitude has to be forthcoming when I am hungry, tired, and grouchy after a long day of work, and still have to fill up my fuel tank on the way home and it is 20 degrees, dark, and the wind is whipping. My gratitude has to be forthcoming when I am uncomfortable and feel sheepish because I’m not doing what most 27-year-olds do with their life and I kind of wonder if I missed something. My gratitude has to be forthcoming when I feel like I’ve failed and when I know that I’ve failed. When I don’t know where I’m going or what I’m doing and life feels out of control. When I feel belittled and unnecessary, depressed and anxious. When my vehicle is unreliable, my relationships are discordant, when life feels like a drag. When I’m still single at 27, and those little dreams I thought for sure would be reality by this time just aren’t coming true. When I’ve got medical bills, taxes to pay, and a bank account that isn’t as full as it seems like it should be. We each have those little things that pile up like grime on a window, obscuring and complicating our sight, those things that eat into our joy and nag our hearts, turning our thoughts away from Christ. We have to intentionally turn our thoughts to Him, trust Him, and then give thanks.

Luke 16:10 says, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much.” I think we can also say that one who gives thanks in very little also gives thanks in much. We cultivate a heart attitude of thankfulness by thanking God even for the mundane, normal, boring, simple things. Those are no less gifts from Him than are the big things – the marriage, the new baby, the new house, the life-saving operation. God is the giver of all good gifts, even the things we think no one wants to hear about when you’re sharing the thing you’re thankful for. I’m thankful for the air we breathe, the ground we walk on, the sky above our heads. I’m thankful for my family. For my church. For my cat sleeping on the arm of the chair. For flannel pajama pants. For hot tea. For my mattress on the floor of the loft bedroom I share with my sister. All of these extras that God didn’t need to create or facilitate, much less to gift to me for my edification and delight. The attitude of gratitude isn’t cultivated by waiting until those obvious moments when it is culturally appropriate to give thanks. Thank God for the glass of water you just drank, the bed you’re looking forward to, the cold cereal you eat for breakfast. Thank God for His sustaining power even in the things we are too callous to think about more than every once in awhile, but by which His power is displayed in ways we can’t even come close to comprehending: the balancing and continuous sustaining of our solar system, the water cycle, our supply of oxygen, gravity. Start with things we, to our shame, too often take for granted. I’m thankful for the gift of salvation. I’m thankful that this life isn’t all that there is. I’m thankful that I know there is a purpose behind all the trials, the major ones, the tragedies, as well as the little niggling trials like sales tax and singleness. I’m thankful that I know and serve and am loved by a sovereign God who loves those who are His, and does all things for their good and His glory. I’m thankful.

If your heart loves the LORD and your desire is to honor Him, there is so much to give thanks for, even when life doesn’t seem like it has much to offer. Over and over in the Bible, God’s people are commanded to give thanks, sometimes “because He is good,” and other times, simply because He is. And we, too, can give thanks, simply because HE IS. For no other reason. He is. He is. He is. Give thanks.

It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

A Cat’s Contentment

At the request of my friend’s daughter, I snapped a few portraits of her treasured cat, Hobbes, sleeping contentedly on the sofa. He is so golden, he almost seemed to glow in the bit of sunlight streaming in the window.
IMG_4910eCats are satisfied with so little. Content to prowl around outside, content to come in and doze on the sofa or a bed, content with enough food, content with something as simple as a shred of paper to play with, content with a little affection and a little sunlight. Cats demand very little. A stroke on their cheek and a rumbling purr resonates.

Yet we human creatures are never content. We are always seeking lustfully after the next fad, the newest this or that, the best of this or that.  We desire the next adventure, the best experience. So much of our culture and our industries are built on discontentment. Magazines like House Beautiful capitalize on people’s discontent with their home decor and wall color choices. Travel magazines fuel and are fueled by discontent in where we are and what we can afford to do. Women’s magazines fuel and are fueled by discontent in my body, my clothes, my house, my family, my life, my kitchen, my husband.

I’m speaking in pretty broad terms here, and don’t misunderstand me as condemning various publications or condemning the idea of taking a vacation. Because I’m not.  But if we were content with what we had and only ever bought what we needed, and not what we lusted after, our whole economy would come crashing down. There’s nothing wrong with the new pair of shoes or the vacation or the nicer car or new paint on the walls. There is nothing wrong with beautifying one’s home or enjoying good food. We just need to be aware of our sinful human tendency to think that those things will bring lasting satisfaction. We mistakenly think that we will be better satisfied by a once-in-a-lifetime vacation to the Caribbean than by warming our fingers around a mug of hot tea, basking in the sunlight and reading our favorite book. Human beings are restless, discontent creatures, seeking satisfaction from things and experiences rather than seeking satisfaction in God’s provision for us. The modest plenty we have never seems to satisfy.

King Solomon, as well as other proverb writers and God Himself frequently drew lessons of one sort or another through considering God’s Creation. In the Book of Job, God reminds Job of His greatness and majesty by bringing to Job’s mind numerous creatures which God created and sustains, and which humans can’t even come close to understanding. Lessons and encouragement are learned and gained through considering characteristics of God’s creatures, how He cares for His non-human Creation, the instincts He gave to His animal creatures, and so on. In Proverbs 6, Solomon writes the following:

Go to the ant, O sluggard;
    consider her ways, and be wise.
Without having any chief,
    officer, or ruler,
she prepares her bread in summer
    and gathers her food in harvest.

Consider the cat, then, and be content.

Tiny Wonders

On one hand, God gives us majestic miracles, like startling celestial events. On the other hand, He gives us the tiniest of the animal kingdom, creatures so tiny they seem to be in a world apart, even though I can touch them and see them. I watch them and marvel at them, but they seem almost unrelated to my reality, so tiny and delicate and other they are. What a wonderful LORD and Creator, who gave us these little glimpses of a creative power so far beyond anything we can comprehend. The beauty and even comedy of these little flying creatures really is Divine. Who else could think up, create, and sustain such tiny wonders, if not our Creator God?
IMG_2220eIMG_2210eI hear the heart-string-tugging trill of my cat, Ember, and feel her little paws as she walks all over me begging for attention, and I really am drawn in amazement to how great and loving God is. He has power so magnificent that He created this world with a word, the sun and moon and galaxies and stars and gravity and cellular structures and DNA and elephants and humpback whales and the water cycle and the seasons. But He has a love and creativity so gentle that He created the silky fur and warming purr of a cat.IMG_2224eTiny wonders. Tiny gifts. A great God.

Heavenward

I walk the woods in the evening – my woods, I tell myself – the familiar trails, dear to me and near to my heart, winding through old creekbeds, beneath towering pines and wizened oaks, along hillsides sparkling with white chokecherry blossoms. Treading the same way again, my heart thrills. Each step is a delight. Each breath of the cool evening air tastes sweet. I want to pour the coolness over my head and drink of the freshness. It is familiar, so familiar, every step is one I’ve experienced before, each tree and flower and perfume of evening – but it is new, always new.
IMG_7227eWith the earth comforting beneath my feet, grasses growing tall to above knee-height, trees leafing out in their array of green, my heart is drawn upwards, Heavenwards. These woods are my sanctuary. I find that my time alone while hiking becomes my time alone with the LORD, since I can’t imagine walking these woods and not being struck to the heart by how good God must be to have created so much beauty for us to enjoy. He didn’t need to create beauty. God could have allowed sin to completely wipe out the beauty on this earth. But He didn’t. And it is wonderful. Even in this fallen state, His beauty is reflected in His Creation.
IMG_7015eMy heart breaks with joy. Have you ever felt that? My heart breaks and soars, and I murmur Oh, my! Again and again. Oh, my. My eye is drawn here and there – to a splash of color from a larkspur violet or a shooting star or a bluebell, to the wild white and lavender of crazyweed, to the little golden blossoms of wild currant or the coral of columbine or the dark blue-eyed grass, or the pale birch trees on a north-facing hillside of emerald moss. A gleam of sunlight through the trees on the next hilltop melts me, but I know my camera couldn’t do it justice, so I don’t even try. My heart breaks with joy – there is too much, too much, too much. How can a human creature take in so much beauty and goodness and majesty, and not be overwhelmed? And if I cannot understand Creation, how can I possibly understand its God?
IMG_7150eThe too-familiar sights, the amber scents of pine resin and the fresh earthy perfume of green life or the sweet evening air, the lullaby of wind in the pines – so many memories and impressions left over, brought back by glimpses or tastes of the familiar, the familiar that never seems to change. I remember my childhood, our visits here, my heart’s longing for this place. I remember past joys, and revel in present joys. Then my heart breaks with grief. Because I know that one day this place won’t be here for me. One day it will be sold and divided into lots and developed, and I weep at that thought, dropping tears on the grassy path. How harsh it feels – to be brought to live in the place I love most in the world, but knowing that it may not be here, a mere few years from this time. This place may only be land, and I know that, but it holds and brings back so many wonderful memories. It is a place that is part of my childhood, part of my dearest memories.
IMG_7156eThen I repent. How could I have the audacity to challenge God’s goodness and His Providence by weeping over what He may someday in His sovereignty take away from me? If that day comes, I don’t believe tears will be wrong, but weeping now and letting even a moment of joy be spoiled by what God may in His love give to me or take from me – that is wrong. I pray for contentment and peace in my knowledge that God is good. I remind myself that God only does that which is for the good of His children and for His glory. I remind myself that He only gives good gifts, and He is a loving Father, not a cruel taskmaster. If a gift is good in the giving, it is also good when He in His sovereignty removes it. If He removes a blessing and strips me of something I sinfully think is necessary for my happiness, I know He does it for my good, not to punish. If He takes something from me that I love, He does it for my good, not out of malice. Whether or not I comprehend it, it is for my good. At the very least, pain allows me to experience the sweetness of God’s comfort. One day, I’ll understand. But for now I need to be content to not understand and to take comfort in the things I do understand – that God is a loving God, a generous God, a compassionate and comforting God – and He always provides. Not necessarily how I in my humanness want Him to provide, certainly, but if God is good, His Providence is as well, and I cannot challenge it.  And so even in my tears, I thank Him. Even in my tears, this place draws me Heavenward. And then my heart lifts and I savor a soul-deep peace, content to enjoy however many days and years I have left to enjoy this. Few or many, they are a gift. How sad to spoil them with misplaced regret.
IMG_7182eThe low rumble of distant thunder tells of a coming storm, and the clouds are bright in the west, shining flame-like through the trees. The crimson and coral turn to slate and blue. The golden sunlight disappears beyond the horizon and banks of heavy clouds. The rain will come.
IMG_7223eHow can I not gaze Heavenward?

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.