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.

 


 

 

The Second Year

March 1st is an exciting day on my calendar, and marks an epoch in my life. Two years ago today we crossed the Missouri River into western South Dakota, for the first time with no departure date in the future. Two years ago today we saw the Rapid City lights flickering in the winter night, welcoming that sight as those coming home after a long journey. Two years ago today we drove south on Hwy. 79, and finally – finally! – saw the familiar flashing light marking the small town of Hermosa, marking now the nearness of home. I watched for that light every time we came to the Hills, and I still get a sense of nostalgia when I am driving home after dark and see that light blinking in the distance. Two years ago today we pulled down the long, red dirt driveway into what had always been home for us. Two years ago today we came “back home,” although no one but Dad had actually ever lived here. Two years ago today. How fast time flies.
IMG_9878Our second year in the Hills felt like our tenth year in the Hills – Nothing about it doesn’t feel like home. We have truly settled in. Our church has  become family, and the closeness hasn’t diminished, but increased. The days and weeks are marked by time spent with family and friends, spent outside in God’s glorious Creation, exciting hikes to new places, teaching piano, fellowship over meals, experiencing a close-knitness with my church family of welcoming and being welcomed into one another’s lives.
IMG_8490The last year hasn’t been without its struggles. There have been plenty. Grandma’s health issues, personal health issues, trials of various kinds, fears, struggles with the general busyness of life and the snug living arrangements. But in all those things, God shows Himself to be faithful. He always provides. And the trials He gives are actually gifts, just like the things we readily perceive to be blessings.

On to Year Three. We will see what God brings!

Laura Elizabeth

2016 | In Hindsight

Once again, a new year rolls in, the old year suddenly gone and a memory before it seems to even have begun. The new year is always a good time to reflect on God’s faithfulness, which really is the only faithfulness worth reflecting on. I reviewed my New Year’s goals for 2016, and it was a good reminder both of God’s faithfulness in loving me in spite of my failures, as well as of how God grows and refines his children in subtle ways.Pasque flowerUnlike the year 2015, which was a year of huge changes and (consequently) very visible growth and maturing, this year has been a slower year. But if I am to be faithful, I need to remind myself that God doesn’t always work in huge, unmistakable ways, but oftentimes (perhaps, most of the time?) works in the subtle shaping of the heart and the inner person. God’s work in big ways is his grace and mercy and lavishness in allowing us to get a glimpse of how he works – God is not obligated to allow us to see his process, but sometimes he does. Much of the time, though, the work is smaller and quieter, harder to see, but that does not mean it is any less real or valuable. Last year around this time, I did my review of 2015 and stated that making lists of the events of a year can be an encouraging reminder of God’s faithfulness. I would say “yes and amen” to that! Re-reading that article from a year ago was an encouraging reminder of God’s goodness, even after what has been something of a dry year this past year.
IMG_6960This was a year of quiet joys and celebrations – The Biblical Counseling Conference in Lafayette, IN, in February, a sister married in April (that was exciting!), family visiting on and off throughout the summer and fall, including my cousin William from Ohio and my Sacramento uncle in the summer, my sister and her husband in early November, and my Alaska cousins just a few weeks ago.  There was the rip-roaring fun of summer rodeos and the blessing of church get-togethers.IMG_6777There was the constant reminder of the presence of God in the beauty of his creation, which we enjoyed on numerous hikes and adventures, including our little road trip up to Medora, ND, a couple of afternoon drives through the Badlands, and a day trip to Devil’s Tower. We explored some new trails, including Hell Canyon, the Ingersoll Mine, and the back way in to Big Falls. There was the sweet delight of finding my first pasque flowers. There was the fun of getting Trixie, a little litter of kittens, and then another puppy two weeks ago. God’s creatures are such a gift! There was the work and fun of canning and processing, particularly of the harvesting fruit and processing jellies in the late summer.IMG_1679There was the beginning of expanding my photography business, shooting a wedding in June, doing a number of family portrait sessions, buying my first professional lens, winning best of show at the Custer County Fair again, and seeing my work in a local gallery. I was blessed with six piano students from my church, and am looking forward to taking on another in the next week or so.
IMG_3534The joy of reading continued to be a blessing, as always, with a wonderful biography on Spurgeon, the British theologian and pastor from the 19th century, as well as using his devotionals Morning by Morning and Evening by Evening. I read and re-read a short western novel, Man from Yuma, and have come to the conclusion that it is one of the best westerns I have ever read. I highly recommend it. Recently, I also enjoyed the first volume of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. Small pleasures. But the joy of life is largely composed of small pleasures.IMG_0743eEven as I write this little list and muse over the last year, I feel sheepish. God is so good! How dare I look back on any year and feel that it was “dry” or “uneventful!” It contained no more or less than God had sovereignly ordained. Once again, I look forward with eagerness and hope (and some trepidation) to this next year. It is going to be busy, with some exciting projects and prospects, and I trust that God will be growing me and changing me, to his glory. So I usher in the New Year, glad of God’s goodness, eager to see what unfolds in 2017.

Laura Elizabeth

 

Cows and Coneflowers

After abusing my ankle yesterday, I was back to crutches and limited activity again today and honestly, I wasn’t too happy about that, even though it was my own fault. I had just started indulging in a pity-party when Mom came into the house. “Are the cows supposed to be out?” she asked. I looked outside, and of course the answer was “no.” The cows weren’t just “out.” They were out just about in our front yard! The pity-party didn’t last too much longer, and I hobbled outside with my camera to take pictures of the cattle, and to call my uncle to give him the head’s up.
IMG_7794The cows had found a hole in the fence, and the green grass and water in the dam were irresistible, I guess. They were pretty content, and I think we could have left them and they’d still be there tomorrow. Uncle Stuart was out fencing, and when he drove up in the beat-up ranch Toyota, he, Dad, and I moved them back into the pasture they’re supposed to be in.
IMG_7845Cows are beautiful creatures. They’re in a further pasture now, but I love when they are close enough to hear them lowing, and to smell their warm scent.
IMG_7847As I snapped pictures of the cows and the wildflowers, and tromped through the waist-high grass with my dad and my uncle, my frustration melted. Pity-parties really are a waste of time, and are so entirely uncalled-for.
IMG_7801Life is good. God is good. Cows and coneflowers reminded me of that.

Laura Elizabeth

Welcome Weather

I woke up to the gentle melody of rain on the tin roof, just inches above my face. What a welcome, refreshing sound! We’re behind some 6 inches of rainfall this summer already, and everything has been scorching. The garden has been almost impossible to keep watered, ranchers’ hay production is significantly reduced, and the landscape has started to turn a withered brown. For weeks, the grass has been too dry to walk barefoot on it, and even the weeds in the garden have wilted. The 1,600-acre Crow Peak Fire near Spearfish has been blazing for a week and is only about 15% contained. The last thing anyone wanted was a thunderstorm without rain. But we got rain! Boy, did we get rain.
IMG_7189The clouds were low and heavy, hanging in the trees, and already the landscape looks richer, greener. The rain pitter-pattered on the tin roof for most of the morning. At times it would nearly quiet, but then the sound of larger drops would lead into another downpour, though never torrential. It was the slow kind of rain that soaks in deep and doesn’t turn to runoff. We got 1 inch total. The frogs are singing again now. It was a good day for reading, writing, and hot tea.
IMG_7191Trixie wasn’t entirely sure what to make of the rain. Unlike our other dog, Baby, who would retreat into her dog house for the whole day when it rained, Trixie was soaked and muddy from digging in the yard, undeterred by the wet. She didn’t seem to care at first, but at one point jumped up and peeked in the window over the kitchen sink. I think she was a little bored. She had dried off a little by noon, so she went with me to take Dad his lunch in Hermosa. She is such a puppy! She hasn’t experienced many car rides and tried to cuddle up initially, then went back to trying to chew on whatever was close enough to get her mouth on, whether it was me, or her leash, or the blanket she was sitting on. She was pretty happy to see Sarah, who got off early from work today.
IMG_7196We’re hoping for more rain tonight. It doesn’t look like there is much chance of precipitation over the next week, but we’ll take whatever we get and be glad of it!

Laura Elizabeth

Back at it

The last few days have been long, I have to admit. Being house-bound isn’t exactly what I had in mind for my thirteen days off, especially since the weather cooled down into the 80s and the summer wildflowers are going crazy! But today was a huge improvement from the first two days where I couldn’t walk at all. I was actually able to hobble around the house without crutches today, and do some dishes and cook. I had my foot looked at today by the PA at the clinic where I work – She diagnosed it as a foot sprain, no fracture, and just told me to stay off it for a week or two. That’s a lot better than the six weeks I’d been dreading! Tonight, an ankle brace and hiking boots (the kind with the shank in the sole) actually provided great support for getting around. I know I need to be good, though – The temptation is to do too much too fast.
GimpyBut even being house-bound has had benefits – I was able to spend hours yesterday reading about C.H. Spurgeon, the great English preacher and theologian from the mid- to late-1800s. We are reading a Spurgeon biography for our church book reading club, and it is a delight. What a wonderful life of work he led for the Kingdom of God! He began pastoring a church at the age of 17, and his teaching sparked a revival in the surrounding town. By the age of 26, his work had revived a dying church in London and he was regularly preaching to thousands, regularly helping to plant church and send out new pastors and leading sinners to Christ! The reach of his work is truly astounding, from the circulation of his sermons to the books he published to the orphanage and school he ran and the Pastor’s College he founded, and my list could go on. I hadn’t even started the book before yesterday, and I am now about 120 pages into it. A productive day. I was even able to edit about thirty-five wedding photos from a wedding I shot a few weeks ago.
Cuddling with the CatAnd of course, cuddling with the Kashka-cat is very important. Nothing quite as sweet as her little purring self curled up on my lap, or stretched to her full length, fast asleep and dreaming so hard she’s twitching. She loves her people, that’s for sure.

But as productive as the last few days have been, I’m eager to get back at it! Enough of this lazing around.

Laura Elizabeth