We headed north for vacation in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It was counterintuitive as a spring break destination. We traded sandy beaches for rocky shores, ocean waves for the swells of Lake Superior, swimsuits for winter boots, and warm days for windblown snow.
Visiting family and a comfortable place to stay for free were the allure. However, we discovered so much more: the beauty of winter. The pristine snow sharpened the sky’s blue and the pine trees’ green. The cold breeze coming off the lake created intricate designs along the shore. White and gray displayed their own palettes of color. If the cold didn’t take my breath away, God’s handiwork in the winter season did!
At first glance, much in the Bible seems counterintuitive to the world’s way of thinking. “Bless those who curse you.” “Love your enemies.” “Lose your life to find your life.” Only sacrifice atones for sin. Death leads to life. These challenges to our human perspective are given clarity at the cross of Jesus Christ.
As the only perfect sacrifice, Jesus died for God’s enemies to demonstrate God’s love. In the ugliness and starkness of the cross, God wrought the everlasting beauty and glory of eternal life through Easter’s resurrection. The cross was the means and the price to provide for our salvation and the forgiveness of sins. The Easter story is our story!
May we approach and celebrate every day by thanking God who shows up with beauty in the least expected places.
My husband kept adding extensions to the stakes that supported our cherry tomato plants. He didn’t have a choice. The plants kept growing higher and higher until we needed a ladder to pick the ripe tomatoes.
I found it ironic that these plants reached such heights when the bottom part of the plant was so ugly. Withered leaves were constantly falling off to expose a seemingly dying vine. Despite real threats of disease and insects, the plants continued to grow and bear good fruit for us.
It is a timely lesson. We are to keep growing and bearing fruit for God in spite of disease, attacks, or circumstances out of our control. It is possible because we are in Jesus Christ! Jesus is the vine that supports us with His strength, sustains us with His nourishment, and protects us with His life.
Jesus’s strength was in His brokenness for us. His death on the cross was brutally ugly and is difficult for us to imagine. Yet, His scarred body is what gives us eternal life. May we recognize the security we have in Jesus Christ. May our response be to remain in Him so we can reflect God’s glory of eternal fruit through our lives.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
1 Peter 2:24
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.
Bruised, misshapen and downright ugly: a good friend offered me a bag of mid-summer Lodi apples. I was skeptical at first. What would I do with these smaller-than-normal apples? What would I want to do with these apples that were characterized by their imperfections?
My friend raved about the applesauce made from these summer-ripened apples processed through a food mill. She convinced me that the time and effort were worth it. All I needed to do was quarter the apples and remove the bigger bruises, bug trails and stems. The food mill would do the hard work and separate the peel, seeds and “junk” from the desired smooth applesauce. The result was surprisingly wonderful. The applesauce was tangy with just enough sweetness: a unique flavor all its own.
We can go through life and end up with evidence of attack, bent out of shape and feeling small. God still accepts us, even embraces us with our imperfections. God is able to bring sweetness out of the ugliness and into our lives. It may seem a far-fetched possibility, but the result is always based on God’s character, not ours.
At times, we need someone to remind us of the vision and reassure us of God’s goodness in our lives. Jesus Christ on the cross speaks volumes about the love that makes it possible. Let’s reach out to God in the ugliness of life, knowing that His presence is the sweetness and His glory is the proof of the results.
Taste and see that the LORD is good, blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.
2 Corinthians 2:14
But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him.
It was already mid-March when I discovered the single snowdrop, no bigger than the tip of my little finger. It was not what I imagined when I planted the bulbs last fall. There should have been a showy display of white debuting in February. My anticipation of hope was downsized by disappointment. This snowdrop was too little, too sparse and too late.
I recognized the feeling. Obstacles and frustrations in life tend to have the same effect on me. Hope wanes. Faith urges me to cling to the promise of hope despite that which is confirmed with the senses. Still, one lonely snowdrop encompassed the possibility for more flowers to appear. Even a little hope strengthens the resolve for more abundant hope in the present.
The Old Testament is filled with prophecy for the coming Messiah. In the New Testament, many did not recognize the Messiah when confronted with God’s hope. One of my favorite exceptions is the thief crucified with Jesus. His hope was waning as he was dying. Something deep inside stirred when he talked with Jesus. He experienced hope that defied the pain in his life. He believed that Hope existed and that he wasn’t beyond Hope’s reach. Jesus’s hope did not disappoint. Luke 23:42-43 is an excerpt of that beautiful story of hope leading to redemption. Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
The prequel to Easter is still hope. Jesus Christ on the cross was hope defined. Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the grave was hope understood. Jesus Christ in our hearts is Easter’s hope realized. Easter reveals that God’s Hope is never too little, too sparse or too late.
Let thy mercy, O LORD, be upon us, according as we hope in thee. (King James Version.)
One of the perks of being empty-nesters is that my husband and I each get our own bathroom. My husband’s shower stall leaked just a little. He caulked the outside of the shower stall and the corners inside the shower stall. It still leaked. He disassembled the door and the side panel to clean out every joint before reassembling and re-caulking. He caulked the interface between the drain and the bottom of the shower stall. It still leaked. With hope for a fix waning and a magnifying glass in hand, my husband inspected the joints between the individual tiles lining the shower stall. Lots of tiles and lots of joints to inspect. My husband finally found the source of the leak. Even a tiny hole was too big and resulted in grief.
I see the analogies in faith. Even a little sin is too much in God’s eyes. We can try to work out salvation on our own, but we can’t stop the leaks of sin into our lives. We have too many holes, many of which are insidious. We need real help for a permanent fix. Thank goodness God is just a call, er… a prayer away. On the cross, Jesus Christ traded his holiness for our unholiness. By putting our faith in Jesus, even just a little faith, we can recognize the sin in our lives and realize the only solution that works. Salvation is free of charge and guaranteed for eternal life by God. For the workmanship was done by God’s best and the cost was bore by his one and only Son.
1 Peter 3:18
For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit,
He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.”
We ticked off the garbage man. There was a lot of trash that week. I even considered leaving a note to apologize and explain that we recently moved in and were cleaning up inside and out. The garbage man heaved our bulky trash. As he started up the truck again, I heard the definite honk of the truck’s horn. It was 5:00 in the morning on trash day. I got his message. Everyone has their limit, even the garbage man. Not so with God. As high as the heavens are above the earth and as far as the east is from the west, God’s compassion and God’s mercy knows no limit. Week after week, we can bring all our garbage to God. We can place it down at the foot of the cross: our heavy-laden sins piled high and outright ugly. God’s open arms embrace us as our desire to rid ourselves of the unneeded and unwanted confirms his greatest desire for us: to cleanse us from the garbage in our lives. No limits. Not even ticked off. No honk of indignation too early in the morning. We are welcomed. We are forgiven. And we are cleansed, whiter than snow.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
“Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”