Friday, March 25, 2011

Fruit Cocktail

There is a holy, God-planted, God-tended root. If the primary root of the tree is holy, there’s bound to be some holy fruit. Romans 11:16 

When I was little, one of my favorite breakfasts was to open a can of fruit cocktail, with its peaches, pears, and fake-cherry grapes.
I have more varieties of fruit in my yard than I have fruit trees or vines. My cherry tree has five different grafts on a cherry root stock. I have one nectarine and three peach varieties on one trunk, plum, pluot (hybrid of plum and apricot), two kinds of almonds, Asian pear, black and white mulberries, and don’t get me started on citrus! They’re called fruit cocktail trees. They’re meant to be space savers, but the branches also pollinate each other for a better harvest.
People marvel at how many fruits I have, assuming I know how to do grafting. No, I buy them at the nursery! It’s a science to successfully marry an alien sprout to the trunk. 
The process is instructive: a sharp cut is made to the host plant, a bud from another plant is placed up against the cut (so it gets sap and nutrients), then is bound tightly so the wounds of both plants are healed and become strong. 
Grafters often start with a hardy, pest- and disease-resistant root stock and trunk. Your gorgeous roses look very different from the puny blooms of the suckers, because the desirable part has been grafted to the wild roots. Ever taste an ornamental orange? (Don’t.) Their roots are better adapted to resist bugs and harsh weather than the tender, grafted stock of sweet oranges. 
Olive trees can live for thousands of years. After a few decades, though, they can't bear fruit from original branches. When a tree's wood ages and hardens, it can't force out new shoots with leaves, flowers, and fruit. Then it's time for pruning, or even cutting down the main tree trunk. However, the life is in the ROOTS of the tree, and the next season, as if in a resurrection, green shoots come from the extensive root system of the tree, and from all around the trunk. And from the mature new branches spring the tiny, cream-colored blossoms, and the olives that have so many medicinal, mechanical, cosmetic, and culinary uses.
There is a holy, God-planted, God-tended root. If the primary root of the tree is holy, there’s bound to be some holy fruit. Some of the tree’s branches were pruned and you wild olive shoots were grafted in. Yet the fact that you are now fed by that rich and holy root gives you no cause to crow over the pruned branches. Remember, you aren’t feeding the root; the root is feeding you. Romans 11:16-18 MSG
God grafted wild shoots, the Gentile believers (that’s us), into the cultivar of the Jewish faith, then bound us closely with Jesus' healing blood. The result was a new fruit entirely: the Christian faith. 
Regardless of which variety of fruit we develop as a result of God’s miraculous graft, let’s remember to take our nourishment from our strong and hardy, tested and true Root, the Lord Jesus Christ. He is providing moisture and nutrients, and protecting our souls from illness and injury. Shall we make His day today? Shall we blossom and bear fruit?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Here’s mud in your eye

            The first thing he recognized in his entire life was the face of God.
The blind beggar only knew one way of life. He had no trade or skill, and no family except his parents, who hadn’t trained their son for a profession or showed any backbone in standing up for their son. He knew his way around Jerusalem through the texture of the walls facing the street, the cobblestone paving beneath his feet, and the sounds of the marketplace. His acquaintances were known by their voices.
The blind man sat on a woven mat with his hand out, wondering if anyone in the crowd would throw money in his lap. The center of the throng came closer to him, he could tell by the dust kicked up, the noise, and the excitement of the people. Then it stopped, and he was the center of attention. Either he was in for abuse as a non-working, unproductive leech on society, or he’d find a few shekels thrown his way.
Here were new voices: strong, self-assured, but with a country accent, not the smooth accent of urbane Jerusalem.
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
Oh, great, thought the beggar cynically. It was to be the judgment, not the sympathy and support. But the rabbi’s answer surprised him.
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
The speaker said he was light of the world. What was light? How did one distinguish darkness from light when darkness was all that was known?
He recoiled when he smelled and felt mud being placed on his eyelids. The voice spoke again, this time directed at the blind beggar. “Go wash in the pool of Siloam.” Instead of a handout of money, he got mud in his eyes!
With no explanation about the mud or what it signified, the blind man obeyed the voice. No questions. No arguments. No complications. Maybe it was the rabbi’s kindness and lack of condemnation for his poverty and disability. Maybe it was a hunch that something extraordinary might happen.
He shuffled down the tiled road leading from the Temple to the Siloam Pool, where pilgrims did ceremonial baths to prepare for acts of sacrifice or worship. Carefully, he felt his way down the stone steps to the water, and sat down on the lowest step, clothes and all, to rinse himself, and wash away the dried smear of mud on his eyes. And when he did, a burst of light blazed into his brain. Sunshine sparkled on the ripples in the pool, and he turned his wet hands this way and that, in complete shock.
Never having seen before, not knowing depth perception through sight, he felt his way back to where he’d left the rabbi, with hands and feet that told him the familiar paths and how many steps between the street corner and his beggar’s mat. He kept turning, round and round, touching things with his fingers, comparing the touch to what his eyes told him. He couldn’t get enough of this new world. So this was light!
His neighbors recognized him by his clothes, undoubtedly dusty and ragged, and he looked something like the dirty beggar they’d seen near the Temple every day for years. They weren’t all that impressed that the man could see for the first time in his life—they suspected he’d faked it all along to beg for handouts rather than learn a trade.
So they took the man to the priests at the Temple, who were going about their sanctified duties on the Sabbath. The priests asked when this alleged healing had taken place. Today, they heard. The Sabbath. Well, here was something to pin on the renegade rabbi: stirring up dust and spittle to make mud was work.  (Unlike this panel of inquisition meeting on the Sabbath, of course.)
When the Pharisees questioned the man, he told them the same story he’d given his neighbors, but this time he added, “He is a prophet.”
They called the man’s parents to verify that the sighted man was the same man as the blind beggar. The parents knew that if they acknowledged it was Jesus who had healed their son, they’d be put out of fellowship, flogged, and shunned by their synagogue and their community. So they tossed responsibility back to their son. “Ask him. He is of age, he will speak for himself.”
And he did. The leaders insisted that he give the glory and credit for the miracle to God, not to Jesus, for Jesus must be a sinner for breaking the Sabbath by working. The man’s eyes were still open wide, drinking in his surroundings and the jealous, accusatory faces now confronting him. So this was the face that went along with a suspicious voice. But the new bright eyes opened a little wider. “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind, but now I see!”
The priests knew their theology and their denominational doctrines, but the now-sighted man had personally experienced salvation from an incurable, hopeless condition. Now his experience consolidated. He first called Jesus a man. Then a prophet. Now he testified that Jesus was not a sinner, but from God.
This infuriated the leaders. They beat him, and threw him out of fellowship and any hope of salvation as they understood it. They pronounced him a non-person, and shunned him.
But Jesus hadn’t finished with the man. He’d initiated the encounter the man hadn’t asked for, and when he heard that the man had been excommunicated, Jesus sought him out. “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” he asked.
“Who is he, sir?” the beggar asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.” He still saw with his hands and ears, not his eyes. Who was this person with a kind voice, and a face to match?
Jesus replied with a smile that crinkled the corners of his eyes, “You have now seen him, in fact, he is the one speaking with you.” Jesus identified himself by voice, in the most familiar and comfortable way the man knew.
At that moment, the beggar’s healing was complete. He blinked. He had spiritual eyes to see, with no magnifiers, no filters, no preconceived notions. Jesus instilled trust in him. He answered the rabbi, “Lord, I believe,” and he fell at Jesus’ feet and kissed them in an act of worship. “For you have delivered my soul from death and my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.” Psalm 56:13

Read the Bible story in John 9

This article by Christy K. Robinson appeared in the Loma Linda Campus Hill Communique, February 1999.  

Monday, March 7, 2011

Go Ants! Go Ants! (No, really. Go.)

Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Proverbs 6:6 KJV

            Ewww. I hate slugs and snails. And I’m really sick of ants, too. I remember this verse when I’m watering my trees or cutting back morning glory vines. I memorized it in church school, probably as work-ethic indoctrination!
            I grew up in Arizona, where slugs and snails were unheard of until we got bedding plants shipped from California growers. Of course, there were ants. But not in the plague proportions I see in southern California, where I live now. Ants drop on me from the trees, and they climb my ankles. They bite rarely. But I don’t want insects on me!
            After fighting ant invasions in the house, I employed an exterminator. But they don’t “do” snails, so I spend about $50 a year on snail poisons (beer and salt are not the answer). The baits kill the arthropods, but those nasty things can sleep in the soil for up to five years, so wave after wave hatch out, thus needing smushing and poisoning.
            Solomon had a point, though, comparing critters to people. Slugs can’t be bothered with industry: they are parasites that eat desirable plants and destroy seedlings. (They’re also hideous, smelly, and leave slime trails.) And ants, though not known for their IQ, can move mountains by teaming (and teeming) together. When the hose water floods the tree well where they have one of their many colonies, they mobilize the army, and carry the eggs and larvae to higher ground to prevent drowning and preserve their community. Their colonies aerate the soil, their workers pollinate my flowers and fruit, and they don’t bite (much), so I tolerate the yard ants. 
There are four small creatures,
   wisest of the wise they are—
      ants—frail as they are,
   get plenty of food in for the winter;
      marmots—vulnerable as they are,
         manage to arrange for rock-solid homes;
      locusts—leaderless insects,
         yet they strip the field like an army regiment;
      lizards—easy enough to catch,
         but they sneak past vigilant palace guards.
            Proverbs 30:25  says that ants—frail as they are, get plenty of food in for the winter and calls them the wisest of the wise, along with marmots, locusts, and lizards, because they are small, vulnerable, leaderless, and easy to catch. Ah, but they have God-given strengths that make them the best little creatures they can be!
            What are your weaknesses? Ask God how He can turn those weaknesses into strengths. He can turn it around. He loves to surprise us with blessings!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Great Expectations

I've been thinking lately about excellence in the overall picture of my life. I have high expectations of myself, for my life’s trending upward in regard to my career in writing and publishing, in making musical contributions through teaching or worship, and in growing and nurturing relationships with people from my past and those I’m becoming better acquainted with.
I’m a pleaser. I have a need to be praiseworthy and inspirational. But you know, those are God's traits, not mine. Does aspiring to them make me a godly woman? I'm not so sure.
What does excellence mean to me? Too often, I have to admit that it means other people notice and appreciate my efforts or consider me clever. They say they’re inspired by my writing, or that my homemade fruit jam is the best they’ve ever eaten, or that I entertain them with my humor. On the good side, I think making a difference for other people is very satisfying. Persuading them by writing, teaching them, turning on a light switch—that must be a positive thing. 
One friend who’s a pastor says he has NO expectations of anyone, especially himself, so he's never let down by peoples' attitudes and actions, nor by their failures in moral matters. He has an open, friendly nature that gives him thousands of admirers, and considers no one on earth an enemy. His attitude is one that Jesus preached: “Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” Luke 6:35
But I can't not have expectations of others, and honestly, don’t want to think that way. My mom had high expectations for me, for education and excellence, and personal integrity. It's in the fiber of my being. I come from New England Puritan stock, and they were a people who believed one was saved by good works, adherence to the Ten Commandments, and ultimately, the fickle choice of God. “Be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect” Matt. 5:48 was the mantra I heard for years, although the word "perfect" didn't mean "without sin:"  it meant "complete and mature [in loving others]."

Author Max Lucado wrote: "Religious rule-keeping can sap your strength. It’s endless. There is always another class to attend, Sabbath to obey, Ramadan to observe. No prison is as endless as the prison of perfection. Her inmates find work but they never find peace. How could they? They never know when they are finished."
I don't expect perfection of others or myself—not in rules keeping, and not in loving. But I do expect the good old TRY.
My brother and I understood, from earliest memory, that integrity and honor were paramount. And that may be one of the sources of high expectations. We, in middle age, are still surprised and saddened when someone lies or cheats to get ahead—and they prosper when we don’t.
Another source of high expectations is the books I read as a kid. I loved the (completely fictional) children's book series about the early lives of famous Americans. I enjoyed biographies and histories, works of literature—and their subjects and protagonists were heroes. It's like a parent telling their kid, “You can grow up to be President someday.”
I was raised to study the Bible, and who hasn’t read the exploits of the “good” and “bad” people that populate its pages? The expectation is that God’s people are on an upward path, running a long-distance race and throwing off anything that hinders, that we’re kind and loving to one another, that we persevere in all things, and live a life worthy of God’s high calling.
“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”  Philippians 1:6  Does that not show that God has plans for me to excel?
If God expects great things (the best I can do with the circumstances) of me, why should I not have great expectations, also? When I and others don’t meet those expectations, I’ll be disappointed again and again. But I don’t like the alternative—settling for mediocre.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Of dogs and leftovers

            There was a woman of Syrian Phoenicia who lived with her little daughter in the area of Tyre and Sidon, on the Mediterranean seacoast (northwest of Galilee). She was a Gentile, which the Jewish population of Galilee considered to be of the canine persuasion, and of course, she was a woman, which was probably worse than a dirty dog. Both Jews and Gentiles were known to praise God that they hadn’t been created a woman or a beast. Today, there's a commonly-used insult for a female dog: a bitch.
            But what others thought of her didn’t daunt this woman. She was self-sufficient. Without a family to depend upon, she made a living for herself and her daughter. As a woman of Greek thinking, she was known for her intelligence, her quick answers, and she could be counted upon for lively, colorful conversation with her friends and business associates. She was even a kind mistress to family pets.
            But one thing she could not handle: her small daughter was mentally ill, or, as the people of that day believed, the girl was possessed by an evil spirit.The girl would fly into violent rages, scream obscenities, and hurt herself and others.
            News reports from travelers told the woman of a traveling Jewish teacher who had healed thousands of sick people across Judea and Galilee, that many people had touched just the fringe of his garment, and were healed. He had the power to cast out evil spirits. He had made a meal for five thousand men and their families, from just a few loaves of bread. People had considered taking him by force to make him their king in place of the evil Herod dynasty (who were Idumeans, not Jews). They followed Jesus incessantly, hoping for miracles of free food, or spectacular feats of magic.
            He told them several times not to work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life; that the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. It was said he’d been born in Beit Lehem, the House of Bread.  He declared that he was the Bread of Life. (John 6:25-59) But they weren’t interested in theology. They could think only of their stomachs.
            This teacher, Jesus of Nazareth, was on his way to Tyre to get some rest at the seaside. The Canaanite woman heard about it immediately, and set out to find him. She followed him “along the highway until she got on the disciples’ nerves and they begged Jesus to get rid of her. However, Jesus’ attitude was very different; he saw her as an individual and dealt with her in the way that she needed. He did not send her away but rather talked with her.” *
            She threw herself at his feet, and begged,
“Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon possession.”
            Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”
            He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
            The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
            He replied, “First let the children eat all they want, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”  (Matthew 15:22-28; Mark 7:24-30 NIV)

            The woman was not offended. She knew something of the Jews’ thinking, and she knew that Jesus was a descendant of King David. She understood that Jews considered her a foreigner, an outcast. She had seen wild, mangy curs fighting over scraps thrown to them. Well, she didn’t consider herself that  kind of animal, and knew that Jesus didn't, either!
            So she agreed with Jesus, to stay in conversation with him. “Yes, Lord,” she persisted, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs  that fall from their masters’ table.” She was thinking of the kind of beloved pet to whom masters did not toss scraps, but rather fed them leftover tidbits from the table. Children will often very willingly sacrifice their green beans or beets to a hungry, accepting dog below!
            She recognized that Jesus was not talking about discarding his influence, his power, or attention on a “mere” Gentile woman. He was assuredly not calling her a bitch. He used the word for little dog, or lap dog. He was talking about his ministry. “I am the bread of life,” he had said, and his own people did not understand. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If a man eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
            The woman had heard this story told, and she understood what bread Jesus was talking about in figurative terms.
            “She could understand that Jesus’ first responsibility was to Israel and that she therefore had no claim to him, but she wanted only a crumb and recognized that it was in his power to give it. Her reply showed intelligence and insight. Jesus rejoiced at her faith and granted her request.” *
            Then Jesus told here that she should go home, because the demon had left her daughter, who was now sleeping soundly and in health.
            The story of the Syro-phoenician woman of Tyre is “sandwiched” (so to speak) between the stories of the feeding of the five thousand, which represented Jesus’ ministry to the children of the twelve tribes of Israel, and the feeding of the four thousand, which represented his ministry to the Gentiles (the seven nations driven from Canaan by the conquering Israelites). Incredibly, in Mark 8:14, we can see that the disciples had forgotten to bring bread on their journey, even for themselves. After seeing thousands of people fed, after seeing Jesus walk on the water, and seeing and hearing his woman with her fast, clever reply about crumbs.
            Jesus has invited people, Jews and Gentiles, to become part of him—to partake of the bread of life, and be hungry no more.
            The woman went home satisfied and full, even with her crumbs. The teacher had spoken to her in what seemed to be esoteric terms, but she had interpreted his lesson correctly. And best of all, her beloved little daughter was free from illness. She could get on with her life, knowing that she would never be hungry again, having partaken, to the full, of the Bread of Life.

This article, by Christy K. Robinson, was published as "The Crumbs of Life" in ASM Bulletin, January 1990 



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...