(22 comments, 30 posts)
Writer for Olive Tree
Posts by Elizabeth
I don’t travel to new places very often; I love being at home. A couple weeks ago I broke the mold and traveled to southern California to spend time with my sister, and we spent a Saturday at Disneyland. The day was a happy whirl of rides, lines, ice cream, and warm sunshine, but around 3:30 that afternoon, when the park was at its most busy and we couldn’t walk without bumping into someone, I began to feel the effects of the crowds. As a child, I might have pitched a fit. But as such tantrums are not tolerated with adults (however much we might want to), I agreed with my sister that a half hour break in the car would be good for both of us. I recognized unmistakable symptoms of being overtired, irritable, and, in this new environment with so many unknown faces, a little fragile, too.
The next day, my sister and I visited my grandma who had recently suffered a minor stroke. My sister and I helped her from her wheelchair to the hospital bed, and she lay there helplessly, unable to use her arms to prop herself up on the bed. My sister and the nurse hoisted her up, and we stood over her, looking down. She grabbed our hands, hers still surprisingly firm and strong, and said to us, “I’m sorry you have to see me at my worst.” I smiled at her and squeezed her hand, but my insides wrinkled uncomfortably as I recalled the day before, overwhelmed in the happiest place on earth, ready to burst into tears like a petulant child. My grandma’s worst didn’t seem that much different than my worst.
“Friends in Christ, every year at the time of the Christian Passover, we celebrate our redemption through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Lent is a time to prepare for this celebration and to renew our life in the paschal mystery. We begin our journey to Easter with the sign of ashes. This ancient sign speaks of the frailty and uncertainty of human life and marks the penitence of this community.”
As the sign of the cross was marked on my forehead with ashes, I was struck by the troubling paradox in the words of invitation, new life and frailty in the same breath. It’s like Lent itself, a season marked by penitence and fasting, which is puzzlingly placed at the time of year when the created world is bursting into new life. The grass becomes green again, the trees straighten towards the light, and flowers emerge from the cold ground.
I realized as I felt the ash on my forehead that my grandma and I both represented the paradox of Lent. My grandma, whose earthly body is failing, is headed for the new life that awaits us in heaven, where the earthly wear and tear fades away forever. While still young and healthy, I have my own frailty in wrestling with the sin and brokenness that are inherent to human life. And yet, the promise of new life still extends to me in the culmination of Lent, that glorious triumph of the cross of Christ. I like Disneyland and all, but surely living in the light of new life, even with the shadow of death, is the happiest place on earth.
It’s funny to me that spring is at once bursting with promise and notoriously lean. The bursting-with-promise part is easy to imagine as spring bulbs begin to pop up everywhere. However, the notoriously lean part only occurred to me after reading (or re-reading) one of my favorite non-fiction books, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver. The second-to-last chapter in Kingsolver’s book about eating locally with her family for a year is entitled “Hungry Month: February-March.” She writes:
“January is widely held to be the bugbear of local food, but the hungriest month is March, if you plan to see this thing through. Your stores are dwindling, your potatoes are sending pale feelers out into the void, but for most of us there is nothing new under the sun of muddy March, however it might intend to go out like a lamb. A few spring wildflowers, maybe, but no real eats. Our family was getting down to the bottom of our barrel” (322).
When I take my almost daily walks, it doesn’t look like spring will ever come. The grass is dank and yellowed and it’s hard to imagine it will ever be lush and green or that the trees will ever have blossoms and leaves. If you really do live off the land and what you have to eat is all in your freezer and root cellar, you have to be creative with what you have left. The root veggies of winter are wrinkled and woody and the asparagus, lettuce, and spinach of spring are only just beginning. It’s an awkward, in-between time.
I’m definitely in the thick of my Lenten discipline of fasting from dessert. We’re already almost five weeks from Ash Wednesday, but we’re still two weeks from Easter. For one deprived of sugar on a daily basis, Easter seems especially distant. If I’m honest with myself, I am longing for Easter, but I also like that Easter feels distant and that my deprivation weighs on me and temptation surrounds me. These are the necessary and even, dare I say, good rigors of Lent. I love that the Church Year acknowledges the times in the course of a normal human life that are in limbo. It’s not winter and not yet spring. It’s not Christmas and not yet Easter. Primroses on racks outside the grocery store and royal purple crocuses are the only harbingers of spring.
That makes me wonder about the harbingers of Easter. When we look to Jesus’ life and ministry, I would say baptism, temptation, cross, and grave. The road ahead of us to Easter is Lenten and is so very like this time between winter and spring. Where there is life after Easter and spring, we see only death during Lent. Yellowed grass and gnarled trees. Temptation and deprivation. Sin and selfishness.
But the great news about Easter is that it radically changes everything, and it’s not just the appearance of things that change. It’s not just that the grass becomes green and lush and the trees bud and the flowers bloom. It’s not just that I can once again eat cookies and ice cream. It’s that our very nature changes.
“We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ…for when we died with Christ [in baptism] we were set free from the power of sin. And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him” (Romans 6:6-8).
Temptation gives way to victory. Darkness becomes light. Death leads to life. And, best of all, the crucified Christ becomes the Risen Christ.
Olive Tree employees had the opportunity to participate in a Spokane-area Christmas tradition this year called the Tree of Sharing. The non-profit organization aims to serve the “often-forgotten” members of the community by supplying 60 local agencies with Christmas presents and other aid throughout the year. My coworker and I picked out 30 tags before Thanksgiving on which 30 individuals of all ages had requested Christmas gifts. The gifts Olive Tree employees could buy were varied, to say the least, from hats and gloves to board games to monster trucks and John Deere tractors for kids. I particularly liked these guys:
For three weeks, Olive Tree employees brought their gifts in, some wrapped and some unwrapped, and piled them around the Christmas tree in the Olive Tree kitchen. By the end of the three weeks, we had quite the stack of presents!
This morning, two men from the Tree of Sharing organization came to pick up the gifts. Several of us helped them carry the gifts out into the gently falling snow to a car that would deliver the gifts to the families and individuals.
In this Christmas season, it has been such a blessing for me and the other Olive Tree employees to follow Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Matthew: “I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” (25:40). Praise God that Christmas reminds us to give with bold generosity as we pattern our lives after the King of Kings who “though he was God, did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being” (Phil. 2:6-7) and “so the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only son” (John 1:14).
Praise be to Emmanuel, God With Us!
Question of the Day: Does your family or workplace have a giving tradition at Christmas? Tell us about it.
A month or so ago, Thomas Nelson shipped us a huge box of books for a commentary set that we were soon going to offer on OliveTree.com: the Word Biblical Commentary. One department worked out the calculation for how tall the stack of physical books would stand if we stacked them on top of each other. Eight feet. Almost as tall as Goliath.
To make our point, we thought we’d take these photos to show you what you’re not carting around in your backpack by buying the Word Biblical Commentary through Olive Tree! We also did a sneaky little calculation for you. If you bought each volume of the commentary set individually for $49.99, you’d spend $2949.41, so thank goodness for eBooks, right?
To top it off, this is a widely-acclaimed commentary set written by leading scholars. Each individual volume offers detailed analysis of the text in the framework of biblical theology. This is an exceptional resource for pastors, professors, students, and everyone who loves studying God’s Word.
The $299.99 sale price for the commentary set is available only through OliveTree.com (not in-app) from Tuesday, November 13 through the end of the day Monday, November 19. Grab this awesome commentary set while you can!
A couple of Olive Tree employees have been hard at work crafting a year-long devotional using excerpts from the writings of great preachers like John Wesley, Andrew Murray and Charles Spurgeon. This selection below comes from the writings of Charles Spurgeon, an English pastor in the 19th century who is said to have preached to 10 million people in his lifetime. May his words give you encouragement today!
Isaiah 3:10: “Tell the righteous it will be well with them, for they will enjoy the fruit of their deeds.”
It is well with the righteous always. If Isaiah 3:10 had said, “Tell the righteous that it is well with him in his wealth,” we should have been thankful for so great a help. Wealth is dangerous, and it is a gift from heaven to be secured from its snares. If it had been written, “It is well with him when persecuted,” we should have been thankful for so sustaining an assurance, because persecution is hard to bear. But when no time is mentioned, all time is included.
God’s “shall” must be understood always in the largest sense. From the beginning of the year to the end of the year, in all conditions and under all circumstances, it shall be well with the righteous. It is so well with him that we could not imagine it to be better. He is well-fed, because he feeds on the body and blood of Jesus; he is well-clothed, because he wears the imputed righteousness of Christ; he is well-housed, because he dwells in God; he is well-married, because his soul is in union with Christ; he is well-provided for, because the Lord is his Shepherd and heaven is his inheritance.
Beloved, if God declares that all is well, ten thousand demons may declare it to be ill, but we laugh at them all. Blessed be God for a faith that enables us to believe God when the creatures contradict Him. The Word says it is at all times well with you, righteous one. Believe it on divine authority more confidently than if your eyes and your feelings told it to you. Whom God blesses is blessed indeed, and what He declares is truth most sure and steadfast.
Keep an eye out for the Olive Tree daily devotional, it should be available on OliveTree.com very soon!
When my parents were visiting recently, I reluctantly told them over a Saturday morning pancake breakfast that I hadn’t had my car’s oil changed since June when I last saw them. I couldn’t articulate a good reason why I hadn’t. Well, I’ve just been busy. I don’t know where to go to get my oil changed in Spokane. My car’s mileage isn’t that far above the marker for when I should have had it changed.
Unfortunately, my parents are too smart for excuses. As soon as the breakfast dishes were in the dishwasher, we drove to a local car shop where my car had had some repair work the year before. When we discovered the shop wasn’t open on Saturdays, my parents made me promise that I would call and make an appointment, which I did a week and a half later.
After work one day this week, I drove to the shop and feigned confidence as I told them what work I wanted on my car: “I’d like an oil change and a general checkup before the winter.” (more…)