If 2020 Was A Lemon Tree

Our Colorado lemon tree

Just in case you wonder, lemon trees are not indigenous to Colorado. In fact, unless one has a green house or a western facing window and lots of patience, it really isn’t possible to grow them here. So when we brought this little tree from California four years ago, we knew we were taking a long shot chance on it producing fruit. However, year after year it has had an abundance of lovely green leaves, fragrant lemon blossoms and each year we get to enjoy two to four sweet, juicy, Meyer lemons. No matter who came to visit, its unexpected beauty and bounty became a conversation piece. Then came 2020.

What do you see when you look at this picture of my tree? Two lemons are valiantly hanging on, doing their best to ripen into their full potential. But the leaves! The leaves are gone, and nothing remains but spindly little branches and two, little Meyers. It would be sad if it wasn’t so prophetically beautiful.

In Luke 13 we read the story of a man who went for a walk through his vineyard in which there was a fig tree that had not produced fruit for three years. He ordered the vine dresser  to cut it down so it didn’t take up good ground and nourishment other trees could use. The grounds keeper asked him to leave it for one more season. He would feed it, tend and care for it, and see what happens. From this account as well as the story of Jesus cursing the fig tree that had an abundance of leaves but no fruit, we learn what matters most in the Kingdom. Leaves are lovely: fruit is the goal. In light of this, I’ve decided to give my Meyer one more year, as well.

My little lemon tree is not the only living thing that bears the marks of this crazy year of 2020. Each of us has been touched by the events of this year, some impacted more than others. I remember in the height of the panic, when it was all new and we really didn’t know what was happening or what to expect next, my heart would skip a beat when I realized – again and again – that it was not just OUR family, or our city or even our nation but, in fact, the entire globe that was being impacted. Each negative story or report that came along in those months left an imprint. In lemon tree terms, with each negative report, I lost a leaf. Now that we’re coming up on the end of the this year of unknowns and challenges, I hope I look like my lemon tree. I may not have all my leaves or look as in years gone by, but if I am producing good fruit that remains, I have done well. It is fruit the Master looks for when He comes. The fruit of faith that overcomes fear, the fruit of joy that brings strength. It may be time we each take a fruit inventory, before a New Year rolls around again.

A year ago, toward the end of 2019 (seems like longer than one year ago, doesn’t it?!), many people were talking and writing about what seemed to me the obvious concept of the Lord giving us 20/20 vision in this year. I remember having perfect vision when I was a child, to the point school teachers would comment on how exceptional both my close and distant vision were. That has changed with age and now eyeglasses afford me a similar benefit, though earlier this fall I had to get a new prescription and glasses as my vision continues to weaken a bit. However, the vision the Lord wants us to operate in is not just physical, natural vision but spiritual vision: the ability to see beyond what is happening in the natural. To see as He sees. To see Him more clearly than we’ve ever seen before. Thankfully, spiritual vision increases and sharpens with use and wisdom comes as we learn to see as He sees.

As I recently chatted with my friend Lenny, he shared something profound with me (and gave me permission to share the gist of the concept with you.) As the year began He asked the Lord how he was to navigate it and heard the Lord tell him to read John 20:20. He, too, was processing the idea of improved, in fact, perfect 20/20 vision and what that might mean or how it might come about.  In this verse, the disciples are hidden away in a locked room (sound familiar?), afraid. The resurrected Jesus appeared to them, speaking peace over them. As He was speaking, He showed them the wounds in his hands and side, and it says the disciples began to celebrate as they SAW the Lord. There was something about seeing His wounds, knowing that He not only could identity with but in fact had carried their pain and stress and all the trauma of the uncertainties of those days IN HIS BODY, that unlocked their ability to bear fruit. They may have been ‘stripped of their leaves’, that is, their bravado and ego and posturing for power was gone – but when Jesus showed them that He was alive and carried all the ‘hard stuff they’d been through’ in His very being – they began to celebrate. Joy came and replaced fear. Relief washed over them and cleansed the trauma of all the unknowns and what if’s. In some versions the end of verse 20 reads, “it sank in that they were really SEEING the Lord.” In seeing, they were able to receive the peace He came to leave with them and went on to produce lasting fruit that we still enjoy today.

In this month of Thanksgiving here in the States, as we look forward to a Christmas celebration and the beginning of a new year ahead, I pray you will Love Yourself To Life by taking time to LOOK and SEE. Ask the Holy Spirit for fresh vision; for the ability to see beyond what the natural eye perceives. For when you do, you will see Jesus. Seeing His scars, remembering He has borne it all for and with us, the traumas and fears of this 2020 year will fade and heal and you will be restored to produce the fruits of the Spirit. And peace that passes all understanding will be able to settle in your soul, once again as you celebrate the God who is always, ever with us.

I’ll leave it at that.


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Be Careful, Little Heart What You Say

Words and the way we speak them, matter.

“If you had been here my brother wouldn’t have died.” POW! What a punch in the gut, I don’t care who you are. It is one thing to feel like I, myself could have done more but to have such a weighty and harsh accusation leveled is painful. The tone in which a thing is said, matters. Out of our heart our mouth speaks, so how we say a thing is a waving flag letting others know, “This is what I really think in my heart.”

The Bible is good at giving us life examples of how the same response can have very different results. For instance, right off the bat as the New Testament opens two people are visited by an angel to let them know they would have a son under impossible conditions. What good news! A  baby! First a priest named Zacharias is doing his job attending to priestly duties when an angel appears to tell him his wife Elizabeth will bear him a son. Now we know that this was an elderly couple: in fact, we’re told they were ‘well advanced in years.’ That could mean almost anything in days when people lived a long time! Added to that is the fact that Elizabeth was barren. At least she had been until that moment when the angel spoke. Things happen when angels talk to you.

Now not only was Zach old, he was caught very off guard by this announcement. His response to the angel was, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.” Seems reasonable to me but something about it smacked of doubt and unbelief and at the angel’s word Zach became mute and not able to speak for at least the next nine months, “because you did not believe my words.” Doubt and unbelief are a bit more challenging to spread around when one can’t speak and there’s no internet or texting.

Luke also tells us that an angel visited a young woman named Mary, who was a virgin. We aren’t told what she was doing that day but it is reasonable to expect she, too, was going about her everyday life. Mary was troubled at the unexpected announcement that she was graced and favored by God. The angel went on to tell her she, too, would have son but not after she and Joseph married: she would become pregnant before she ever knew a man sexually as Holy Spirit would hover over her womb and impregnate her with the very Son of God. It is impossible to imagine how it would feel go be given this incredible announcement even with time to prepare, let alone without warning! You know Mary’s response: Initially she asked, “How can this be, since I do not know a man”. Once the angel told her it would be a miracle her response was: “Let it be done to me according to your word.” She and Zacharias both asked the same basic question, “How can this be?”, but whereas his doubt caused him to lose his voice, Mary ran off to tell Elizabeth. How grateful Elizabeth must have been for someone – a relative – who was also having angelic visits and miraculous conception and could talk about it!

Another example is Mary and Martha. As we looked at last week, the M&M sisters sent word to Jesus that their brother, Lazarus, was sick. Would Jesus please come? They’d seen him heal the sick and heard so many testimonies, they had no doubt of His ability to make their brother well. You know the story, Jesus took His time and while He lingered, Lazarus died. Not only did the sisters love him but their brother would have been their protection, provision, covering, more. Now those things were all gone. What difficult news, a death.

When they heard Jesus was coming into town, both sisters ran to meet Him. Martha was first and in her own inimitable way said to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again” to which she replied yes, she knew he would rise again at the resurrection of the dead. Jesus then let her know that HE, Jesus, IS the resurrection. That whoever lives and believes in Him would never die. Did she believe? I can almost hear the impatience in her voice as she says she believes He is the Christ, the Son of God. She did not say she believed a person would never die. After all, her brother who loved and believed the same about Jesus was now in His grave.  She had no grid for a physical resurrection let alone eternal life even though Jesus Himself just gave her a teaching on it. Later when they go to the tomb she argues with Jesus about opening the tomb. It’s almost like she’s saying, DO SOMETHING! No, not that, DO SOMETHING ELSE!

In contrast, when Mary came out to meet Jesus we read she fell down at His feet, the posture to which she was accustomed. To sit at a rabbi’s feet was to take the position of humility, of learning. Her words to Him were the same as Martha’s but I suspect they were said in a different tone, from a different heart position: “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” Part of the reason I believe her tone and demeanor was different is because when Jesus heard her He did not teach her, He wept with her.

We live in days of vast opportunity and much confusion and change. While we may or may not be visited by an angel bringing us a message, there are plenty of chances for us to be shocked and surprised at what comes our way. Each of us can identify with at least one of these Bible characters to some degree though our circumstances are unique. Proverbs 4:23 (CJB)instructs us “above everything else, guard your heart for it is the source of life’s consequences.” This week, take time to ask Holy Spirit to search your heart to determine how much of it is filled with doubt and how much, faith. Be sure faith is the dominant posture: you can do this through worship, praise, reading the Word, prayer, sharing with a trusted friend who knows Jesus well. It is important – no, it is vital – that our hearts be fully His so we respond to both difficult and good news with words of life. Words that help us Love Ourselves and thereby, Others, to Life. The world is waiting.