Three Amazing Books

Occasionally a book comes along that changes your life and you just can’t stop talking about it. It’s not super common. Often you’ll read through a ton of books and only a select few will impact your life in this way. That being said, here’s my list of those few.

1. Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne

When I learned in a college class one day that Jesus spent most of his time talking about the Kingdom of Heaven, I was confused. Why did he talk so much about the afterlife? Or did I not really understand what Heaven was? When Shane Claiborne’s book, Jesus for President came out, I immediately bought it due to the fact that (A) I loved Shane Claiborne and (B) every page was graphically designed the whole way through. I didn’t really know what to expect from this book, but as I made my way through it I began to realize that it was dripping with the understanding of what Heaven was. It was a place that existed here and now, had its own backwards ways of life, and even its own politics that ran very much contrary to our own. It caused me to think differently about how I needed to live my life and I actually became a different person in many ways after reading it, which is something just about no book ever does to its readers. If you want to live the Christian life out as a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven here and now, there is no book I could recommend more for you to read.

 

2. The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning

I remember hearing about how popular this book was when I was a kid, but being a bit of a hipster, I guess I didn’t want to read it since everyone already knew about it or something. Many years later I saw the movie Ragamuffin, in which an actor portrayed Brennan Manning in a few short scenes. I didn’t know if the lines the actor said were pulled straight from Brennan’s books or just based on him, but I knew I wanted to read his books after hearing those lines delivered—some of them nearly brought me to tears. Some time later I busted out The Ragamuffin Gospel, and came in contact with God’s love more clearly than I ever had before. No book had ever been more convincing that God loved me even in my brokenness. No book had ever been more convincing that I had to love other people—all other people even in their brokenness. Some of the greatest quotes I’ve ever read are found in this book. Love is pretty much what ever Brennan Manning book is about and they’re all great, but I would start here.

 

3. C. S. Lewis: Essay Collection and Other Short Pieces

We all rave about C.S. Lewis and rightfully so. The man is a genius. I don’t know where to begin to tell you to read as most of his work is eye-opening, so I’ll recommend one of my favorites from him. I thought when I bought his Essay Collection and Other Short Pieces, that I may just be buying into a publisher’s attempt at milking Lewis for all he’s worth by throwing all of his extra material into a book, but I found that wasn’t the case. Lewis’ essays are wonderful to read and they get into all sorts of topics (even aliens!). They’re also often succinct, so you get a concentration of his wisdom in each essay quicker than you might find in some of his books. It’s a long read, but it’s worth it. Though if you’re looking for fiction, his Chronicles of Narnia series have become some of my favorite fiction. #AslanGivesMeShivers

 

For Kevin and Janae’s Big Day

My wife and I like to mentally hook single people up at our church. Kevin and Janae were one of those couples. It was like watching a sitcom, every Sunday ending on a cliffhanger. I can’t wait for next week’s episode! I was excited when both Janae and Kevin mentioned to me separately that there was someone they were currently interested in.

Yes, this is gonna work out! I thought. Wait… unless… unless they both mean they’re interested in someone else!!! OR EVEN WORSE! Maybe Kevin likes Janae but Janae’s into some unknown dude back at college! SO MUCH TENSION!

And then, during one of the episodes, my friends from Chelsea Free Methodist called and asked me if I knew of any good worship leaders because they were looking for one. “Uh… well, I think Kevin’s got some good potential, but… you know… he’s at our church right now… playing in our band, so…”

But you all know what makes a good cliffhanger for season one, right? Inevitable betrayal. Kevin left to “follow after God” (I guess) and left not only our church, but Janae behind! Oh no! Would their paths cross again in season two!?

Fortunately, my wife and I were right all along. They were totally into each other and were getting to know each other better back on the campus of Spring Arbor University throughout the week. Look, I was surprised that they had lives outside of church too, trust me—but I was happy they did, because when the episode aired that they had finally hooked-up, we got the good mid-season 2 finale we were looking for.

I’ve gotten to know Kevin and Janae real well over the years. I knew Kevin when he was still a wee little lad (well okay, wee-little has never really been the right word for Kevin). Back then he was always trying to butter me up all the time because he thought I was cool for playing a guitar and being in a band. He ended up learning guitar himself and now I’m the one who’s like, “Hey man, how do you do solo like that again?” To date, he’s still one of the nicest people I know. He’s one of those like, so-nice-to-you-at-all-times kind of people that you’re never really sure if he’s human or a Ken doll, but that’s what makes him so special. God has made him kind beyond belief. 

The man has class, and he has chosen well. (After all, he has chosen the one my wife and I picked out for him.) He has chosen one of the most talented people I have ever met—a person who can literally see the depths of music in her mind, call out any note just by hearing it, and still somehow stay quiet enough as to not call out my flat guitar tuning every two seconds. Kevin has found favor in a girl who, like himself, has a deep, deep drive for God. A girl who despite her indecisiveness and shyness, is willing to make a spectacle of herself for Jesus, which I can speak into her whether she sees it in herself or not.

I believe these two will do great things for the Kingdom of God in their ministry and their marriage and I ask God in His unifying of their spirit’s with His own today, that he would bring fresh anointing on them. Today is a special day for many reasons.

Christians and Climate Change

I imagine Christians down the road are going to turn to God and say, “You promised you’d never flood the earth again!” His response? “I didn’t. You did.”

In his very first book, The Pilgrim’s Regress, C.S. Lewis allegorically refers to God as the “Landlord.” That’s a pretty good title actually. In the beginning, God created man and woman in His image, blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28 ESV)

And so the Landlord left the planet in our possession, essentially saying something along the lines of, “Take good care of it,” yet here we are thousands of years later saying, “Oops.”

We’ve let our greed get in the way and these 70 degree fall days have gone to show it. Our CO2 levels this September (which is usually the lowest month of the year for CO2 levels) just passed the 400 PPM mark—a mark that some have suggested would be permanent.

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“Jesus is going to have come back sooner than He expected,” I often joke with my friends.

“Or maybe the reason He said He didn’t know when He was coming back was because He was waiting to see when we destroyed it all,” they joke back.

To be honest, I don’t fully know how to be the solution, though I’m certain I’m part of the problem. Like losing our virginity, we may not be able to uncross the line, but we can make better decisions from here on out.

We can vote better. We can use clean energy wherever possible (here’s what we can do here in Jackson, MI). We can decide to make better choices now rather than later.

Ruth: A Love Story

Out of the 66 books in the Bible, there are two books in particular I think are weird to find there: the Songs of Solomon and Ruth. It’s pretty obvious why Songs of Solomon is weird (it gets a little steamy), but don’t worry, it’s Ruth that I want to focus on today. Before the book of Ruth we have books devoted to our origin story, our laws, and our wars, but Ruth departs from all of that to teach us seemingly little about theology. Her book is more or less a short, random, overlooked love story.

This 4 chapter book begins with Ruth losing her husband and committing her life to her mother-in-law who also lost everyone dear to her. Ruth was from a different people and culture than her mother-in-law so it must have been a bit terrifying to follow her mother-in-law when she decided to return home to her own people in Bethlehem, but Ruth was committed to her, so she did it anyways.

While they were in Bethlehem, Ruth met a guy named Boaz. He let her freely take any food she wanted from his farm and made sure all the guys in his workforce left her alone. He protected her and took care of her and when mealtime came around he gave her more to eat than she needed, though she hardly knew who he was.

But he knew who she was, because he was a relative of Ruth’s mother-in-law. He had heard of how Ruth had committed herself to her mother-in-law instead of her own parents and how she had chosen the discomfort of being with her mother-in-law’s people rather than her own people.

And he was impressed.

Ruth and Boaz moved pretty quick. In chapter two they met and in chapter three Ruth gave a proposal of sorts through a bunch of interesting and confusing cultural practices, which you can all check out later if you want (don’t worry, it’s a short book). Whatever exactly it is that truly happened in chapter three, Boaz feels blessed by it and by chapter 4 they’re married.

So what’s the point of this book? Maybe to show us how God loved Ruth the Moabite, a woman from a people group outside of his own chosen Israel. Or maybe it was to tell us more about King David’s back story seeing as how Ruth ended up being David’s great, great grandmother. Or maybe it was so we’d know that not all mother-in-laws are evil—I don’t know!

But I do find it interesting that the Bible pauses for love. It pauses to tell us the stories not just of our heroes, but also of their love interests. Sure, many of these stories evolve into soap operas of sorts, but in this case, we find an incredibly short book breaking from stories of our origins, wars, and laws to tell us the seemingly unimportant story of how one little lady on the outside married a farmer on the inside—showing us that things like marriage and love matter.

Jesus himself (who was also a descendant of Ruth) talks about the importance of marriage. Even though he never married, he understood that it was a HUGE deal. He explained that in marriage we “are no longer two but one flesh” and that what “God has joined together, man shouldn’t separate.” He went on to explain that divorce was made by man, not by God—making it clear that not only does God care about our marriages, but that he takes them more seriously than humans do. He cares about your marriage whether your dating life was 3 chapters long or 6 years long.

Why does He care? Because He knows every hair on your head! I love my wife and my children immensely, but I don’t have the slightest idea how many hairs are on their heads! A God who is that meticulous about something so minuscule and unimportant as hair, of course cares about your marriage! That’s a huge part of your life! From today on out you’re two lives are fused as one and you need to know that God cares about it. He cares more than you do, which will be important to remember on some days.

He is a God who is constantly creating life, and he’s still doing it today in our marriages. It’s like our physical birth from our parents and our spiritual birth from salvation in Christ being melded together into some new kind of physical, spiritual, marital rebirth. Cherish it, just as God Himself cherishes it for you. For love is God and God is love and you dwell with God when you love each other.

Allow me to leave you with a scene from the movie Stardust. If you’ve seen it, you may recall in this movie that there’s a star that falls to the earth and becomes a human. Her name is Yvaine. After going on some adventures with a boy named Tristan she begins to wax poetic about love. Speaking from her prior perspective as a star looking at the earth she says:

“I know a lot about love. I’ve seen it, centuries and centuries of it, and it was the only thing that made watching your world bearable. All those wars. Pain, lies, hate—It made me want to turn away and never look down again. But when I see the way that mankind loves—You could search to the furthest reaches of the universe and never find anything more beautiful. So yes, I know that love is unconditional. But I also know that it can be unpredictable, unexpected, uncontrollable, unbearable and strangely easy to mistake for loathing, and—what I’m trying to say, Tristan is—I think I love you. Is this love, Tristan? I never imagined I’d know it for myself. My heart—It feels like my chest can barely contain it. Like it’s trying to escape because it doesn’t belong to me any more. It belongs to you…. Just your heart, in exchange for mine.”

I encourage you to make the same exchange. Your heart for theirs. Their heart for yours. If both of you are always about each other, consistently handing your hearts to one another rather than keeping it to yourself, your marriage will be filled with the love that God has for you, for He showed us that love for one another is found in humility and service to one another—freely handing us his heart if we wanted it even in times when we didn’t deserve it. We could just take the free gift of his heart in exchange for our own.

To Joel and Alyssa on Their Special Day

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Bradley’s are known for being for being a little peculiar. It’s not our fault, it seems to be in our genes. I would like to make the case, however, that Joel may be the most peculiar of all of us. I can still remember the day mom and dad brought him home. I didn’t know there could be more sibling life outside of Jaron, but there my parents were in the driveway holding this curly headed baby in their hands.

It was weird. It cried all the time and wanted to be fed and held at night and stuff. I vaguely remember when he got all excited when he was trying to walk for the first time. I feel like he kept falling over because he was too busy applauding himself for walking, but I was young so maybe I’m just making that up.

His weirdest mannerism, however, continued well into his early teens (if not later). He only knew how to sleep one way. He’d sit down, cross his legs and put his face in his lap and pass out. To make it weirder, he especially liked to sleep like this inside of cardboard boxes. It sounds like I’m describing a character that only makes sense in a cartoon that only he could write up, but he is what he is.

To expand upon his weirdness, there of course was the infamous time Dad took Jaron and Joel to jump off the garage roof into the pool (I just didn’t feel like it, I was plenty coo already). They had plenty of fun, of course, until mom got home.  “JEFF! WHAT ARE YOU DOING!?” Heh. Mom… pretending she’s better than jumping off roofs. I have video evidence of the time she paid Joel to go jump on the trampoline in the middle of a hail storm! Video evidence!!!

But then again, there’s all kinds of video evidence of Joel’s bad decisions online. Please browse the video section of his Facebook page following tonight’s celebration to see some of these situations. He liked to make movies… a lot of them. There’s one where he pretends to jump out our upstairs window and then, using the magic of video editing, plummets towards the ground while yelling loudly for what seems to take 5 minutes. In another one he learned how to make epic graphics using Microsoft Paint. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen someone shoot a fireball out of their hands that was made in Microsoft Paint but it is… an experience.

There’s a video with a banana, a penguin suit, an evil cartoon rabbit, a genie, and there’s even one where he beheads his friend Erik. Though one of my personal favorites is still extreme stunt man, where Joel constantly repeats every word he says. “Today we’re gonna jump out a window. Jump out a window. Out a window.” At one part he tried to film a high speed car chase, but the editing wasn’t done well and it was clear that the car was going about 2 miles per hour.

We teamed up a few times to make some stupid videos. The one that got the most attention was called “Shut Up Joel.” All I did was walk around the house and wherever Joel was sitting silently I said, “Shut up Joel.” 1,800 views is pretty good for our stats. But the comments got weird:

LEGIT HIPPY: Joel just can’t shut the heck up!

RICK SIEBEL: I, Richard James Seibel, promise to make this video an internet sensation.  May all the Joel’s of the world suffer a silent and undignified existence, from this day, through all eternity.

The internet is a dark place. I guess partially because our countless videos exist there.

Joel and I have become quite tight over the last 8 years or so, but that wasn’t always the case. In college I felt God convict me about my relationship with him. I was quite a jerk to him growing up and often treated him like a nuisance. Rarely did I say a kind word or treat him right. So one day while driving him home from somewhere, I worked up the courage to apologize, which took a lot of effort. What if he didn’t know I was a jerk? That’d be awkward…

Nah. He knew.

So I said sorry and something broke in me. From that day on, my relationship with him grew and I found that not only did he look and sound like me (yes, like me because I’m the original), but he acted very much like me too. We both had memorized every episode of Spongebob, Fairly Odd Parents and Drake and Josh, loved to make movies, and thought that comedy that made absolutely no sense was the best kind. Plus, we were both inferior to Jaron’s athletic skills and coolness and that was a much more bonding quality than you might think.

Jaron.. Always being cool all the time. Rude.

Joel also has a big heart. The past two summers Joel has lived in our basement and anytime he was awake (usually between the hours of 1pm and 4am) he spent much of his time helping take care of the kids. Beckett grew to adore him so much that “Goel” became one of his earliest words. Beckett would often run to the stairs while Joel was still sleeping and yell “Gooooel!!!!” Every time Joel shows up at our house, Beckett pulls out a lightsaber and expects he’s going to have some play time for awhile. Beckett’s also convinced that there’s monster’s in our backyard seeing as how Joel filmed a monster video back there with him, and then edited in a goofy-looking monster for Beckett to then watch back and see things that he didn’t actually remember being there in real life.

But his big heart hasn’t just been displayed for me and my family to see, he’s shared it with many of us here, including, of course, Alyssa. I remember when Alyssa was still a tiny little girl. I didn’t know much about her other than the fact that it was obvious that Joel was totally into her. I never really said anything, but I always thought to myself, Yeah, this is gonna work out. Of course, they were like 2 or something at the time—okay, maybe more like 15 or something, I dunno. But it was young love at its finest.

And then the Potter’s moved away and I was like, “Well, so much for that!”

Imagine my surprise when I came home from college one day to find that Joel and Alyssa were dating! Yeah, this is gonna work out, I thought to myself again, and then realized Joel was a weirdo and a nerd. Then I thought, Oh no… how’s he gonna break that to her? Hey Alyssa… I often make weird videos that make no sense… and sleep indian style with my face in my lap… and will jump on trampolines in hailstorms if you pay me…

Well it all worked out because it ends up that Alyssa is a pretty weird nerd as well. Malachi helped me realize it one day. “I’m always wondering how your brother got a girl like Alyssa, and then I’m like—oh… it’s the nerd thing.”

I mean, I’ve witnessed Alyssa’s nerdery over time, but I wasn’t fully aware of it until she started writing comics with her friend Jess about how life would be much cooler if it was a video game. I was even more surprised when she came over to our house to play Dragon Age. I didn’t know girls could get so angry at video games. And I have a feeling that what I witness was a toned down version.

These two are perfect for each other. Their nerdy pursuit after God and each other is a wonder to watch and we’re blessed to have you two unite our families today. I have loved spending the last year and a half worth of Thursdays with you guys. I could go on for much longer about both of you, but this is page 3 and other people have to talk, so I’m gonna pull a Joel and shut up now.

Lovetree (A Short Story)

A beam of light pierced through a small hole in the tent right onto the farmer’s tired face, warming his cheek. There was so much dust in the beam’s path that it almost looked like you could reach out and grab the light.

The farmer rubbed his eyes sleepily and then stretched out his arms and legs, cracking his back in the process. And then, sitting up on his bed, he clasped his hands together, closed his eyes and sat in silence. For an extended period of time he spoke not a word—he simply sat there. One might have been convinced that he had somehow fallen back asleep in that position, but that was not the case. It was clear from the way his eyes shifted around under his eyelids and the occasional deep breaths he took that he was quite awake.

After an hour had passed, he opened his mouth saying, “Alright Father. I will offer him your water today.” (Luke 6:12–13) And with that, he rose to his feet and walked across the sandy ground to the corner of the tent to get his wooden bucket.

The sky at Lovetree Farms was a beautiful bright blue that spring day. The farmer smiled as he treaded the long orchard towards the well on the other side, the tree branches waving in the mild breeze around him. He whistled along with the chorus of morning birds and a bluejay landed on his shoulder to join with him.

“How are you this morning little friend?” greeted the farmer.

The bird chirped back in what sounded like an attempt at a response.

“Really? You’re going to teach your son to fly today?” asked the farmer. “Dear bluejay, you and your kind never cease to amaze me. Here we are just getting over a long winter and none of you have come to me worried about finding food or about any other matter. Instead you simply share with me the blessings in your life and in doing so, bless me also! Your spirits are always up even when you have reason to complain!” (Matthew 6:26)

If birds can blush, that most certainly was what the bluejay did. The farmer pulled a sunflower seed out of his pocket and placed it on his shoulder. “Don’t change my friend. There is never any need to be anxious about tomorrow. After all, tomorrow is anxious enough for itself. There’s enough trouble to deal with today, yes?” (Matthew 6:34)

The bird speedily ate the sunflower seed and chirped happily in the farmer’s ear.

“Yes, as one writer once said, ’tomorrow will be certain to bring worse than today, for many days to come. And there is nothing that I can do to help it.’” (Gandalf)

The bird stopped its happy chirping and did what resembled a double-take. The farmer stopped walking as the bird leaned forward to make eye contact with him. The farmer’s eyes slowly moved towards the bird and a smile cracked on the his face as he began to laugh one of those deep belly-laughs.

“Come, my feathery friends!” he shouted into the orchard. “Come be rewarded for your trust in my Father’s provision!” The farmer reached into his pockets and pulled out fistfuls of sunflower seeds, throwing them into the air with a big smile on his face. Birds flew from the branches all around, flocking to the farmer’s feet. The seed was gone in a matter of seconds.

“Oh, you’re all hungry I see!” exclaimed the farmer. “Don’t worry, my Father likes to feast!” He reached back into his pocket and pulled out an impossible amount of seeds, throwing them all across the ground in front of him. “Eat up friends, eat up! The last thing I need is to weed sunflowers out of this orchard all summer.”

The farmer carefully stepped around the hundreds of birds, as an amazing amount of seeds fell out of his pockets with every step. The birds were so satisfied with their meal that they didn’t even see him leave.

Well, all that is but for one bird. The bluejay that had landed on his shoulder fluttered onto a branch at the farmer’s eye-level. Two other bluejays hopped out of a nest at the end of the branch and joined him.

“Oh, hello again,” smiled the farmer.

The bird’s demeanor changed as he chirped something that only the farmer seemed to understand.

“My dear friend,” started the farmer, “Why didn’t you tell me earlier that your son’s wing was broken? Surely you didn’t want him to try to fly today like this?”

The baby bluejay looked down in shame. He was a bird after all, he was meant for the skies!

The farmer leaned in close to the baby bird. “Do you wish to be healed?” he asked.

The bird shook his head.

“Then get up, take to the skies and fly,” said the farmer, a warm smirk spreading out across his face. (John 5:7)

At once, the baby bird leapt off the branch. His parents chirped in fear and closed their eyes, but they never heard him hit the ground. The farmer turned around to see him soaring across the open sky, landing on branches and taking off as immediately as he had touched them. The farmer laughed another one of his loud belly-laughs as the baby bird chirped in excitement, gaining the attention of all the other birds in the orchard. Never had their been such celebration amidst the birds before. The mother and father bird jumped onto the farmer’s shoulders and rubbed their faces against his neck in appreciation.

“Oh there, there,” gushed the farmer as the birds flew off into the distance to catch up with their son. They were so happy that they forgot to eat any of the sunflower seeds. (Acts 3:6–8)


Awhile later, the farmer arrived at the well. It stood right in front of an old rugged tree, next to the wagon he had left there the night before. He pulled his big wooden bucket off of his shoulder and tied it to the well’s crank and lowered it down. When the bucket was full, he rolled up his sleeves and put all of his strength into pulling it back up.

The farmer cupped his hands, filled them with water from the bucket, and took a generous sip. “Mm…” he sighed as a gopher popped up out of the ground. He wagged his finger at the gopher and said, “There truly is no water like this water. Why some choose to get drunk with wine compared to this, I’ll never know. I myself will continue to be filled with this (Ephesians 5:18).” The gopher wasn’t sure what to do with that statement so he quietly lowered himself back into his hole.

The farmer looked back towards the orchard and said, “And perhaps he will drink it too.”

At that moment an ox trotted up to him. “Hello old friend!” The farmer greeted him, petting his head. “Have you come to help me with my work again?”

The ox put one foot forward and bowed his head.

“You know, you’re a much gentler and humbler creature than your horns suggest,” he said.

The ox bit a rope connected to the wagon, backed himself up in front of it, and waited to be attached.

“Well you’re ready to go, aren’t you?”

The ox’s tail wagged excitedly like a dog’s.

The farmer chuckled and then grunted loudly as he grabbed the rope handles of the wooden bucket, carrying it from the well wall to the back of the wagon. He then walked up to the ox and attached the yoke.

“I too am gentle and humble,” the farmer whispered in the ox’s ear. “You work hard friend. Today this yoke will be easy on you and bring you rest. I know you expect the work we do to be burdensome, but as you do it with me, it will become light.” (Matthew 11:28–30) When he had said these words, the farmer knocked three times on the yoke and flowers sprouted up across the old splintered wood. The ox made a joyous noise and calmly began to tread the long orchard in sync with the farmer’s direction.


“Alright friend,” said the farmer. “You can take a break, we’re here now.”

The farmer removed the yoke off of the ox and the ox quietly laid down and fell asleep.

The wagon had stopped in front of one of the apple trees in the orchard. It looked a little livelier than many of the other trees surrounding it. It couldn’t have been more than 25 years old, yet its branches stuck out further than the surrounding trees and it was budding before all the rest.

The farmer put his hand on the tree’s trunk. “Hello friend,” he said. “It has been wonderful to watch you grow these past years. I remember when my father knit you together—when you were just a seed (Psalm 139:13). And now here we are years later and your destiny still awaits you, for you were born for such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14)

The farmer continued, “So far in your life, you have not seen me, for you have been a simple apple tree. What ability do you have to be conscious of things outside of soil, sun and water? But as I have watched you grow, it has become clear that you have picked up on my presence and direction in some shape or form. For I have come to talk with you often and have taken great care of you.”

The farmer walked back to his wagon and grunted again as he lifted the bucket of water off the back. He placed it in front of the apple tree and leaned over to catch his breath.

“I have labored hard over you these past 15 years, though you have not entirely known it. I have built fences around you to protect you. During a drought, I watered you. When you were younger and the fire blight overtook your branches, I worked hard to bring you back to full health. When you grew too many apples to support your small branches, I relieved you of them. And when the weight of your trunk began to tilt you over, I straightened you back into the ground.”

“I’m adamant about serving you, for my Father finds you to be of supreme worth and wishes you—like all of your brothers and sisters here—to be taken care of. I do only what I see my Father doing, (John 5:19) and today my father is reaching out to you, inviting you to become something new. Everything you know of being an apple tree will pass away, and a new life will come upon you, if you accept my invitation.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

The farmer put his hand back on the tree’s trunk and closed his eyes and was silent. The tension was palpable. You could sense that there was really some kind of magic in the air—that all it would take was a word or action from the farmer to activate it.

The farmer opened his eyes and quietly said, “I have talked with my Father and have already paid the price necessary for you to access this new life I’ve been talking about. I know you can’t talk, but this decision goes deeper than words. If you decide to make it, I will know and will freely give you this new life.”

“But you should also know: if you accept, you will have to follow me so that I can teach you more fully what this life looks like. Then you too, will be able to teach others.” The farmer paused and took a deep breath. “Do you accept the invitation?”

The magic was so full now that the whole orchard must have felt it, for the entire land fell silent. The farmer once again closed his eyes as though listening intently to the quietness. And then something must have happened. The tree must have responded somehow, someway, because a huge smile stretched across the farmer’s face.

“Then receive it,” he said. He reached into the bucket and a scar in the center of his once broken hand opened up, releasing a small amount of blood into the water (Matthew 26:26–28). As he pulled his hand back out the scar miraculously closed up. In that moment, two clouds appeared in the bright blue sky and crashed into each other, causing incredibly loud thunder (or was it a voice?) (John 12:28–29) to echo across the farm. It immediately started to downpour on the tree. The farmer tilted the bucket over, covering the ground all around the tree. He then backed away out of the rain to watch.

The tree gasped loudly. He leaned forward, his branches stretching across the ground like fingers, scraping the grass right out of the dirt. He pulled his extensive roots out of the ground and fell on his face. There he lay, convulsing as all of his branches and roots began to wrap around each other forming new arms and legs. The change was violent and tense and the tree cried out as it continued. But then as swiftly as it had started, it was done. The tree was left lying on the ground in the fetal position with a large wooden body that could now move around.

The farmer slowly approached the new species of tree with that warm smile on his face. “My Father has washed you clean with rain from Heaven and I have poured out living water on you that will make you never thirst again and bring you into eternal life (John 4:14).”

“Living… water?” the tree groaned through the new mouth on his trunk. He was still adjusting to the change. “I think… I can feel it inside of me.”

It?” questioned the farmer. “Certainly you can feel it. It will always be there with you now. It is what makes you the new creation you are. But like all living things, it has a name. In fact, He has carried many names, but you will know him as The Fruitful One.”

“The Fruitful One,” the tree said aloud, soaking it in. “My lips tingle when I say His name out loud.”

“Indeed,” replied the farmer. “He is as sacred as they come. All sins will be forgiven in this world except the blasphemies against him (Mark 3:28–29). If you’re lucky, that tingle will remain on your lips as a safeguard.”

The farmer drew closer to the tree and placed his hand on his shoulder. The tree let go of his knees and straightened out from the fetal position. He laid on his back and looked up at the sky for the first time.

“It’s so beautiful,” said the tree.

“Isn’t it?” replied the farmer. “The Fruitful One made it all, you know. The sky; the earth; the stars; the waters; the creatures; the trees; all of it.” The farmer stared off into the distance for a moment to take it all in. “That being said, it’s really no shock that He would create something new out of you. Creation is His speciality.”

He looked at the tree and smiled. The tree looked into the farmer’s loving eyes and attempted to smile back, but he was still new to the whole process. It was like watching a baby learn to smile. He shaped his lips in a way that made you think he was maybe catching on, but then his face fell back into an unenthused state.

The farmer laughed. “You may be a 25 year old apple tree, but you’re just an infant Lovetree.” (1 Corinthians 3:1)

“Lovetree?” questioned the apple tree, still playing with his facial muscles in attempts to smile.

“Yes,” replied the farmer. “It’s what your new state is called. You’re not the first tree to drink the water I gave you today. There are many more that have already accepted my invitation. They are all Lovetrees like you, regardless if they are apple trees or pear trees or male or female.” (Galatians 3:28–29)

“And what do Lovetrees do?” asked the tree.

“Follow me mostly,” replied the farmer.

“Where?” asked the tree as he sat up.

“That you know where I’m going is not the point,” he answered. “That you follow me regardless, is.”

The tree was confused. “The Fruitful One will allow me to follow you that blindly?” he asked.

“My dear friend,” started the farmer, patting the tree’s shoulder, “the living water you drank today which is The Fruitful One flows out of my very heart (John 7:38–39). You could not have received Him if you had not received me. I will never lead you a direction that The Fruitful One wouldn’t. We are all headed to the same place.”

“This is all so much to take in,” said the apple tree, putting his new hands into the ground behind him in attempts to stand up. “Ouch!” he hissed as he rose to his feet. He wrapped his arms around himself. “Everything really hurts!”

“That is normal for a new Lovetree,” said the farmer. “In order to become a new creation you must die to your old self and ways of life (Ephesians 4:22–24), so yeah, you should definitely be feeling it right now. And as you keep growing as a Lovetree, you’ll find there is plenty more of your old life that you’ll need to strip off along the way.”

“Will it hurt those times too?” asked the tree.

“Death always hurts my friend,” answered the farmer. “But it is appropriate. And it often takes time—even a lifetime for some—but it’s worth it.”

“But then what if I return to my old ways of life?” asked the tree.

The farmer looked intently at the ground. “We will never give up on you if you do. We have called you into this new life for a reason and we will now and forevermore call you to it. But if you start to live like an apple tree again, then an apple tree you will become.”

The air grew cold for a moment. Each of the farmer’s words carried a certain weight with it. The whole orchard could feel it. But then the farmer perked up and the mild breeze returned.

“You need a name!” he said, sounding quite excited to try some out. The tree raised his eyebrow, which was really just a piece of conveniently placed bark. “How about Ferdinand?” he asked.

The tree puckered his lips in a way that communicated he wasn’t too fond of the idea, though he was afraid to let the farmer down.

“No?” the farmer laughed. “Don’t worry, I always thought that was a hilarious-sounding name! I would never actually name someone that! Hm… Let’s see,“ he pondered. ”How about Pomegranate?”

The tree wasn’t sure how to respond to that one.

“Oh come on now!” laughed the farmer. “I’m kidding! I’m not going to have an apple tree walking around named Pomegranate! Besides, we’ve actually had a name chosen for you since before you were planted.”

“Oh?” said the tree. “What is it?”

“Millo,” he answered.

“Millo,” the tree whispered to himself. “I like that.”

“Good! Now let’s stretch those new legs of yours and head to Lovetree Village where others like you are staying.”

The farmer led the way whistling a catchy hymn with a hop in his step. The orchard was quite large and much of the day had been spent traversing it and bringing Millo to life. The sun was now beginning to go down, setting the sky ablaze with oranges, pinks and blues. Millo opened his new eyes as wide as he could to absorb it all in. After awhile, he opened his mouth to interrupt the farmer’s whistling as politely as possible.

“Excuse me for interrupting your song Mr. Farmer, but what does Millo mean?”

“Fullness!” exclaimed the farmer. “And so you will live up to your new name!”

“Fullness?” asked the tree. “Fullness of what?”

The farmer laughed. “Fullness of questions perhaps! But I suppose that makes sense given the circumstances. In this case, it means fullness in fruit-bearing.”

“Like apples?” asked Millo.

“Sort of,” answered the farmer. “But this is a different kind of fruit—The Fruitful One’s fruit.”

“But I’m an apple tree,” replied Millo. “Is his fruit different than apples?”

“It is!” said the farmer. “But in your new state you can grow it if you desire to. And who better to illustrate The Fruitful One’s fruit than a fruit tree himself!”

“But why me in particular?” asked the tree as he stepped cautiously over a squirrel that was gaping at his incredible height.

“Well, technically bearing The Fruitful One’s fruit is the destiny of all Lovetrees. But as we’ve watched you grow, we’ve had this hope that you might demonstrate that fruit more fully than the rest of the Lovetrees,” said the farmer.

“See, the others really need a boost. Apathy and complacency is a strong wall and many of the other trees can’t seem to break it down. But if we can find just one Lovetree that will grow all The Fruitful One’s fruit passionately and adamantly, then the others will see and desire it too. We believe you have that passion in you Millo.”

“Well I do enjoy growing fruit,” said Millo.

“We’ve never seen anything quite like you in an apple tree your age,” said the farmer. “The eyes of my Father run to and fro throughout the whole garden to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him (2 Chronicles 16:9). As far as being a good apple tree is concerned, you were blameless. Do you think you are you capable of being just as good of a Lovetree?”

“I hope so,” replied Millo. “But what all do I have to grow?”

“Oh, just a few things,” started the farmer, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” The farmer gazed up at Millo and found an overwhelmed facial expression. “But don’t worry, maturity and fullness requires time (Ephesians 4:13)! We don’t expect you to grow an entire fruit overnight.”

As the farmer finished this statement, he and Millo had reached the gate of Lovetree Village. The farmer walked in and yelled into the courtyard. “Hello friends!” Stomping and rumbling came from all directions as a group of about 50 Lovetrees gathered around the farmer. Millo stayed behind the gate, too shy to come in just yet.

“I’d like to introduce you to a new Lovetree tonight!” proclaimed the farmer. “His name is Millo!” The trees clapped and cheered loudly, shaking the ground.

“Now I’m sure most of you remember what your first night was like in Lovetree Village—you were all still adapting to your new bodies, ways of life and really, existence in general. That being said, please make sure Millo is comfortable and welcomed with the same warmth that you desired on your first night. Love him as you love yourself (Mark 12:31).” The farmer then turned around to tell Millo goodnight, but he saw sadness on his face and was filled with compassion for him.

“I’m afraid,” Millo said.

The farmer grabbed Millo’s giant hand and led him into the courtyard. “Remember, The Fruitful One flows out of me and into you. Therefore, if you need to reach me, I’m right here,” the farmer said pointing to Millo’s heart. He then turned and yelled to a tall Lovetree off in the distance. “Hey Ferdinand!”

“Yes boss?” replied a low voice from a tall tree.

“You’re specifically in charge of making sure Millo is taken special care of at every step,” he told him.

“You got it boss,” Ferdinand said giving the farmer a thumbs up.

“See you soon buddy,” said the farmer as Millo walked towards the large tree.

“So your name is Ferdinand, huh?” said Millo.

“Yeah, hilarious right?” he answered. “I think the boss meant it as a joke, but I just went with it.”

“No, no,” said Millo. “I’m sure he takes that name very seriously.” Millo turned around to see the farmer slapping his leg and laughing. He then waved to Millo and headed back towards his tent.

A few hours later, Millo got over his anxiety and laughed, ate and played with the others. After a long night of getting to know the Lovetree community, he went and found himself a cozy spot to lie down and stare at the stars before falling asleep in the lush grass.

He of course had never seen stars before. The wonder of it all consumed him. The same Fruitful One who had hung those stars in place now lived inside of him. And the evolution he had gone through that day from a simple apple tree to a Lovetree wasn’t the end of his story—there was more. In fact, after 25 years of being alive, he sensed that this was just the beginning of the real story of his life.

And perhaps, starting tomorrow, he would begin that new story and see what The Fruitful One had for him.

Happy First Birthday Jericho!

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I think one of the most precious moments in my life is when my daughter Jericho looks at me and says, “Dada!?” Turning to her, I say back “Jericho!” “Dada!?” she replies. “Jericho!” I return.

This often goes on for awhile—I think because she’s tried it with the “Cat!” and he doesn’t really engage in the conversation.

Of course I’ve had similar moments with my son Beckett which were equally as precious, so I’m really just reliving the experience right now with Jericho. Yesterday Beckett joined the conversation.

JERICHO: Dada!?

ME: Jericho!

JERICHO: Dada!?

ME: Jericho!

BECKETT: Beckett!!!

ME: BECKETT!!!

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There’s something about a child having almost no vocabulary at all, looking you in the eye and shouting “Dada!?” over and over again. They call out your identity and you do the same back to them.

I am Dada. She is Jericho. And every affirmation comes with a playful intonation that says, “I love you very much.”

That’s how it can be with our Heavenly Father. All of the names Jesus could have chosen to identify God as, and he chose “Father” which was occasionally used in metaphors in the Old Testament. He chose Father over his most sacred name (used 6,800 times) or the second most popular name for “God” (used 2,500 times). Thats a bigger deal than we think. As Brennan Manning points out in, The Furious Longing of God:

Jesus is saying that we may address the infinite, transcendent, almighty God with the intimacy, familiarity, and unshaken trust that a sixteen-month-old baby has sitting on his father’s lap—da, da, daddy. (44)

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And so we see the cycle continue in its own divine way.

JERICHO: Dada!?

ME: Jericho!

JESUS: Dada!?

GOD: Jesus!

ME: Dada!?

GOD: Jamin!

BECKETT: Beckett!!!

GOD & ME: BECKETT!!!

Few things warm my heart like Jericho calling out for me. And with God being a perfect Father, you know our cries for him do the same. He gives good gifts to his children (Mt 7:11) and “loves like a hurricane.”