Why we are here:

Our signature Bible passage, the prologue to John's Gospel, tells us that Jesus (the Logos) is God and Creator and that He came in the flesh (sarx) to redeem His fallen, sin-cursed creation—and especially those He chose to believe in Him.

Here in Bios & Logos we have some fun examining small corners of the creation to show how great a Creator Jesus is—and our need for Him as Redeemer. Soli Deo Gloria.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

A lily is never quite enough!

In 1919, a World War I soldier brought a suitcase full of big flower bulbs home to Oregon and passed them out to his friends. They grew them. They liked the sweet smelling, pure white lilies and started cultivating them. The climate of the Oregon coast proved ideal for growing Lilium longiflorum, and by 1945 there were more than a thousand Easter lily growers up and down the west coast.

But it takes a lot of work and patience to grow the bulbs—three years of planting, culling, separating, fertilizing, replanting—not to mention forcing them to bloom at just the right time of year. So now, only about ten commercial growers produce most of the lilies that pop up in stores and nurseries for sale at Easter time.

These lilies have become almost synonymous with Easter, along with bunnies and eggs. While those symbols are of pagan origin, as is the name Easter (we should be calling it Resurrection Day), the pure white lily can at least offer some imperfect analogies to the meaning of Passion Week, the turning point in human history.

Let’s begin with the color—pure white. The lily’s whiteness comes from the refraction of light within its cells, which act as miniature lenses. But notice, from our photographs, that without the proper lighting, the blossom may appear dingy and brownish. In fact, nothing can compare with Christ’s pure, holy whiteness. As Christians, we are robed in the white robes of Christ’s righteousness, not our own; and the dinginess of our old fallen human nature lurks within until, by His grace, we are transformed into His likeness.

How about the flower’s three-part structure? As a monocot, the lily has its parts in threes or multiples of three. I suppose we can make an analogy to the mystery of the Trinity—but again, it would be an pitifully imperfect one. Any little illustration of the Trinity falls miserably short. We use little diagrams and comparisons, simply because our puny human minds cannot embrace the concept of Holy God, one in being and essence, three in persons—let alone the hypostatic union: Jesus Christ as fully God and fully man, one in person. We believe in God on the high order of Trinity because His Word teaches it in so many ways.

As I write, here in my “man cave”, the fragrance of the Easter lily wafts in from the living room. The flowers are pumping out complex volatile molecules called terpenoids, their odor now diffusing throughout space. It’s a pleasant perfume, but one plant is quite enough for my home. Too many of these flowers in a closed space can produce so much of the stuff that the atmosphere can become oppressive and sickening. We can make a pretty good analogy here to the Gospel, the true Gospel (not the weak, inoffensive substitute preached in so many churches today) of the birth, death, burial and resurrection of Christ, as it is spread throughout the world. As the Apostle Paul said in II Corinthians 2: 15-16, “For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life.” The true Gospel is heavenly sweetness to the ears of the believer, but an offense to those who refuse its message.

Easter lilies do not naturally bloom at Easter. They must be induced to bloom by artificially chilling the bulbs and altering day/night cycles. But Easter is perfectly timed. Of our Christian holidays, Easter is the one that is celebrated at the right time of year, coinciding as it does with Passover. Christ is our Passover. The first communion meal was a Passover meal. All aspects of the Passion Week were perfectly timed. All the actors in the original “Passion Play” did exactly what they were supposed to do, when they were foreordained to do it. There was no adlibbing. There were no accidents. Jesus’ death was not a fortuitous accident. It was all an integral part of God’s magnificent plan of the salvation of His people.

We said that it takes a lot of work to grow Easter lilies. Think of how much work by how many people must be involved from the time of the original planting of bulbs to the delivery of the blooming plants to nursery or store. But the work of salvation is by One and One alone! God did the work in the person of Christ—alone! Christians work because they are saved—not to achieve salvation. Sadly, all other religions, including some that claim to be Christian, insist that we must cooperate with God to achieve salvation. They present Easter lily gospels—hard work to produce short-lived plants that must be planted and worked for, year after year. Christ died once—only once—a sacrifice that propitiated God’s holy wrath—perfectly—for those who would believe.

In addition to the one Easter lily on my coffee table, there are a few silk flower arrangements here and there, mainly because I am too lazy to take care of real houseplants. So the substitutes provide some labor-free color around the place. But it would be an insult to use these dust collectors as an analogy of our True Substitute, the Lord Jesus Christ. Substitutionary Atonement is a big, fancy term, but it is one of the most important ones going! Christ died, not as a mere example for us to follow and not as an example of suffering, but in the place of—instead of—those who would believe. He is the true substitute! We sinners deserve nothing but death and eternal misery. By pure grace, because of Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice, we have life instead!

And finally, let’s reflect on resurrection—what Easter is all about. The Easter lily may provide us with an imperfect analogy. After all, a really dead looking lily bulb is buried and in due time comes to life. But of course, the bulb wasn’t really dead at all, but merely in a dormant state. The sinless Son of God, Jesus, having been crucified, was dead—really dead, the consequence of His taking our sin—all of it—upon Himself on the cross. And any earthly analogy to that truth is so inadequate that it becomes idolatrous—even blasphemous—to think such a thing. His was not a mere temporary resuscitation. It was resurrection from death to everlasting life. He is risen. He is risen indeed!

So let us take the Easter lily for what it is, a fantastically complex creation, given to us as a tiny reminder of God’s unfathomable grace—but totally inadequate (as is this puny essay) as a representation of the Gospel.

I am posting this near the end of Resurrection Day (in the eastern United States) so that we may reflect on all that we did and didn’t do to honor Him on this, the commemoration of the most important weekend in human history. Most certainly we didn’t—nor could we ever—do enough. That’s why we need The Savior!

Soli Deo Gloria

Saturday, April 04, 2009

An Early Spring Salmagundi

Sorry, but you’ll have to bypass the primary definition of salmagundi—no fancy salad platters here—but today’s photos surely do represent a heterogeneous mixture of the good, bad and ugly. A couple of visits to Campgaw Reservation and the Celery Farm in the first weeks of spring yielded a bit of each.

Somewhere along the line, the American Beech lost the instructions for making very good abscission layers—those thin layers of cells that get dissolved by enzymes come fall, causing the petioles to separate from the twigs and the leaves to utter that familiar phrase, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” That’s fine with me, as the sprinkle of cafĂ© au lait softens the blacks, grays and darker browns of the winter and early spring woodland. And the fact that the dead leaves tend to droop and curl probably reduces their surface area and prevents the buildup of snow, one of the several reasons that most deciduous trees like to get rid of their old leaves. It’s just one more reason that the American Beech is one of my favorite trees. Pin oaks like to hang on to their leaves, too. So I guess I had better add them to my favorites list as well.

As long as I am breaking my promise to lay off the fungi for a while, I might as well do it with something particularly disgusting. You will agree, I’m sure, that there is nothing even mildly attractive about Black Knot. Several reference books I looked at described it in scatological terms. I won’t go that far, but it does look like something on a stick. It’s a nasty parasite that can wreak havoc in a cherry orchard as well as with Wild Black Cherry trees. This ugly fungus kills young branches and whole trees if given the opportunity. Don’t cherry trees have enough to endure with tent caterpillars?

Euonymus alata (Cork Bush, Winged Euonymus or Burning Bush) is an absolute pest when it invades our woodlands, since it often displaces our native plants. But don’t blame it on the plant—blame it on the people who import it for ornamental use. This shrub has ways of escaping from yards into the woods, especially since birds have a yen for its bright orange seeds. Nevertheless, it’s a classy bush in its own right, if only for its unique twig design. Just try to imagine the amount of genetic information and precise engineering that goes into growing those pure cork, razor-edged wings out of a green twig. Nothing random about it! I wouldn’t have a negative thought about this Burning Bush if it didn’t often displace our native Burning Bush, an eponymous Euonymus (E. atropurpureus), also called Eastern Wahoo.

I refuse to get into a discussion here about bulbs, corms, rhizomes and tubers and their distinctions. Such conversations can get quite contentious and ugly. What we need right now is a true harbinger of spring. And the appearance of crocuses is certainly that. There are about eighty species of Crocus, thirty or more of which are cultivated. The most commercially valuable species is Crocus sativus, the stigmas of which yield the spice saffron, a very expensive way to make food yellow. There are fall crocuses too, but they aren’t harbingers. Fall doesn’t have harbingers. Only spring has harbingers. By the way, crocuses grow from corms, but I’ll leave it to you to look up the definition.

These brief springtime treks have once again reminded me of the importance of the biblical worldview in appreciating and understanding the significance of our environment. The good, the bad and the ugly aspects seen in our salmagundi have reminded me again of the framed motto on my desk: “If you don’t understand Genesis 3, you really don’t understand anything.” The very good world of the original Creation was wounded terribly by the entrance of sin. It is still God’s good Creation, but it and we personally desperately need to be bought back from the ravages of sin. It is our hope (assurance) that it will happen soon. Genesis 3:17-19 and Romans 8:18-24 are the passages to reflect on today. To read them in context ("Text without context is pretext") pop open the old-fashioned paper version--always more satisfying!

Soli Deo Gloria