Crimson berries, white snow

I took this today in our front yard. What an amazing blue sky!

I took this last fall. (It’s the same picture, just uncropped, that I used as my new header)

On the tree in the front yard hang the leftover berries from last fall. They were bright before frost, but now they look almost black against the snow. It brings to mind Isaiah 1:18. God says to the Israelites, “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool.”

I think of scarlet and crimson as beautiful colors—like the berries before the frost—but God spends 16 verses describing the crimson and scarlet of the His peoples’ sins, and it’s ugly! “You’re rebellious,” He tells them. “I’ve loved you and cared for you, but you have rejected and ignored Me. All your ‘churchiness’ is nothing but show. You’re hypocrites, following an outward religion that has no goodness to it. In fact, you offer sacrifices to Me and then go out and live without love for others, abusing and neglecting the helpless” (my paraphrased summary)

“Do you think that’s what I, the GOOD GOD, want?”

The scarlet and crimson of verse 18, then, are NOT beautiful. These people are as far from the purity of white as they could be. The crimson and scarlet have set into the fabric of their souls, and they are irreparably stained.

We must remind ourselves that we are no different. OUR sins–collectively and individually–are scarlet and crimson. We, too, are irreparably stained.

This takes on deeper meaning when we see the terms “white as snow” and “white as wool” applied to Christ: Daniel 7:9 says, “…the Ancient One sat down to judge. His clothing was as white as snow, his hair like purest wool.” Revelation 1:14 describes Christ’s head and hair as “white like wool, as white as snow.”

Our crimson stains and Christ’s white purity are as unalike as possible. We drip with sin, as if we have been dipped in a vat of it, formed in it (Ps. 51:5). Now let’s look at what is in the vat. It is not simply liquid color—a straightforward red dye. No! To understand how God sees this crimson sin, we must go to another verse in Isaiah: “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Isaiah 64:6). The polluted garment is–to be as graphic as Scripture is–like the underclothes a woman would wear during her menstrual cycle. They would be permeated with a bodily fluid that stunk and stained.

THAT is the crimson, the scarlet.

God the Pure One cannot condone and “coexist” with our stench. He would cease to be perfect, sinless God if He said that our disregard for Him and our injustice toward our fellow man was “okay.” Though He longs to hold us in His arms, that is not possible as long as we are stained and dripping with this crimson.

We have tried, over and over through the centuries, to fix this problem ourselves. All religions are simply our efforts to make ourselves fit for communion with God, worthy of his approval. But we cannot do this, though we claim to. But any “god” we can reach through our own efforts must be a god of our own making–and therefore not truly Divine.

So we must be changed, somehow made pure. Some outside agent must be applied to go over our stain. That’s exactly what God did in Christ. Christ, unstained and pure, took on our human flesh, a body that was stained with the effects of sin, that would suffer and age, that had the same bodily functions ours do, with emotions and frailties. He was “in all points like we are…”

“Yet without sin.” That needs an exclamation mark! He had no inner stain and He kept Himself unstained!!! THAT enabled Him to do an amazing thing for us. His death allowed us to be covered with new garments–HIS complete, utter goodness, white as snow.

“Though your sins are like scarlet”–permeating to our very core, as much a part of us as dye becomes part of a garment when the garment is dipped in it–“I will make them as white as snow.”

With the covering of Christ’s purity, our stains—past, present and future (God is not bound by time)—are overwhelmed, and God the Good can draw us near to Himself. His Spirit enters our hearts like a bleaching agent, and begins transforming us from the inside out, a process that will end (oh, Heaven!) with us being LIKE Christ. Selfishness and pride will never again seep from our hearts. We will be pure not only in standing (with Christ’s covering) but in practical actuality.

I am thankful I opened my curtains yesterday and noticed the shriveled, darkened berries and the gleam of snow behind them. I am thankful for this reminder because my gratitude is in direct proportion to my realization of my need for Christ.

Same berries after the frost

Same bush after the frost

“For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV).

damage to the temporal

I took this picture standing in the neighbor’s yard, facing the west side of our house. The tree was pulled up by its roots (leaving a 6-foot crater underneath them–you can see just the edge of the roots in the bottom left of the photo). All three windows in this picture are fine. It’s the one on the back of the house that was smashed. And our back porch is under the tree. Kudos to the former owner who built the back porch. It would have been completely obliterated if he hadn’t done such a good job.

When we left for vacation in Montana a week and a half ago (the reason I haven’t posted in awhile), I was just at the point of feeling somewhat organized in our new home. “We’ll even come back to a clean kitchen,” I told Dave as we drove away from West Chicago. “But I didn’t get to the dining room. I really wanted to sweep under the table.”

This morning, as I swept the dining room, putting window glass broken by Sunday’s storm into a plastic bucket, I remembered saying that–and I laughed.

When I told Dave, he laughed, too. “And to think that I thought I HAD to mow the back lawn so the neighbors wouldn’t be appalled by the height of the grass.”

We were driving back home, still in the middle of Minnesota, when my friend Kristine called. “Jen, there’s been a bad storm. I’m going to check out your house in a few minutes. Mine’s fine, just no power.”

A few minutes later a neighbor called Dave and shared the news: several trees down in our yard; one window completely broken by a limb; the back porch roof smushed; maybe some roof damage; no power–and that was probably out for several days.

The good news: our kind neighbors had already pulled the tree limb from the window and tarped it in case more storms were coming.

We drove into West Chicago about eight that night. The park down the street from our house looked like someone had bombed the trees. Later we learned that about 80 trees were split or downed.

Our front yard didn’t look a whole lot different. “I was trying to imagine the worst,” said Dave, “but this is crazy!”

When we walked around the corner of the house, we saw the huge tree from our neighbor’s yard lying on our back porch roof–just a few feet from the corner of the house. If the wind had been from a slightly different direction or twisted the tree just a little differently… “This could have been so much worse,” we told each other.

We’ve had so many things to be thankful for during the past couple of days, and it’s a joy to share them:

-within two hours of being back in West Chicago, we were comfortably settled in our friends’ air-conditioned, lighted home. Thank you, Vishanoffs.

-we’ve met and talked with one neighbor after another in the past couple of days. We’re praying for genuine conversations, open doors, and deepening friendships.

-this morning 39 Wheaton Academy football players showed up and cleared amazing amounts of debris. I was inside sweeping glass from the dining room when Dave came in, choked up with tears. “Have you SEEN how much they’ve done, Jen? It’s amazing!” Not only were we blessed and encouraged, our neighbors noticed.

-and God has continued to provide joy and perspective: we have several people in our neighborhood who have tarps fastened over large holes in their roofs–and yesterday morning I happened to look at a National Geographic article about the perennially flooded people of Bangladesh, who accept what we consider tragedy as normal life. That puts our temporary inconvenience–to what is only temporal

Is there a truck under there? Yes! Dave’s 1994 Chevy (which we called “Big Whitey”) got smashed. Since he’s been hoping to get a newer truck anyway (one that gets more than 10 miles to the gallon), he wasn’t exactly upset.

anyway–in great perspective.

I’ll write more about the trip to Montana later this week.

Thanks for reading.