DAY 1 – Genesis 1–2
PEOPLE = TREES
People have the capacity to channel blessing and perpetuate life like the tree of life.
What is the most frequently mentioned living thing in the Bible other than God and humans? Trees! The bible mentions trees (or things associated with trees like fruit, branch, root) over 800 times! As you read through the first chapters of the Bible, take special note of the references to trees and humans. The literary design of the 6 days of creation are two parallel sets of 3. Days 1-3 are parallel to Days 4-6. For example, light is created on Day 1, the "lights" are created on Day 4. Waters are separated above (sky) and below (oceans, lakes, etc) on Day 2, The birds and fish fill the sky above and waters below on Day 5. Trees bearing fruit are created on Day 3, humans who are fruitful are created on Day 6. This is the beginning of the analogy of humans to trees that will continue throughout the Scriptures.
Then God said, “Let the land bring forth vegetation,
plants which produce seed, and fruit trees on the land producing fruit after their kind,
whose seed is in it. And it was so.
And the land brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind,
and trees bearing fruit with seed in them, after their kind; and God saw that it was good.
At God's invitation, the land has the ability to generate life. This ability is passed on to trees, who are given a form of perpetual life. Trees produce fruit, which has seeds in it to produce more trees, which produce fruit, etc. This ability in contained within themselves.
God blessed them; and God said to them,
“Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule
over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth,
and every tree of fruit producing seed; it shall be food for you;
Trees are part of the divine blessing that is given to humanity. The fruit trees are given to sustain life and enable the fruitful multiplication of humans. And so, on the one hand, trees are a source of life for humans. Without humans, trees do just fine. Without trees, humans perish. Yet, at the same time, humans are trees themselves, designed to have a form of perpetual life within that enables them to produce fruit that becomes a source of life and blessing for others.
Notice that Genesis 2 starts with the same parallel with humans and trees. God formed man from the dust of the ground just as He caused the trees to grow from the ground (Genesis 2:7-9). God breathed into man to give him breathe. But what else do humans need in order to breath? Trees! Trees produce the oxygen our lungs need. Interestingly, modern technology has allowed us to picture the human lung in a bronchogram and it looks like a tree!
Of course, the most famous tree of all is the Tree of Life found in Genesis 2. The Tree of Life is at the center of the garden and imparts eternal life to those who eat from it.
This is all designed to set up the rest of the Bible story. Humans are designed to have life that is both perpetual and that bears good fruit giving life to others. That is what eternal life is – it is perpetual life that bears good fruit! While this is designed to be within humans, we must first receive it as a gift from God. Those who eat from The Tree of Life become a tree of life.
Genesis 3 – 11 explore how humans rejected this design and the disaster that ensued. And the rest of the Old Testament explores the story of Israel as the people through whom God will redeem all the nations. And the New Testament is the story of how God's redemption is found in Jesus, who is the Tree of Life.
REFLECT / PRAY
- What might it look like in your own life to be a tree of life? What are some practical examples?
- Jesus defined eternal life in John 17:3. How does this relate to Genesis 1-2?
DAY 2 – Psalm 1
Have you ever noticed a tree planted by water and thought, “what a great picture of what human flourishing looks like?” Well, many Bible writers, including the author of Psalm 1 have. The metaphor that humans are like trees is a common one in the Bible. The metaphor starts in Genesis 1 (day 3 and 6 of creation) and Genesis 2 with the Tree of Life in the middle of the garden and ends in Revelation with trees of life planted by a river bearing fruit and healing the nations.
Trees require water to grow and flourish. In the Bible, water is a picture of all kinds of things that come from God to make life flourish – and so God’s Spirit is often compared to water. As streams water the earth so that trees flourish, so God’s Spirit waters us so that we flourish.
The person who flourishes is the person who delights in the instructions of the Lord rather than walking, standing and sitting as those who live life apart from God as the source of life. Walk, stand, sit are common metaphors for our life. Walking is our way of life, standing is our position or vantage point, and sitting is where we are located or rooted, our home base. For bonus reading, notice how Paul uses these same 3 metaphors to speak of our life in Christ (Ephesians 2:6, 4:1, 6:13).
Watch this video from The Bible Project on The Tree of Life
REFLECT / PRAY
- What is one practical example of what it means to eat from the tree of life? How is it different from eating from the false tree of life?
- Is there an area in your own life in which you are eating from a false tree rather than the tree of life? What might be a practical step you could take to eat from Jesus, the Tree of Life?
DAY 3 – John 15:1–11
The Tree of Life is an image that is carried throughout the entire Bible. The tree of life is in the middle of the garden and represents communion with God the divine creator. To be in this kind of relationship with God and to eat (be nourished) of that is to be transformed into the type of human who can rule with God and have eternal life. That is what was lost, and this is what the Bible story is leading us back to.
The garden of Eden is also connected to the temple, for the temple was meant to be a picture of the garden in which God's presence is at the center. There were many garden images within the temple. One of the important objects within the temple was the lampstand (Menorah) which was designed to look like a tree.
In His teachings, Jesus used lots of garden imagery. He often spoke of the kingdom as like a garden that God was once again planting and growing within people. When Jesus says "I am the vine" He is using Tree of Life imagery (the Hebrew word for tree is "etz" and it can refer to a tree, a bush, a vine or a branch). In this passage in John's gospel, Jesus is saying that God is growing a vine and Jesus is the root plant or stalk and we are the buds and branches that will bear fruit. The fruit that we produce comes from Jesus, is sustained by Jesus and it looks like Jesus. Apart from Him we cannot produce fruit that looks like Him.
Jesus is the seed which God planted in the earth to become the plant stalk from which the rest of the vine will grow. Jesus is the seed which God planted in your heart that will transform you into a tree of life that produces the fruit of His life.
The Hebrew word for infertility means "unrooted." It is often translated "barren." The picture is a stump whose roots are dug up and no longer connected to the divine source of life and therefore unable to produce life itself. When we are unrooted from the divine source of life (Jesus) we are unable to produce the kind of life God designed for us. When we attach ourselves to Him in communion and love and faith and obedience, we become a tree of life producing the fruit of the kingdom which is righteousness, peace and joy.
REFLECT / PRAY
- Compare John 15:5-13 with Matthew 7:15-20. How does the true vine give life? How do we recognize a false tree of life?
DAY 4 – John 3:1–21
I remember having a conversation with a co-worker at a software company many years ago and somehow we got talking about Jesus. He turned to me and asked, "are you one of those reborn christians?" Although I was familiar with John 3:3, I had never heard it put this way and had never been asked that question before. I responded, "what does that mean?" And he said something like it means someone who suddenly becomes religious and talks about Jesus a lot. The phrase "born again" is often used in American culture to refer to someone who used to be in to some version of "sex, drugs and rock n roll" and then found religion, gave up those things and now sort of obnoxiously tells everyone else about it.
Yet, the first person that Jesus calls to be born again was Nicodemus, one the most respected religious leaders of his day. Not exactly the kind of person our culture would think needs to be born again. The conversation between them is amazing. Nicodemus comes with flattery, "we know you come from God because of all the signs you are doing." Jesus does not have time for such politicking and cuts right to the point, "you must be born again to see the kingdom of God."
The phrase "born again" could also be translated "born from above." When Nicodemus heard it, he thought Jesus meant the former. "How can it be possible to get back in the womb to be born again?" Yet Jesus clearly meant the later (see John 3:31). To be born from above is to receive new life by receiving the Spirit of God. Jesus then explains that there are two ways of living – in the flesh or in the Spirit. Flesh is a term used in the Bible to refer to our physical bodies. It is also used as a metaphor to speak of living life without the Spirit of God empowering us – as if we are merely physical beings with a body, a mind and feelings who are capable of being fully human.
Jesus is saying that if we are going to experience the kind of life that is associated with the kingdom of God; life in the garden that comes from relationship with God, then we need to receive this life as a gift from God. Rather than reach out and grasp for life from the tree of the knowledge of good and bad, we must eat from the tree of life. In doing so, we become a tree of life.
"Unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." This is most likely a reference to Ezekiel 36–37. Ezekiel was a prophet to Israel in her exile from the land. In chapter 36, God promises to replant the garden and bring His people into it. He will do it by sprinkling water on them (a picture of cleansing from sin) and by putting His Spirit within them. Then in chapter 37, God breathes His Spirit into dead bones and they become humans again.
Jesus is saying that we need a new kind of life to experience the kingdom of God. We need to be forgiveness, cleansed and filled with God's Spirit. This new life is a gift from God. This new life is life in the Spirit. And Jesus is the one who makes all this possible for us.
REFLECT / PRAY
- What is one specific area in your life that God has renewed by his Spirit?
- What is one specific thing that may be hindering your life with God’s Spirit?
- What is one step you can take with God’s Spirit today to overcome that hindrance?
DAY 5 – Galatians 5:13–26
I like fresh fruits and vegetables and would one day like to have my own garden so I can have a steady supply of them. The problem, at the moment, is the time and effort required for a successful garden. Wouldn't it be nice if I could just go to the store, buy a bag of seeds, pick a spot in my yard and throw a bunch of seeds out, wait 4 months and then return to find a bountiful garden overflowing with food to eat? But that is not how it works.
On the one hand, I cannot actually cause the plants to grow. I have no control over the sun required for plants to grow. I cannot make the seed grow into a plant. I cannot make the plant produce fruit. In that sense, when a garden does produce fruit, we cannot take credit for it.
On the other hand, if I just throw a bunch of seed out on the ground and do nothing else, I will be lucky if I get anything out of that garden. Gardens need to be tended to and guarded. The soil needs to be prepared. Weeds need to be dug up. And fences need to be installed to prevent enemies from coming in and eating or destroying the fruit.
The fruit of the Spirit is not something we can produce on our own. How it happens is a bit of a mystery. I have no control over the Spirit and cannot produce the fruit of the Spirit on my own. I cannot grab hold of the Spirit. I cannot baptize myself in the Spirit. I cannot direct the Spirit and there are changes in my heart that I cannot make.
However, I do have control over how much of me the Spirit has influence over. I can tend and guard the garden of my heart. I have control over how much time I spend in the Scriptures and in prayer. I have control over how much I participate in the life of the church community. And I can guard my heart from enemies who want to eat or destroy the fruit of the Spirit in my life.
As Paul says, we must both receive the Spirit (which we have no control of) and we must walk by the Spirit (which we do have some control of). Another way that Paul puts it is that since we live by the Spirit we should also follow the Spirit (verse 25).
Paul also explains more on Jesus's teaching about two ways of living, by the flesh or by the Spirit. These two ways of living are opposed to each other. Living by the flesh is living by the tree of the knowledge of good and bad. It is living based on our own wisdom and what we think is right. In the end, our thinking and our desires, which are easily twisted, will produce the kind of behaviors that spoil and ruin life, especially relationships.
In contrast, living by the Spirit is living by the tree of life. It is living according to the wisdom that comes from God. It is life that is received from God as a gift as He empowers us. This kind of life produces the fruit associated with God's kingdom; love, joy, peace and so on.
REFLECT / PRAY
- Notice that Paul uses the word deeds when talking about the flesh and the word fruit when talking about the Spirit. Why might that be?
- Look at the examples of good and bad fruit from Paul's list. These are not exclusive, but just examples to help us distinguish between the two. Now think about your own life. Is there anything from the bad list (or similar to it)? What is the source of that?
- Are you seeing the first list in your life? If so, can you see how it is the natural result of life in the Spirit?
DAY 6 – Romans 7:14–8:17
The good side of the bad side of the Law
Little children will, at times, naturally display selfish or bad behavior. They don't think to share. And they have no problem walking over to another child, hitting them, and taking the toy they want. And honestly, they have no idea what they are doing is wrong. They do it without giving any thought about it. No guilty conscience. They have to be taught that it is wrong. When a parent observes wrong behavior in a young child, they tell the child that their behavior is wrong. Does that fix the problem? Of course not. That child will probably look at the parent, smile, and repeat the behavior they were just told was wrong. And now they are more responsible for their wrong behavior.
The first time a child does something wrong, you simply tell them it is wrong. However, when a child continues to do something you tell them is wrong, the consequences increase in severity.
Many of the stories of the Bible have a similar pattern to them – a pattern that reveals something important about human beings – that what we see in little kids is actually true of all humans. In the garden of Eden, God tells Adam and Eve they are free to eat of any tree except one. What is the first thing they do? Eat of the tree they were commanded not to eat from. The next story is the story of Cain and Abel. They both bring an offering to God, who accepts Abel's and rejects Cain's offering. Cain gets angry. God tells Cain to not give in to his anger. What is the next thing Cain does? Gives in to his anger and kills his brother Abel.
Fast forward to Moses and the Israelites after they leave Egypt and come to Mt. Sinai. The Lord gives them 10 commandments. The first two are "have no other gods besides me" and "make no idols." What is the next thing they do? Make a golden calf to worship. If you continue in the story, God gives more commands, which they immediately break, and so on and so on. This created a major problem. God had given His Laws to the Israelites in order to lead them to life. However, in breaking the laws, not only were they doing what was wrong, but now they are responsible. God need to hold them more accountable for they should have known better. In a strange twist, the Law which was intended to bring life instead brought death (accountability). And here is the crazy part. Even the negative consequences did not produce a heart change.
Does this make the Law bad? Of course not! The Law itself is good, but because of sin, it produced something bad, and that is a problem. Fortunately, God is the master of turning problems into solutions. God used the bad side of the Law for a good purpose – to bring to the surface and reveal the true problem found deep in the human heart – sin. There is a mysterious force at work within us that causes us to do wrong even when we know better, even when we agree that what we are doing is wrong. Even when we experience the negative consequences we often continue. What is going on? Sin is going on. Sin is more than just bad behavior. Sin is a mysterious power at work for evil within us – a power that is greater than the power of our will.
What is the nature of this mysterious power the Bible calls sin? Sin distorts our view of God, our view of ourselves, and our view of others which causes us to fail at loving God and loving others. And this distortion even prevents us from being able to judge whether we are succeeding or failing to love as God wants.
Who can save us from this horrible trap? That's right. Jesus. Paul says that first, God condemned sin in the flesh. This is a profound and mysterious statement by Paul. It requires a lot of meditation (and a lot of coffee!) to unpack. God becomes a human in Jesus and lives without sin. And yet, the sin within humanity condemns Him and executes Him without cause. In this act, both the true nature of God and the true nature of sin are revealed. Sin is condemned in the body of Jesus that is laid in the tomb and Jesus is vindicated as sinless by His resurrection from the dead. He is the perfect image of God. He is the perfect image of humans in the divine image. The first step in transformation is a new identity found in Jesus.
Second, God has given us His Spirit so that we can do what we could not do without Him. We were unable to listen to and obey the voice of God. But now, in Christ, we have the Spirit of God – the same Spirit that guided Jesus, the same Spirit that raised Him from the dead. We are now able to live by the Spirit, able to listen and obey the voice of God, who leads us into life. The second step in transformation is learning to live in the Spirit. This means learning to hear God's voice and learning to draw on the Spirit as the source of power to obey God's voice.
REFLECT / PRAY
- In Genesis 3, sin is pictured as a snake. In Genesis 4, it is a crouching beast. Paul sees this same animating creature within each of us. It has been revealed and condemned in the flesh of Jesus. Think about the promise in Genesis 3:15 that a seed would come from Eve and the snake would bite his heel, yet he would crush the snake's head. What might this have to do with Romans 8:3?
- What does it mean to have your identity formed by Christ? What might be an area in your life that needs an identity upgrade?
- What is an area of your life that looks more like Romans 7? How might you move into Romans 8 in that area?