One of our family’s most favored vacations was a six week car trip that we made together through the western United States. We zigzagged our way at will back and forth across the Rockies, traveling from the Rio Grande in Texas to North Dakota, before making our way home across the Midwest plains. The magnificence of God’s bestowed beauty in a variety of landscapes along the way remains etched in memory, as do quirky fun-filled moments as well. Each place that we visited left its own signature mark on our hearts and minds, some becoming more deeply engrained than others.
One of the visits that we made was to Deadwood, South Dakota, a historic piece of the Old West that turned tourist town in order to keep moving forward into the future. My memento from that stop was a basket that I purchased in one of the town’s gift shops. For years, whenever I would take notice of that basket in my home, the irony of its structure in relation to its purchase location would not escape me, for the basket was made of pieces of dead wood that had been woven together to give them specific form and purpose. The basket’s presence in my home was a constant reminder of a far off place and time that had become a part of my life. Every time that Deadwood came to mind, so did the remembrance of family togetherness that the trip entailed.
Deadwood… How did a town ever acquire such a bleak sounding name? Apparently the name was attached to that particular location by fortune seekers during the Gold Rush, when they happened upon a gulch that had an abundance of two notable items: dead trees and a stream full of gold. The picture that the description provides is two-fold, bringing to mind both death and hope’s promise of a better life—an unlikely combination according to men’s general way of thinking. But there it was: death and hope, together in one place and time for all who came upon it.
At this moment in time, I hope that the perception of Christian readers is ahead of my writing and that realization is dawning as to where this train of thought is heading, for there is a far greater picture being drawn by the description than that of simply one obscure gulch among many worldwide. It is that of eternal life in Christ Jesus.
In another place and time—two thousand years ago on a hill outside of Jerusalem—stood noticeable Deadwood that served divine purpose in its structure, providing the ultimate of both death and hope-filled Promise to all mankind. Destitute men and women, despite the tally of any accounting methods used while seeking worldly fortune of one kind or another, would discover a new kind of personal wealth in the Cross of Jesus. Dreams of potential future wellbeing would become present reality.
Two simple pieces of wood, devoid of earthly life, and the death of Jesus that hung upon them would forever unite past, present and future in one eternal momentary glimpse of God’s magnificent provision that would transform hearts and minds in forever remembrance of the event. The Cross of Jesus, with Holiness flowing through it, would be revealed as being mankind’s God-given Tree of Life: the only Source of life’s everlasting wealth that money can’t buy. Sacrificial death and resurrection power would unite in sprouting the fulfillment of promised hope that would make no person a beggar, but (if they so would choose to be) a Family member, forever held in high esteem by God.
Each story of each individual journey to the Cross would add yet another branch to the Family Tree, which would, in turn, blossom even more in its increasing abundant provision for all who would become part of the Tree’s wealth of offerings. Each offering made by each Family member in dying to self-gratification for the purpose of increasing the wellbeing of all life would only give more life to all.
In God’s initial creation of the world, He determined that it is right and fitting that seed would only produce more of that from which it has come. Like would produce like; there would be no exception.
“Then God said, ‘Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.’ And it was so.” (Genesis 1:11)
Jesus said likewise:
“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit.” (Luke 6:43-44a)
Jesus went on to clarify the statement’s meaning as being inclusionary of more than literal plants and trees. It also refers symbolically to people. Life or death—that which has taken root in each man or woman’s heart—would produce only more of itself through spoken words that would carry it forward.
“For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45b)
This statement by Jesus makes confession of faith in Jesus necessary to receiving salvation in Him, for what the heart believes will be spoken. “Confessions” made nonchalantly or under coercion, without conviction of heart validation, cannot save anyone. Such words and other similar ones come from lips bearing only doubt in God’s goodness. (See Proverbs 18:20) The dead words only reinforce doubt, creating more deadness. But words filled with faith in Jesus do save. They promote the life of God’s loving-goodness that is in Christ Jesus in praise of God. (See Hebrews 13:15)
“… if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” (Romans 10:9-10)
When God breathed life into mankind (See Genesis 2:7), He did so freely, choosing to give His life so that others might also know its goodness. In giving life, He began a multiplication process that He designed to carry His goodness forward exponentially in benefitting others. (See Genesis 1:31) Thereafter, God couldn’t take back His breath from mankind any more than He could ever take back His goodness, for they are who God is: Good Life. God would see to it that life would move on forever with God and in God. Even when men and women would choose in doubt to decline God’s good life that was offered to them, first producing and then continuing to multiply death, God could and would only continue proving His infallible loving-goodness that undergirds all life forever.
God’s ultimate assurance of the sustaining grace of His loving-goodness would come in the revelation of God’s establishment—rooting—of Creation in the foundation of Christ Jesus (See 1 Corinthians 3:11)). In Christ, Creation can only flourish perpetually in the Self-sustaining life of God that is eternal life in Christ. The revelation would allow all men and women to know so without doubt.
God accomplished the task not in the two pieces of dead wood of the Cross upon which Jesus hung, but with them, in Self-sacrifice that gives life to everything, beginning with the deadness of the wood of the Cross itself that depicted mankind’s deadness in separation from God. Any man or woman, who looks at the Cross and sees only the death of a man and fails to see hope, only adds to death’s multiplication in his or her own hopeless condition. But those who see the hope that is poured out for all mankind in the life Blood of Jesus and become receptacles into which His life is poured, grow in sacrifice that increases the multiplication of God-given life throughout all Creation.
Deadwood, S.D. is a town, like all other towns in this world, of limited resource. When the gold began to run low, so did the hope that it had generated. Such ends all of mankind’s efforts at self-sufficiency apart from God, for self-generated hope always runs dry eventually. It must, for it ends at death when it runs out of itself in death.
But the Deadwood of the Cross of Jesus that stood outside of Jerusalem stands forever alive in heaven in the markings of Self-sacrifice that Jesus’ Body bears. The marks attest to right placed hope in Jesus, for they are God’s signature mark of crowning glory upon Jesus, received by Him in having freely chosen to do only good for all others at the expense of His own life, no one else’s. His comfort amidst His suffering upon the Cross was in knowing that He was doing His Father’s will: giving priority to others’ wellbeing above His own. As the Father is, so is the Son: Good Life. Like only produces like.
“Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)
The question to be answered by each individual is this: “Am I multiplying death, here and now, in any matter or manner, by depending upon my own deadness to give me what I need, or am I depending solely upon the life of Jesus in me to multiply all life in every situation for everyone involved?” The answer is crucial, for we each bear a signature, whether we can see it or not. It reads either “self” or“Jesus.”
In the bow and stern of wooden ships, where the planks from the left and right sides must somehow be joined together to make a watertight vessel, the builders cannot connect them directly to one another due to the limited space in which they have to work. To solve the problem, they insert a substantial piece of deadwood into the space and then attach the planks from both sides to it, making the ship an integrated whole that water cannot breach. The deadwood holds the ships together.
Similarly, Jesus, in being nailed to the Cross, became Deadwood through which both righteous God and sinful people, who were cut off from God in death, could be joined together to form a completely integrated Family that sin can never breach. Jesus holds God’s Family together forever because He first let go of His own life by giving it to God to do as His Father willed: to give His good life to all.
As the deadwood in ships makes a way for ships to be seaworthy, so has the Deadwood of the Cross that God has rested upon Jesus alone similarly made a Way for all people to be God-worthy in Christ. Without the proper use of deadwood in ship building, ships come apart at the seams. They sink. Likewise, without the proper use of Jesus’ Deadwood Cross, people’s lives also fall apart. They too sink, sometimes into everlasting death in the next world and sometimes in lesser ways in this one.
Men and women only have one path forward in this world that isn’t cut short by death’s reality, and it isn’t any one of the many that look down upon the Cross as being merely a historical tourist attraction of men’s making. The only path forward is the one that goes straight through the Cross itself—the Cross upon which Jesus gave life: His. The Cross is not powerless dead wood—a thing of the past, void of present life—as some misperceive it to be. Rather, being both from and of our Eternal God, the Cross is the power of God at work in lives today, redeeming one life after another from death by giving every person opportunity to enter into the life of Christ. Jesus is a free will offering, made upon the Cross that is God’s Tree of Life: forever blossoming… forever blooming… forever growing in its life-giving provision of sacrifice that endlessly generates only more life.
Realize this: In the Garden of Eden, after sin brought death, the Tree of Life remained standing right in the center of everything that God had deemed good: mankind’s life with God, as God designed it. (See Genesis 2:9 & 3:24) It held that position before mankind ever came to be, and it always will, whether we believe so or not. That’s just the way that it is, because that’s the way God made it to be… and so it is forever more: God’s will, God’s way—Good Life with God the Father, through Jesus Christ the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit. We can bank upon it, for God has. He invested the life of His One and Only Son in all of us, and we will never be any wealthier than that.
Currently, the town of Deadwood has an advertising slogan that simply says, “Do Deadwood.” They got it right. So should we.
“Do Jesus”… Connect to His Cross and experience His All—everything good, nothing deadly. “Do Life”…
Doing so may tempt us to shout the well-known Hebrew toast “L’Chaim!”: “to life.”
But better yet, make it “to God!”… to God be the glory of His good life, now and forever more!!! Amen!