I would love to say there was some great reasoning behind my madness (i.e. laziness) but there wasn't. I was just flat-out being lazy and choosing to put myself in pain. Because I'm crazy like that...Read More
Welcome back dear ones for part 2 of Coloring in the Lines. I ended last week discussing the idea of improvement; that I would be a bit concerned if my 4 year old was still coloring the same (or worse?) than he was 2 years ago. Something would be wrong, don’t you think? I know I would question if something was amiss- perhaps a physical or mental incapacity that needed to be looked at. I think it’s reasonable to assume that most of us would be a bit troubled right? He's still very young, but he's been coloring in some form or fashion for a few years now... he should be improving. So why aren’t we alarmed when the exact same thing happens (or doesn’t happen) in our lives or the lives of fellow believers?
Let us continue to unwrap this idea of improvement. I’ll focus on non-believers and new Christians exclusively for this post.
Those who have not yet accepted Christ as their savior are not unlike Anna (remember the cute baby... see part 1 for another look!) Not only can they not color at all, they don’t even see the picture for what it is. They cannot and do not acknowledge the Artist, they cannot and do not appreciate the artwork. Because of the absence of Christ in their lives, of course they cannot expect to color in the lines. They are physically and spiritually incapable of doing so.
And as an aside, why we would as Christians expect them to? God tells us that they are incompetent of understanding until His spirit reveals these mysteries. Christians are not instructed nor are we commanded to judge this group of people in any way. In all honestly, let’s be real here, there is nothing at. all. that we should ever be surprised that a non-believer does. Right? But the natural [unbelieving] man does not accept the things [the teachings and revelations] of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness [absurd and illogical] to him; and he is incapable of understanding them, because they are spiritually discerned and appreciated, [and he is unqualified to judge spiritual matters].
2 Corinthians 2:14 AMP
I would love to put a visual here, but there isn’t one to add- a picture isn’t on their radar, it isn’t in their world… as Paul tells us above- they are ‘incapable of understanding them.’
Okay, so we’ve got the coloring abilities (or non-abilities) of non-believers. Now let’s address the main audience here- those who profess Christ.
New Believers, those who have freshly accepted God into their hearts, are much like Jonah and Jesse. They may see the picture and they have a limited color palette, but they will often (not unexpectantly) have trouble at the outset staying within the lines and choosing the correct shades. They are still immature in their faith and their hearts have not been fine-tuned to the nuances of all Christ has to offer and what His pictures can look like. They are young in their Christian walk and may initially struggle mightily against sin and temptation. They may veer wildly outside the Biblical boundaries God has set in place. They may regress and show no signs of acknowledgement of the lines at all for a time.
We have all been there. During many seasons of our lives I would imagine!
But as these new Christians (should) grow and mature, their skills and abilities become better, they may utilize a broader range of colors, they see the picture and the lines and acknowledge the need to stay in those lines in order to color the picture correctly. Now their lives are showing spiritual progress, they are more consistently showing fruits of the Spirit, they are more meaningfully active in ministry, and God is continually challenging and refining them. They may even start using a real-life object as reference for what the picture needs to look like (Jesus!). These precious souls with time, practice, discipleship, etc… should and will improve in their spiritual maturity. Their trends will show improvement.
As expected… as they should. Keep in mind… progress is good. Improvement is the goal. God is watching for good fruit- both in quantity and quality.
My father-in-law recently told a story that exemplifies this perfectly. He planted a cherry tree sometime last year. Obviously that year no fruit was produced. He read prior to planting it that this particular kind of cherry tree can take up to 5 years to start producing fruit- so his expectations were not to expect fruit. This year, however, he laughed as he told us, the little tree squeaked out one cherry.
Improvement! Next year, I’m sure he might expect a few more. In actuality, this tree is overproducing what is expected right now. That’s fantastic!
Do not be discouraged dear new brothers and sisters! Improvement is hard, being disciplined is hard, but there is grace to spare for you! God wants you to succeed in growing closer to Him, He wants you to grow strong in your faith, He wants you to run a good race, He wants to be able to say “Well done good and faithful servant.” I would venture to say He expects us to fail, to fall, and to struggle. It would be impossible for us not to; He gets that and there is grace and mercy for it. So no low heads. Keep up the hard work!
But dear ones don’t rest IN His grace on account OF His grace.
Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you.
Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.
1 Timothy 4: 12-16 NIV(em phasis mine)
Don’t be deceived that He will tolerate us taking advantage of His patience with us. The entire Old Testament is a diatribe of God growing impatient with His beloved Israelite's as they continually colored outside the lines. Lines (sins, rules, the Law) were placed for their own safety, security, well-being, and in keeping right with God. They were perfectly formed by Yahweh to keep them as faultlessly in line with Him as humanly possible. Yet they resisted, went outside the boundaries, and used their own colors repeatedly (just as we all do); and they suffered greatly for it- not only in losing land, lives, and health, but most importantly in losing communion with God.
The point here is to keep trying, keep working at it. Just as there is story after story of God’s wrath and justice on His people, so also are there more stories of Him lovingly and eagerly searching for any signs of obedience- for that one person who obediently chose the right color, for that one tribe who chose to stay in His lines.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.
James 1: 2-5 NIV
So brothers and sisters, please keep working at it! Meditate on James this week and see the practical blueprint for what Christian fruit actually looks like. If you continue to pursue Him, you will produce fruit!
Keep coloring! Practice makes perfect!
I pray dear one that your life exemplifies improvement. I hope you are coloring where and how you’re supposed to be. I fervently wish that your life shows a trend of overall maturity and improvement.
Thank you for taking the time to read my heart today. Please comment below with thoughts and ruminations of where your walk is today- and stay tuned for part 3 coming to a blog near you!
It was opening day for Term 2 at Camp Barnabas. Intake at the WellHouse for the nurses was in full force and I had just been called over by one of my nurses asking if camp had lemon juice. A camper apparently needed some so therefore the medical center needed some available. We needed... no let me rephrase, a very thorough camper mom was telling us that we medically required lemon juice. It was literally a medical necessity. Ummm, okay, that's a new one I thought to myself.... lemon juice.... Let me give you a bit of background, Camp Barnabas is a Christian camp for children and adults with physical and mental disabilities. As you can imagine the types and kind of campers we serve can run the gamut of medical needs. From MACE procedures, a bazillion medications, G-tubes, bowel programs, and ventilators- I see all sorts of medical equipment and we serve a huge array of medical 'stuff'. So at first, the request for lemon juice was not <totally> weird... sure... absolutely we have lemon juice. I'd check with our cook and see but it'd be no biggie to steal some from the kitchen; and worst case scenario, we'd grab the lemonade available and use that. But then this particular request got strange... mom was informing us that her child couldn't use just any kind of lemon juice, she needed freshly squeezed lemon juice. Not lemonade, not fake lemon juice... As in, out of a real lemon, freshly squeezed lemon juice. Unsweetened, undiluted- straight up out of the lemon.
The little-squirters in the back of my mouth (total medical term there...) were working overdrive just thinking about the tart-factor of that swig. I'd definitely had some bizarre requests, especially dietary... but this one was rapidly accelerating (not unlike my saliva volume) up to the top of my "Most unusual medical needs"list. My medical incredulity alarm went off and internally I was thinking this lady is craaa-zay. Never in my medical career could I think of a time or an instance that I could even fathom the absolute medical necessity of straight-up lemon juice for anything. Let alone making this poor camper suffer through drinking such a nasty thing! I mean, seriously... who does that? I was just about ready to very politely but firmly tell above mother that this was a summer camp, in the middle of nowhere, and the chances of us having fresh lemons was less than nill, when she told us that the reason for the fresh lemon juice had everything to do with the undiluted acid content in the juice, and nothing to do with the taste.
Okay, now I'm a bit more intrigued. Maybe she's not totally 'that mom'...
So long story, short, according to this kiddo's doctor, the fresh lemon juice was a necessity to help break down the medications properly, and for her stomach to digest more easily all her food. Which, as noted before, was fine... I now got it- but still didn't actually fix our immediate issue. I was on board with the why, now to address the how. Because, again, think summer camp in the middle of Nowheresville, Missouri; freshly squeezed lemon juice was not exactly readily accessible. Okay mom, okay... I'll just have to check.
We had lemonade but we really needed lemons. Not fake lemon juice, good old off the tree lemons to squeeze good old lemon juice out of. We need real deal, tart, unsweeted, undiluted, acidic, make-your-salivary-glands-go-crazy lemons.
Have you ever just needed a lemon?
It occurred to me throughout that week, with every med pass that nurse made to her camper, that there must be times when God gives us lemons and He expects and needs us to just deal with the juice. The tart, unsweetened, undiluted lemon juice. He doesn't want us to make lemonade out of it. He doesn't want us to sweeten it up. He doesn't want us to dilute it. He wants us to swig it down and let it do it's work. His work. The acidic, often uncomfortable, make-your-spirit-squirm Spirit work that needs to be done within us.
The properties of acid, especially in this case, work to wear away and break down chemical structures in order to either completely do away with a substance or make it more malleable to change.
Anyone picking up where I'm going with this yet?
God uses His own lemon juice in our lives daily. Yet too often we shy away from the bitterness of the taste and miss the spiritual acid He's using to do His work in us. We avoid taking it, like little children squirming to avoid their brussel sprouts. We spit it out. We try to sweeten it up- "making lemonade out of lemons."
I think there is something to be said for the amazing lemonade that God allows by His grace in our lives. Those sweet times with family, the seasons of tremendous fruit spiritually, the happy days of our lives that we yearn for and reminisce about for years. These are good times. These are those deep, refreshing drinks of iced cold lemonade. They are wonderful and needed.
There are also needs for just plain old generic lemon juice. After all, juice out of a bottle is still juice. It still is acidic, and for many things it can serve the same purpose as the real deal. But it will always be diluted, it will always be pasteurized and ever-so-slightly chemically altered. Self-help books, spiritual books, blogs (uh huh, even this one... but keep reading!), counseling, meditation, etc. You get the idea. These are not bad things. they can be immensely beneficial to us... but dear ones, don't be deceived or lazy. The real work of our souls is GodStuff. It is His spiritual acid, His lemon juice in our lives that refine and make us more into His servants. Bottled stuff will never perfectly match the composition of the real stuff.
For the word of the Lord is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
Hebrew 4:12 ESV
Sound a bit acidic? Hard to squirm away from that... though we may try! God's Word is the real deal. It will always be undiluted, sometimes hard to swallow, and refining to our souls. Always. So don't avoid it.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have it's full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
James 1:2-4 (emphasis mine)
Trials, tribulations, testing.... all lemons. God allows and sometimes even causes such things- for the good and perfection of His people. We must see the bigger picture, so let those lemons do their thing. Let that juice work it's way around and in and throughout. It's uncomfortable, it tastes bad and can be seemingly so very hard to digest. But it's cleansing, detoxing and refining to us. He will cleanse, detox, and refine. So let Him.
Dear one- what or where are the lemons in your life right now? Are you struggling to sweeten the situation? Post below and share your lemon juice experiences and stay tuned for some of my personal lemons right now!
In case you are wondering, we found lemons. I went down, somewhat sheepishly, to ask our cook if she happened to have any (knowing full well that she didn't.) Turns out she had ordered an entire case by accident that week.