Feeling Parched

But the kaleidoscope ends just as quickly as it starts, and within weeks the once bountiful trees are nothing more than skeletal shadows against the fall sky. Their colorful beauty is gone and what's left behind stands in stark black and white contrast to what once was full of life and color.

Often I feel like my spiritual life mimics the physical. I look back at seasons full of growth and maturation. Times of abundant colors, times of plentiful leaves, times of rich bounty. Other times I feel as if the whipping winds of change are swirling about me- ripping leaves off of my heart, dead things falling to my sides. Sometimes I just feel parched... empty... naked as a tree in winter- just bark with no protection. The color from life is gone, the comfort of my 'clothing' has fallen away, and I'm left naked and bare, dry and seemingly empty.

But God is there too. Just as we all know that the life of trees is not in the leaves but in the roots, so also is our walk with God. There are seasons of change, seasons when we are more exposed, seasons of perceived deadness; but there is still LIFE within. God, living in us, remains.

So as fall closes and winter gears up, either physically or spiritually, take heart dear ones. Just as the leaves of the trees will be reborn in the right time, so also will the seasons of our life blossom and bear fruit once again. If our roots run deep into Him, our branches will produce His abundance as well.

Feeling spiritually parched is okay. You're not dead, you're not empty. Dig deeper into God during those times. Seek His Living Water, root yourself in His Word. A harvest of renewed beauty- bigger, stronger, more glorious than the last will follow in it's time.

Psalm 1:1-3 (NIV)

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on His law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither- whatever they do prospers.

Take heart!

(Reposted from my Tuesday blog for Holy Beautiful)

It's All in the Numbers

After much delay, I bring you the finale to the Are You Feeding the 5000? series. This is part 3 and will be relatively shorter. We've been talking about when Jesus fed the 5000 (or more like 10-15,ooo!) people on the hillside with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fishes. If you want to check out Part 1 and Part 2 first, please feel free. God is all about numbers- I imagine He is like the most amazing actuary in the universe. He loves Him some numbers! He's counting every single person who accepts Him, He's weeping over every single person who rejects Him, He's counting down the days until Jesus can return, He's multiplying blessings/money/giftings/words/food for people all over the world, He's exponentially increasing the work of His laborers, He's showing off with incalculable miraculous  happenings all over the place. You get it, He loves to mess with numbers. The Bible is scattered throughout with examples of God showing up with some crazy math- either by increasing numbers or decreasing numbers. He definitely does not follow the rules of mathematics! God is all about numbers because I think He loves demolishing them. I'd argue that He particularly loves to confound this particular human science.

This particular passage in Matthew is a perfect example of how numbers are only a 'suggestion' when it comes to God. To start, scripture tells us that this particular day that Jesus fed 5000 people. It is a well-known story, "Jesus feeding the 5000". But even here we learn that the passage is only giving part of the story. History shows that those 5000 people were only the men in attendance... not the women or children or servants. I'm not saying the scripture is wrong... I'm only saying it's actually not showing off what Jesus did that day enough. Most biblical historians agree that the crowd that was fed was most likely much more in the 10-15,000 person range. A 3-fold increase! Which is, of course, not counting the actual increase of the 5 loaves and 2 fish that occurred... 5000 people fed is something miraculously impressive. 15,000? Forget about it! God loves showing off! These numbers were not too big.

How about the little boy who offered the meal? Was he too young, not enough years under his belt to be of help? Nope. His years were not too small.

What about it being late in the day and no one had eaten anything at all for hours? Talk about some seriously HANGRY crowds! Had the hours grown too long? Was it too late to satisfy completely? Nope. This day was not too late.

But it would have taken forever to distribute all that food! Even starting with an adequate amount, can you imagine how long it would have taken to actually get the food to everyone? 15,000 people worth of distribution? Was night quickly approaching? Were the disciples racing the setting sun? Nope. The crowd logistics were not too large.

Never, ever, anywhere in the Bible do we ever see God being impaired by something being too big, too insurmountable, too small, too weak, too few. Never. In fact, His nature is to show up BIGTIME in those instances. In 2 Corinthians 12:9-11, "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me."

Numbers can be a huge weakness for us.

Numbers may seem important to us. In fact, I would argue we obsess about them. When God calls us forward, it is unfortunately more often than not, our natural inclination to start a numbers argument with Him. It's too expensive, I don't have enough time, I am not old enough, I am too old, I have too many kids to do that, I don't have the money to do it, I don't have enough followers to step out, I have too many other obligations, I have too many people counting on me, etc. etc. etc. Numbers, numbers, numbers! We use too many of them to argue and too few of them to argue!

design

We get too easily bogged down in the human calculations of all this math. And in doing so, we miss God and shut down the work He's potentially getting ready to do. The God-math He's so good at.

What we forget too easily is that God is a numbers guy. And He is not impaired in any way with all these digits we throw out at Him. Not enough? He'll multiply. Too many? He will meet the need. It doesn't matter what the number is... He will change it.

When Having Just One Cherry is Not a Bad Thing (part 2 of Coloring in His Lines)

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.

Here is a cherry-less cherry tree. Not much good to anyone..

Improvement!

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!

 

Coloring in His Lines- part 1

This is a picture of my baby daughter's coloring page.

Okay, sorry, I actually I don't have one because she's only 9 months old. But she's SO cute isn't she!?! And I hooked you with a cute baby pic so you're invested now right?

Anna's not exactly a huge fan of coloring yet. I’m sure she will be eventually,  but for now I'm pretty sure she's not even aware that such a thing exists; and I'm positive she doesn't have the skills (mentally or physically) to actually color.

In Anna's world, coloring isn't even on the radar. She may be able to see colors and pictures, but she really doesn't have any context for them. So I would argue she doesn't really have an appreciation for it. In her baby world, she's yet to grown into an appreciation or love for coloring or art- it will come, but for now her eyes have not been opened to it and her present maturity level would not support it.

I want to talk about maturity. Spiritual maturity in particular.

I had a dream the other night about my kids coloring abilities (because, you know- that's what we moms dream about.) and was struck by the difference in skill level and accuracy between the 9 mo old (read, none....) the 2-year old and the 4-year old. None are early Michaelangelo's (that I can tell...), but the difference in their abilities is worth noting. Let me show you examples (and I apologize in advance for the Cars theme- with two boys under five it’s just a fact of life of where our house is at artistically right now!)

Here is a picture my 2-year old colored.

My man Jonah

 

Notice the random coloring, there’s been no attempt stay in the actual lines, the color palate is limited to one hue. It is chaotic to look at. I’ll give him credit for choosing red (he knows that Mac is red), and I'll give him credit for coloring on the picture (as opposed to the white spaces or my coffee table!), but that’s about as much meaningful interaction he’s had with the picture itself.

Let’s cut the kid some slack though, Jonah is only two. He has limited fine motor skills to adequately stay in the lines. He’s done what he can to color in a way that is the best of his ability at this stage in his life. And in the short two years of his life, he’s not spend a tremendous (or regular) amount of time practicing coloring. He does when it amuses him, when it peaks his interest.

Now check out the 4 ½ year olds work-

Big boy Jesse

In addition to being a ham and very proud of his picture, Jesse is clearly the better artist right now- but he’s got two years on his brother and twice the experience (both in time and practice.) He sees the picture itself and has tried to stay in the lines. He used the correct colors (for this particular session, he actually went and got his Mac truck toy and set it out so he could get the colors right.) Jesse’s fine motor skills are more refined, his intellect is more mature (in that he sees the picture and what it’s supposed to represent), and this boy LOVES to color- he ‘practices’ all the time.

Now here’s my picture….

Okay, just kidding. I didn’t actually color this. However it’s safe to say that my coloring aptitude, my ability to stay in the lines and make a beautiful picture far outshines my sons. Not that I’m some huge artist, but I’ve got 30-some years of practice and experience on them. Not to mention I have quite a bit more fine motor skills. If I were to try to color Mac, I’d use all the colors I needed to, utilize shading maybe, try to give him texture. You get the idea.

My artistic talent started as a baby like Anna and worked its way through time, skill, and practice into someone who can now pretty easily color not only in the lines, but using the correct tones and hues to make the picture look the way it should.

It would be strange if my ability was the same as Jonah’s or Jesse’s, because just as in all things in life, the expectation is that we improve, mature, and grow in things we do.  In medicine, in school, in business… we look for trends- and not just any direction, we want improvement.

Is it not so with our spiritual walks as well?

The expectation is that we mature. The hope is that we continue to refine. The command is that we bear fruit… good fruit.

Bear fruit in keeping with repentance… Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

Matthew 3: 8, 10 ESV

So I would ask, where are YOU today?

Take a mental snapshot of your life right now. How much good fruit is evident in your life- both in quantity and quality? Is there a trend of improvement?

Are you coloring inside the lines, using the colors God’s told you to? Are you obediently coloring where you’re supposed to, enhancing the picture God has put you into? Is there improvement?

 Now remember back 5 years ago. How does your fruit compare? Is there improvement?

How about when you became a Christian? Is there improvement?

 

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 2 coming to a blog near you!