For When You're Stuck

We returned recently from full-time, front-line mission work at Camp Barnabas and though it was an incredible summer I’ve been feeling stuck. Actually run over and then left to dry... in the rain... might be a better description. I’m just spent. Spent and stuck. Stuck and spent. Feeling like there’s nothing else to give and yet too much left over. Spiritually God knocked this summer out of the ballpark- and I got front row seats to His show. He even called me on stage a few times to participate. It was spectacular. People found Christ, dozens upon dozens were baptized, demons were exorcised, and people’s faith grew stronger and mightier. I couldn’t have asked for more. I felt as if I should be walking- no swaggering- out of camp with my head held high, my Bible worn through, my voice singing praises, and my cup overflowing. After all, it was all GodStuff right? And yet I’ve been stuck in this weird, post-victory void; one that both leaves me exhausted and yet feeling guilty that I’m not handling the celebratory victory very well. In fact I’m pretty much sucking at it.

Ugh.

I’ve been in need of some encouragement of late. I desperately needed to hear God tell me it was okay to feel this way, that He understood- even if my feelings are counter-intuitive to the situation- maybe especially because they don’t match the season.

And then I happened upon Elijah. After his epic spiritual victory over Jezebel’s priests in 1 Kings 19, we find him running, alone, hungry, tired, and afraid... spiritually Stuck. So much so he asks God to die right then and there (fortunately I’m not personally <there> but man I can relate!)

God met him right where he was- alone, discouraged, restless and yet exhausted...

“And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, "Arise and eat." And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again. And the angel of the Lord came again a second time and touched him and said, "Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you." And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God.” 1 Kings‬ ‭19:5-8‬ ‭ESV‬‬

This struggling and depressed prophet, one of the mightiest in the Bible- rested. When Stuck, God sent sustenance. He gave him rest, He let him lie down, He fed him and gave him shade. His angel actually came a second time to revitalize him again.

I love that. I desperately needed to have permission to rest and be a bit overwhelmed at the past battles. God knows me... as He knew Elijah... as He knows you.

What a relief! What a thought! What grace!

Sometimes I have a tendency to struggle against my Stuck. I look around and I think I’m doing it wrong- and that pulls me down even further. And yet, there is grace even within the quagmire of being spiritually Stuck- whether it be metaphorical or physical- God allows His servants rest, rejuvenation, and revitalization.

So, dear one, if you’re feeling Stuck, take heart and know you’re not alone. Jeremiah encourages us, even in the Stuck, “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” ‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭40:28-31‬

Losing What You Never Had

This summer at Camp Barnabas was chock-full of GodStuff, but none more pronounced than what God taught me through our daily devotionals. Camp did 4 days of devos over Jonah– one day for each chapter. Multiply that times 9 weeks of terms and I got a whole ‘lotta Jonah. We're almost done dear ones! This is the last part of our Jonah series! I pray you've been encouraged, convicted, and refined through our Bible study of this wayward prophet. We looked through Jonah's hissyfit in our last installment. I pray that my attitude is never quite so juvenile as Jonah's, however I'd best not look too closely...

Let's take a final look at the God's goodness and His sovereign will in the last chapter of Jonah.

 But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

5 Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. 6 Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant[a] and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. 7 But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die,and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.”

9 But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”

“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.”

10 But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh,in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”

Jonah is angry at God. As we saw in the last installment, he's throwing a hissyfit when things didn't go as planned. And yet, in this passage we see God still providing good, rest, respite to him... even in the midst of his disobedience and angst. God made a shade vine grow over him. His grace overflowed in a very physical way- and Jonah relished in it.

He was refreshed- and yet a change of heart didn't occur despite God's provision. Has God ever provided goodness, even in the midst of your disobedience? How did you respond... with joy and heartfelt change of attitude? Or perhaps with continued selfish entitlement? How often are your feelings affected by whether things are going well or not?

The shade ended, the hot winds blew once again... and Jonah sank further into his resentment of God, even going so far as to say "I'm so angry I wish I were dead." Whoa! Ungrateful much?!

Jonah demonstrates here what so many of us still struggle with today. This strange idea of entitlement, that God somehow owes us something. That the good things in life we deserve and are owed. I liken it to my children at Christmas- they wake up and find presents under the tree for them. They don't necessarily deserve them, they've been lovingly picked out just for them just because I love them. They surely didn't earn or pay for them, they were purchased with my money through my hard work. The gifts are freely given... and often (depending on their behavior) they are freely taken back. How often after receiving a great present have I found my boys fighting over them, resulting in me taking them back for a time. They pitch a fit, they cry hysterically, they bemoan how unfair it is that I took "their" toy away. How quickly possession occurs in their little minds. What they do not understand is that me, as 'sovereign' mom, gave them that toy and I can just as quickly take it away.

You see the picture here? As the scripture states, the shade provided Jonah was not of his doing, it was God's grace. It was not tilled or nurtured by him, it was through God's gardening that it grew. It was God's gift to give and to take away. Yet so quickly after it appeared Jonah claimed it as his own- his very own, his precious (cue Gollum voice...)

How quickly do you claim God's goodness in your life as your 'own'... your deserved gift? How quickly do you close your fist around the present He gives you, and cry out in frustration and angst when He takes it away? Health, wealth, children, cars, houses, possession, spouses, everything. We received NOTHING of our own volition. It is ALL through the Father. His to give, His to take away.

Unlike Jonah, who received a stern reprimand from God about his attitude, dear ones we must learn to hold our palms open at all times to the Holy One- both in the receiving of His gifts, but also in the easily giving back to Him when He takes away.

It's all by His hands that we give and receive. Let us keep open hands and open hearts in the good times and the bad.

What gods are you crying out to?

This summer at Camp Barnabas was chock-full of GodStuff, but none more pronounced than what God taught me through our daily devotionals. Camp did 4 days of devos over Jonah– one day for each chapter. Multiply that times 9 weeks of terms and I got a whole ‘lotta Jonah. You’d think for such a short book that I would have run out of material, but God had other plans.  You’ve heard the term ‘drink of choice’- that one drink that brings calm, comfort, a sense of happiness and contentment– today I want to talk about your god of choice. Highlighting one of the most hard-hitting sections of Jonah chapter 1 is verse 5, “Then the mariners were afraid and each cried out to his own god” (ESV). This takes place in the middle of the storm, Jonah is <conveniently> down in the hold snoozing away while the rest of the sailors were doing their darndest to not sink. They were scared, anxious about the waves, worried for their ship, fearful for their very lives. Scripture tells us they prayed, no– they “cried out” to their various gods. Notice the little ‘g’ here. They ran to what they knew, what they felt comfortable with, what they thought could bring them peace…. Except those prayers didn’t work.

I won’t belabor the point here except to say this- When you are anxious, stressed, fearful, worried, or overcome by the storms in your life what god(s) do you cry out to? It’s a hard-hitting question that took me into the middle of June before God gave me my answer. What god bring you joy, comfort, relaxation, stress-relief.... peace? What or who do you run to in times of angst?

Gods (little g) can take the form of many things or people– the obvious examples could be drugs, alcohol, gambling… however what about our spouse? Our best friend? Work? Sleep? Shopping? Oils? Google? Books? A certain game, a tv series, or a favorite celebrity? Even seemingly innocuous diversions can be a god in our world if we run (i.e. cry out) to it or them first (or too much!)

I was convicted mightily after 3 weeks of prayer about this when God showed me that my particular god of choice is MYSELF. I run to ME far too often, far too much, I am far too self-reliant. I can do it, I’ve got this, I can handle it, I don’t need help. I am my own little god. Ugh! Speaking of Jonah, that one was a really hard one to swallow!

So, dear one, be in prayer…. Who or What god do you cry out to? I’d love to hear from you and maybe we can tackle this little god thing together.

In Bad Times and In Good

They say that everyone finds God in jail and in the hospital. As a trauma nurse I can attest that at least the second part of that saying is mostly true. In times of worry, stress, sickness, death- people do often, and quickly, reach out to God. Even non-Christians find God pretty fast when times get tough. But what about when times are good?

I can't help but think that these times of peace, prosperity, health, and happiness are actually more important in seeking God than the bad times. God desires us to find Him when we don't 'need' Him. For it is then that we are seeking Him because we simply want to be with Him- in His presence for His presence sake. What a precious treasure those times of unneeded communion with Him must be to His heart.

I was reminded while writing this of some beautiful passages about this in Psalm 23- “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.” ‭‭ These are times of peace, seasons of rest, periods of comfort. And God is THERE! Still.

Yes, God is found often and readily in bad times. His light burns all the brighter in those dark places. But He is present, available, and waiting for you to meet during the good times too- when He can enjoy the rest and quiet with you, when He can speak softly because there's no drama harassing your senses, when He can know that you're there, with Him, simply because of Him and not just what He can offer.

When was the last time you spent time with God just because you could- not needing anything, just hanging out with a beloved Friend?

Green pastures. Still waters. Restorer of souls.

We too often think of God only as Savior. He is equally Friend and Brother-

....in bad times and in good. Seek Him in both.

 

pc- Jeff Peterson, A Wanderer in a Strange Land

Under the Influence

Sitting in church yesterday, our pastor was teaching out of Ephesians and he was towards the end of chapter 1 when Gabe nudged me saying, "That's the verse I prayed over you during your affair with Gina." (And yes, you read that previous sentence correctly, I had an affair with a woman. For more on that, read my testimony- God is SO good!) I had forgotten. Indeed, Ephesians 1:17-18 were the verses on his heart to pray endlessly over me during some extremely dark days. Because the truth is, I was under the influence of a pretty strong spirit, actually several powerful forces. Maybe not full-blown possession, but certainly oppression.

And the harsher truth is... so are you. Even now, sitting here reading my words.

We are all. Every single one of us is under a spiritual influence.

All. Of. Us. All. The. Time.

It's a sobering reality that I know many of us just don't give enough credence to and certainly can't completely comprehend. We are spiritual beings as well. Humans are designed with our own spirits.  We consist of our own body, mind, and spirit (Pro 20:27, Job 32:8, Ecc 12:7, I Cor 2:11, 2 Cor 4:16, 1 Thess 5:23 among others.) It would be foolish to think that our spirits are not an integral part of the cosmos.

Other spirits exist, they move about, they do what they can to influence us. Not unlike being underwater, the spiritual realm surrounds us, their currents carry us, their contact with us saturates our lives. The Bible talks at length, from beginning to end, all about spirits- our own personal ones, as well as the forces for good and evil that pervade the universe. Paul hammers it home in Ephesians 6, "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." Our struggle, our battles, our war is against spiritual beings. Not people, not countries, not ourselves... we are fighting, both externally but just as much internally, against eternal, supernatural spirits. They influence us, try to possess us, wage destruction around us, and overall just do everything in their power to manifest evil. Christians and non-christians alike are surrounded on all sides by spirits, each trying to exert it's own will against and into us.

Nice right? And terrifying...

But scripture also speaks even more at length about the one Spirit that we ought to let influence us... in fact we should pursue His possession; and that is the Holy Spirit.

We don't have a choice to participate in this cosmic battle in the heavenlies against Good and evil, God and Satan, Heaven and Hell. We are part of it, like it or not. We can drown or we can be made alive with living water; BUT we do have a choice as to which spirit, which side we let have control of our lives. The nice part is that we have a pretty clear outline as to which spirit will lead down which path. We can look all throughout the Bible but I'll stick to Ephesians just to stay consistent and you'll get the idea.

Ephesians 2: 1-3 

As for you, you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you used to walk when you conformed to the ways of this world and of the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit who is now at work in the sons of disobedience. We all lived among them at one time in the cravings of our flesh, indulging its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature children of wrath.

Paul tells us in no uncertain terms here that as unbelievers we conformed to the ruler of the power of the air (Satan), who is a spirit... and who has unnumerable spirits working under him to deceive, destruct, and destroy. Furthermore, he tells of what kind of people we are while under these spiritual influences.

We are dead, sinful, cravers of the flesh (our sinful nature), indulging desires and thoughts of our flesh, children of wrath... Yikes (that last one always gets me!) I've been there friends and Paul ain't overselling this. This verse is exactly what I was and did in my sin.

But God promises such treasures for those who choose to be influenced by the Holy Spirit! His Word gives hope, wisdom revelation, an enlightened heart, riches of His inheritance.... the list could go on and on!

Ephesians 1:15-21 

For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers and asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in your knowledge of Him. I ask that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know the hope of His calling, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and the surpassing greatness of His power to us who believe. He displayed this power in the working of His mighty strength, which He exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come.

I was deeply, deeply under Satanic influence during my affair. It is no coincidence that Gabe was led to these verses to combat the evil surrounding me. I desperately needed to new influence... an enlightened heart, and spirit of wisdom and revelation to show me the knowledge of God. I needed to choose a different spirit, to change sides and allegiances. I needed the Holy Spirit.

Today, I challenge you to ask the Father for His Spirit of wisdom and revelation. We all are under a spiritual influence... I cannot overstate this scriptural fact. More importantly, we don't just get a 'pass' because we know outside forces are trying to influence us. Influence is the operative word here dear ones- action is on us. Our actions and inactions are our decision, our choice, our responsibility- regardless of the spirits at work. Using 'bad influences' as an excuse at the gates of Heaven won't cut it. Furthermore, not believing it or subscribing to that 'spiritual' ideology 'mumbo-jumbo' personally also doesn't give you a pass in the heavenlies... if anything, the naivete makes you more wide open to the very influences you don't believe in! This is truth- plain and simple, and I'm a walking, talking example of someone who's been on both sides of the battle. It is REAL dear ones!

Which side is calling the shots in your life? Which influence are you working under? Who is the spirit/Spirit in your life that you pledge allegiance to? The gift of the Holy Spirit is free for all who want it! Here's a few more verses to help shed some light down the Holy Spirit-led path....

Isaiah 11:2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him, The spirit of wisdom and understanding, The spirit of counsel and strength, The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.

2 Timothy 1:7

For God has not given us a spirit of timidity,but of power, love, and self-control.

Romans 8:15

For you did not receive a spirit of slavery that returns you to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!"

 

I urge you to choose the Holy Spirit, to choose hope and wisdom, to choose life and life abundantly!

If you feel the Holy Spirit is pursuing you (which He is....!) and you want to know more about giving Him control of your life, please follow this link and we'll walk down the path to salvation together. 

Why the Grass Always Seems Greener on that Last Hill

I've noticed an interesting trend in my spiritual thought-life recently. It would seem that I live somewhat under the conviction that my last season of growth with God was better than my current one. I find myself looking back on myself from the previous season and feeling as though I'm just not 'doing it as well' now. I mourn that my walk seems more stagnant and my joy less jubilant, my prayer life less disciplined and the lessons I'm learning somehow not as impactful. I peer into the past and the spiritual education I was receiving and I am awed at times. I look back and see the huge strides my life displayed. Hindsight being 20/20 as they say, I think I like to reminisce back and see God's hand in my life. It strengthens my faith and shows me the places I've come from. But hindsight doesn't give us foresight, unfortunately. And when I compare those past seasons of my life to today's... suddenly it feels that today is not as good as it used to be.

The grass seems greener on that last hill I was on.

And I want to go back.

The really odd thing is that this has been happening for several seasons now. Each new one I enter into, I find myself looking back to the last with longing and not a small bit of envy and jealousy for that younger Bethany who seemed to have it more together. I'm well into a fourth season of doing this, and it's just now occurring to me that this has somehow become a thing in my life.

It was brought to my attention in my devo last night in Psalm 42, when David is bemoaning the better, more ecstatic and jubilant spiritual times.

I can sympathize with the king here. I get the whole reminiscing with bittersweet and sometimes angst-ridden cries out to God that things just aren't what they used to be- that the grass used to be greener- that I want to go back to that other time. I was doing better and more for You during that other season. I was growing and learning and more filled on that other hill.

And yet, ironically, time has told me more than once that this current season will be one of growth and 'greenness' too. I'm well into years of doing this bizarre looking-back and can see by the trend that this current season I'm in will quickly become the new 'best season and greenest hill' pretty much the second I leave it. That's clearly my MO. So why not quit looking back and start looking at the growth and uniqueness of this time and place?

I think God doesn't mind us peering back down the road from where we came- doing that allows us the 'Footprints in the sand' scenario. We can see missteps, trials and tribulations, and most importantly God's hand much more clearly in our life. Hindsight is a great faith-displayer and encourager. But it's not a faith-builder.

Here and now is the work of faith- this place, this season.

This hill, where I stand this moment, is the faith-builder in my life.

I think it's somewhat natural to compare... and it makes sense visually in my head. The law of reaping and sowing takes effect here. Of course all those past hills look green and lush and beautiful. If we are spiritually sowing good seeds, those seeds are now sprouting and growing and thriving. They are turning those past seasons of our lives (hard or easy- it matters not!) into glorious and breathtaking hills of lush, green, fragrant, flowered visions. And as the days pass, those seeds just continue to thrive. Each hill as I walk back to in my memory becomes more and more green. Even by this point, the extremely difficult seasons of my life are green. Looking back on those carries no sting, no judgement, no condemnation... all I see is God's mighty work in my life. Yes, even those hills are green by now.

And yet, I think I want this current season I'm in to be more. It's not like it's a barren wasteland... in fact it's quite nice. But when compared to last season (which, let's keep in mind, has several years of growth on it now...) today seems a bit 'blah' at times. I want it like that hill instead.

I don't know if anyone else every feels this way. It's only been brought to my attention by the Holy Spirit this week that I've even been doing it! But I've been convicted to try to be more present and see the grass on my current hill. Or better yet, if there's none... that's okay. God has called me to plant some. I think for me there is a small bit of unfaithfulness displayed in me when I keep wanting to compare and look back. God is faithful (as He's clearly shown by my excellent hindsight vision!) and He will be faithful today on this hill for this season. I need to be faithful in being present with Him as well.

This season and this hill may not seem up to par with the previous ones... however,  I must remember that I am sowing seeds- good seeds- and this one will eventually be just as beautiful and lush as the previous ones. My only hope is that I will look back on it with gladness and encouragement and not envy or longing for 'better times'.

Because in the end, the best time with God is always right now.

In Need of More ~ A guest post by Lindsey Gibson

Frantically, I dig through my purse looking for lunch money I had forgotten to give. Impatiently I fuss,”Who put all of this in here?”  “Why can’t you remind me sooner? “ “I’m sick of this! I can’t do this! You’ll just have to go without,” as the contents of my purse are tossed everywhere. Mind you, all of this taking place in the school drop off area, while cars wait behind us. They, my children, have no other choice but to exit. The door slammed shut, and the example of love and patience departed as well. Frustrated, I grit my teeth and proclaim, “I cannot do this! I cannot do this, anymore! I hate my stupid brain, why can’t I get it together?” I look down at the heaped mess in the seat and scan evidence of an apparent struggle, while the hot darts of defeat are set and ready to fire. I blew it, again!

Fear and heaviness sink on my shoulders as changes swirl around our family, and the simple tasks seem huge in the midst of the uncomfortable stretching place we are wading. With resolve, I come to terms, once again, that I DO NOT have it together. It’s obvious that achieving whatever picture I’ve painted of what “together” looks like is forever out of reach.

Lately, it takes all energy to get out of the house in the morning, and one setback can set the mood for the rest of the ride.

I sent my kids to school without money to eat. Check.

I let them see me frantic and frustrated. Check.

I mumble, “I’m, obviously, in need of more…”Sleep? Medication? Quiet Time? People to do more?

With defeat, I pray…

“Lord, I’m sorry, I’m sorry I lost it. I want to have it together, but the more I try, the more it crumbles. I want to be a good wife and mother. I want to be all you want me to be. Surely, you won’t fulfill all in our lives, if handling such minimal tasks like facing the pressure of morning mother hood and car line in such a horrible way."

I confess, I. AM NEEDY!......I mean, the disgustingly and clingy needy….For more of HIM!

As I prayed and pondered a calm assurance from the Holy Spirit flooded my frustrated  and fearful heart. With a gentle reminder, in the way he does, I realized that I am, undoubtedly, in need of more…..GRACE.

What is it? How do I get it?

Hebrews 4:16 (NASB), tells us,"Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." At all times, we are welcomed and encouraged by right and privilege to boldly cry out, openly and without fear, to our Heavenly Father. YES, he is God! YES, he is all-knowing and powerful, but his ear turns to the cry of his sons and daughters.

It was much harder before the cross, but through Jesus, it is, according to, Colossians 1:21-22, "And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His (Jesus) fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him(God the Father) holy and blameless and beyond reproach." Furthermore, Hebrews 10:19 (NASB) tells us, "Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus…"

Out of mercy, he lowers the kindness rope to rescue us out of our miserable and muddied mess, to bathe us in his grace, which is joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, love and favor. In other words, he loves us despite our mud pie making ways. Gosh, we are such Daddy’s girls, aren’t we? I mean, being adored despite thick sludge is quite amazing, and as we shower in his grace, presence, and word, we are strengthened and refreshed. We, then, can move forward in faith and knowledge, therefore, gain the ability to fulfill our purpose by his design.

As the realization pricked my overwhelmed heart, I began to exhale. I don’t have to do it alone and everything I need is free for the taking, My first step is to ask ,with all assurance that what I lack is made abundant and available out of pure love, and he gladly takes it from there.

The move of surrender is a mighty one!  Wow! Why do we make it so hard? Our wish may be to please him with our efforts, actions, and performance, but truly the greatest step is one of surrender.

He wont take what we still hold, but gladly accepts what we give. 

 

Lindsey's blog can be found here. She is a Jesus Lovin', Vintage Treasure Huntin',Turquoise Adorin', Tennessee girl! If you spend any time on her website, you'll find yourself wanting to buy all her dresses (I'm kinda jealous of her wardrobe, not gonna lie!) Please take a moment and drop by it! Her passion is to teach, write, and speak into the lives of women the unfailing Love of Jesus Christ, and ignite a passion for God's word within their hearts. She is a wife, mother, and nurse. Lindsey, thank you for your heart of flesh and sharing with me and my readers today! ~B

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!