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Fruitfulness

 

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From the very beginning of the beginning, the Bible points to his lush creation. In Genesis we see a fruitful tree and we see a fruitful tree again near the end of Revelation. And throughout this fascinating story, we hear God’s admonishment to be fruitful.

 

Fruitfulness is spoken of not just in producing children, but also in the New Testament we are commanded to be fruitful in relation to Christ-like characteristics. We are to be fruitful also in making disciples to follow this Savior and soon-coming King. The word fruitful appears three dozen times in scripture.

 

But what does being fruitful look like?vitor-lopes-1141087-unsplash

 

Does it vary in season for us?

 

Growing up in the Midwest United States on a farm gave me a front row seat at fruitfulness in the orchard, assorted other fruit trees, garden, and fields of my father. As a child it was so common to me that I did not even appreciate how “rich” we were around our table as a result of my father and mother’s labor. (In money we were not rich, but I did not yet know there were other ways to measure wealth.)

 

The apples, pears, plums, cherries, raspberries, strawberries, rhubarb, blueberries, and blackberries grew at various times on our 60-acre farm. There were vegetables and our own eggs, milk, and meat.

 

roberta-sorge-143084-unsplashSo many years later I can experience the sensory memory of my father’s smokehouse with sides of bacon and ham hanging inside or the sweet smells of cherries or peaches being canned by my mother in the kitchen.

 

In reading Margaret Feinberg’s new book, Taste and See: Discovering God Among Butchers, Bakers, and Fresh Food MakersI learned about a tree that did not grow on our farm…the fig tree. Some of us may never have tasted a fresh fig and only know the taste of dried figs in various baked goodies. But discovering the individual qualities of the fig tree reminded me that my father handled each fruit tree and each thing planted in our garden according to its unique nature. Yes, there were similarities and some things were true for all of them, but one of the things I greatly loved about my father was the knowledge and respect he had for all living things he was stewarding on the farm.

 

That reminded me of my heavenly Father as I became an adult and understood more about growing things. You see I think it is quite apparent that God sees our uniqueness, our foibles and the gifts He has tucked inside. He stewards our growth over time knowing just what pruning needs to be done, what nutrients we need, and how we need to be tended to be fruitful and grow in his likeness. He is often referred to as a shepherd and He is that, but I also believe He is a gardener as well.

 

It can be easy when we have been a believer for a bit and know about fruitfulness to matthias-heil-156834-unsplashapply that old habit of comparison into our observations of others and ourselves. From Margaret’s book I learned some things about the fig tree that might rein in that habit.

 

“From a distance, the fig tree appears fruitless, only when we draw closer does the fruit appear.” 

Margaret Feinberg

 

Tucked inside this sentence I see that too often we measure fruitfulness from a distance. That is a limited view indeed and one far too common. But when we get closer not only can we observe fruitfulness in others, they can observe ours as well. Perhaps that is what makes it easier to stay on the periphery of our relationships where we can talk about such matters with ease and yet not be seen for who we are or are not.

 

How quickly we forget that the Lord looks at our hearts and knows us intimately. He doesn’t look at the latest “headline” about us or check Twitter. He doesn’t count how many friends we have on Facebook or if we even have an account. He doesn’t consider us unfit for use if we are “too young” or “too old.”

 

Listen to something the fig tree can demonstrate for us:

 

 “Unlike most fruit trees, figs are multi-cropping, which means they are harvested numerous times each year.”  Margaret Feinberg

 

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Never on our farm did we have a tree that produced multiple harvests each year.

 

There are other lessons to be learned from the fig tree:

 

  • Figs ripen slowly (“so Scripture ripens with new discoveries as we study. The more one observes, the more one discovers.”)

 

  • It was a sycamore-fig tree that Zacchaeus had climbed into to get a glimpse of Jesus (“The Hebrew name for the sycamore-fig is shikma, a word whose root means ‘rehabilitate.’)

 

  • A wild fig tree can produce 10,000 figs a year, but a cultivated fig tree produce 50,000 to 75,000 figs

 

As I consider the fruitfulness of the fig tree, some of Margaret’s words linger in my mind, heart, and spirit:

 

“God isn’t waiting for one particular season in the distant future to yield fruitfulness in our lives. He’s working throughout every season and every harvesting cycle.”

  

“Sooner or later we’ll all be tempted to believe that our best days are behind us. We’ll measure ourselves more by what we can no longer do than by what we still can. We’ll feel washed up and washed out. But the fig tree challenges this expectation, too. One of the beauties of the fig is that, once planted, the tree will continue to produce fruit for eighty to a hundred years. That’s Christ’s vision for us: that we will continue to yield the fruit of Christlikeness and find our satisfaction in him long after gray hairs sprout and crow’s feet nestle near our eyes.”

 Margaret Feinberg

 

How powerful are the lessons about fruitfulness we can glean that appears over and over again from the beginning of God’s story in Genesis to the very end of the book of Revelation. 

Taste and See…

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Taste and See

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Stepping into the pages of a new Margaret Feinberg book for me is like opening a gift from a friend. I can’t wait to discover what’s inside. That was exactly what happened when I had an opportunity to be a part of her launch team for her newly published book, Taste and See: Discovering God Among Butchers, Bakers, and Fresh Food Makers.

 

What I most love about Margaret’s writing is that I know I will always discover something new about God’s Word or some aspect of it that will draw me into a treasure hunt to uncover even more of Him.

 

In Taste and See Margaret shows how prominent a role food plays throughout the Bible agriculture-antioxidant-carrot-33307and points us to how it helps us grow hungry for Him and savor his goodness in our lives. Consider that the book of Genesis “unfolds like a feast with fruits and vegetables everywhere.”

 

We know that we are dependent on food, but have you ever considered God intended it for pleasure as well? He didn’t need to give us “between 2,000 and 10,000 taste buds, each one harboring 50 to 100 receptors that distinguish between five main flavors.”

 

We live in a busy world and most of our lives reflect it. Instead of the time once spent around a table enjoying foods made in our kitchen and conversation giving us connection, we are more commonly grabbing food on the run that we picked up at a deli, ordered from the local pizza shop, or purchased at our favorite fast-food chain.

 

Margaret helps the reader see once again that “something beautiful happens when we gather around the table.” She also points out how often we see Jesus in the midst of enjoying a meal, on his way to one, or providing for one by turning water into wine or multiplying loaves and fish.

 

Listen to her words and how they resonate:

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“Around the table, we discover something about longing. We recognize our need for someone to look us in the eye and truly see us, for someone to lean in and listen to us, for someone to nod and acknowledge that we’re not alone.”

 

Margaret zeroes in on “six foods God uses to reveal and heal our deepest hungers.”  But if you know anything about Margaret, you know she will not simply read up on them. She travels to spend time with the people who know these foods the best and learns about them firsthand with those intimately acquainted with every aspect of them.

 

Each of six chapters in the book focuses on one of these six foods and she caps off the chapter with some recipes highlighting the food you have just learned about. Margaret reminds us that God wants to satisfy our hunger including “the deepest hunger of our hearts.”

 

In addition to the book, you might want to enjoy an accompanying Bible study that includes DVD’s, a leader’s guide and a study book. Tucked in each session is an extra 48918856_10216145671607647_4246457281069187072_nrecipe to try and activities to bring home the truths of the study.

 

Yes, I loved this book and all I learned and how it drew me into deeper insights into hunger both for natural food created by God and spiritual food He offers me if I will but take time to “taste and see.”

 

“God is waiting around every table, in every pantry, in every backyard garden. You just need some fresh ingredients, some time, and a friend or two. No matter where we find ourselves, mealtimes can become sacred spaces of supernatural satisfaction. When we invite God in, he satiates our hunger to know and to be known, to understand and to be understood, to love and to be loved. In community, God touches our physical appetites and spiritual affections.”

Margaret Feinberg

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Who’s on First?

 

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In the 1940’s and early 1950’s, the American comedy duo, Abbott and Costello, were known for their patter comedy routine “Who’s on First?”  It’s one of the best-known comedy routines of all time set in the context of a baseball game. Though this duo has passed from the scene, many of you may have heard it. If not, be sure to look online for a chance to see it.

 

In the sketch Abbott and Costello are going to New York City where Abbott is supposed to have a new job as the coach for the Yankees. Costello wants to know who the players are and the comedic lines begin when he asks Abbott, “Who’s on first?”   (I can’t do justice to telling you the rest so check it out for yourself if you wish and enjoy the clean humor of a bygone era.)

 

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Photo by Brandon Mowink

The question of “who’s on first” goes far beyond a comedic routine about a baseball team, however. It points to a question of priorities that can be about persons in our lives. That sounds straightforward enough and most of us can give the “right answer” of who that is supposed to be, but whether our behaviors and choices reflect that might tell a different story. Intentionality is needed to have behaviors and choices line up with the statements.

 

As I was reflecting on that over the last few weeks, I started to do some personal evaluation.

 

Of all my earthly relationships, my husband of 54 years certainly comes first, but I wondered how I demonstrate that specifically. I think I do, but it occurred to me that I wanted to be more deliberate in showing it.

 

I put together a very special Christmas gift box that I hope will remind my dear man of what I tell him in words. It was what I call a “Box of Dates.”  Inside the box was a letter IMG_4634describing my goal and intent and two small envelopes with a note inside each. One envelope was marked December 2018 and the other January 2019. The letter of instruction said that he was to open the one for December 2018 first and in it he would find a date I had planned and paid for and that it must be used before December 31, 2018. Any time after January 1, 2019, he could open the second note and discover the next date that he could spend any time during the month of January. Then he was to place the box on the desk in the den and notes for February and March would be tucked inside.

 

I wanted the dates to give us new memories, time to chat, and to do some things we do not routinely do on a “date night.”

 

art-beverage-break-395181He has opened that first envelope and it involved going to a wonderful new Italian coffee shop and bakery he had never visited where he could choose to indulge in the great coffee and Italian fried chocolate cream-filled doughnuts or gelato. It was great fun, but whether this yearlong gift accomplishes what I hope will not be clear until we come to the end of the year

 

While I was reading in 1 Samuel the Lord brought that same question to mind as I observed David’s life. He was “a man after God’s own heart,” and yet the story shows that David (like any one of us) sometimes allowed the Lord to slip from first place in his life.

 

I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t ever work very well for me. Even above my husband, the Lord needs to be first…not just because the Word shows me that, but because when He is in that place everything in my life is ordered and aligned. That results in every aspect of my life (physical, emotional, mental, relational, and spiritual) going more smoothly. I also discover I invariably carry out and follow through on all I need or purpose to be and do to a much greater degree.

 

Doing that is not as easy as I wish. It seems anything and everything is arrayed to dissuade me whether it is sleepiness, electronic devices, appointments, or an endless list of options life or the enemy can throw my way.

 

Any one of us can be duped into thinking that even if we didn’t make Him “first” one day, spend time with Him “first” one day, that we are still going to be okay and regain his bible-blur-book-273936proper place. Certainly there is grace for that and life happens and throws all of us curve balls. It isn’t about legalism that I seek to keep straight “who’s on first,” but rather out of an awareness of the truth of a commentary note in my Bible for 1 Samuel 14 that reads as follows:

 

“When God does not occupy first place, he seldom remains long in second, but is quickly relegated to ever lower standing, until he is forgotten altogether.”

 

Ouch!

 

One of the key indicators of “who’s on first” is what time I invest in that relationship. Am I doing for Him or am I growing with Him in intimacy?

 

How about you?

 

Who’s on first?

 

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Becoming Gertrude

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Friendship is significant to women of all ages, but often a tricky thing to develop and maintain over time and different seasons if depth and growth are to be hallmarks of the relationship.

 

Into this arena comes Janice Peterson in a new book entitled Becoming Gertrude: How Our Friendships Shape Our Faith.  Janice learned about lifelong bonds of friendship when a Southern neighbor invited her onto her back porch for lemonade and conversation. That seemingly casual relationship began to shape Janice’s faith and views on friendship that has been deepened by the wisdom of an octogenarian who lived as the wife of Eugene Peterson for more than 60 years.

 

Over the years of Janice’s life she passed on to other women what she learned through a treasured spiritual friendship with Gertrude Floyd while they sipped lemonade on her back porch. Now she has written a delightful book to share with readers what she gleaned. She points to the friendship she refers to as spiritual friendship,”  one that nourishes and nurtures.

 

Friendships require intentionality to grow and develop and help us see ourselves more clearly. Janice describes friendship this way:

 

“Good friends challenge us in the areas where we are weak and encourage us forward. Spiritual friendship takes us to a depth of relationship that enriches us both − it’s hard to stay shallow when we decide to be honest about our relationship with God and what he is teaching us. When we invest in those sorts of friendships, every part of our lives becomes richer, because we are allowing God to speak into all of our experiences.”

 

Janice goes on to identify and write about five elements of spiritual friendship − caring, accepting, serving, offering hospitality, and encouraging others. She notes that each of these “overlaps and flows through the others, creating a strong cord of friendship that cannot be broken.”

 

This little book offers treasured insights from Janice that you will want to tuck into your heart. Perhaps you glimpse the life of this woman best in these lines by her husband, Eugene Peterson, about her in contrast to him:

 

“While I have written extensively on spiritual theology, she has practiced the art of spiritual friendship, ‘always present, always caring.’ She is the most practical theologian I know. Through the deeply personal friendships she has invested herself in over the course of her lifetime, she has become more her God-created self in the company of others. As I have in hers.”

 

To comply with new regulations introduced by the Federal Trade Commission, Tyndale House Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my review.

 

 

 

 

 

 

His Name Is Jesus

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As I watch the shepherds exit the scene at the manger full of rejoicing, Luke is silent about the immediate days after the birth until the eighth day. This is when we read that circumcision occurs and this Son of God born to Mary and Joseph is officially named Jesus as the angel had spoken before Jesus was conceived.

 

I cannot help but wonder how long Mary and Joseph stayed in Bethlehem. No doubt they were still there for this event. What is not stated is whether they remained there until the days of Mary’s purification were completed which would have been 40 days.

 

Mary would have been recovering from the birth and they needed to accomplish all that the law required of them before the return home. The number of days of purification  were determined because this was a male child and it would mean going to Jerusalem which  was only about seven miles from Bethlehem.

 

If I imagine them staying in Bethlehem for almost a month and a half, I wonder if they stayed in the stable the entire time or if they found other lodging as the crowded city thinned out a bit. Perhaps by then some relative’s home had enough room for them. That would have also been a source of other provisions as well beyond simply a roof over their heads.

 

The Law of Moses required this purification at the forty-day mark for a male child. She was also to bring a burnt offering to the Temple. A lamb was required, but if the couple was poor they were permitted to bring a turtledove for the burnt offering. A sin offering was also required at the same time and this would have been another turtledove or pigeon. If these were too expensive, then fine flour, as an offering would be accepted.

 

Luke tells us in the passage about the turtledoves being brought so it clearly suggests that Mary and Joseph were poor. They were not in abject poverty or we would be reading about flour.

 

As I read this and so many Old Testament passages I am reminded of how many animals were slaughtered, how much blood was spilled over and over again to cover the sins of the people, to attain atonement. And it was never enough.

 

My heart overflows with gratitude for the “perfect lamb” offered as a sacrifice once to atone for all my sins when I receive Him.

 

 As the scene in the Temple opens with Mary and Joseph making the sacrifices required by Mosaic Law, we have his name pronounced. Jesus.

 

Then a man, Simeon, whom Luke describes as devout and righteous, enters the scene. Luke tells us Simeon came into the Temple “in the Spirit”. We learn that this is no ordinary man because he has been patiently waiting for the consolation of Israel, the Messiah. God had promised him that he would not die before he saw this child. What an incredible promise and gift!! What an honor for Simeon!

 

And now the one, who has been so blessed, takes Jesus in his arms. I can only imagine the joy that flowed through Simeon as he gazed into the face of this baby, Jesus, Son of God, Consolation of Israel, and the Messiah.

 

Simeon blesses the child and praises God while also proclaiming who Jesus was as well as His purpose of salvation. He also blesses Mary and Joseph. Then he speaks prophetically to and about Mary telling her what this child was appointed to be and do. Did a chill run through her when he said a sword would pierce through her own soul? How she must have wondered at it all and Luke tells us she and Joseph marveled at what Simeon said.

 

But God was not done confirming His Word. The prophetess, Anna, a widow of 84, also is in the Temple at just the time this was all happening. Anna worshipped with prayer and fasting day and night according to Luke. She appears to be standing with Simeon as he has been speaking possibly and she appears to affirm as well this child would provide for the redemption of Jerusalem.

 

I know this story is familiar to you as it is to me, but as I slowly pause as I read these passages I am once again struck by the multiple details God aligned from the very beginning assuring Jesus would be born at the exact place and time He had said would occur.

 

How often does the Lord bring about details that may seem like a coincidence in our lives that actually lead us as He, the Good Shepherd, would choose as a result His love and care for us?

 

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 Have a blessed Christmas and a New Year full of anticipation for His return for the Second Advent. I will return January 2, 2019.