Bearing Fruit

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Today I was making a wonderful new chicken, orzo and fennel soup that requires lemon and dill as the finishing touches. Don’t get all FOOD network on me it was easy peasy. Back to the story, as I finished off the soup with the lemon juice I reflected on the origin of that lemon. Years ago my sister bought me a Meyer lemon tree already growing three baby lemons on the wee little tree. I planted it with ever so much care and when the three ripened I put one literally in the offering plate at church praying for a bumper crop from then on. Silly, I know, but lemons are a big deal to me. I grew up in a farmer’s family and production is paramount. So with that mentality and with great anticipation, each spring I would see the buds and the bees and celebrate what was to come. Each year, five years running, nothing; absolutely nothing. I watered, tended, fertilized, trimmed and seriously was ready by year six to take an ax to the tree and start over. Lost cause! Right? After all I’ve been buying lemons way too long, right?  Disappointment grew by the year. It was a fruit tree, dog gone it, and nothing to prove that was the case except for the greenest leaves you could imagine. Oh, years back I saw and tasted the two remaining lemons but now, zilch, nothing. I expected lemons, not oranges, or plums which incidentally those trees are producing bumper crops on the same plot of land.

I thought of Jesus and the fig tree with all its beautiful leaves and no figs. He cursed it and it withered. I had an ax and I could do the same! Each year I grudgingly gave it “one” more chance with full anticipation it would hand over those yellow beauties. I truly identified with Jesus’ frustration and ultimate judgment over the fig tree and me with my Meyer lemon tree that is seriously negative of lemons. This last year I told my sister I was sadly removing her gift because of its barrenness. She begged me to give it another chance. LOL. Not so LOL. It’s just a tree, right?

Nearly, six years is enough time to measure a tree and its fruit, right? Jesus is God and knew the ultimate production of figs on that tree He cursed. He knew its full or empty potential, I do not. My lesson in this is that I had better not give up so quickly on lemons, or people, or even myself when it takes years to produce. Only God knows the hearts of men, what fruit they will ultimately bear, and the timing of that. Some trees and people tap in early to Jesus and are powerhouses of produce. They share with everyone, ooze Jesus, have “God stories”, and scripture in their hearts. Some are slower yet gain momentum as God infuses life in them. To be perfectly honest, it took some 19 years before I abided in Jesus and I betcha my fruit was puny, if any, to start with! So glad Jesus saw my potential and didn’t curse me but chose instead to bless my life forever. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5 The trick is abiding in Jesus and those little blossoms needed to stay abiding on the lemon tree instead of flying off with the first rain or wind. The same is true in my life. If I don’t abide and hang on to the life giving power of Jesus, then I’ll fly off with the many storms in life and sadly there will be no testimony to others of His life-giving power and enduring love. I can only produce when I hang on to Jesus. “This is my command—be strong and courageous!  Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord our God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

I know your dying to know the outcome of my Meyer. Year six, Spring came and 6 massive lemons larger than my hand are my produce. And yes, my lemon was the final garnishing of my soup. What if….. I had given up on it, what if I give up on myself or others? I’ll never see the abiding power of God working.  Oh, Jesus help me hang on to You so I can garnish this world for YOU! “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases Him.” Philippians 2:13

-Mary Maggard

Low On Ice

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After 21 years my good old refrigerator took a turn for the worse, taking on daily water that if not soaked up by towels would have damaged my floors.  So, every single day I cleaned it out and became tethered to this fridge keeping me from going anywhere longer than 24 hours.  Finally, the decision was made to purchase a new refrigerator.  Sticker shock!!!!

The new one was installed and running like a top. It was pretty to boot.  All the bells and whistles new smart refrigerators have. And one smart feature I would soon become aware of.  I notice ice production began to slow in the new refrigerator after we returned from vacation.  It was producing maybe 20 small cubes a day, which wasn’t enough, especially, living in Bakersfield’s notorious hot summers. Reading through the manual, which actually is fun and entertaining to me,  I discovered my fridge is really,  really smart.

The few cubes it was producing were still great, however just not enough to fill a glass more than once in a day. After calling the manufacturer’s service line I was directed to place my iPhone next to a microphone on the refrigerator, and then press a program code.  I’m telling the truth.  The next thing I know my refrigerator is sending an audible signal through my iPhone to the service center.  If that weren’t amazing enough in itself, the information it sent was even more crazy.  It identified not just how many times the doors were opened, but how long I held them open, water flow, ice production, temperature, and the over all functions of its multiple systems. A stem to stern checkup, pronto!! If only an annual physical could be this easy!!!  The service department walked me through how to decrease the temperature setting and reset the ice-maker. Voila!  Within 24 hours of the reset we had ice cascading from the door.

This summer, much like my shiny new fridge I’m pretty sure I too dipped in my “Ice Production”.  My days heated up and my production slowed. I was reading the Word, praying, filling time with worship music and attending church wherever we traveled, but to be honest far less productive than I should have been. All the fundamentals of a strong spiritual life were there but a few things, including a very frustrating health issue, heated me up which began to slow me down. My reduced “ice production”  looked like this. I wasn’t as encouraging nor as diligently praying for others.  I wasn’t frequently checking on those I care about, or reaching out to others with much vigor.  To be quite honest, I was willing to produce only a few cubes of spiritual ice a day, and even worse to be satisfied with my decreased production. How was it that some ice, but not much ice became okay with me?  This realization made me think about the scripture in Revelation 3: 15-16 on lukewarm living and the Lord’s not so positive view of that.

My iPhone was sending signals from my refrigerator so as to diagnose and fix my ice production issue, just as does the Holy Spirit diagnosis issues in my life.  John 14:26 says, “The Helper is the Holy Spirit, The Father will send Him in My (Jesus) place.  He will teach you everything and help your remember everything I have told you.”

When I received the service centers “fix” for my slow ice production problem, I had two choices. First, I could do nothing and sweat through a nearly endless iceless hot summer, or two, change the situation by implementing their fix and thereby have a nearly endless supply of ice all summer long.  When the Holy Spirit reveals those area in my life that need to be changed or corrected, like my iPhone did with the refrigerator, I too have choices to make as the Holy Spirit begins to reveal areas needing change, or course correction necessary if I want an abundant life.  I can do nothing, settling for less, or I can admit my need for Spiritual oomph, and then ask for His direction and power for me to move forward in Him. Today, I choose Him.

Romans 8:26 says “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  We don’t not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.”

The Holy Spirit translates in groaning to deep for words just like my iPhone did for my fridge,  and the Lord God through the Holy Spirit began to urge me to re-evaluate and reset myself through His leading.  I needed oomph and He gave me Oomph.  I needed redirection and He is redirecting me.

Good checkups through the Holy Spirit are always the best way back from a slow spell. Resets are some of God’s best work in me. It causes me to really look at myself through His eyes. It is impossible for me to live my life alone. If He has indeed come that I might have life and have it abundantly then I must not settle for less than that.

2 Corinthians 5:17 says “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things are passed away; behold, new things have come.” That’s a God directed reset.

Romans 6:4says “We therefore were buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may walk in newness of life.

Bring on the ice Lord, please!!!!

-Mary Maggard 

Feeding Our Faith

The story of the feeding of the 5,000 has always intrigued me.  It’s the only story recorded in all four Gospels. In a remote area, five thousand men (many scholars believe the number could be many more if you count women and children) gathered to hear Jesus speak. The day grew late, no one had eaten, and McDonalds was still 2,000 years away.

The disciples presented Jesus with the reasonable solution, “Let’s send everyone away so that they can go to the villages and get food.” Instead Jesus looks at them and says, “You give them something to eat.” {Insert panic attack here.} I can only imagine the thoughts going through their heads. Probably thinking that Jesus had finally gone cray cray (in today’s lingo). But He hadn’t, while the disciples were looking for the easy solution outside of themselves, Jesus was looking among them for the solution to grow their faith.

Let me be real for one moment… I always have a tendency to look for the quickest solution to a problem staring me down, handle it, and move on. Five thousand people were staring them down and a quick solution was at their fingertips, but quick and easy doesn’t mean right. This story challenges me that in ALL things we should seek God. Even if it seems like the answer is right before us.

We know the disciples immediately (again) went to the practical solution and counted up how much it would cost them to feed all the people. “That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we really to go and spend that much?” I can only imagine the small smirk on Jesus’ face, as He knew what the real solution was. He redirects them again and says, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” Seems like a basic question, but let’s put it in real terms. The VBF sanctuary sits close to 3,500, so let’s double that space, fill every open space with people, remove the stage, remove all microphones, we’ll give you a mound so that you can see a little over the crowd. Now, I want YOU to go find out how many people have brought a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with them to church. Seems like a HUGE task that could take a lot of time. After a thorough search, they found the five loaves of bread and two fish. They didn’t give up.

I think after asking the first 500 and finding probably nothing, it would be so easy to give up. “There’s nothing here!” would probably pass through my thoughts again and again. But, they were obedient, having no idea what the future held.

Jesus orders the disciples to gather the crowd into groups of 50. Again, taking our previous image of the VBF sanctuary x2 filled with people, and now YOU are to take that number of people and break them up into groups of 50. Remember, they had just gone through the whole crowd. They knew the only food available were those couple loaves and fish. The scriptures simply said, “They did it.” They didn’t question what Jesus was up to, they started looking for something bigger than themselves.     

I sometimes have wondered why would he want them to be broken up into groups of 50? Wouldn’t that just take extra time for something that may not have been necessary? But after serving Jesus for some time, I have learned that when I am obedient in the small, maybe tedious tasks, He knows I can be faithful in the big things. If the disciples would have thrown up their hands and said “enough” with all these tedious tasks, they would have missed a HUGE miracle! Faithfulness (even when we don’t understand the “why”) is an essential part of our relationship with Jesus!

Jesus looks to heaven, blesses the loaves, and broke them in half. Here’s a key point we shouldn’t miss! He then gives the loaves and fish back to the disciples to distribute. He could have so easily had everyone come straight up to Him to get their food, but instead Jesus ministers to the crowd through the disciples.

Through all these faithful steps He had the disciples take, He knew they were loyal to them. He knew they would give Him the credit and that they would point the crowd back to Jesus. Because of this, they were the ones that were able to show the crowd the miracle. I’m sure Jesus loved to watch His disciple’s faces as they gleamed over the growing supply of food. Jesus desires to use us to bring miracles to fruition!

All ate and were satisfied. The disciples then went around and picked up 12 basketfuls of bread and fish. The result was a miracle of abundance.

Friends, I want a miracle of abundance in my life daily! I want to be overflowing with Jesus. I want people to encounter me and feel like they have encountered their Heavenly Father.  I want to bring God’s miracles into the world and would love him to use my hands and feet to do so. I know I’m on a journey to where I want to be, but I know it starts with faithfulness… even in the crazy things!

Praying for a miracle of abundance in your life today!

-Nicole Dickey