Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers

Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers                                                    

“You will know them by their fruits.”    –Matthew 7:16a

Ah, the providential prowess of Peter Piper.  Little did I know how scriptural this nursery rhyme was until just the other day.  While picking the last of the peppers for the season, I couldn’t help but think of this tongue twister as I snipped each banana, bell, cayenne, and jalapeno pepper from its stalk.  But as I picked a peck of peppers (for pepper jelly, not for pickling), I noticed something I hadn’t before.  With the removal of each pepper, the stalk rose higher; it almost seemed relieved to be rid of the fruit it had gloriously produced.  As I picked, the plant perked; here a pick, there a pick and everywhere a perk, perk.  And that’s when the scriptural truth struck me…it is profitable to bear fruit, but it’s pointless if the fruit isn’t picked!  Like I said, Peter Piper knew what he was doing because, as the rhyme goes, Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.  He didn’t pat them, pinch them, or pamper them.  He picked them.  They were ripe, they were ready, and so they were reaped.

Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do with fruit?  Isn’t it meant to be picked?  We use the analogy of “bearing fruit” and of “being fruitful” because Jesus did…and Paul did.  In John 15:5, Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”  From this, we can see that the bearing of fruit is not only a natural result of our connection to God, it is a necessary outgrowth of our relationship with God.  Then, in Galatians 5:22, Paul writes about the fruit we can bear when we allow the Spirit to germinate within us.  He states, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”  Again, the evidence of our faith is found in our fruit.  But we would be remiss if we thought that the bearing of fruit was all God required of us; if our branches were bedecked and our boughs were bejeweled, how would that be beneficial to the kingdom?  We’d look prolific, but that isn’t the point of bearing fruit.  Isn’t the true value of the fruit found when it is harvested?  After all, the fruit isn’t meant to feed the tree but to feed those who come to the tree.

As I noticed on the pepper plant, with the picking of each pepper, the plant’s branches rose higher.  Once the fruit was removed from the stalk, the plant was able to regain its stature and once again stand erect.  Odd as it may sound, the fruit that was first fed by the plant had become the fruit that now fed upon the plant.  By nature’s law, unpicked fruit can actually become a burden rather than a bounty.  I find that to be interesting.  Being fruitful is good, but it’s only the beginning; until it’s plucked, packed, and passed out, it hasn’t become profitable…it hasn’t fulfilled its purpose.  And, if the fruit isn’t removed, the plant will become burdened under the weight of its bounty.

Have you ever been weighted down?  Have you ever felt as if you needed a stake or two placed beside you to support your bottom and a wire trellis around you to sustain your branches?  Sometimes we can feel this way because we’re not receiving the nutrients we need…because we’re not abiding in the Branch.  But sometimes we may feel burdened with a load of fruit because we haven’t allowed it to be picked from our branches.  After feeding things for a while, we may have the tendency to want them to hang around; when this happens, our gifts become our guile and we exchange our harvest for a heavy burden.  Jesus did call on us to be fruitful.  In fact, it’s in the production of much fruit that we glorify our Father in Heaven.  (John 15:8)  But His intention was never for us to be productive for its own sake but for the sake of others.  In this same verse (John 15:8), Jesus says that “in this”, the bearing of fruit, we will show ourselves to be His disciples.  Disciples are those who bear fruit so that others may be nourished and likewise bear fruit of their own so that still others might also be nourished, and so on, and so on (2 Timothy 2:2).

It’s a natural response, this bearing of fruit.  It’s evident in nature and it’s meant to be evident in the lives of those who are rooted and staked and trellised to their Heavenly Father.  If a pepper plant can be fruitful, surely I can be as well.  And, if a fictional character has sense enough to pick produce, then surely I can have at least as much wisdom as he.  With that said, I will do a little examination on my own branches during this harvest season.  First, I will see if there is any fruit that is growing (oh, I hope there is!); then, I will see if there are fruits that need to be picked.  Are there any that are making me droop because they’ve reached maturity?  Are they feeding on me rather than feeding from me?  If so, it’s time for them to be harvested for the good of the grower and the glory of the Gardener.  And, should I find myself plucked of my fruit with branches no longer bending, may I look forward to new seasons with new growth and allow my newly unencumbered limbs to give praise to the One who not only purposefully plans my proliferation but also perfectly pinpoints the picking of my propagation.

And so I say, Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers; it’s scriptural, it’s spiritual, it’s script-able.  May we all go and do likewise.

peter piper

God’s Paper Clips

God’s Paper Clips

“I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered.”  Isaiah 56:8

 Have you ever used a magnet to make a magnet?  I remember doing an experiment in science in which we would try to see how many paper clips we could pick up, end to end, with a magnet.  After the paper clips stayed in the chain for an extended period of time we’d find that they had magnetic qualities of their own.  Then, we would make chains with the paper clips apart from the magnet.  They were never as strong without the larger magnet, but, for a while, they were quite “attractive”.

Recently, while reading about God’s assignment to all His followers (known to most as the Great Commission), I remembered this experiment and thought about how rightly it portrayed our relationship, our connection, with God and with others.  We are, in a sense, God’s paper clips!  As He draws us to Himself, His power works in us and then through us to draw others to Himself.  Even in our weakness, we are useful to God as He chooses to work through man to reach man.  His method.  His means.  His magnetism.   Who knew how deeply insightful an experiment with paper clips could be?  By pulling this lesson out of the textbook and placing it alongside The Word-book, we can examine the similarities between magnetism and ministry; between desirability and discipleship.

In looking at magnetism, the first thing we notice, the most obvious thing to notice, is that not all objects respond to a magnet.  Items such as paper, wood, and glass are no more attracted to a magnet than I am attracted to liver!  And, while they manage to avoid the magnet without grimacing, their distaste for its poles is just as real.  Through this we learn the two characteristics needed for objects to become magnetic:  they must have atoms that are free to move about, to be realigned, and they must have an unequal number of protons and electrons.  These two qualities are vital because magnetism results when the atoms in an object are able to be aligned so they can move in the same direction and when they have either a positive or a negative charge.  Neutrality may be an effective political pole, but it is inept as a magnetic pole!  So, when we encounter items that are not impacted by a magnet, we know that either their atoms are too “set in their ways” and therefore can’t be realigned (can you predict where, shortly, I will go with this?), or that their electrons and protons are so well-matched that they are unable to give off any charge…they are neither positive nor negative; neither hot nor cold (sound familiar…can you say Laodicean?).  Oh my, magnetism has so much to teach us!

The second thing we learn about magnetic objects is that in order for them to retain their magnetic status, they must either have an electric current running through them (as is true for electromagnets) or they must continually be impacted by a larger, stronger, magnet so that their alignment stays true.  Wow!  I don’t think I even need to connect the dots that just surfaced.  I trust you can make out the picture even before the lines are drawn!  But, you came to read and I showed up early to write, so let’s both do what we came to do and complete this picture!

As I stated at the beginning, when it comes to our usefulness to God, we may think of ourselves as His paper clips.  And, if we are the paper clips, then God is the magnet; He is the source that both attracts us and then realigns us to go out and do likewise…to attract others; not by our power but by HIs, and not to ourselves but to His side.  In applying the truths identified regarding magnetism, we must now stand beside them to see how truly they apply to us, the paper clips.  First, we must ask ourselves if we are truly attractable.  Do we have a metal core or are we literally “paper” clips (with no magnetic qualities) which are unable to feel the pull of the Magnet?  Are we trying to live apart from the force field exuding from our Creator?  Are our atoms of assumption so fixed that, even when jostled about, they cannot break free enough to be realigned?  Do trials make us hold more tightly to our false hopes rather than freeing us to let go…and let God?  In order to be holy aligned, we first must be wholly unaligned.  Randomness must go for order, and attraction, to emerge.

Secondly, once our atoms are moving in the same direction, we must look to see if we are giving off a charge.  Are we attracting others by our positive charge?  If so, our protons are dominate and are actively impacting others.  Or, are we seeing more of a negative charge because, as is also true for magnets, we are pushing others away rather than pulling them in?  We must always examine our force field to see if we are pushing or pulling.  And even then, we must examine what we are pushing and what we are pulling.  Bar magnets don’t discriminate; believer magnets do!  Some things shouldn’t be picked up and some things should be pushed away.  We would be wise to examine the items within our force field to make sure our pushes and our pulls are working for our good and for His glory!

But, what if there isn’t anything in our force field because we don’t have one?  What if, in our effort to have everything orderly, with no room for occasional disorder, we find our protons and electrons are perfectly arranged?  While we might think this state of uniformity is desirable, and certainly more predictable and manageable, we must face the fact that it makes us ineffective for the kingdom.  In Revelation 3:15, a reproof is given to the church in Laodicea because they are neither hot nor cold, but are lukewarm.  Cold water is refreshing; hot water is comforting; lukewarm water is bland and purposeless.  To this people, God says “I will spit you out of My mouth.”  This, I fear, is just as prevalent among people today as it was in the first century.  We don’t have to look far to find areas in which neutrality is desired at the cost of truth.  If truths convict, they are closeted; if absolutes agitate, they are abolished; if principles are problematic, they are perforated.  And what fills the void following their removal?  Preferences, pacifications, and placations.  All neutral; all lukewarm; all void of a charge; all unable to pick up a single paper clip.

Finally, let’s hope that, at least in our mind’s eye, our atoms are rightly aligned and we are giving off a positive charge.  Now, when we look up, we see we are attached…and more importantly we feel the attachment…to God and when we look around we see other paper clips are extending from us.  How wonderful!  God is in us and is working through us to reach others!  We are New Testament believers who are God’s witnesses in Judea, in all Jerusalem and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).

We are living out 2 Timothy 2:2 which says, “And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”  One paper clip, two paper clips, three paper clips, more.  At this point, are there any other laws of magnetism that apply to us?  Oh, but there are.  First, there is the fact that we all tend to return to a state of randomness if we are not kept close to the source of our strength.  If we are not continually rubbing against the larger magnet we will eventually lose our charge and our atoms will return to their natural state of disorder.  As we apply this to our lives, we are reminded of the necessity of staying in God’s word, of spending time in prayer, and of worshipping with believers through our local church.  Next, we must remember that sometimes, because this world tends to pull on us as well, our atoms get discombobulated and we need to be realigned.  While this occurs through spending more time in the presence of our Master Magnet, it sometimes involves a great shake-up that breaks all our misaligned atoms free from what is holding them so that, once shaken free, they are once again moveable and able to travel in the right direction.  We tend to think that, once we are attached upwardly and attracting outwardly that there won’t be any more chaos.  Unfortunately, we will never fully escape the pull of the world until we are finally out of this world and, therefore, the shake-ups will occur, but never for our undoing and always for our redoing.

Magnetism, paper clips, alignment, and discipleship; all are found within the same force field and all are scientifically accurate because they are Biblically true.  What a God, what a Magnet; what a pull, what an attraction.  May we all be held in God’s power, charged by His strength, and filled with His current so that “others might also be gathered” to His throne.  (Isaiah 56:8).