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

In Season and Out of Season

In Season and Out of Season

“But also, for this very reason, with all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love.  For if these things are yours and abound you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”       2 Peter 1:5-8

 As I write this, it is springtime and all around things are blooming, leafing, and pollinating.  It’s a visual banquet for the eyes and, for some, an olfactory explosion for the nose.  But, even amid the sneezes and allegiance to the Kleenex box, it is hard not to appreciate this time of year.  The time of rest has passed; the birds sound the alarm and the blanket of winter is thrown back as confined feet emerge to walk upon the soft grasses of springtime.  Who doesn’t want to be awoken for this?  There’s no snooze button on the seasonal alarm clock because it’s unnecessary…who would opt for another ten minutes of winter when the rays of spring are beckoning them?

It’s funny how the changing seasons affect us.  If you’re like me, you love to see them come…and later go.  Each one becomes my “favorite” on its way in and then, somewhere along the line, it overstays its welcome and its departure is anticipated as I prepare for the arrival of my next “favorite”!  But, even though I enjoy all four seasons, I do hold a deeper fondness for spring and fall.  The cooler temperatures and the emergence of varying colors are two things I never grow tired of.  Then, too, there are the spiritual lessons that are displayed in the foliage associated with each season.  From the display of a tree’s “true colors” in the fall to the display of its “new growth” in the spring, these seasons hold more than a visual appeal; they depict truths that address…and undress… our spiritual senses as well.

If you’ve read more than a couple of my writings, you know I am a “lover of the woods” and that much of what God reveals to me is done among the trees. So it won’t surprise you to learn that He not only teaches me from amid the trees but also through the trees!  Now, I’m not going all “new-agey green” on you; I did not hear God speak to me from out of a tree (that would have been the Lorax and I’m sane enough, and highly well-read enough…I do own every Dr. Seuss book ever written, to know the difference).  No, you will not find me hugging a tree or laying down in front of a bulldozer to extend the life expectancy of a forest, though I do like the feel of trees and I do have a favorite “sitting tree” that I would greatly miss…and would likely defend…if it’s trunk was threatened by an ax.  This most recent lesson was simply presented in the landscape as I took a quick glimpse out of a moving car window.  There, in a pasture, stood three trees; two were completely leafed out and one was completely barren.  The stark contrast of the trees caught my eye and the picture literally seared itself upon my visual cortex.  Even now, I can see the scene so vividly:  two lush, healthy trees; one desolate, sterile tree.  The thought that crossed my mind was how, just a month earlier, these three trees would have looked exactly alike.  Before the change in the seasons, before the call for new growth was given, these trees would have shown no contrast.  In one season, when only rest was required, the barren tree wasn’t evident.  Though already dead on the inside, that wasn’t evident until the season of new growth arrived.  Then, when it couldn’t produce from the emptiness of its trunk or the non-functioning of its root system, the deadness became evident; the unseen became apparent.  And that’s when the lesson, unlike the missing foliage, unfolded.

As I thought about the contrast in the trees I’d seen, I thought how we too are like trees and how our lives are also seasonal.  Just like a tree, we were made to be productive and to “bear after our own kind”.  We were created to have a root system, a trunk, and branches that extend outward and upward.  We were created to bless others with our bounty as well as with our shade and we were created to do what all created things were made to do:  glorify their Maker.  But while doing this, we too go through seasons.  We experience the new birth of spring as we awaken to God’s call and allow His Spirit to generate new growth in us; we move into the season of summer as we actively produce and store food from the resources God has provided all around us; we advance into the season of fall as we allow stored food to become new wood, making us more stable for the seasons ahead; and we enter into the season of winter where we rest from the busyness of past seasons while preparing for the busyness of the ones to come.  Seasons represent cycles that have separate yet integrated purposes; and our lives, in much the same way, mirror these cycles as well.

But, while we all go through these seasonal cycles, unlike the trees, we do not go through them at the same pace or in unison.  For some of us, our spring seasons might last longer than our summers or falls while for others, the winter seasons might be the lengthiest.   And, herein, lays not only a covered truth but also a potential stumbling block. (Aren’t all truths, to some extent, stumbling blocks?  For if we don’t step upon them we will [at least] stub our toes upon them or [at most] fall face first over of them.)  The potential trip up occurs when, in our spring time, our season of new growth, we look around and assume others should be displaying the same shoots and buds as we are.  We are excited about the new growth within us but rather than give thanks to God for what He is doing in our lives, we “let our sap rise” and produce complaints about the lack of growth in another’s branches.  Little do we realize that the very tree(s) we are complaining about are simply going through their fall or winter season.  It’s not that they have stopped being productive, but rather that they are allowing the growth from their spring and summer to mature and add rings to their trunks and depth to their roots.  Likewise, those trees that are enjoying the fall season may think the rapid new growth of those around them is too showy or exuberant when, in actuality, they have forgotten that their new growth began this way as well.  The pruning will come, the trellis will be erected to give form to the vines, and purpose will emerge from the thicket…but that’s for another season; that’s the work of summer.

I doubt that the trees I saw in the pasture were judgmental, but they do present another lesson we all should be mindful of:  seasons do reveal growth.  While we may move in and out of seasons at varying speeds, as believers in Christ, we are to move in and out of seasons.  We are not to be perpetually stuck in the same one.  We can’t always be in the new growth stage without maturing taking place, nor can we remain in the resting season contentedly counting our rings.  Life is about growing through (and with) changes and seasons not only prepare us for these changes but they actually help bring them about. If we never produced new growth that would later become our means of producing food, then we would never arrive at the season in which the stored food brought increased girth which would, in turn, allow for more new growth in the future.  And so on, and so on, one after the other, just as God intended, just as seasons represent.

But, just as we must realize our need to continually progress through the seasons, we must also realize our need to consistently produce within each season.  The truth is, no matter what season we are in, or how many seasonal cycles we have been through, there are expectations others will have for those who are planted in their Father’s orchard.  Are we not to be fruitful?  Are we not to produce after our own kind?  Even Jesus had expectations of the fig tree and, when it failed to do what it was supposed to do, Jesus cursed it and it died (Matthew 21:18-22).  If the Son of God had expectations from a tree, should we, as His image bearers, think that less would be expected of us?  Just as the barren tree in the pasture stood out against those laden with leaves, so too will we stand out when we fail to display the foliage of Christlikeness both in and out of season.  In 2 Peter 1:5-7, we read about the greenery we should display, regardless of the season we are in.  The leaves of faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love are to be evident at all times.  If we read on to verses 8 and 9, we learn that the one who abounds in these things…the one whose branches are prolific…will not be barren, but will provide shade for others because of the covering he has received in Christ.  What a picture of grace.  What a portrait of growth.  What a presentation of godliness.

In season and out of season, if our lives belong to Christ, we will always be “rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith as we were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” (Col. 2:7).  That will keep us fruitful, that will keep us progressing through our seasons, that will keep us leafy no matter what season we are in.