Fall Colors in Nature and in Us

Fall colors

Fall…the time when (in places other than Florida!) nature dons flamboyant garb as God paints His world with vibrant colors. Lush, supple leaves in shades of green gradually change color until the green is just a memory, replaced by vivid red, yellow, and orange.

But where do the fall colors come from? What causes the bright transformation each year?

Actually, those other colors were there the whole time.

Remember middle school science class? Chlorophyll in the leaves creates the green color. Other chemicals, such as carotene, create orange, yellow, and red pigments. The other colors are always there. But the work of the chlorophyll overpowers those chemicals and conceals the additional hues.

Shorter days and cooler temperatures cause the chlorophyll in the leaves to break down. Since the chlorophyll is responsible for the green color, as it breaks down, the other pigments are free to strut their stuff.

Of course, you know there’s a spiritual application in all this, don’t you?

Life can be moving along, fresh and lush. Good things are happening and you’re growing in the warmth of the sun. And then suddenly there’s a chill in the air as tragedy strikes.

You lose your job.

The bank is about to foreclose.

Your husband wants a divorce.

The prognosis is terminal.

And you and I have a choice.

  • We can curl up in a corner and surrender to defeat. Or we can allow the cold circumstances to reveal strength we never knew was there as we depend on God for His upholding.
  • Instead of being overpowered by a situation that would conquer most people, we can stand firm in the power of our heavenly Father.
  • We can become bitter because life didn’t turn out the way we wanted. Or we can grow in the grace of the Holy Spirit as we follow His leading.
  • We can resent our losses. Or we can trust the Lord for what He will give us in their place.

fall colorsOur choice will determine the colors that shine through our life.

Will you and I allow disappointment to be His appointment?

Will we allow God to turn our messes into messages?

Our tests into a testimony?

And our trials into triumphs?

Sometimes green is just for a season. But there’s a season for reds, oranges, and yellows, too. And even when those vibrant colors turn brown and it feels like there’s no coming back…

Fall follows summer.

Winter follows fall.

And spring follows winter.

And with spring comes tender shoots with lush green leaves…again.

What season are you in?
Which colors are you displaying?


 
How to Respond to Suffering

Suffering

Suffering is hard. So we work just as hard—if not harder—to avoid it. We don’t want to talk about it. And we run away from it. We devise detours that often end up causing even more complications.

Of course, no one wants to suffer. It’s even more difficult when we have to watch a loved one suffer. But the reality is that suffering is guaranteed for Christians.

  • Paul said it: “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (II Timothy 3:12 ESV).
  • Peter confirmed it: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you” (I Peter 4:12 ESV).
  • And Jesus, Himself, said it: “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33 ESV).

The timing and degree of suffering may vary. Still, the one constant is that in this broken world, suffering is an experience few, if any, escape.

Two movies

Our aversion to viewing suffering was especially evident in the response to the recent release of two movies. I Can Only Imagine and Paul, Apostle of Christ were released within a week of each other this spring.

Both movies have strong Christian themes, however one brought in box office receipts of more than $79 million to date, while the other grossed $17 million. The casts of both include well-known actors. One movie is based on a popular song. The other depicts the suffering of early Christians and the end of the apostle Paul’s earthly life.

Both movies also included a measure of suffering. And both ended with the death of a main character. But I Can Only Imagine had a happy ending, while the characters in Paul would experience their happy ending only when they reached heaven.

I wonder if the significant difference in box office receipts is related to the level of suffering depicted in each movie.

Choices

We have choices in how we respond to suffering. And some choices are more biblical than others.

Consider the following options:

  • Avoid it at all costs

Our natural tendency is to run from suffering as fast as we can. But this habit can develop into a lifestyle of hedonism: the pursuit of pleasure and self-indulgence. A hedonistic life values pleasure above all else. When experiences become inconvenient or unpleasant, our overriding focus is to escape as quickly as possible, regardless of the cost.

  • Seek it out

At the other extreme is masochism. A masochist actually finds pleasure in their own pain. Not only do they not avoid suffering, they seek it and relish it when it occurs.

While you may not know many people who are masochists, most of us know people who like to wallow in their suffering. Their lives are a continual pity party and their motto is “Woe is me” as they seek a steady stream of sympathy.

While the Bible gives us a lot of information about responding to painful circumstances, it never calls Christians to be masochistic. We are not to delight in suffering for suffering’s sake.

 

But there’s one more response to suffering—a response every Christian is called to have:

Walk Through It

Christians are called to walk through suffering. The Bible describes us what that looks like:

  • Consider yourself blessed

Jesus told His followers they are blessed when they are persecuted for righteousness (Matthew 5:10). Suffering and trials will come (John 16:33).

  • Share the comfort

The apostle Paul tells us that suffering develops empathy. We are able to take the comfort we received and in turn, comfort others (II Corinthians 1:4).

  • Maintain an eternal perspective

Paul also notes that suffering and affliction produces a glory than enables us to maintain an eternal perspective (II Corinthians 4:17).  It’s easy to focus on the present when we’re hurting. But this life is not all there is.

  • Be the Body

Paul reminds us that Christians are not called to suffer alone. We are to help each other, bearing each other’s burdens whenever possible (Galatians 6:2).

  • Learn from it

The writer of the book of Hebrews notes that sometimes pain and hardship occur as a result of the Lord’s loving discipline (Hebrews 12:5-7). C.S. Lewis once said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Are we listening?

  • Grow from it

James wrote that we should count it as joy when we undergo trials. Not masochistic joy for the trial, but joy because we know the testing of our faith produces perseverance or endurance (James 1:2-4).

  • Continuing to do good

Peter tells us that while good deeds may cause suffering, we should not stop doing good just because life becomes difficult or painful (I Peter 3:17; 4:19).

As a 21st century, Western Christian, the concept of suffering, especially suffering for my faith, is fairly removed from my day to day experience. But early Christians (as well as contemporary Christians in other countries) knew what it was to live in fear for their lives simply because they self-identified as followers of Jesus Christ.

Going back to the two movies I mentioned earlier, when I watched Paul, Apostle of Christ, I was struck by a reminder. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to those early Christians who suffered for Christ as they passed the baton of faith to the next generation.

When it’s my turn, I pray I will follow their example.

How do you respond to suffering?


 
The Weight of Our Words

When Hurricane Irma blew through south Florida last September, we were fortunate not to sustain damage to our home. But the natural environment did not fare as well. Trees toppled all around us. Hurricane force winds snapped off branches and uprooted trees. Root balls sometimes 6 feet across lay upended on top of the ground instead of underneath it.

Many trees died. Some are still hanging on, shadows of their former, vibrant selves. Still others, with human assistance, have been replanted, pruned, and nurtured, and are now thriving.

But all that pruning cost us something. It cost us in time and labor. And in our efforts to save some of the landscaping surrounding us, other landscaping died. 

We piled tree trunks and branches on the curb for collection. The final mound of dead foliage was 6 feet high and wide, and 15 feet long. By the time it was all picked up, we had an equally large patch of dead grass in our lawn. Five months later, it’s smaller, but still distinctly visible.

The grass that died under the weight of the branches has me thinking about my relationships. How many relationships have I killed with the weight of my words? How many people stuck with me for just so long before they needed to move on, allowing the relationship to die?

It goes the other way, too. How many friendships have I walked away from over the years, because the weight of the other person’s words brought death to my spirit instead of life?

Someone once said, “Be careful of your words. Once spoken, they can be forgiven, but not forgotten.”

So true. I confess to having rehearsed hurtful words, long after I claimed to forgive the person who spoke them. Their words pierced my heart, arrows that found their mark, long after the sender may have regretted speaking them. I said I forgave, but I said it from a distance.

Or perhaps we are the ones consumed with regret for words spoken in the heat of the moment. We attempt reconciliation with the other person, but even years later, their hurt is still raw and they choose remoteness rather than reconciliation.

Of course, healthy boundaries are important. If the other person won’t acknowledge their responsibility for the damage they’ve caused, then it’s not wise to continue the relationship at the same level of intimacy. God calls us to forgive unconditionally, but restoration and reconciliation are processes that may or may not occur.

Still, what if you and I were more careful of the words we speak? What if we stopped those words before we spoke them, instead of asking forgiveness after they leave our mouth?

Winston Churchill once said, “We are masters of the unsaid words, but slaves of those we let slip out.”

The writer of Proverbs observed, “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18 ESV), and “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21 ESV).

It’s easier to maintain a good relationship than to have to repair it. To that end, I want my words to be gracious, even when I’m hurt or angry. It’s worth it because people are worth it. People created in the image of God and people for whom Jesus Christ died.

I know I can’t do this in my own effort. I need the Holy Spirit’s work in my life to strengthen me in this area. So today, my prayer is, “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” (Psalm 141:3).

Will you join me in that request?


 
A New Way to Express Kindness

kindnessKindness is a virtue most of us appreciate and many of us aspire to.

You may have heard about the practice of random acts of kindness. It supposedly began in 1982 when Anne Herbert scrawled the words “practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty” on a place mat. The rest, as they say, is history.

Now there’s a new way to express kindness. Zachary Gibson started the Tiny Mailbox Project earlier this year. Gibson set a goal of 100 tiny mailboxes around Los Angeles earlier this year. But his idea has spread far beyond the city limits of LA.

The Tiny Mailbox Project provides the opportunity to be kind, one person at a time, without ever necessarily meeting the recipient of your kindness.

The concept is simple. Each mailbox contains an encouraging note along with several blank cards. The recipient takes the note, and leaves one for someone else.

In a recent interview, Gibson shared his belief that “trying to restore a little faith in humanity is a good thing.”

I confess, I don’t have much faith in humanity any more. The Bible tells us no one is righteous (Romans 3:10). Even if I didn’t believe what the Bible says, all I have to do is observe humanity in action.

Yet, just when it appears kindness has died out, it shows itself once again–this time in the midst of disaster. Hurricane Harvey is the worst weather event to hit Houston in 50 years. Still, it provided the backdrop for a massive, ongoing act of kindness on the part of furniture store owner, Jim McIngvale.

McIngvale has opened up his 2 showrooms for evacuees, without regard for his immediate profits. His daily losses are estimated at a minimum of $30,000 per day.

So what can professing Christians learn from Zachary Gibson and Jim McIngvale?

We know the Bible tells us kindness is a “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22). This means that the more we surrender to the leading of God’s Spirit in our lives, the more kindness will mark our relationships.

Yet kindness has not marked our conversations and behavior very much in the area of politics or morality. Christians are known more for what we are against than what we are for. Many of us have lost the ability to stand firm for biblical values without trying to destroy those who disagree with us at the same time.

And along comes tiny mailboxes and a furniture store owner to remind us what kindness could look like if we stopped being belligerently self-righteous.

What would happen if Christians spoke the truth…in love (Ephesians 4:15)?

Or if we were so surrendered to the Holy Spirit that our “fruit” attracted those who are hungry for food that feeds the soul?

What would happen if being kind wasn’t just something we practiced with other Christians, but something we practiced regardless of the recipient?

Perhaps it’s time to find out. What do you think?


 
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