The Best Fruit

fruit-of-the-spirit-digital-diy-wall-art-graphics-of-galatians-5-22-scripture-quote-for-home-decoration-10-00-via-etsyBut the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, we must also follow the Spirit. We must not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:22-26)

We want fully-developed, eye-pleasing, scrumptious-tasting fruit. We want our spiritual lives to add beauty to the world and nourish those around us. But…

…fruit grows through seasons. Individual pieces of fruit grow to maturity at different times. Sometimes we want to shortchange the process of leading up to maturity, because it…takes…so…stinkin’…long.

Why can’t we just grow insta-fruit?

Because that’s not the fruit of the Spirit. That’s now how the Spirit works. He’s invested in our lives throughout its entirety across a variety of seasons.

As we grow fruit, we can’t just consider what nourishes and develops it but also what bruises and damages it. We can’t just ask ourselves what God might be doing in our lives that will develop our peace, joy, love, patience, and so on. We also need to consider what is robbing us of those same things. What needs to be pruned from our lives and attitudes? How do we need to rearrange our priorities?

The best fruit takes the very things it becomes: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control.

Getting Off The Carousel of Happiness

What do you do when you drive through the mountains to explore and come to where you plan to turn around and find yourself in a small, quaint town nestled in a valley?

Find a restroom, a place to eat, then Google the town to see if there’s anything else to discover.

That’s when we found the Carousel of Happiness in Nederland, Colorado. My husband isn’t much of a Carousel of Happiness kind of guy, but once he read its story, he insisted we visit it.

Apparently, a person cannot be unhappy when riding on the carousel. And to be honest, it was pretty fun. Knowing someone who had lived through some horrific situations in war had created the animals by hand spurs a smile of appreciation even before climbing aboard.

Nothing against the Carousel of Happiness (which I recommend if you find yourself in Nederland), our happiness can’t be found in a three-minute ride that takes us in circles. To state the obvious, it really doesn’t get us anywhere. But maybe that’s part of the point. It takes us away from the merry-go-round of life that so many of us ride with fervor every day and causes us to slow down and experience something frivolous. Maybe we could find other ways to infuse joy into everyday life instead of feeling as if an escape is necessary.

Instead of just doing something temporary that makes us happy, what if we pursued joy instead? Joy is more chronic and reliable than happiness. It doesn’t come from our circumstances. It’s a fruit of the Holy Spirit, which means it comes as we not only know Him but trust Him enough to change our lives, rooting up the weeds that have taken root so that His nourishment funnels into the most fruitful things that reveal Him to ourselves and others.

There’s nothing wrong with occasional entertainment, but when we get in the habit of relying on funny videos, thrilling amusement parks, movies, and sports to give us the respite we need, we’re too focused on temporary solutions. We’ll always need more. We’ll get tired again. We’ll long to be entertained again.

The Timing of a Gift

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The host of a women’s retreat gave me a book as an appreciation gift. In my opinion, a book is a difficult gift to choose and give. Perhaps it’s because I grew up and raised a family of readers. We had to be careful not to buy books someone had already read or books they had no interest in reading. It seems the more people read, even if you know their topics of interest, the pickier they are about the books they read, especially on those specific topics.

But I didn’t have the book the host gave me. And it looked like it was something I would buy for myself had I run across it. And I was getting ready to leave on a vacation on which I’d have a lot of time to read!

It was perfect timing, especially since the book focused on solitude.

As I soaked it up for several days during vacation, I soaked in solitude. My surroundings were peaceful. My reading was challenging, yet peaceful. My mind, heart, and soul were peaceful.

I marveled at God’s timing of picking out that book for that time. I don’t know if I would have appreciated it as much if I had read it during a busy week in the comfort of my own home. God collided the environment and my relaxed schedule with a reminder of the importance of solitude. I appreciate the gift of the book. Even more, I appreciate God’s gift of colliding content with opportunity, so I would receive His reminder in a way I would welcome it.

God is good at timing His gifts, both tangible and intangible. Pay attention to the gifts He’s presenting to you today. Trust His timing. Savor them, and invite Him to challenge and nourish you through them.

We All Need Rest

The Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai: “Speak to the Israelites and tell them: When you enter the land I am giving you, the land will observe a Sabbath to the LordYou may sow your field for six years, and you may prune your vineyard and gather its produce for six years. But there will be a Sabbath of complete rest for the land in the seventh year, a Sabbath to the Lord: you are not to sow your field or prune your vineyard. You are not to reap what grows by itself from your crop, or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. It must be a year of complete rest for the land. Whatever the land produces during the Sabbath year can be food for you—for yourself, your male or female slave, and the hired hand or foreigner who stays with you. All of its growth may serve as food for your livestock and the wild animals in your land. (Leviticus 25:1-7)

It seems that the “complete rest for the land” is just that–for the land. And it is for the land, but it is also for the people.

God knows how to provide for His creation, including people, animals, and land. By resting the land, it replenishes the nutrients it needs. During that time, some food still grows because of seeds and fruit-bearing trees, so it continues to feed people and animals. The rest is actually nourishment.

That seems odd to us because we think nourishment can only happen with productivity. We feel we must do something to be successful and produce something. Otherwise, we’ll fall behind. Productivity will lessen, provision will decrease, and we’ll end up digging ourselves into a hole of debt and need. But that’s not the way God says it works.

Sabbath, whether it is our weekly rest or a seventh-year rest of the land, is productive. Rest produces something labor and striving cannot. Rest grows and nourishes us in ways work cannot.

Yet we avoid rest. (At least, most of the time. When we take it, we often justify it as something we deserve. We need a vacation or earned retirement. It’s not an intentional setting aside work and resting in God’s presence as much as it is our attempt to meet our recreational-escape needs.)

I don’t know many places where a Sabbath rest of the land occurs regularly. In the U.S., we have “set aside” acreage that doesn’t get farmed during certain years, but the most common motivation for setting aside this land is the government check that comes to compensate for the “loss” incurred. But setting something aside was never intended to be considered a loss.

The first time I visited Israel, the land was flourishing. It was gorgeously lush, producing so many crops of fruits and vegetables. When I visited again, the land was pretty but it wasn’t as green and productive. I learned it was the Sabbath year. While not every landowner take the Sabbath seriously, many do. It was evident as I drove by the fields.

What keeps you from rest? Are your reasons for not resting good ones? Would God agree? Why don’t you ask Him? He’s already given you instruction, which is always purposeful. Why not listen and follow?

 

False Teachings

G.B.Y.Logos.1Those false teachers are like springs without water and clouds blown by a storm. A place in the blackest darkness has been kept for them. They brag with words that mean nothing. By their evil desires they lead people into the trap of sin—people who are just beginning to escape from others who live in error. 2 Peter 2:17-18

We seek springs with fresh, flowing water, but not every spring is nourishing to us. We must learn to discern who to follow and who not to follow.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, we didn’t have access to vast information the way we do today. Information can be truthful, but information isn’t inherently truthful. When you ask a search engine a question, are you looking for information or truth?

A problem arises when we argue that truth is relative, depending on who is seeking and why. When truth is assumed relative, nothing is reliable. There’s no difference between fact and opinion, good and evil, real and imaginary. Questions of purpose, personhood, and faith appear to be unessential. Purpose, faith, and life seem to float in air – with no firm foundation.

When we become information-driven instead of truth-driven, we don’t change reality as much as we might think we do. We deceive ourselves into thinking we’re much more powerful than we are. We don’t define ourselves, our world, or the reality of either. We don’t – and can’t – change truth. There is foundational truth in life, and there’s a search engine you can use to seek it.

It’s God. You can access some accurate information using search engines such as Google and Bing, but when you search God, you’ll always find truth. It’s a different sort of search. It’s not instantaneous. It’s often a journey of one question leading to another and another. You’ll often reveal pieces of truth and continue to fit new pieces as you search more.

Searching God isn’t as easy as using a search engine, because it’s based in a relationship. Relationships are ongoing, challenging, developing.

Would you rather have a relationship filled with effort but also filled with truth or an impersonal, brief, uncertain interaction? Do you want to search passively or actively?

Live It. Notice opposites or things that don’t match throughout your day: salt and pepper, green and red traffic lights, loud and soft sounds. Practice noticing the details and differences. As you become more aware of what’s around you, you can become more in tune with what details God is pointing out to you to determine the differences between his true teachings and all false teachings.

Toss-Away Crusts

breadcrustsI don’t like the crusts.

Well, I can tolerate the crusts of my homemade bread, but the store-bought loaves? No way! There was a time I’d use them (crust-side in) to make a sandwich if I was desperate, either because I was hungry and had no other option or because I wanted to save money and make the loaf last as long as I could, but in general, those two end pieces end up in the trash or as a treat for the dog or birds.

I know. It’s wasteful.

Sometimes when I’m wrapping up a loaf of homemade bread after cutting a few slices, I share the interior slices with anyone in my house at the time and replace the crust piece as I wrap the loaf, because it is extra protection against the air that can make it stale.

Not only are those end pieces protective, they’re also essential. I couldn’t make a loaf of bread without them. They’re the first and the last pieces. They hold the loaf together. Which reminds me of something:

The Lord God says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega. I am the One who is and was and is coming. I am the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:8)

How often do we take Jesus for granted? We go about our daily lives, feasting on our favorite parts. We slice what we think we need, and we slather it with what we want. We discard what isn’t our favorite. But faith isn’t a pick-and-choose smorgasbord. If we truly rely on God’s nourishment, we feast on all he provides us. He knows what we need.

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! (Psalm 34:8)

Why are we spiritually hungry and thirsty? Perhaps it’s because we’re assuming we know what our diet should be.

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35)

We can’t toss away what God provides. We can’t pick and choose our favorite tastes. We’re going to experience tastes of sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. God created us with a variety of tastes, because he knows that to fully appreciate all he intends to use to nourish and grow us, we need different experiences.

If you toss away what you don’t prefer, you might miss out on essential nourishment that holds your life together.

Fit Faith: Breathing: Face Down on the Floor

A woman returned to our biweekly intensive workout class after more than a month, determined to jump back into it. Since she’d been there, the routines had intensified. Several of us encouraged her, insuring her she could definitely handle it but to be sure she took it at her own pace and didn’t push too hard too quickly.

She made it through the warm-ups and first song with no problems. The next song was more challenging, but she made it again. Then came a series of floor work, including a challenging series of push-ups. Halfway through the routine, she headed for the bathroom. She was back by the time the song ended, and I made eye contact to be sure she was okay. I didn’t want to make a big deal about her slipping out for a moment in case she was embarrassed she hadn’t finished. Not to mention, going to the bathroom is something not everyone wants to openly discuss!

She caught my eye and instantly confessed, “That was my own fault. I just forgot to breathe and got dizzy. So much for not trying too much, too fast!”

Breathing is important. In fact, it’s life-sustaining. Stop breathing and you’ll stop living. It’s that simple.

It’s amazing how many issues are related to breathing, yet we take it for granted. Minor anxiety can often be averted through regular breathing. It helps with pacing during running and other exercise. Its regularity provides stability and nourishment, and its irregularity indicates issues to be addressed.

Breathing appears early in Scripture: Then the Lord God took dust from the ground and formed a man from it. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nose, and the man became a living person. (Genesis 2:7)

Breath is God-given. It’s life-sustaining. We can use all kinds of relaxation breathing techniques, but there’s one that is above all others. Anything that draws us to God, emptying ourselves of ourselves and allowing him to fill him with himself, is desirable. You can fully access God. As a follower of Christ, you’ve been blessed with the Holy Spirit.

The word for spirit comes from a word that means breath, air, or life. Perfect, isn’t it? The Holy Spirit is breath, air and life! We need air to live, and the Holy Spirit equips us to live our faith on a daily basis. We can’t live on stale air. Our bodies use oxygen and get rid of waste through the carbon dioxide. We use what we need and get rid of the rest. If we don’t access fresh air, we can’t live for long.

The Holy Spirit is always fresh. He only pours into us what we need. There’s no waste in what he gives us. He’s completely nourishing, but we have to inhale. The Holy Spirit is active. When we yield to him, we will move. We’ll grow. We can also be tossed in wind, and to be honest, living a life of faith can feel like being tossed in the wind at times. But God doesn’t aimlessly toss us in the air. He knows exactly where the winds are carrying us and at what rate.

As always, God invites us to be active in faith. Breath isn’t nourishing unless we breathe. We must inhale. In the same sense, we must yield to the Holy Spirit to get the full nourishment and guidance. If you hold your breath, you trap the carbon dioxide, the waste of daily living, that needs to escape, and you block the inflow of refreshing oxygen that refreshes and sustains your body, so you can do what needs to get done. You can be who God created you to be. He didn’t create you and walk away. He gave you life-sustaining breath. Use it well. Otherwise, you might end up face down on the floor in the middle of a series of push-ups.