11.19.2014

Fruit of the Spirit Series // Love

I mentioned in a previous post how the Lord has called me to understand more of what it means to live by the Spirit; thus, I thought a good exercise would be to write a post on the individual fruit of the Spirit. Here's the first:


***

love.


So here's the way I see it, these fruit are two fold.

Equal parts discipline & promise.

Paul mentions that those who sow in the Spirit will reap life. I believe, during the seasons in which I've been particularly disciplined to sow in love, I reap it.

Not to say, exactly, that if I am more loving to others than others will be more loving to me. There might be a little bit of truth in that, but really it seems that the more I choose to place others above myself, the more I am able to do it.

If I consistently guard my thoughts against entitlement & frustration when I have to keep sacrificing on behalf of my little ones, it becomes easier to do so.

There have been a few times, even, that I have been filled with joy at three in the morning. Completely content as I wake up again, and again, and again to meet the needs of my kids.

I know. Miraculous.

If my husband is going through a season at work that is busier than usual, where he is gone every other night of the week on top of having long days; and, though I know he loves me, in all practicality he doesn't get that much time to show it. During these seasons, if I discipline my mind to not begrudge him my own love because he has not been able to give me much of his, I find it becomes more natural to love him freely. I cease to care if we've been loving each other in equal measure.

I have been pretty terrible at that one, actually. But I shoot for the stars, nonetheless.

I believe love is one of the most scandalous fruit because it is extremely unfair. Love, at least the sort Paul is talking about, doesn't often worry itself with if it's needs are being returned or what tomorrow will look like if it extends itself too much.

It calls us to sacrifice things that might be valid needs for the benefit of another. It pushes us to the limit and tells us to not expect a standing ovation for it, but rather be thankful for the opportunity to be pushed.

Perhaps it is in human nature to walk the opposite direction of sacrificial, holy love? It is mine. I will, if left to my own devices, hardly ever choose someone over myself.

I will, even, be unloving against my own mind, body, and soul. I will choose my immediate desires and wishes over what would be best for me.

I will choose what is easy over what is good.

By grace, though, I have been made new. By grace, I am able to live a life by the Spirit, and it is by this Spirit that I am able to choose, willingly, to sacrifice.

This passage has been particularly convicting as I think about how evident this fruit may (or may not) be in my life:

"Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. God showed how much He loved us by sending His one and only Son into the world so that we may have eternal life through Him. This is real love - not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and His love is brought to full expression in us." - 1 John 4.7-12, NLT

This is real love. The Gospel.

This fruit is tied to the message Christians are supposed to proclaiming as often as we can. Perhaps that is why Paul says that out of faith, hope, and love, the greatest is love.

Or why the two greatest commandments both have to do with love. First, to love God and second, to love others.

Here are some conclusions I have drawn about love:

It is a non-negotiable. We must love. To love and to follow Christ cannot exist outside of each other.

It is complicated. It is a weak, flat sort of love (if, indeed, it could even be called love at all) that only exists when it is agreeing with everyone, and it is a rash sort of love that burns the candle at both ends and feeds its passion on feelings. I do not advocate a love that divorces itself from truth, or running oneself into a brick wall of burn-out. To love well is complicated and hard. I think that's why the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential. He is the source of healthy, life-giving love.

It starts small. It's common to see stories/blog posts/videos about these people who do insanely selfless things. There was an adoption video that went viral awhile back about a family who has adopted several children with special needs. And everyone (including myself) thinks, "How do they do that?"

Maybe their journey began by letting their spouse choose what TV show they would watch that night, or giving their kids the last scoop of their favorite ice cream. Something mundane.

Look where it ended.

I am convinced that, done by the Holy Spirit, an act of sacrificial love does not return void.

This encourages me. It encourages me because my heart, like Dr. Seuss so aptly said of the Grinch, feels "two sizes too small" in a lot of areas.

To know that I do not love as I should, but that it is well within the Spirit's power within me to forge the same radical, scandalous love that held Christ's hands to the cross rolls a burden off my back.

Because I desire to love like that. I recognize I am too small a person to do so currently, but there was a time when the way I love now seemed impossible. (Like the waking up at 3am thing....)

I am asking the Lord to grow a dangerous love in me. I am scared to ask for this, but the Spirit within me presses me on to ask for it anyway. 

10.11.2014

How to Have a Discussion Online Without Making Jesus Sad

This is something I've been wondering for awhile. Now that we live in an online world, every time something rocks the church, Christians go to bat for their theological camps on facebook, twitter, tumblr, etc.

And y'all, we can all see it gets ugly.

So how does this help our witness? How can we enter into messy places and have discussions that are driven by honor and respect rather than anger and indignation?

How do we not compromise our convictions while being loving online? Where there's less margin for error. It's possible, sure, to get to know someone online, but is it really possible to know them fully? Where does this leave us, as Christians? How do we defend a faith that is becoming pretty counter-cultural in a culture that is becoming increasingly isolating?

I love writing. I love blogs. I love the ability to discuss how the Christian faith saturates every facet of our lives, and what that even means. Motherhood, the environment, politics, third-world relations, roles in marriage, etc.

I just wish we could do it in a way that would honor the Man we claim to worship.

So these are a few things I've come up with, some are more practical, some are more principle. I'd love to know your thoughts as well!

Here we go:

1. DO NOT TYPE IN CAPS TO EMPHASIZE YOUR POINT.

Even if it's EVERY FEW WORDS. Typing in caps really does sound like YOU MIGHT BE YELLING. Or at least speaking VERY FIRMLY. This does not help the situation. Would you speak like this IN REAL LIFE? With a COMPLETE STRANGER or with someone you know but are having a SERIOUS DISCUSSION WITH? Probably not.

It adds tension because the chances of them interpreting that in an unnecessarily aggressive way are pretty high.

2. Try not to respond when you are having all the feels.

Can I just say this is my worst habit? If you're about to rip into someone because they said something that bothered you, sit back for a minute or thirty.

Don't get me wrong, it's important to pay attention to why something made us feel sad/angry/hurt, and be able to express that. It's just that we may not be doing our own emotions justice, or writing in the most grace-filled way when all we can see is rage. And we might fall on using all caps to try and rage-type our emotions onto the screen instead of using the English language.

3. They will know you by your fruit... so be a little patient, eh?

Be patient. There's roughly a 95% chance you'll be misunderstood. It's incredibly hard to be concise, coherent, and communicate an appropriate tone when writing. If you're misunderstood, brush it off. Take another stab at explaining your viewpoint from a different angle.

Be kind. Give people dignity, honor, and respect. Especially if you know they're wrong. Don't mock their ignorance if they happen to get in over their heads in a discussion. And seriously, brothers & sisters, do not ever call someone a derogatory name online. We are not in preschool.

Have self-control. Know when to bow out. There comes a point when you have to realize that nothing more can really be done by continuing a discussion.

Be peaceful. Don't respond to low blows. Don't give any low blows yourself, and that includes passive-aggressive ones.

4. It's all about the journey, not the destination. 

Realizing that comment threads are rarely places that someone's theological or belief-system-forming journey ends is helpful. Sure, we want to give people something to think about, to chew on, as well as process different ways of seeing an idea ourselves. That's the whole point. I think the power of discussion (and, particularly, the written word) is immense. That's why I feel it's so important to know how to do it well.

I just don't think people are going to change their entire value system because of someone's ability to out argue them on a comment thread.

5. Apologize when you have done something wrong. 

Did you assume something about the person that was wrong? Could you have communicated your point better? Were you condescending? Did you call someone a name? Then own up to it.

I have several more but that would make this post unbearably long, plus I really do want to hear other people's thoughts on this.

What do you think? What should our online behavior look like, as Christians?


9.14.2014

Living By The Spirit

Trying to enjoy as many of these sunsets as possible before it gets cold (and by cold I mean below 70 degrees). I don't know what sunsets have to do with living by the Spirit, but look at that sky!
This semester, I would like to grow in living by the Spirit. 

Which, for me at least, is one of those facets of Christianity that has been more about word than deed. 

And I don't mean my speech is perfectly spirit-filled, so now I just need to focus on my actions. No, that's definitely not what I mean. Maybe I'll get there when I'm eighty or never. 

I mean I talk about living by the Spirit, or being "out of the Spirit" a lot, but actually don't have a great tangible hold on what this looks like in day-to-day life. 

Like when my two year old starts rough housing and kicks me right in the chest while I'm putting him to bed, 

or when Kyle is cranky because he hasn't eaten in 12 hours and I'm like, "All we have are cheese sticks and peanut butter crackers because I subsist on toddler food while you're at work," and then we get in a low-blood sugar fight, 

or, in ministry, when I see people heading for a brick wall and because there's this pesky thing called "free will" I can't stop them, and they won't listen to me (since, duh, I'm always right). 

I've definitely experienced living by the Spirit before. When life feels a little bit like fingernails scraping across a chalkboard, and I'm unnaturally (supernaturally?) at peace, rested, able to love those around me in a way that is beyond my own ability. I have compassion for people, I have grace, I notice people, instead of brushing humanity under the rug of my own life and agenda. 

Those are the moments I think, "THIS. This is what Paul goes on about." 

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. 

But for the most part these moments are few and far between. I want to develop the discipline of living by the Spirit. I wish it was like plugging into an outlet or flipping some secret "Spirit-filled" switch, but it's not. I think it's like working out, which, you know, I'm so good at. 

To be fair, Paul did try to warn us, right? All that talk about, "running a race," wasn't for nothing. 

To cease living in my own strength and begin to live by the power of the Spirit is a discipline. One that, as I take steps further into marriage, motherhood, and ministry I realize I cannot do without. 

Could Kyle and I have a decent marriage in our own strength? Sure, maybe. I don't know because I really don't want to try. I do know that I hope to understand my husband to a degree that requires us to love each other by the Spirit. To build our marriage into a place where both of us feel safe will require a level of forgiveness, and trust, and hope that I believe must be born and fed by the Spirit. I have felt what it is to be loved by the Spirit of God, and it is sweeter than anything or anyone. I think the Spirit can teach me to love Kyle better than any other person could. 

Could I be a good mom in my own strength? Sure, maybe. But I also know my tendencies. My bent toward perfection, my drive for achievement and self-glory. How unnatural it is for me to stop in the middle of a busy work day and hug my children. I desperately want my children to feel loved because they are here. Because they exist. Not because of anything they did or did not do. The one place I have felt this in my own life is in the presence of the Holy Spirit. I think the Spirit can teach me to be a better mother than any other person could.  

Could I do ministry in my own strength? Sure, maybe... for awhile. To be honest, I don't know if I will make it unless I learn how to access the infinite, available, in-Him-all-things-are-possible power of the great I Am. I can't tell you this for sure, but I believe laying among the ashes of many a burnt-out ministry is the tendency to try and be the hands and feet of Christ without the power of Christ. I know the Spirit can teach me how to be a better minister of His Gospel than any other person could... It is His, after all. 

In the end, it's just not worth the risk to try this life on my own. Even at the ripe, young age of 27 I see the collateral damage of a Spirit-less life. It is not something of which I want any part. 

So these are my verses for the semester, may my life become a reflection of them. 

"But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit's leading in every part of our lives." - Gal 5. 22-25 NLT