1.01.2015

Fruit of the Spirit Series // Joy


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joy.

This second fruit of the Spirit has woven itself into the beginning of my year.

Resolved: To be full of joy. To be a steadfast shimmer of light in this dark world.

This was a hard year for all of us, I think. Nations on the brink of war, rumors of militant groups slaughtering children, an outbreak of disease that showed us maybe the real disease we're all facing is fear as much as anything else, our own nation thrown into turmoil as the death of a young man shows us wounds can stay open & fester for a long time - centuries, even.

Sometimes I wonder if joy has a lot more to do with looking at all the hard and not wavering - keeping our light shining steady, than it has to do with being in a good mood all the time.

At the dawn of this new year I would like to be more of a lighthouse, than a firework.

Because it was also a good year, but the good in our world is becoming a lot more hidden. The things that are good, really good, are covered in layers of cheap distraction & bad news.

We (and by we I do, in fact, mean me) bounce back and forth between Buzzfeed lists that quote our favorite TV shows and viral fear-mongering articles.

And we miss the good.

My daughter was born this year.
My son began speaking, and just a few weeks ago wrapped his chubby arms around my neck, pressed his sticky face to my check and said, "I love you, Momma."
Kyle & I celebrated five years of forging a life together.
A friendship in our lives was healed from deep conflict.
Stories like this are happening. "When I think about a life of greatness, I think about a life of service.":


Joy is a precious commodity, which means as a follower of Christ it is all the more important for me to pursue it. To be filled by it, and share it with others. The purpose of these fruits, after all. is to be a sign. A flag we bear that makes us different. 

We're supposed to be different. 

As this year begins we have choices ahead of us.

We could be fireworks. Bright flashes consumed by moments of instant gratification, of easy happiness. 

Or, we could be lighthouses. The huge stone building that is battered by wind and wave but comes up out of the rock, strong and steady. That shines out a light, warning against danger, helping others find their way out of the darkness and into safe harbor. That offers deep gladness & delight even, in it's warmth & steadfastness. 

Lighthouses that offer hope, and therefore joy, in a world that's dark. 

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?