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Monthly Archives: October 2010

How Sweet Is Your Fruit?

“So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.  For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.  They are in conflict with one another, so that you do not do what you want.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.’

“The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.  I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.’

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Against such things there is no law.  Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.  Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit”  (Galatians 5:16-25, NIV).

The fruit of spiritual growth is fullness, the completeness of Christ’s image stamped upon our inmost being. It is spiritual maturity, from the inside out, so that others may see Christ glorified.  It begins when we first believe and receive Christ as our Savior and Lord, and it continues throughout our life all the way to its ripening on the day of Christ Jesus.  And this we can trust to be for our highest good.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).

The spiritual growth process is incomplete this side of eternity because it involves a daily dying to self.  It is not a one-time deal in which we hand our hearts over to God and then everything’s hunky-dory.  I remember those first couple of days after I was saved.  I thought to myself, “Great!  My life is like a blank slate now.  I can start afresh.  In fact, I’ll never sin again!”  Well, of course, before the week was out, I’d sinned.  Being born again may be a one-time instance, but maturing in our faith is a lifelong process and never easy.  It is a daily struggle to hand over our will and our way to God, for He will do with it as He pleases.  Selah.

This letting go and letting God is the very heart and challenge of the Christian walk.  It is not about what He can do for us, but what He will do in us and through us.  This is what it means to be Christ-centered. It means we give up our very selves to God who promises to change us into something we, on our own, can never be, that is, the image and likeness of Jesus Christ:

“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8).

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Are these fruits in abundance throughout your daily life?  How sweet is your fruit?

Sometimes I feel I’ll never mature.  I find myself struggling with the same issues again and again.  It’s a good thing faith is not a feeling, because the truth is that while I may tire and grow discouraged at times, the Holy Spirit does not.  He is ever at home in my heart, transforming and perfecting me according to God’s plan.

The process of spiritual maturity is like hiking.  Being born again is liking starting at the trailhead while being on the mountaintop at the same time.  It’s a case of the now and the not yet.  Your sins are forgiven and when God looks at you, He sees Christ.  It’s so exciting!  And yet you are a baby Christian, with a long growth and development process ahead of you.  You have to learn to sit up, crawl, stand, and then walk.

You take your first steps up the trail.  As you put one foot in front of the other, you begin to realize it is a long, long way to the top.  Your backpack is heavy and the trail is so steep and hard.  You wonder what on God’s green earth you’ve gotten yourself into.  Anxiety strikes and your breath comes faster and harder.  You worry that you’ll never make it to the first rest-stop, much less the mountaintop!  Yet only a short time later, the uphill climb doesn’t seem quite as rough.  You make it to that first rest-stop, albeit huffing and puffing, but you make it.  After a while you get up and start hiking again.  The backpack doesn’t seem so extraordinarily heavy; the trail not so steep.  Thereafter, every leg of the journey is a little easier even though you’re sweating and breathing hard.  You start to notice some interesting flora and fauna around you.  Once in a while you find a low view to appreciate.  Pretty soon you don’t even need to sit down to rest; you just stand for a few minutes leaning on the top of your staff with the pack, now quite manageable, on your back.  The hike is not easy by any means, but you are stronger than before.  Steeper climbs, scree slopes, and icy waterfalls take greater energy, balance, and care, but you’ve found the rhythm of the hike and the knowledge that you are closer to the top spurs you on.  Eventually, through twists and turns, switchbacks, roots and rocks, you hike your way to the top, above marmots and boulders, where the view and sense of victory are incomparable.  It is worth the struggle.  Later on, when your boots are off and your feet are up, you think back over the hike.  No part of it seemed so difficult than carrying that heavy pack up those first few steps.  Even the miles of trail up and down humpback ridges were easier than those beginning steps.  And no hike is more difficult than the first hike of the season.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13, NKJV).

For those who are born again, God assures us that He will lead us up the mountain to its peak. We may stumble, slip, or fall, but He has us safe in His hands.  We can be certain that God will continue to mold and mature us into the sweet fruit of the image of his Son:

“…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).

Megan, Matt, & Me in the High Country, 9/2000

That is like God saying, “You will reach the top.”  You respond, “Throw me the rope”.  Be encouraged.

“And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it.  For the mouth of the LORD has spoken” (Isaiah 40:5).

“The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8).

 

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God Is Good, Part 2

Continuing on from God Is Good, Part 1: During my second year of seminary, I drove every Sunday afternoon from my home near Seattle to the seminary in Portland, Oregon; every Thursday afternoon I drove back to be with my family.   And every night in between, I rolled out a self-inflating mattress and sleeping bag on the floor of a closet in the big, old-fashioned house that was the girls’ home.  Yes, you read it right – a closet.  It was free; it was perfect.  God is good.

 

Queen Anne's Lace

 

 

And then it happened.

I’d been sleeping in the closet four nights a week for several weeks.  One Sunday I arrived, books and clothes in hand, to find the closet filled, floor to ceiling, with empty cardboard boxes.  Why on earth would they would fill the closet – my closet, as I thought of it – with boxes, leaving no room for me? Why would they do such a thing?  The house was huge – they could have stacked their boxes just about anywhere.  Why fill up the closet when they all knew I slept and studied there?  I felt pretty unwelcome.  I don’t think there could have been a more succinct way to communicate rejection.  All that week my mind simmered with embarrassment, pain, and anxiety.

First there were excuses like, “We have no place else to store our boxes” or “We don’t want to leave them out – it doesn’t look nice.”  I soon discovered, however, that at the heart of this hurtful behavior was sheer resentment on their part that I had been given free accommodation in the same house for which they had each paid a pretty penny.

“Yeah, but I’m sleeping on the floor of a closet” was apparently no excuse.  It was still free housing for me versus expensive housing for them.  At the time, I didn’t fully appreciate their feelings.  All I could think of was my own feelings.  Their actions hurt me deeply and I responded as I always do when hurt.  I got angry.  Really angry.  Burning, churning, spitting mad.

Itt was Thursday and I was driving home.

Late fall in the Northwest means dark skies and rain, lots of rain.  I drove out of Portland into sheets of rain pouring down on my car the long journey home.  I could barely see the cars in front of me.  Semi’s drove past, soaking my windshield over and over, further reducing visibility.  Already tense with anger and anxiety, I started shouting at the truck drivers.  Before I knew it, I was shouting at God.

“What am I supposed to do now, God?  Where can I stay?  They don’t want me and I don’t want them!  You can’t possibly ask me to go back there!  They treated me badly!  I only had the floor of a closet!  It’s not like I had a whole room to myself.   What do you want me to do?  Do you want me to stay in a motel?  How will I pay for that?  What am I supposed to do, God?  What am I supposed to do?

I screamed and yelled and cried all through that long, long drive in the pouring rain. Poor visibility pushed anxiety to the limit.  There I was, crying and shouting out to God, “WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO, GOD?  WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO?  WHERE SHOULD I GO?  WHAT SHOULD I DO?”

Suddenly a car pulled in front of me.   My eyes went straight to the only part of it I could see – its back bumper and license plate.  I was screaming and shouting, “WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO, GOD?  WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO?” when I read the car’s license plate:

FORGIVE it said.

I fell silent.  God had clearly spoken.  I’d like to say I fell prostrate with grief over my bitter anger (well, maybe not prostrate since I was driving).  I’d like to say that, but in fact, after only a few seconds, I opened my mouth again.

“Forgive them!  Why should I have to be the one to forgive?”

I spent the last hour of the trip home arguing that I didn’t want to forgive and they didn’t deserve it.  I complained about it most of that weekend, yet all the time I knew that God had spoken and there was no getting around it.  Forgiveness was the only recourse.

I thought a lot about what it means to forgive.  It means letting the other person(s) off the hook.  No strings attached.  It means no longer using the incident as a weapon against them.  It means I could not stay angry, fight or ignore them.  I must not gossip, especially in the ignoble guise of a pretend prayer request.  Forgiveness means choosing to actively do good to that person, no holds barred.  This is not mere neutrality, but positively seeking to bless and pray for those involved.  It means confession, repentance, forgiveness, and faith.  More important, it is doing so without any guarantee, expectation, or demand that others do likewise.  It is admitting and accepting the consequences of my part in the conflict.  Most of all, it means obedience to God.

I chose to obey God.

When I returned to seminary the following Sunday afternoon, the first person I saw was a girl from the house.  She saw me and flinched.  Before she could turn tail and run, I walked up, hugged her, and asked for forgiveness, explaining my change of heart.  She met me halfway, apologizing for their harsh maneuver.  By the end of that day, we – all of us – had worked through confession and repentance, and came out of the conflict through forgiveness and faith.  We could appreciate the other’s perspective.  Lastly, we came to a mutual agreement on the matter of the boxes.  The haze of selfishness disappeared and we saw God clearly in our midst.

God is so good.

 

Queen Anne's Lace

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on October 15, 2010 in Adventures in Christ

 

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God Is Good, Part 1

Diane, tell us a story …

 

Our Front Steps

 

During my seminary days, I was housed in some unusual accommodations.  The first semester I stayed for free with an elderly Christian lady who had a spare room.  It so happened that while I was on the phone with the seminary’s head of housing, this lovely lady called in on another line.  Within minutes, my need and her desire to help became God’s provision.  I was given the incredible blessing of free housing and she, a lonely little old lady, had company and a little extra security.  I spent each day on campus and every evening in her company, talking, praising God, and watching Seinfeld together.  To this day I’m amazed at how perfectly He brought us together.  God is so good.

But that’s not all.

At the close of that semester, during the Christmas break, she became very ill.  Her daughter called to let me know that I would probably need to find other arrangements for the following semester.  About two weeks later, she called again, this time with bittersweet news.  Her mother, my hostess, had died in the hospital.  Now here’s the sweet part: while lying on her deathbed, this incredible woman spared some of her last thoughts for me, a woman she’d known for only a few months.  While she lay dying, she took the time to instruct her daughter to allow me to stay in her home, for free, the following semester.  And her daughter, while wary of a complete stranger living alone in her mother’s house, was faithful to her promise.

What an incredible gift!  The housing itself was a huge blessing, but more than that, I was absolutely stunned that this loving woman had chosen to bless me in obedience to the Lord’s calling on her life, even from her deathbed.  What an example of faith in action!

 

 

Fall Colors

 

Now, fast forward through the spring and summer to fall of my second year in seminary.  New housing had to be found.  This time there was no little old lady with a spare room.  Campus housing was full and I had no money to stay elsewhere.  Driving from Seattle to Portland and back again, six hours round trip, four days a week was out of the question if I wanted time to study.  I considered sleeping in my car as a last resort.

Fortunately, the seminary’s head of housing came through again.  She offered me a place to lay my head each night for, you guessed it, free.  It would not be glamorous or even particularly nice.  But it was free.  I accepted on the spot.  Every Sunday afternoon I drove from Seattle to Portland, Oregon; every Thursday afternoon I drove back to be with my family.   And every night in between, I rolled out a self-inflating mattress and sleeping bag on the floor of a closet in the big, old-fashioned house that was the girls’ dorm.  Yes, you read it right – a closet.  It was perfect.  God is so good.

And then it happened.

Coming Soon:  God Is Good, Part 2

 
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Posted by on October 8, 2010 in Adventures in Christ

 

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