Category: God & Life

What the Fruit?

what-the-fruit

What does it mean to be fruitful and abundant? According to the Bible, it means that we display the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It means that our lives reflect and prove God’s goodness.

All Christians are called to be fruitful and abundant. This is not only a gift from God, but a design for his glory. Our fruitfulness comes naturally when we seek God and allow him to change us.

God desires for us to live in complete surrender to him. That means we let him in, trust him, and follow his guidance through the Holy Spirit. When we do that, we are transformed and our lives are transformed. We become people who produce good things (fruit). The Holy Spirit produces these godly traits in us. Our lives are abundant and we are able to feed others with the bounty that God has created for us. In simple terms, we become better, our lives become better, and we can help others better. That is the meaning of the Fruit of the Spirit.

In John 15:5-8, Jesus said:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

The Bible describes the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. It says: “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!”

From these verses we can understand that the fruit of the Spirit is what we develop when we remain in deep relationship with God. Our abundance and our fruitfulness can then point others to God. Each of the character traits listed here has an important role in what it means to be a true follower of Christ, rather than just a “Christian” living outside of relationship with Jesus.

Love

Love is the reason for everything, the greatest purpose in life. God created us and the entire world so we could love him. When we failed to do that, he sent his son, Jesus, to sacrifice himself so that we could be reconnected with God and all of his perfection. Since the beginning of time, God has desperately loved us and wanted to be loved back by us.

In Matthew 22:37-40, we are told that love is our greatest calling. “Jesus replied, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself. The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.’”

Joy

Joy is not only a gift to us, but a gift to others. Joy is contagious. And I am convinced that we can never find true joy until we learn to delight ourselves in God, above all else. When we do that, we will also find that he gives us the desires of our hearts. God is a loving God who gives us great gifts! Yet contentment and gratitude with what we have now, and an intimate relationship with God, are keys to finding joy that can never be taken from us no matter what the circumstances. This attitude of joy is not one we can develop in our human power, but one that God creates in us through his power.

Peace

I have learned the hard way that God isn’t a genie. But he is a loving Father, who longs to care for us and bless us with great gifts, especially when we are living close to him. It give me great peace to know that God cares so deeply for me, and that he can be trusted to care for my needs. And even though it can be difficult for my human heart to accept it when God doesn’t grant my requests, ultimately I have peace knowing that he has my best interest at heart. It brings me peace to know that God will enact his plan for my life, not my plan for my life.

Patience

One of my biggest struggles in life, time and time again, has been patience. I become easily discouraged when I feel that things aren’t moving fast enough in my life. But God continues to remind me that I can accept where I am each day knowing that his timing is perfect, and he has me exactly where I am for a reason. He reminds me that he has good things in store for me, and that I have good things to enjoy today, too. That gives me patience to live in the moment.

Kindness and Goodness

I don’t know about you, but I need the Holy Spirit to be the one guiding my actions each and every day. On my own, I am human–often selfish, unkind, and weak. Yet in Christ I am perfect and whole and overwhelmingly good in God’s eyes, because when he looks at me, he sees Jesus. Knowing that just makes me want to live up to the person that God has shown me I truly am. The Spirit helps me to be this person. Through God, we have supernatural power to be good and kind in a world that is often anything but.

Faithfulness

Faith is a decision to trust. With God, it also means accepting that he is greater, and that his ways and his thoughts are far above ours as humans. The fact of the matter is that I will never fully understand God, at least in this lifetime. But I can choose to trust that he is good, that he loves me, and that ultimately, he has saved my soul for eternity. I can choose faith even when I don’t understand and I can’t see what he’s doing. God meets us where our faith is. If we trust him to save our souls, he will. If we trust him to provide for us, he will. If he trust him to heal us, he will. If we trust him to give us marriage and children, he will. He may not always work in the way or timeframe that we think he should, but he is faithful. One of the most precious ways that God helps us through his Holy Spirit is by giving us the gift of faith. Faith enables us to believe him in the face of struggles and disappointment. Faith is the root of our hope.

Gentleness and Self-Control

These traits require humility and trust in God. To develop them, we must learn to let go. When we let go of the things that we can’t control, we can focus on the things we can control; our own thoughts and actions. God can empower us to rise above what other people do or say, and reflect his mercy and strength instead.

 

The fruits of the Spirit and an abundant life are ways that God desires for us to be identified as his followers to the world. These should be the things that make us different, that make us into salt and light for the world. By these things, we can begin to fulfill our mission in this life, which God has given us. We are here to lead others into relationship with God, the only one who can heal the brokenness and satisfy the hearts of all humanity. We are here to build his Kingdom of love.

 

This is a refreshed repost of a series I did around three years ago, about the fruit of the Spirit. For the original series, click here. This will take you to a list of all 9 posts from the series. =]

 

Word.

word

The Bible. God’s Word. Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. However you tend to think of it, it is perhaps the most important tool that Christians have when it comes to living out their faith.

Believers know that the Bible has value. Many of us treat it with reverence. When we are confronted with a Bible verse that speaks to us, we know that we are communicating with God himself. Through his Word, we receive inspiration, correction, guidance, comfort, help, healing, relationship, and so much more.

And yet, so many Christians rarely open the Bible at all. How can this be? And why?

I think one major reason is that it can sometimes feel dry, or inapplicable. Reading the Bible can also feel like a chore, just one more thing to add to the endless list of things we need to do better. For some people, it is simply overwhelming to know where to begin.

Is it possible that we over-complicate the simple act of reading God’s word?

For me, the habit of reading the Bible became just that—a habit—when I learned a few simple things that I’d like to share with you now.

  1. Choose a time that is already a part of your day, and use it to read the Bible. I choose to read at breakfast most days, or lunchtime on days when the mornings are busy. Cody goes in his high chair, and I usually put a movie on the tablet for him to watch while we eat. Before I sit down, I grab my Bible.
  2. Follow a plan, use a devotional, or make your own plan. Just do something. If you don’t know where to start reading, take advantage of the multitude of Bible reading plans available on popular Bible apps for smart phones. Try as many as you like, for as long as you like. Or, buy a devotional at the book store. There are so many different ways to get into God’s word. You can even make your own plan. I follow a self-made plan of reading (in order) one chapter in the Old Testament, one chapter in Psalms or Proverbs, and one section in the New Testament. I keep track of where I am on a piece of notebook paper. Sometimes, though, I press pause on my plan so I can follow along with a church devotional email series. As long as I’m reading my Bible, I know it doesn’t matter what system I follow from day to day.
  3. Get into it. As I’m reading, I underline and occasionally take notes right in my Bible. I stop to think, evaluate, re-read, ask for clarity, and let it sink in. Sometimes, I write down my favorite verses in a note on my phone, to look up again later or add to my personal concordance. Please note that it will be hard to “get into it” if you’re reading through the Old Testament, and not complimenting that with any other parts of the Bible. The Old Testament has its purposes, but it can be very dry by itself. This is why I recommend more of a blended plan, or a devotional!
  4. Don’t get caught up on missed days. Sometimes, you miss a day, even when Bible reading has become a normal part of your life. That’s okay. Just open it back up again.
  5. On the other hand, don’t make excuses. I don’t believe anybody is too busy to take five or ten minutes to read the Bible every day. If you are, then it’s time to re-evaluate your priorities as a follower of Christ. Forgetting or having a chaotic day is one thing—not setting any time for God’s word is another. No judgment here, guys, just encouragement. You do have the time!
  6. If your Bible reading time is fairly casual, like mine, set aside a different time for more focused quiet time with God. Once I realized that prayer and reading the Bible don’t have to be at the same time, I became much more free and encouraged to do both. And one benefit of breaking your spiritual disciplines down into smaller pieces is that your mind is more focused on God throughout the day, not just for those 15 minutes in the morning. For me, I typically use the beginning of Cody’s nap to have some focused prayer time. When that doesn’t happen, I use those quiet minutes in bed before I fall asleep at night to talk to God. Sometimes I do both. And talking to God throughout the day is a good habit of relationship with him, too.
  7. Recognize the value of God’s word. If you don’t have motivation to read the Bible, it may be because you don’t really understand why you should. Simply put, the Bible is one of the main ways God speaks to us. It isn’t often that he speaks through a booming voice from the Heavens, but he speaks to us personally and frequently through the Bible, if we take the time to listen. We can’t have a flourishing relationship with God if we never listen to what he has to say. But if we do take the time to read his Word, we can learn so much about God’s character, his heart, his love for us, his desires for our lives, and his eternal purposes. There is nothing that can replace God’s Word when it comes to having a relationship with God.

I hope that you are inspired to read the Bible today, and make it a normal part of your life.

If you don’t have a relationship with God, but you’re interested in learning more about that, send me an email and we can chat!

How are you doing in terms of reading the Bible regularly? What things have helped you or hindered you? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

 

How to Get Through Hard Times

For the past six months, I had been doing a lot better in terms of depression. In fact, sometime around July I was feeling so good that I thought maybe I was done with depression completely. I was just about ready to proclaim that I was healed. But then, just when I started to feel free, it came back. It crept in slowly at first, until I one day realized I was in deep again.

I always have doubts about sharing these struggles with others, especially through a public forum like this. I worry that people will overreact, or react in ways that could hurt my feelings. But I also believe it’s important to be honest and real, and to share my feelings instead of hiding them. So that’s why I’m writing this today.

My depression is weird, in that it comes and goes on a daily or weekly basis. When I’m feeling bad, it may last for days or weeks, but almost never for a month straight or more than that. I might have a good week, then a bad week, then a good day, then a bad couple of days, and so on. It’s unpredictable. Another unique thing about it is that usually, I am able to function very normally even when I feel deeply depressed. I am good at hiding it, and I am able to keep it inside without letting it effect my behavior very noticeably. I suppose I’m fortunate that it doesn’t debilitate me, and I’m able to continue caring for Cody and our home.

Anyway, the couple of bouts I’ve had since my long stretch of feeling good have been caused by stress and boredom, two of my triggers. The summer where we live is extremely hot, and it keeps us indoors most days. There’s only so much to do indoors with a young toddler, so I have struggled with boredom and monotony. Cody is also going through a difficult developmental stage as he’s nearing age two, and he is likely struggling with boredom during the days as well, which makes him even more difficult. I’ve also been stressed about our new puppy’s behavioral problems, and juggling a lot of financial changes lately and having to rearrange our financial priorities. All of it together has caused me to feel pretty low.

There have been good days and weeks as well, this summer. There are days when I have activities to do, and social events, and quality time with my loved ones, and Cody’s mood is better, and I have more patience and creativity to offer him. Sometimes those days even turn into weeks that are enjoyable. And even when my weeks aren’t enjoyable, there are things that happen within them which I enjoy. My depression is not all-consuming, except perhaps for moments at a time. I still find joy even in the midst of depression.

I’ve written all of this to preface what I really wanted to share, which is my list called “How to Get Through Hard Times.” It’s a small list I made of five things that I find help me when I’m in the midst of a depression cycle. I think that these things could also help with other struggles that people experience.

  1. Notice the perfect moments.
  2. Thank God for the good, even if it’s only in moments at a time.
  3. Ask God for help in the bad moments.
  4. Declare victory over trials in Jesus’ name. Hold on to hope.
  5. Remember that THIS WILL PASS.

Noticing the perfect moments means that even when I’m stressed out and sad, I force myself to stop and see the good, because it’s still there. Even on days when Cody skips his nap, and I’ve looked at the clock a dozen times in the past hour only to find that only a single minute has somehow passed, and I don’t know how I will survive the day. Even on the days when I try to take Cody to the park, but he has a meltdown after five minutes and we have to turn around and go home. Even on the days when my puppy has had an accident, chewed through her collar, and barks every time I let her outside. Even on those days, there are good—even perfect—moments. I just need to remember to notice them. I’m talking about when I find myself enjoying a special moment with Cody, whether it’s laughing at his latest silly antic or getting a sweet snuggle or just being overwhelmed by my love for him as he falls asleep nursing. I’m also talking about the glorious moments of peace and quiet when he’s napping, moments of playing with Cody together with Cory, moments of enjoying the cooler evening weather on our family walks, and even moments of enjoying some delicious food or a special treat. It is so important to notice those good and perfect moments. Sometimes I will even say to myself, “this is a perfect moment,” and then just be in it.

I also need to remember to thank God for those perfect moments, and all of the good things in my life. Taking a moment to do that helps me to focus outside of the depressed feelings and focus more on the positive. No, that positive outlook doesn’t always last past “amen,” but it does do something good in my heart and in my relationship with God, and I have found that it helps me push on.

Asking God for help in the bad moments means that when I feel like I’m about to crack under the pressure, I pray for the Holy Spirit to intervene. It may be as small as saying “Jesus, help.” He knows what I mean, and what I need in that moment. Sometimes, the only way we can keep it together is through the strength of God, who is greater. Our strength isn’t always enough—and we aren’t called to be strong on our own anyway.

Declaring victory over my struggles in Jesus’ name… really for me, this just means that I cling on to the hope that Jesus is fighting for me and that he will win in the end, and that I will eventually overcome the difficulties that I’m facing through his victory. In fewer words, it means holding on to hope.

Lastly, and perhaps one of the most important for me, I need to remember that whatever hard time I’m going through will pass. Suffering is temporary. I will feel better at some point, Cody will become easier, I will find a solution, God will change my circumstance, or I will find that I can be joyful in midst of the challenge. If all else fails, I know that no suffering will exist in Heaven. And that’s eternity, y’all.

So that’s what I’m doing right now, working on doing those five things as much as possible. I know that this depression is not forever. I will get through it.

Faith in the Face of Disappointment

Over the past several months, Cory and I have been praying and believing for a particular thing to happen in our lives. I can’t say what it is just yet, but we’ve been really struggling with the process of receiving this thing from God.

For the past few years, I’ve been learning a lot about the power of faith. It was something I never really heard about growing up in church, but as an adult I learned that when we want God to work in our lives, we have a role to play in that, which is to have strong faith and to believe that he will do what we are asking. There are a lot of verses in the Bible that make some pretty strong statements about faith. Mark 11:24 says “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” That’s a bold statement, straight from the mouth of Jesus! And yet, I’m going to have to ask God to clarify some things when I get to heaven, because this verse has proved blatantly false in my life on more than one occasion.

Nevertheless, I still believe that the Bible is a source of truth, and I certainly believe that Jesus’ words are infallible. So there must be something I’m missing. While this may sound like a flimsy disclaimer, the truth is that I am human with an imperfect understanding of God and his ways. I have to choose to continue to trust God and his Word, despite the times when I feel that things aren’t adding up.

So as Cory and I have been asking and having faith that God will give us what we are asking for, we’ve done our very best to continue trusting him and waiting patiently for him to answer our prayers. A few weeks ago, my pastor taught us that when the Bible says “wait” on God, it means to “wrap yourself around” him and his promises. And so, we’ve wrapped our hearts around his faithfulness, and fervently believed that he would come through for us.

There have been about four times now in which we’ve come close to receiving our answer. Each time we’ve believed it would happen, and each time we’ve been crushed when it didn’t. It hurts each time, and we go through a period of losing hope before we gather our strength back up and re-wrap our hearts around the next opportunity. Today was the fourth time that we’ve been let down, and it hurts even more than the last three times, because this time we’ve decided that it’s time to stop trying for a little while. The disappointment is exhausting, and we both need a break from it.

Reflecting on this whole process and the role of faith in our relationship with God, I’ve come to a few conclusions.

First, I’ve learned that faith doesn’t guarantee that we will receive what we ask for from God. We can’t force God to do anything, obviously. Yet without faith, we are far more likely to not receive anything we ask for. Faith is what enables us to receive blessings from God—but again, it doesn’t force God to bless us.

Second, I still believe that God wants to bless us, and all of his children, in every area of our lives. I don’t believe that God ever chooses to leave his children in poverty or sickness or turmoil (or other, less dramatic forms of lack) because he thinks that’s what is best for them. No way. I believe that we live in a broken world, but that God is always working for our good. So despite our struggles, we can know that God wants to rescue us and bring us into something better.

Third, I can see more clearly than ever that often, God’s blessings face obstacles while they’re on their way to us. Sometimes, God’s angels have to battle spiritual opposition from the enemy. Sometimes, there are puzzle pieces that need to be arranged just so before we can receive what we are asking for. Sometimes, there are hearts involved that need to be worked on first. But no matter what is going on behind the scenes, we can know that God is working on it. Because he does answer prayers, and he does care about every area of our lives. It is our job to trust, and let him work. Hebrews 11:1 says “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” It’s not what we can see that matters, it’s our faith in God and our confidence in who he is.

While Cory and I are still feeling very upset and wishing that our hopes would be fulfilled sooner, we are standing strong on who our God is. Nobody ever said that you can’t be crying while you’re standing, though.

It will happen eventually, and when it does, I can’t wait to share all of the awesome details with all of you.

Why I’m a Rainbow Fish

This post has been a long time in the making. For many months now, I’ve felt that God has been asking me to write about issues of sexuality—homosexuality, bisexuality, and transgender issues. This is such a controversial topic, especially in the Christian world right now, and because of that I have shied away from sharing my views. I hate seeing the division that these issues are causing among believers, and I really would rather everyone just be quiet about it. I don’t want to add fuel to the fire! But the more I sit around and stay quiet, the more I feel that one side of the divide is overly represented, while the other is treated as nonexistent. So it’s time that I say something, and here it is; I am a rainbow fish.

For those of you who don’t know, the “Jesus fish” is a symbol that Christians sometimes use to identify themselves as followers of Jesus. You can see the fish on bumper stickers, etc. And of course, the rainbow has become a symbol of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi, trans) community. So a rainbow fish would be a Christian who supports the LGBT community—and that’s me. The rainbow fish is a rare species, it seems, but we’re out there.

I want to be clear about something. I believe in the Bible, that it is the inspired word of God and our ultimate source of truth and hope. Because I believe in the Bible, I believe in Jesus Christ; I believe Jesus is the Son of God who was sent to earth to live as an example and bring us hope, who died to bring us freedom from our sins and our overall separation from God, and who rose again to defeat the enemy once and for all. I believe that, like he said, he is the only true way to Heaven and eternal life. I believe in one true God who has three facets of personality—the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit. Yes, I believe all of those things with confident assurance, because I have seen for myself that they are the only thing that makes sense. I also believe that sexual orientations other than heterosexual are not sinful, and if you stick around, I will tell you why.

As I said, I believe in the Bible as our ultimate source of truth. Although it was written by human beings, its writing was directed by God, and so we can trust that it is perfect and without error in its original form. Yet what we read today is not the original form of the Bible. It has been translated over thousands of years from languages that are no longer used into the languages that we use today. It’s inevitable that in the process of translation, the original messages can lose certain things and take on other things, especially as they pass through cultural lenses. We are fortunate to have a huge number of Bible translations available today—reading in multiple translations can help us get closer to what the original text intended to say. Not only that, but I’m sure God was well aware of the issues that language barriers would cause when it comes to passing the Bible down through generations of humanity. That’s probably why he had it written in such a way that the overall themes and most vital messages of the Bible are woven consistently and clearly throughout the entire text—although some details may be off here and there, for the most part the Bible corroborates itself very well.

In the area of sexuality, I am inclined to question whether the original messages in the Bible have been properly translated. There are reasonable alternative interpretations for all of the verses in the Bible which seem to condemn homosexual behavior as a sin. I won’t go into the details, because I’m not a Bible scholar and it would take up a lot of space here, but I will provide a link to a source I have found helpful at the end of this post. My point is that it is possible that the way most Christians view homosexuality (and other alternative sexual orientations) may be based on Biblical references that don’t mean what they think they do.

This seems likely to me for one main reason; consistency. As far as I understand it, every commandment that God gives in the Bible comes down to him wanting what is best for his people. He knows that the best thing for us is to be in a relationship with him, and that we would live our best possible lives if everyone treated each other with love. In Mark 12:28-34, Jesus taught that the two most important commandments are to love God and to love others. Romans 13:8-10 goes further, saying this: “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (NIV).

The Bible is full of many guidelines for what to do and what not to do in life. But the underlying theme, as pointed out in these passages, is that we should love God and love others. When it comes to sexual orientation, I can see no way in which a consensual, monogamous, committed relationship between two adults of the same sex is in violation of God’s law. Sexuality is a gift from God, and enjoying it is not unloving toward him, in the proper context. (By proper context, I mean sex that is used to love and not hurt others—either physically, or emotionally.) Homosexual relationships also don’t hurt other people, except those people who choose to be “hurt” by it.

There are a few other reasons that I don’t share the typical “conservative” views on homosexuality, bisexuality, and transgender issues. One is that I understand that sexual orientation is not a choice. I never chose to be attracted to my husband, let alone men in general—I simply was. Although physical attraction is just one part of what brings people together into romantic relationships, it is often the first step. I think God probably designed it that way for a reason. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be told that I must enter into a romantic relationship with a person I had absolutely no physical attraction to. Yes, love is a choice and love is what lasts in the end, and it is so much more important than attraction—but sexuality and attraction are still important. God gave us these gifts so that we could tie ourselves emotionally and physically to another person in a very special way. For a person who is attracted to another person of the same sex, and then told that it is wrong to pursue a relationship with that person, sexuality becomes a burden rather than a gift. I simply don’t see how God would want that.

Another reason that I see things a bit differently is that I can easily picture just how involved the enemy is in this war on sexuality. What better tool could the enemy use to divide people? All he has to do is convince the majority of Christians that the LGBT community is living in sin, and he’s got himself a convenient way to repel from God a huge population of individuals. I can only imagine how it would feel to be told that one of the most basic parts of who you are is not acceptable to God, and that you are therefore unwelcome in a church community unless you somehow change that part of yourself. It would be easy to stay far, far away from any part of that world, don’t you think? And as a result, there are billions of people who will never know God, because his representatives in this world have pushed them away.

Transgender individuals are even less understood, it seems. I often hear Christians say things along the lines of “You don’t get to choose your gender, God does!” Well, that’s actually kind of the point. Transgender people feel that they were born a certain gender, but that their sexual organs don’t match that gender. In their view, they aren’t choosing their gender at all. It would probably be easier and preferable if they could simply choose to be the gender that their bodies tell them they are. We don’t argue with the fact that some people are born with physical and mental defects—which I believe are attacks from the enemy, rather than anything that God wants for us—so why can’t we accept that some people may be born with defects in their sexual organs? Obviously, there are cases in which babies are born with both male and female genitalia. Christians don’t seem to have a problem when the parents of those babies choose which gender to assign their children. So why is it such a leap for transgender individuals to do what they can to correct what they deeply feel is a physical defect in their bodies? Personally, I have never felt that I was not female. Would that have been any different if I had been born with male parts? I simply cannot say, because I don’t know. And that’s the point—I don’t know how it would feel to be certain that I am a female without the reassurance of my female body. I cannot and will not tell other people that what they feel is not valid, or that it’s as easy as a choice. I didn’t choose my gender, so why would anybody else?

Probably the worst argument that I’ve heard Christians use against homosexuals, bisexuals, and transgender people is a comparison between these alternative sexual orientations and pedophilia. It practically makes my blood boil. “If homosexuality isn’t a choice and should be accepted, why not also accept pedophiles as having their own sexual orientation?” they ask. And really, how flipping insulting is that. Pedophiles may or may not feel attracted to children by nature, I cannot say—but there is a huge glaring difference between them and people whose sexual orientation is not heterosexual. Pedophiles have victims! Children are not able to consent to nor fully understand sexual relationships. Perhaps that is why pedophiles are inclined to victimize them; it’s a sickness, and anybody who feels that way should receive psychological and spiritual help to overcome it. Homosexual relationships have no victims, when they are between two consenting adults in a monogamous and committed relationship. It’s the same as with any other sexual relationship. (Casual sex has victims whether or not it’s between a man and a woman, or two people of the same sex.)

But putting all of my thoughts and feelings aside, I think it’s very important for me to make one final point, which is that I could be wrong about all of this. I’m a human and my human logic and thinking is far below God’s way of thinking. I could be missing something. And if I am wrong, and the truth is that God’s best for all people is to either be in a heterosexual relationship or no sexual relationship at all, then I will surely find that out when I get to Heaven. But even in that case, I do not believe for one second that the typical Christian approach to interacting with the LGBT community is what God wants. Right or wrong, we are pushing people away from God. We are condemning them and telling them that they cannot follow Jesus unless they change something that they don’t believe they can change.

I would love to see a Christian community where sexuality is an issue that is left between each individual and God. Like any other sin (if it is a sin), it should be up to God to lead his children onto the right path, and up to us to simply encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ to live their best for him. If we could start accepting homosexuals, bisexuals, and transgender individuals into our churches without the stipulation that they change themselves, how many people could we reach for Christ?

I would also love to see a Christian community that doesn’t assume that all of its members are anti-gay. I understand the assumption, because most Christians believe that the Bible condemns homosexuality and thus that all Christians should be on the same page. But there is an alternative interpretation, and I hope that someday more people know about it. The rainbow fish are out there, and I think that’s important for both conservative Christians and the LGBT community to know.

Lastly, I would love to see more separation of politics and religion. Yes, our laws need to be based on moral principles, and as Christians our moral principles come from the Bible. But our laws also need to be logical. Laws should be put in place to protect people from harm, not as a futile attempt to force non-Christians into adopting our worldview. When we fight the legalization of abortion, we are protecting people from harm—babies are the victims in that case. (Yet we can and should also remember that pregnant rape victims are victims too, and all women with unwanted or unplanned pregnancies need our compassion and support as well). Any issue that we vote for should be considered in terms of how it hurts or protects others, because as Christians, we are called to love others.

But the reality is that when Christians fight against legalizing gay marriage, we aren’t protecting anybody. We aren’t winning people for Jesus, but we certainly are building walls between gay people and Jesus. And for what purpose? If we want to protect the sanctity of marriage, why don’t we worry about our own marriages? The divorce rate among Christians is not something we can be proud of, and we have plenty of other issues to work on as well. Infidelity, abuse, sexual dysfunction, and anything short of loving one another the way that God intended for a husband and wife to love—these are the things that we need to focus on changing if we want our marriages to be examples for our children. You see, Christian marriage and secular marriage don’t have to be the same thing—in fact, they’re not, whether we’re talking about gay marriage or any marriage between two non-Christians. Our marriages are our business, and if we want to strengthen the institute of Holy Matrimony then let’s do that. Gay marriage isn’t a threat to the family any more than divorce is (in fact, I feel quite strongly that divorce is a much bigger threat, but then again I don’t see gay marriage as a threat at all), and yet we don’t see people trying to make divorce illegal. Let’s be logical, people, and think about why we’re doing what we’re doing in the political arena. We must protect people, not damage and ostracize them.

So that’s it. That is my very long explanation of how I, as a Christian, feel about homosexuality and other sexual orientations. Whether I am right or wrong is not as important as my calling to love other people and point them to Jesus. I hope that Christians as a unified church can come together in love and reach the LGBT community, because they need Jesus just as much as anybody else—and vice versa.

 

Resource for information about alternative interpretations of the Bible’s message on homosexuality:

http://whosoever.org/bible/

Supernatural Childbirth

We’re officially in our third trimester of pregnancy now, and it’s amazing to finally be here. Every time I see my reflection in the mirror, I’m thrilled to see my big baby belly—being pregnant is something I’ve imagined and hoped for over a long period time, and it’s surreal to actually be that person now. I used to smile whenever I noticed a pregnant lady walking by me, and now I’ve started to notice that I’m on the other end of the equation—strangers are now noticing my belly and I’ve caught a few knowing smiles out in public. It’s such a special time in my life, and I’m really enjoying the process of bringing new life into the world.

Cody’s birth is getting closer and closer, and soon we’ll be full-fledged parents. As usual, we’re having a lot of fun planning, discussing, researching, and preparing for every aspect of this new adventure we can think of. We’re both so eager to start our new careers as a mom and dad to our precious son. Before we can start though, we have to make it through one heck of an interview process—childbirth!

Before we were married, I went through a phase of thinking that I would never want to have children. At first, this was mostly due to fears about the birth process, and how horrible and scary and painful it would be. I didn’t want to have to face that, so I thought that instead we would just have to adopt. Later, I found another reason to never have children at all, even through adoption. There’s a saying that becoming a parent is like choosing to have your heart walk around outside of your body. It’s incredibly risky! You love this other person so much that it’s beyond words, and the idea of them ever getting hurt or making a bad decision is terrifying to you. You have everything invested in your children, and yet very little control over what happens to them. That idea scared the living daylights out of me, and so I thought that I would never want to put myself into such a vulnerable position.

Later, of course, I changed my mind back because I just knew that I was meant to be a mother. It’s a calling on my life that I can’t deny, no matter what pain or risks I have to face. It was only after that discovery that I was able to be taught some very important truths from God. I learned both of them after experiencing the loss of our first baby, Sam, only six weeks into our pregnancy. I was in a place of anger, utter heartbreak, loss of trust, and loss of hope for the future. Other people’s words of comfort often felt like a slap in the face to me. They told me that I should hold on to God, as if I wanted to hold on to a God who decided to take my baby from the world before he or she even had a chance to live. They told me to keep trusting him because it was all in his plan—as if I could trust a God who planned something like that to happen. Most of all, I despised it when people told me that I could try again. The thought of trying again, of putting myself at risk for heartbreak again, was a terrible thought. I felt that it wasn’t worth the risk, and that Cory and I should not try again, not ever.

It was from this place of darkness that God showed us the light. Through the guidance of some godly people in our lives, he showed us the simple truth that he is good. We learned that our miscarriage was not God’s doing or his plan for us, but an attack from the enemy. We also learned that God is bigger and stronger than our enemy, and that we have the choice to fight with him on our side. When we fight with the spiritual weapons that he gave us, we will experience victory!

The lessons that God taught us through that painful experience are lessons that we desperately needed for our future as parents. If we’d become parents without learning about God’s protection and strength, and about spiritual warfare and our role in it, we wouldn’t have been able to handle the fear of “what might happen.” We would have lived in fear of our children being hurt or worse, and that fear would have given the enemy a foothold in our lives. Instead, we now know and firmly believe that God has his hand over our family. I don’t have to worry about what might happen to Cody because I know that God’s got him. He’s in good hands. In fact, he’s in the best possible hands!

We also learned a mind-blowing (yes, mind-blowing!) truth about childbirth that completely obliterated any worries I once had about the process of bringing a baby into the world. We were given a book called Supernatural Childbirth by our pastor at the time, and through it we learned about the power of confession, or speaking God’s word over our lives, and about the promises and freedom that are available through Jesus. I’d never before been exposed to the idea that we can have victory over every area of pain in our lives through the victory of Jesus on the cross. What I learned by reading this book and the Bible verses within is that I don’t have to experience an agonizing, life-threatening, or traumatizing birth. I can bring Cody into the world in comfort, peace, and safety. And I will!

Supernatural childbirth is using God’s word (the promises he makes in the Bible) to overcome challenges related to childbearing. The Bible supports every woman’s ability to conceive, gestate without sickness, pain, or fear, and give birth in safety and without pain (or drugs)—all within the plan of God and the power of Jesus. As with any area of life, God will back up his promises, to the level of your faith. He will meet you where your faith is! I had trouble believing that I could have a healthy pregnancy without nausea, morning sickness, and fatigue in the first trimester. I chose to listen to what people around me said—that if I felt sick, it meant the baby was healthy! If I didn’t feel sick, well… you can guess what that inferred. And so, I felt sick and icky for the entire first trimester. I did believe firmly that Cody and I would be healthy, however, and so it was. That was the level of my faith, met by the goodness of God. As I approach the end of my pregnancy now, I’m believing for more. I’m believing for a supernatural, pain-free birth, and I trust God’s promise to meet me where my faith is.

Now, I want to address two common “arguments” against this concept of supernatural childbirth. The first is that the Bible says in Genesis that women will suffer in childbirth. This is true—the verse is Genesis 3:16 and it says “To the woman, he said ‘I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.’” This is part of several verses in this section that represent what is known as “the curse,” or the consequences of humankind’s fall from God’s plan. Humans chose to disobey God, and as a result, lost the benefits of the paradise they’d been living in and forever altered their relationship with God. From that point on, humans had to work hard to obey a very strict and detailed set of laws in order to stay in right standing with God (and even then, it wasn’t quite enough to be accepted by God without a hefty dose of his grace). God didn’t intend for it to stay that way forever, though. Throughout the Old Testament, hints of a coming savior abound. In the New Testament, that savior finally appeared—Jesus Christ, the son of God, sent to earth to teach us and save the lost. He came, lived as an example, healed and performed miracles, and finally, died an undeserved death on the cross and rose again. He did this for our salvation, so that we could return to the relationship God originally intended for us to have with him. Jesus paid the price for us to be redeemed. Galatians 3:13 says that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.’” Isaiah 53:4-5 says “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Because of Jesus, anyone who believes in him is no longer under the curse. I am not fallen, but redeemed, through the grace of God! Therefore, my childbearing experience is not the experience of a cursed woman, but the experience of a woman living in God’s abundance and delivered from pain and suffering through the love of Jesus.

The second common argument against supernatural childbirth is something along the lines of “everybody knows that childbirth is painful.” Almost any woman who has given birth will testify to the horrible pain that she experienced in labor and birth. I’d even venture to say that most Christian women are in that group. So why would I be any different than the rest of the world, let alone than so many of my sisters in Christ, who are also redeemed? The difference lies within my mind and my faith. As I said before, God will meet you where your faith is. In Matthew 9:29, Jesus healed a group of blind men by saying “According to your faith let it be done to you.” A person can be redeemed through Christ, and yet not believe that they have healing, abundance, or the ability to have children and have them in joy and comfort. According to their faith, it will be done to them. The conclusion of Supernatural Childbirth says this: “People often fight for the right to suffer… The Word says you can do things God’s way. You can do things other ways as well. You can be sick, and God will still love you. You can be poor, and God will still love you. You can be barren, and God will still love you. You can live in pain, and God will still love you. But God says there is a better way. Jesus has paid for salvation, healing, prosperity, deliverance and blessing.” It is up to each individual to decide in their mind and heart whether to believe God for what he has promised. Romans 12:2 says “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” I can choose to conform to the ways of the world, and give birth in the way that the world says I will; or, I can choose to renew my mind according to God’s Word, and transform my birth into a peaceful, joyful, and comfortable experience, which I believe is God’s perfect will for me. I do not believe that God wants me to experience pain (what loving parent would want their child to experience pain?), and I want to see his good, pleasing and perfect will in every area of my life. That’s why I believe in supernatural childbirth, and why I have no fear when it comes to my pregnancy or birth. God is good, and he has everything under control!  

And so to childbirth, I say bring it on. 🙂

Fear Itself

One of the greatest and most important lessons that I’ve learned over the past year or so has been about fear. Before I found my current church and met the people there, I never realized just how powerful fear—and it’s opposite, faith—can be. If I were to choose the three most valuable things that God has shown me throughout my life so far, the first would be that believing in him is both logical and reasonable; the second would be that doubt is not only okay, but necessary to faith; and the third would be that faith and fear are both choices, and my choices in this area will define my life.

The Bible tells us a lot about faith and fear. It tells us that while we are living in this world, we are a part of an unseen war between the powers of goodness and darkness. As much as that may sound like the tagline for a modern sci-fi novel, the truth is that this plotline was originally introduced in the Bible, and it continues to be the reality of life today. As you might guess, God is the King on the side of goodness, and the devil (AKA the enemy) is the evil force on the side of darkness. Whether or not we recognize it, the war is raging on, and both sides have their own weapons of mass destruction. Fear is what the enemy uses to capture his prisoners, and faith in God is what we use to fight back.

I’ve become more and more aware of this spiritual warfare over the past year, and especially recently. I recognize these themes in many other places as well. A little while ago, I was watching the movie After Earth and I couldn’t help but notice how strongly this idea is portrayed. The premise of the movie, set in the future, is that humans have been forced to abandon Earth and live on a planet called Nova Prime, where they face new dangers in the form of alien attacks. The aliens use a type of monster called an Ursa as their main weapon; the Ursas are huge, nasty-looking creatures who locate and kill their human prey by smelling their fear. It is discovered that the soldiers can defeat the Ursas by eliminating their fear, a technique called “ghosting”; when they do so, they become invisible and can then kill the otherwise blind creatures.

One of the most memorable lines in the movie is when the main character explains to his son how he learned to ghost. He says: “Fear is not real. The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist. That is near insanity. Do not misunderstand me, danger is very real, but fear is a choice. We are all telling ourselves a story and that day mine changed.”

There is so much truth in these lines. Fear comes from thinking about something bad happening in the future, whether the immediate future or sometime farther off. In both the movie and in reality, fear is very powerful; it allows the characters in the movie to be seen and killed by the enemy, and it allows us to be controlled and affected by our enemy. Yet the choice is ours. We can tell ourselves the story of bad things happening, thus giving the enemy power over us; or, we can tell ourselves the story of good things happening, believing for the best and refusing to let fear cloud our minds. This is the essence of faith. When we have faith instead of fear, we may not become invisible to our enemy, but we do become untouchable.

The power of faith comes directly from Jesus. The Bible says that because of Jesus’ sacrifice, dying on the cross to pay the price for all of humanity’s bad choices, we now have freedom. Colossians 1:13-14 says “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (NIV). It also says in Romans 10:10, “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (ESV). In other words, there is a “God part” and an “us part” to this process. Jesus died and rose again; with his blood, he covered us and made us perfect in God’s eyes, and with his victory over death, he gave us the ability to have victorious lives. In order to receive any of this, though, we have to believe it and confess it. God’s grace and our faith have to meet in order to see the power of God over the enemy in our lives.

Faith allows miracles to happen. The first miracle that faith brings is called salvation, when we accept Jesus and become a part of his kingdom forever. But faith is not just for saving our souls; it’s for saving our lives as well. In Matthew 9:29 Jesus said “according to your faith, let it be done to you.” In other words, we will see only as much good in our lives as we believe we will receive. The stories we tell ourselves are powerful indeed. We can have the abundant lives that Jesus came to give us, if we let faith rule and tell fear to take a hike.

Of course, faith is not easy most of the time. Sometimes, for me at least, it can feel downright naïve and unrealistic. For instance, does it really make sense to believe that I will not die prematurely and to refuse to fear death? The world tells me that I could die at any moment. But the Bible says “I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord” (Psalm 118:17 ESV). Which should I choose to believe? For me, the answer is God. If I let the enemy fill me with fear of dying, then I step out of God’s protection; it’s my choice. I can either listen to the story that God is telling me, or I can listen to the story that the devil is telling me. My choice will define my reality.

Ever since Cory and I lost our first baby, Sam, early in pregnancy, I’ve been struggling with fear about future pregnancies. The devil is trying to whisper things in my ear, and it has not always been easy to ignore that. Sometimes, it has felt extremely illogical to believe that I will never lose a baby again. A while ago, while talking to Cory about it, I said that I felt like God was asking me to stick my head in the sand and ignore reality. But then a thought occurred to me; why would I be afraid to “stick my head in the sand” if I knew that somebody was standing guard next to me? Perhaps trusting God sometimes feels like we are being foolish and ignoring reality, but maybe that’s okay. God is standing guard over us, and he is the most trustworthy and undefeatable guard imaginable. The truth is that trusting him often means we have to take control of our minds, pushing away thoughts that are not from God and filling them with his words instead. Some may call this ignorance, but it makes perfect sense when you believe in the power of fear and faith. I believe because of the clear results I’ve seen in my life.

My miscarriage was about more than just the one event making me sad; it was the enemy’s attempt to stop me from my future and block my trust in God. The enemy delights in bringing despair and ending lives prematurely, and I have no doubt that he was behind it. But I also believe that he did even more damage than it first appeared. If I had let him, he could have used this experience to fill me with fear about the future. Taken to the extreme, I may have never wanted to try to have a baby again, and my fear would have kept me from what I believe is one of the main purposes for my life, being a mother.

Unfortunately for the devil, I can see what he’s trying to do and I’m not falling for it. I believe what God tells me in the Bible: “He gives the childless woman a family, making her a happy mother. Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 113:9 NLT). I have faith in God, and whenever fear tries to slip back in, I tell it to get lost. The victory is mine through Jesus if I’m willing to claim it.

It seems like FDR had a good point when he said “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” The lesser known second part of that sentence is equally wise: “—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Fear truly is an unreasoning force which keeps us from advancing forward. Fortunately, with faith, we truly have nothing to fear—not even fear itself. 

What the Fruit? The Fruits of the Spirit – Part 9

Anybody who has spent time reading the Bible probably knows that it’s full of uplifting stories and verses, helpful wisdom and guidance, and overall, the beautiful promise of hope through Jesus. But there are also some pretty strange things in there. One story that I always used to think was weird is about Jesus cursing a fig tree. As told in the book of Mark, it goes like this:

 

The next morning as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. He noticed a fig tree in full leaf a little way off, so he went over to see if he could find any figs. But there were only leaves because it was too early in the season for fruit. Then Jesus said to the tree, “May no one ever eat your fruit again!” And the disciples heard him say it.

Mark 11:12-14 (NLT)

The story continues a few verses later:

The next morning as they passed by the fig tree he had cursed, the disciples noticed it had withered from the roots up. Peter remembered what Jesus had said to the tree on the previous day and exclaimed, “Look, Rabbi! The fig tree you cursed has withered and died!

Then Jesus said to the disciples, “Have faith in God. I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart. I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours. But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.”

Mark 11:20-25 (NLT)

 

What on earth is that all about? Aside from the basic strangeness of Jesus cursing a tree, it doesn’t really seem fair. As the verse clearly states, it was too early in the season for fruit. So why was Jesus so angry about it having no fruit? And when his disciple made a comment about it, why did he seem to change the subject instead of explaining his reasoning? At first, I was stumped. So I did a little bit of research, and I discovered that apparently, fig trees (at least in this area and at this time in history) would produce fruit first and leaves afterward. In other words, a fig tree “in full leaf” would be expected to have fruit, despite being out of season. Jesus was clearly disapproving of this poser fig tree, displaying its leaves proudly without having any fruit to show for it. And like all of Jesus’ parables, he told this one with a deeper meaning in mind.

My interpretation is that the tree was a symbol for people who call themselves Christians but have nothing to show for it. Many people decide to accept that Jesus died for them (which is a miracle in itself!), but sadly they stop there. They don’t continue to seek God and pursue his will for their lives. They have the leaves— their salvation through Jesus and the title of “Christian,” and perhaps even regular church attendance— but they aren’t bearing fruit. Their faith isn’t continuing to grow and their lives don’t show Jesus’ love to others. The Fruits of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—are nowhere to be found in the lives of these Christians. They are the fruitless fig trees.

This same story is told again, slightly differently, in the book of Matthew. Here, Jesus makes it clear that there is a vital connection between bearing fruit (literally for the tree, and figuratively for his followers) and faith:

 

Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered. When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” they asked.

Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”

Matthew 21:18-22 (NIV)

 

At first it may seem like Jesus is avoiding the question and changing the subject. But this is simply Jesus’ way of teaching his disciples. Often in the Bible he performs a miracle, and then gives a mini-speech about a seemingly unrelated, but important, concept. In reality, though, the two things are intricately related. We can see how that’s true in this case. Jesus is showing us that when we call ourselves his followers without bearing fruit (think of the fruits of the spirit), we are not living up to our full potential and we cannot be useful to him. That’s not to say that that he’s going to take back our salvation (he never will) or that he’s going to curse us; it just means that we won’t get to see the full extent of what he wants to do in and through our lives. We won’t get to feed hungry people with our delicious fruit. Instead, we’ll just be leafy and useless.

When we have faith, however, and continuously pursue Jesus, we can bear much fruit. We can live abundant lives with bodies that are whole and healed, families that are safe and provided for, and a passion for living and loving with Jesus by our sides.

This is God’s vision for our lives, presented in this passage in the book of John:

 

(Jesus is speaking)

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

John 15:5-8 (NIV)

 

Our fruitful and abundant lives are not only a gift from God, they are designed for his glory. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again; as followers of Jesus, we should be better. We should have better lives, and we should be doing more good in the world, compared to all of the non-believers out there. That should be how the world identifies us— by our fruitfulness. That fruitfulness comes naturally when we seek God and allow him to change us.

The fruitful life is a life full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It’s a life lived in complete surrender to God, trusting him to take care of your every need. It’s a life in which we see the desires of our heart become reality, because we follow an amazing, loving God who promises to give us all of this and more. And ultimately, it’s a life lived for the glory of God. That is the kind of life that I want, and Jesus is bringing me into it step by step, every day.

What the Fruit? The Fruits of the Spirit – Part 8

I’ve recently resigned myself to the fact that my life is busy, and blogging is a pastime that I will do when I have time. Sometimes (like for the past several months) that means I’ll be lucky to post once a month. Other times (hopefully) I’ll be able to post as frequently as I’d like to, and that would be at least once every week. For now though, I’m just going to do what I can and not worry about it. So even though this series has taken me an exceptionally long time to get through, I’m pressing on! Today, I’m continuing with the second-to-last post, on the final two fruits of the spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23.

 

“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!”

-Galatians 5:22-23 NLT

 

Gentleness and self-control are very intertwined for me. I have a slight anger problem that usually comes out over very stupid things. My computer not working properly, or my cat meowing incessantly at me as I’m trying to do my homework, or accidentally injuring myself have all been causes of disproportionally angry outbursts. I’ve recently come to understand that my anger, which stems from frustration, is actually a result of me feeling out of control. For some reason, I get ticked off when I feel like things aren’t working according to my plan. As a result of feeling out of control, I lose my self-control. I’ve realized that whenever I feel frustrated and angry at something, all I have to do is tell myself “you don’t have to control that” and I feel better pretty much instantly. It’s weird, but it works for me.

In my experience, gentleness goes out the window when anger takes over, and anger takes over when self-control goes out the window. And interestingly enough, I’ve noticed that for me, self-control goes out the window when I try to control things outside of myself. Perhaps that’s because when I try to control everything and fail, I give up on controlling anything at all. It’s a fascinating little cycle. I’ve found that the solution, at least in my humble experience, is to stop trying to control things outside of myself. And really, the only way I can feel at peace with doing that is by trusting God. So like so many other problems in life, it all comes down to letting go and trusting God.

The virtues of gentleness and self-control are so important when it comes to a Christian’s job of pointing others to Jesus. It’s a sad truth that many of us frequently forget to be gentle when we tell people about God. Perhaps we forget that it’s not our job to convince people to love God or change their minds and hearts; it’s only our job to love them like Jesus. When we try to control other people and realize that we can’t, we begin to feel frustrated and angry, and our gentleness disintegrates. We desperately try to force them into compliance with our beliefs. Yet this passage in the Bible is a small reminder that gentleness should be a natural result of the Holy Spirit working through us, as believers. Forcefulness is not God’s way.

Self-control is also important when it comes to how we live our lives. Christians are supposed to be examples to the world of a life lived with God. My pastor once said that as believers, we should be “better” at whatever we do. Better spouses, better parents, better writers or computer programmers or students or fill-in-the-blank-with-whatever-you-do’ers. We should have better lives, lives that prosper because that’s a big part of what God has to offer for those who believe in him and trust him. Although many of those things are out of our control (which is where trusting and relying on God comes in) there are certainly areas of our lives that are directly affected by our behavior. We are responsible for our own actions.

Think about the way that a child’s behavior reflects on his or her parents. Since even the greatest parents cannot control a child’s free will, this often isn’t fair, but it is still how the world seems to work. Like it or not, people judge a misbehaving child’s parents. The same is true with God. The way that we, as children of God, behave reflects either positively or negatively on our Heavenly Father. Followers of Christ have a great need for self-control, because we are representatives for a perfect and Holy God. Obviously, we cannot be perfect or Holy the way that God can, but having strong self-control can go a long way. Like all of the fruits of the spirit, the good news is that God will do a lot of the work in this area for us. Our main job is to surrender to God’s will in our lives, and let him change our hearts to make us more like him. He gives us supernatural self-control, which allows us to better represent him to the world.

The more time I spend on this Earth, the more I see that trusting God is the key to life. We can trust God to take care of us, to make us into the people we are meant to be, and to be faithful to his promises. In trusting God, we must learn to let go. When we let go of the things that we can’t control, we only have to concern ourselves with the things we can control; our own thoughts and actions. Although controlling our thoughts and actions is not always easy, we can do it with God’s help. This process of letting go and taking responsibility for ourselves brings peace. And when our hearts are filled with peace, then we can be the gentle, quietly strong people that we were designed to be. We find victory when we relinquish our lives to the Lord, training our thoughts on him, basing our decisions on his guidance, and letting Him do the rest.

 

I wait quietly before God, for my victory comes from him.

Psalm 62:1

 

What the Fruit? The Fruits of the Spirit – Part 7

“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!”

-Galatians 5:22-23 NLT

 

These last few months, I’ve learned a lot about faith. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had my ups and downs with my beliefs. At times, I have felt so certain of God and secure in my understanding of Him; at other times, my doubts and confusion have grown to the point of nearly swallowing me. There have been points in my life where I almost gave up on God and decided that He wasn’t real. But there have also been great times in my life where I’ve felt God’s presence in unmistakable ways. My spiritual journey reached a major turning point about eight months ago, when my husband and I finally found a church that we felt was right for us in our new city.

Since we’ve been a part of Passion Life Church, we’ve learned some amazing things about God. I’ve found mentors who have helped me through some of my struggles in faith. I’ve found friends who encourage me and pray with and for me. Because of this community, or more accurately, because of what God is doing through this community, I am the strongest I have ever been, faith-wise. Yet the biggest growth of all has been within the last few months and weeks, after experiencing the tragedy of miscarriage. My faith was tested almost to the breaking point when that happened. I thank God that I have been blessed with a faith-filled church family, who helped me to work through the pain and actually learn to trust God more because of it.

Now that I’m ready to get back to writing more regularly, I want to finish my series on the fruit of the spirit. The seventh fruit, faithfulness, just so happens to be one thing I’ve learned a lot about recently and I am eager to share my thoughts.

To be faithful means to be loyal, constant, and steadfast, or to have a strong belief in something or someone. As a fruit of the spirit, it means that as we walk through our lives with God, his Holy Spirit develops greater and greater faith in us. We start off as spiritual babies, believing Him for our salvation but perhaps not much else. As we grow, we discover that we can trust in God for many other things. We may become more attuned to the Holy Spirit and aware of the spiritual warfare going on around us. Then, we can learn to fight using our faith.

My biggest struggle after losing my baby was this question: Why would I trust God, or have faith in him, if he lets bad things like this happen? If this was his will, then how could he really be a good God? People would say things like “God must have known there was something wrong with the baby, so it was really a blessing in disguise that he didn’t give you a sick child.” I found that so ridiculous, because that’s just replacing one bad thing with another. Instead of being sad about having a miscarriage, I was supposed to be relieved about my baby being sick in the first place? That didn’t make sense to me. The most confusing part was the idea that God somehow wanted me to have a miscarriage. How could a good God do that? Why not just keep me from becoming pregnant in the first place?

My breakthrough came when I realized that it wasn’t God’s will. It definitely was the enemy’s will, though. And unfortunately, he won that battle. It seems a little short-sighted to me, seeing as my baby is now in Heaven and well out of his reach, but I guess he was just happy to make me and Cory so sad for a while. What he didn’t realize was that we’d come back stronger, ready to fight. Now that we understand things a little better, that’s exactly what we’re doing.

Being faithful means that I am loyal to God and his will. I read his word and go to church so that I can learn more about his character and his will for my life. I fight against my own thoughts and ideas that I realize are contrary to God. I gently but firmly assert that the truth is the truth; that God’s character is love, that what the Bible says is reality, and that Jesus is the only way to God. Sometimes, people don’t like to hear those things, and in those cases, I back off but never back down from what I believe. I am loyal to God, and I’m determined to keep it that way.

Being faithful also means that I’m constant and steadfast. I believe that we are in a spiritual war, with the enemy constantly trying to “steal, kill, and destroy” as the Bible says in John 10:10. If I’m not vigilant in the fight, then he has more opportunities to get his way. But when I’m steadfast in my beliefs and constant in proclaiming God’s power and promises over myself and my family, then I win, because God wins. Cory and I have what are called “confessions” that we read each day. They’re not the Catholic kind of confessions, though, in which we confess our sins. Instead, they’re basically promises from the Bible and other things that we believe God wants for us. It goes something like this… “God, we know that you are our healer. In your name, we declare that we have healthy bodies and minds.” We have confessions for every area of our lives, from financial provision to health to our desire to have children. For each confession, we have a Bible verse to back it up and confirm that it is indeed God’s will. While at first I thought the idea of reading these confessions was strange, I soon realized that they have power. Romans 10:10 says “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” I believe that this verse is about more than just salvation; the Bible is full of amazing promises to us, and we grab ahold of them when we believe and confess them.

Finally, being faithful simply means that we believe. It means that we trust in God. The fact of the matter is that I will never fully understand him, but I can fully trust that he is good, that he loves me, and that ultimately, I am going to Heaven. Even though I am loyal to God, constant in the fight for his will, and believe that God himself is faithful to his promises, there still will be times when things don’t go the way I hope they will. Sometimes, God heals people slowly or through medical intervention rather than through an instant miracle. And sometimes, no matter how much faith I think I have, the devil still wins battles. It would be easy for me to lose faith in these situations. Instead of giving up on God or his promises, though, I can use my final piece of the faith puzzle and continue to trust him. Just because I miscarried once, doesn’t mean it will happen again. I trust God and I believe that it won’t.

One of my most treasured Bible verses that I rely on for having faith is in Matthew 9:29, when Jesus says “According to your faith let it be done to you.” God meets us where our faith is. If we trust him to save our souls, he will. If we trust him to provide for us, he will. If he trust him to heal us, he will. If we trust him to give us children, he will. As I continue walking with God, I believe that the Holy Spirit will continue to produce the fruit of faithfulness in me, and I’m beyond excited to see where that faith takes me.

 

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”

-Hebrews 10:23