Monday, August 19, 2013

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Spirit Fruit Cake

 I’ve never tasted a fruit cake I like, but I’ve been thinking about them since my friend’s ten year old daughter, Rachel, had another one of her Heaven dreams. 

(See my earlier post about Rachel here:)

She told her mom they baked a cake in Heaven made out of the fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22.  

“.. the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”

Rachel said, “It is good for our spirit because it is made out of spirit stuff. It is good for our bodies because it comes from our spirit into our bodies where we need it.”

 Maybe this fruit cake dream is a message and reminder that the fruit of the Spirit, which we tend to think of as individual traits, are connected; intertwined. 

Instead of wondering which one or two we need most, we are meant to see the need for ALL of them. 

So, how do we assimilate these fruit into our daily life? 

What exactly is the recipe for Spirit Fruit Cake?

Hunger (need)

The first step in the recipe is recognizing a need for these attributes; having a hunger to be more like Christ in every area of life and a desire to display His character in every circumstance.

When our stomach is hungry we have an insatiable craving to fill it and go to great measures to ensure our body is fed. 

Without a hunger for sustenance that feeds the spirit, it is doomed to shrivel rather than grow.

Worse yet, we are destined for a constant struggle to be good enough on our own.

I needn’t remind any of us how often that fails.

Mix (add all ingredients)

The New Testament speaks often of being filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) and walking in the Spirit filled life (Galatians 5:16)

When we receive Christ and are filled with the Holy Spirit the seeds of His fruit are planted within us. They are one of His many gifts that help us live the abundant life Jesus promised (John 10:10).

The growth of these fruit depend on our need and use of them. They develop in the watered and fertile soil of a heart surrendered to God.

1 Peter 1: 5-9 instructs us, with diligence, to add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  

This is not a buffet, picking and choosing the fruit we like or wondering which one or two we need most. 
Like any good recipe, one ingredient blends into the next and the full use of one fruit at work in us is hindered without incorporating the others; they cannot come to fruition alone.  

What good is it to be a patient person if we are not kind? Where is gentleness without love? How can we have longsuffering if we don’t possess self control? Is it even possible to have joy without peace? 

Gentleness, kindness, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control interact with one another to create the entire recipe in the Spirit Fruit Cake. 

Not one ingredient can be left out with an expectation for the finished product to turn out right.

Bake (turn up the heat!)

We all face daily situations that present us with opportunity to react in multiple ways. Here is where the trouble waits. 

How will we respond when the choice is callousness or kindness, irritation or patience, strife or peace, rudeness or gentleness?

To feed our body well and keep it healthy we have to make wise food choices. Denying our flesh the convenient route by making a salad, takes more thought and preparation than grabbing a candy bar.

Likewise, our natural response to adverse and annoying inconvenience is usually an unhealthy serving of selfishness and pride. Emotion takes over, words are unleashed and when the deed is done, regret and misery settle in where God’s peace and serenity should live.

If we ask, God meets our practice of these fruit at each situation we face, with unlimited grace and at the exact moment of need. 

Becoming intentionally aware of God’s amazing grace at work in our life, allows us to hold our tongue, curb our anger or see an irritating person from a different perspective. 

Only He can give us insight and discernment into what triggers our flawed reactions.

Developing the Fruit of the Spirit is a lifelong process. The more we practice the easier it becomes to react out of Christ-like love, instead of flesh and out of spiritual discernment rather than human emotion. 

At some point we more consistently respond with gentleness instead of harshness, patience instead of annoyance, gentleness instead of rudeness, joy instead of moodiness.

The Spirit of God takes dominance over self and others are now fed by the nourishing fruit within us.

Not where you want to be yet? Don’t despair, there’s plenty of fruit cake to go around.

 A steady diet of this recipe is recommended. 

And no calorie counting is required.

Colossians 1: 9-11 “For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask…that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God..”

Colossians 1:27 "Christ in you, the hope of glory."

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Self Control or Patience? I'll Take an Order of Both, Please!

I took Jon to Wendy’s fast food restaurant the other day…well…let’s say, I tried.

He emerged from his room in the early afternoon, around 1pm, desperately needing a shower, shave and change of clothes and headed for the garage to get in the car; his signal that, ” I’d like to go someplace now.”

I told him there would be no going anywhere looking like he just crawled out from under a rock. He frowned and shuffled back inside to the bathroom.

By the time we got in the car, Jon had showered, put on clean clothes and it was almost 7:30 pm. 

He was also wearing a plastic headband with paper Mickey Mouse ears taped to it, garden gloves and a flowered belt from my closet. Random items were tucked between the belt and his waist, a plastic sword, a drumstick, a long glow stick with a bright red heart on the end and several other unidentified objects.

He handed me a note and I stared at the scrawled print trying to figure out what it said. Considering the way he was decorated, I had a feeling I already knew.

I deciphered the words, DISENI and MIKEY MOSE and realized I was correct. He wanted to go to Disney. 

Problem number one, it was already late and we don’t live in Kissimmee anymore. From there, Disney was a fifteen minute drive. Now that we’re located thirty miles north of Orlando, Disney is an hour away, maybe more depending on interstate traffic.

Problem number two, our Disney passes expired several years ago and Jon doesn’t understand it costs a bundle to get in the park and is barely worth the price when you’re staying all day. Forget it if you’re showing up an hour or two before it closes. 

I handed the note back, “Sorry Dude, it’s too late to go to Disney now. You took so long getting ready we don’t have much time to go anywhere. How about Wendy’s or McDonalds. They’re both open late.”

He scowled as he took the note back and turned it over. I waited another ten minutes until he finally wrote WEDYS on the back. By the time we pulled into Wendy’s parking lot it was 8:05pm.

I shut off the car and told him that his costume was pretty impressive but “If you don’t want people staring at you all night then you better take all that stuff off and leave it in the car.”

Sometimes he cares about that, other times, not. He carefully took everything off except the flowered belt. 

I got out of the car and walked over to wait for him near the door. It was now 8:30. 

Jon stayed in the car at least another ten minutes trying to decide what he wanted to bring inside. Finally the door opened and another five minutes passed, then two legs appeared beneath. 

After several minutes went by he stood up. He remained statue still in that spot for about five minutes. 

He finally shut the door and stayed next to the car for nearly ten minutes, pushing buttons on an imaginary keypad under the door handle. 

I pulled out my remote and hit the lock button. The horn beeped. Jon frowned. 

It took him another eight minutes to walk from the car to the sidewalk curb. Once he was actually on the sidewalk that led to the entrance, I went inside, sat down at a table near the window and continued to watch his slow progress toward the door.

While I watched, a woman who had passed me thirty minutes prior, as I waited on the sidewalk, finished eating and came back by me to leave. She glanced out the window at Jon, who was slowly making his way to the door in intermittent starts and pauses.

“Are you with him?” She asked.

“Yes.” I forced a smile. 

I was hungry and tired of waiting. Honestly, I really wanted to go outside and give my kid a big boot in the behind with my foot to get him moving. It took every ounce of self control I had and a lot of Jesus talking to stay in that chair and keep waiting. 

I also realized if someone saw me do that, I’d probably be in handcuffs for assaulting a disabled person in Wendy’s parking lot. So I stayed put and prayed for more patience and grace and tried to put my thoughts on something other than my snail slow child.

“Is he your son?” the woman asked, not waiting for an answer. “I’m a special ed teacher in Orlando,” she continued.”It sure takes a lot of patience sometimes doesn’t it?”

“Yes it does,” I replied, “And I think I’m about to run out if he doesn’t get in here pretty soon.”

I smiled again, hoping she wouldn’t think worse of me for what I’d just said. She was trying to complement me after all.

Her preschool size grandson was pulling on her, stretching her arm so far he slid sideways to the floor. He was ready to go and I found myself wishing Jon was like him; wishing I could be over the agonizing amount of waiting that happens whenever I take Jon any place. 

The woman smiled back. “You are a very patient person,” she said. 

I was thankful what I was really feeling wasn’t showing on the outside.

I realized then that we easily confuse self control with patience. I was anything BUT patient right then. My ability, by God’s grace, to control myself when I wanted to do anything but had been perceived as patience.

“Thank You God, for self control,” I said out loud to God and myself as she turned to leave.  

Self control isn’t a popular topic in our impatient culture but it’s such a crucial foundation to the other character qualities we need. Love, peace, endurance, tolerance, kindness, gentleness, patience all start with putting self aside for the good of another.

Proverbs 25:28 states, A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” Sounds to me like a place left defenseless. Without self control, all boundaries are gone and every destructive thing has access to our life.

My outing with Jon didn’t end any better than it started. He came through the restaurant door at 9:25pm. We ordered by 9:40 and I sat back down while Jon took his time at the soda machine and condiment counter. 

I ate quickly and was booting up my laptop, relaxing into a few hours of writing time, when the manager walked back to let me know they were closing. 

We had to leave.

“At 10 o’clock?” I asked in disbelief. Hadn’t I seen advertisements, posters and billboards announcing Wendy’s late night hours all over the place? 

Jon hadn’t even sat down yet. He was still pumping ketchup into little paper cups.

I sighed, put my laptop away and readied myself for the struggle coming to get him back out the door he had just come through.

Thank God for self control. 

Like my good friend Glee always says, “Just ‘cause self control is last on the list doesn’t mean it’s not important,”

Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control..

Monday, July 29, 2013

Lessons From My Garden-The Other Side of Darkness


I’ve experienced it. You have too. 

Maybe you’re there right now, a time in life when everything safe, secure and comfortable has been uprooted. 

Turned upside down. 

Night may have descended in the middle of a bright sunny day with a phone call, a diagnosis, a betrayal, a loss, a failure. 

In an instant, you are overshadowed by gloom and despair and not one glimmer of light flickers to guide you to a solution. 

You feel trapped in a dark place with no way out. Abandoned. Alone. Afraid.

What are we to do in the darkness, through the long night of struggle and heartache?

I’ve noticed several amazing plants in my garden that illustrate the answer to this question in different ways:

The Cassia tree, abundant in clusters of symmetrical leaves, is covered with bright yellow flowers in Autumn. A small shrub-like tree, it grows twelve to fifteen feet tall. 

Sulpher butterflies, the large yellow-winged variety, are attracted to the Cassia and will rest on its branches even when it isn’t flowering.

An amazing characteristic of the Cassia is how it folds its leaves together at dusk, as if putting little hands together for bedtime prayers.

The Cassia “prays” all night and when the sun rises in the morning the leaves open to another day of butterfly welcoming.

A life without prayer is a life without light. What better time to pray than when we can’t see where we’re going?

The lyric to an old hymn put it this way:
Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful,
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness
Take it to the Lord in prayer.

The Four O’clock plant has small trumpet-like flowers that remain closed during the day. 

When evening comes they open, displaying a mass of color across the top of their waxy stems and releasing a mild, sweet fragrance into the night. 

As we sit on the patio in the evening the delightful scent is carried to us on the breeze. This flower puts on its greatest display in the darkness. 

The Four O’clock is not concerned about the setting sun. It was made to rejoice in the night.

Paul and Silas, in the darkness of a dreary prison cell (Acts 16), praised God in the middle of the night, the fragrance of their worship carried on the wind of the Holy Spirit to God’s throne.

Their praise brought the answer to their problem and set them free.

The Poinsettia plant is famous for its beautiful red Christmas blooms. 

The blooms are actually the plant’s green leaves which slowly transform into a brilliant red color as the daylight hours shorten and nights grow longer.

Poinsettias need the long dark nights of autumn and early winter, to convert leaves from green to red. The process takes about six to eight weeks but the plant can only produce the bright red color we all enjoy, in darkness.

The night seasons of life are mostly unwelcome, but they create something beneficial in us and for others, if we let them. 

James 1:3-4, shows us that these troubles test our faith and produce patience. Once patience has done its work, we will be complete and have everything we need for a God-filled life.

Some of the greatest transformative experiences occur in the night seasons of life. 

My plants never fuss in the darkness but yield to its process. When the sun rises in the morning, they are glorious to behold.

Keep praying and praising and be patient.

You’ll be surprised by the beauty found on the other side of darkness, when the light shines again.

Job 23: 8 Behold, I go forward, but he [God] is not there, and backward, but I do not perceive him; on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him; he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him. But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I will come out as gold.

Psalm 18: 6 But in my distress I cried out to the LORD; yes, I prayed to my God for help. He heard me from his sanctuary; my cry reached his ears.

Psalm 120:1 In my distress I cried to the Lord, and He heard me.

Isaiah 50:10 Who walks in darkness and has no light? Let him trust in the name of the Lord and rely upon his God.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Lifetime Love Affair

I grew up in a home with no TV. 

And yes, there were cars back then, for those of you who are now wondering how old I am. 

There were even TVs back then, we just didn’t have one. 

Every Friday my dad would grocery shop after work and take me to the library on his way to the store. I’d search row after row of shelves for books that I hadn’t read yet, check out the maximum amount allowed (ten, I think) and read them before the following Friday. 

This scenario would repeat weekly.

While my friends were rushing home from school to watch cartoons; Popeye, Looney Tunes, The Three Stooges and the Little Rascals, I went home to read. 

And I couldn’t wait.                                  

Words threaded together, creating pictures, people and stories have intrigued me as far back as I can remember. As I read descriptions of places and personalities, I would imagine them in my mind. I could see it all, the backdrops, settings and what each person looked like.

I’ve been disappointed more than once by a movie based on a book because what was on the screen looked like nothing I had created inside my head.

Many a night, when I should have been asleep, I was under the blankets with a flashlight and a book I couldn’t put down. 

There was nothing worse than leaving a good story right in the middle, to go to school, take out the trash, help Dad in the yard or Mom in the kitchen and be left wondering the entire time, what was going to happen next. 

By the time I was in middle school I had a fondness for horse stories; Misty, Black Beauty and My Friend Flicka, to name just a few. 

In high school I was reading classics; Robinson Crusoe, Swiss Family Robinson, Moby Dick, Call of the Wild, Pilgrims Progress, Gone With the Wind, The Chronicles of Narnia and the works of Charles Dickens and Mark Twain.

I’ve had a lifetime love affair with books and reading was and still is one of my favorite getaways, a form of relaxation and fun. 

It’s hard to be a decent writer without reading. Because I enjoyed reading so much, I also developed a fondness for writing. 

Putting my thoughts into words forces my mind to be deliberate about my own opinions, viewpoints and desires. Seeing my heart written out in black and white give me reason to be both intentional and reasonable in how I think about life and the myriad of emotion and events swirling around me. 

Writing keeps me centered and is my therapy. 

I’m currently taking a writer’s course and am being told that reading has changed in America.

Technology and finger tip access to information, texting, social web pages and constant entertainment has moved our attention span meter next to zero. The latest generation now reads and writes in small bites (or should it be bytes), if at all. 

“LOL!” (laughing out loud, for the few who may not know)

“OMW “ (on my way)

“Where R U?”

I’ve been informed that people don’t read anymore, they scan, scrolling thru web pages on mobile devices faster than film frames roll in an animated movie. 

Writers are being told to create shorter sentences that are “tight” and have punch, be more attentive to white space in relation to words on a page and hook people with interest and excitement in the first paragraph to instantly catch and keep their attention.

While these are good writing techniques to follow, I admit to being disappointed for the reason they are being suggested.

Maybe I’m old-school; after all I grew up without a TV… 

But...instead of dumbing down our writing, how about we teach kids to read again. Really read. 

Gather our children around us on the sofa. Turn off the TV, smart phone and tablet and read a book out loud. Together. 

Find time during the day; at breakfast before school, after dinner or at bedtime, whatever works for the family schedule, to read.

Start when the kids are little. Let them fall in love with books.

Statistics show that children who are read to and who read do better in school and become lifelong learners. 

And if that isn’t enough motivation, some of those readers could become famous authors, publishing book after made-for-movie book, creating sufficient wealth to take care of you into your old age.

So read, read, read!

P.S. I hope you didn't just scan this post but actually read it.