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Archive for the ‘Fruit of the Spirit’ Category

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What in the world is “bug dope,” I asked my husband. He laughed aloud at my Midwestern ignorance of the far north. Apparently, bug dope is a real product, though most of you probably know it by its proper description – insect repellent. Bug dope seems a rather odd expression to me. Where I’m from, dope is a bad thing, and you certainly don’t blatantly ask others to pass it to you in public. But there we were, on the shores of Lake Huron, watching an awesome Fourth-of-July fireworks display, and bug dope was the preferred defense against the blanket of tank-sized mosquitoes that were as thick as the smoke trailing in the air.

Bug dope isn’t the only oddity of the north, though. For instance, Midwesterners don’t wear shoes with good “gription” or wear a chuke (touke) when it’s cold outside. Truthfully, I was rather entertained for the first few years of my marriage, learning the peculiar idioms and pronunciations of my “Yooper” husband. He probably felt the same. After all, I had picked up several backwoods phrases along the way, so he had to learn such colorful words as doo-jigger and thingamabob.

Many were the times when my beloved and I were essentially saying the same thing, but I didn’t realize it because of our different vernaculars. He, noting my frustration at not being able to clearly express myself, often reminded me, “It’s just semantics!” He was really big on semantics!

From the beginning, we’ve pretty much shared one brain between the two of us, but it has been a very long time since we’ve had any miscommunications due to language traits. That’s the beautiful thing about intimacy; you really get to know each other –your idiosyncrasies, your thought processes –everything.

And that, dear reader, brings me to our beloved family in Christ. There may be many denominations, but we are all one body: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. (Romans 12:5). That being the case, we should all be pretty much sharing the same brain, or in other words, we should be like-minded; relating to each other at an intimate enough level as to really understand each other.

During the past few weeks, I’ve read several online threads in which believers were arguing over a certain doctrinal issue –and when I say arguing, I mean just that. This should not be so! …there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. (1 Corinthians 12:25).

Firstly, healthy discussions and debates can be very enlightening, useful even; but arguing is very counter-productive and not at all indicative of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. Secondly –and this is the part I find amusing –most of the folks on those threads were essentially saying the same thing; they were just saying it in different ways! But they, in their zeal to prove their own stance to be the correct one, couldn’t see that they were merely locked in a battle of semantics. Had they taken the time to really listen to each other, with loving hearts rather than defensive minds, they would have found that they were basically on the same page. Bug dope vs. insect repellent. Semantics!

My dear brethren, I am in no way suggesting that we succumb to compromise within the church. Nor am I suggesting that all religions, nor all denominations for that matter, are all one body. All roads do not “lead to Heaven!”

I do, however, advocate that we take the time to really listen to each other; knowing full well that we all start our journey of faith from different places. Thus, there may be some ‘language barriers’ to overcome in relating to each other. There may be some strange idiosyncrasies and oddities to overlook, but love and intimacy overcomes all obstacles.

In closing, may I remind us all, myself included, of Jesus’ answer as to which biblical commandment is the greatest:

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
–Matthew 22:37-40

“Loving relationships, though necessary for life, health, and growth, are among the most complicated skills. Before we can be successful at achieving relationships, it is necessary that we broaden our understanding of how they work, what they mean and how what we do and believe can enhance or destroy them. We can accomplish this only if we are willing to put in the energy and take the time to study failed relationships as well as examine successful ones. Loving relationships cannot be taken lightly. Unless we are looking for pain, they must not be forever approached in a trial and error fashion. Too many of us have experienced the cost of these lackadaisical approaches in terms of tears, confusion and guilt.”

–Leo Buscaglia, Loving Each Other

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Someday, Lord willing, I would love to visit Australia to experience first-hand her rich culture, rugged beauty and unique wildlife. Of course, one of the most pleasant rewards of a trip to the ‘land down under’ would certainly be the informative chats I would have with the folks living there. Meeting people of other cultures and learning of their rich heritage is, in my opinion, both fascinating and rewarding.

Too bad all Americans don’t feel the same way. Our country is so culturally diverse that we need never board an airplane to “travel” to nearly every country in the world. Yet, all too often, folks never venture too far from their own little circle of family, friends and social groups; especially when doing so would place them outside their own cultural comfort zone. If only people understood that embracing others, despite any differences they may have, is a true blessing.

Let me tell you, for example, about my most recent talk-about. If that phrase is not familiar, it is because it is one of my own. Borrowing from the Australian “Walkabout,” I dubbed one of my purposeful pastimes as a “talk-about.”

Before I explain what a talk-about is, let me assure you that I was extremely introverted in my youth. People that know me well have trouble believing this, as I am quite the talker now, but I can only attribute my affable nature to the Grace of God and the many challenges He has helped me to overcome in my life.

So what is a talk-about? It’s not a gossip session, I can tell you that. Ephesians 4:29 warns: Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths. But this Scripture goes on to explain that we should speak only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.  And thus, the idea for the talk-about was born.

Having noticed the obvious disregard people seem to have for each other these days, I purposed in my heart to make occasional trips to various stores in our area with no other intention than striking-up conversations, and letting others talk about whatever is on their mind. If the subject of God comes up, then all the better, but it is never my intention, on these quests to proselytize. Often times, a Christian can show the love of Jesus more by just listening, and showing concern for someone, than we can by thumping them over the head with our Bibles.

And now, back to my last talk-about. It so happened, I didn’t even feel like going; that was one of those times when the Lord was more interested in encouraging others than I was. Still I went, expecting to bless someone.

Truthfully, there have been days when people were very happy  that I conversed with them, but other days they reacted with anything from rudeness to contempt; or suspicion at the very least, as though I had an ulterior motive. My last talk-about was really a mixture of both.

The best of my encounters that evening was with a man I came upon in Aisle 7 that was loudly singing –yes singing right inside the store- “It’s a beautiful morning…” It did not matter to him that morning had long since passed, or that the remaining sunlight was obscured by dark rain clouds. And it didn’t matter that his wife, for whatever reason, looked mad as a hornet and glared at him with scrunched eyes, having her arms tightly folded, and lips pursed.

“Beautiful indeed!” I verbally agreed, “Even if it isn’t morning.”

At that he laughed, and we began to chat about nothing in particular. We enjoyed such a pleasant conversation that his wife soon joined in, having exchanged her frown for a beautiful smile. Whatever her previous concerns, they melted into peace. And finally, the two walked off, arm-in-arm.

This beautiful couple was as American as apple pie, but our lives were obviously as culturally contrasting as our skin colors. But that did not matter to any of us. We three stood there, in Aisle 7 just enjoying each other’s company, oblivious to the frigid indifference prevalent in today’s world.

Dear reader, should you ever decide to try a talk-about, it is not altogether different than the Australian “Walkabout.” Theirs “is not an aimless activity but a deliberate and focussed journey connecting Aboriginal people to their traditional lands and spiritual obligations.”¹

Similarly, the Christian walk is not aimless either. It too is a deliberate and focused journey striving to connect people –in this case, all people- to their traditional land (God’s kingdom) and spiritual obligations.

May I encourage you, therefore, to never let the opportunity to bless others with a kind word or two pass you by. You never know how a single, brief encounter might change a person’s mood, their day, or even their life. Remember, you are the only Bible that some folks will ever read.

Be blessed on your journey.

¹Tourism Australia 2013. http://www.media.australia.com/en-au/factsheets/default_1438.aspx

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This morning, while sorting ¹Mount Rushmore (that’s my not-so fond nickname for the laundry pile), it dawned on me that I’m a little weird. Actually, I came to that realization several decades ago. Today’s revelation had more to do with my preference for the dirty household tasks over the clean ones.

For instance, I would much rather wash dishes or fill the dishwasher than put away a load of clean ones. And I would rather sort, wash and hang Mount Rushmore than I would fold it all. I even prefer crawling around in the dirt, tending to my garden, than watering it or putting away all the tools.

That’s pretty much flip-opposite of most folks, who would rather deal with the clean stuff than the dirty. I tried to figure out why I’m wired backwards, to no avail. I’m not sure, but it might be that I simply find the dirty stuff to be more pressing. After all, leaving the dishwasher full of clean dishes is really no big deal, but it stinks to have a kitchen full of dirty dishes –pun intended. Thus, I tend to spring into action more quickly when it comes to the dirty stuff. That still doesn’t explain why I dislike some of those other tasks so much, but until I figure it out, the kids can keep doing them. (This might take a long time, wink).

Then it occurred to me, I’m not wired backward after all; at least not when it comes to the really important stuff –like reaching out to people. Don’t get me wrong, I love my fellow Christians, and I would do anything I could to help them, but they have already been washed clean (of their sins) by accepting the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Revelation 7:9-14) and they are in really good hands -His. I love spending time with them, but being there to help folks who do not know Jesus as their LORD and Savior is often more pressing. Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”(Matthew 9:12).

He modeled this for us when He walked upon earth. Yes, Jesus spent plenty of time with righteous individuals, but it was when He saw the needy and the unclean, that He rolled up His sleeves and went to work. And He bids us to do the same. Consider the words of Jesus to an expert in the law (²Torah):

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Luke 10: 30-37

The expert in the law was a Jewish man and, by implication, the man traveling to Jericho was also. To the Jew, a Samaritan was vile and repulsive. Therefore, the traveler’s act of mercy and compassion was all the more praiseworthy. Not only did he tend to the injured man, he also paid for his continued care.

“Go and do Likewise,” Jesus said. Meaning, we should always go above and beyond in mercy and compassion toward others; especially those in need. Dear reader, the world is full of people who would rather deal with the “clean stuff” than the dirty. And by dirty, I mean someone whose life others deem vile and repulsive, or insignificant at the very least. Will you be the one to do as Jesus did, as the Jericho traveler did, and be moved with deep, heartfelt compassion? I truly pray that you are –that we all are.

¹I call my laundry pile Mount Rushmore because, with a large family, the pile is always roughly the size of a mountain. And I always have to rush to finish the task or else a second mountain appears before I even finish the first.
²The Torah is the Hebrew name for the first five books of the Bible as a composite work. It is called Pentateuch in the Greek.

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photo credit: alatoni.com

Black olives may not please everyone’s palate, but my family –half of us, anyway– devour them like candy. In fact, whenever we have a build your own pizza night, my daughter’s pizza is usually black when she pops it in the oven due to serious olive overload. I can’t say I blame her; I’m one of the other olive lovers.

You can only imagine how elated I was the first time I realized my relatives, who lived in Phoenix, had several black olive trees growing in their back yard. “Go ahead, eat as many as you want,” my cousin told me.

Anxiously, I bit into the first one with great expectation. But I spit it out with disgust. Unbeknownst to me, those pleasant-looking fruit are bitter enough to turn your teeth inside out –until they are cured in lye, that is. Yes, I said lye.

Do you have any idea how hazardous lye can be? It can cause chemical burns, scarring, blindness, or respiratory failure; and probably even death under certain circumstances. Yep, that sounds like the kind of substance we need to treat our food with (Uh- NOT). I was stunned further to learn that manufacturers use lye to treat several other foods as well. But let’s talk about olives for a moment.

Did you know that olives are really good for our bodies? Not only do they contain a fair amount of iron, vitamin E, copper (an essential mineral) and fiber, they also have phytonutrients,  the organic components of plants which promote human health. Olives are said to:

 Contain antioxidants to fight disease.
 Have anti-inflammatory properties.
 Help decrease high blood pressure.
 Reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
 Lower bad cholesterol.
 and more

It really boggles my mind that something as caustic as lye can take the bitterness right out of the olive fruit. What astounds me even more is that the caustic attacks of other people can take the bitterness right out of us.

How? First we must understand that “The building of character is the most important business of life. It matters little what works a man may leave in the world; his real success is measured by what he has wrought along the years in his own being…. True character must be built after divine patterns…” J.R. Miller, 1894

Jesus Christ is our divine pattern. What did he teach?

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you, and persecute you (Matthew 5:44).

Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which spitefully use you (Luke 6:28).

More profound still,  while Jesus Christ, who was falsely accused, was being led to Mount Calvary to face an unjust crucifixion, he demonstrated for us the most noble of character:

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth (Isaiah 53:7).

Why would the Son of God allow Himself to be beaten, spat upon, and ultimately murdered, without speaking one word in His own defense? It is because our Heavenly Father had a plan. Jesus Christ, our LORD and Savior, was absolutely perfect as both man and God. But with His every word and action, Jesus gave us a pattern of how to live so that we might be perfected into His own image.

However, we are mere mortal men and we fail. Sometimes we allow the unjust actions of others to cause bitterness deep within our hearts. It is in times like these, I believe, that God allows caustic men and women to “crucify” us so that we may be “cured” and our fruit (the fruit of the Spirit – Galatians 5:22-23) may be sweet.  And more importantly, so that this sweetened fruit may then be used as a catalyst to help heal the spiritual diseases of others.

Dear reader, the next time you or I encounter a caustic, abrasive person, let us remember the words of our precious LORD and pray for him (or her). And in so doing, may he or she see the character of God through us.

In closing, I offer this final thought; relationship battles can often be won through peace– I wouldn’t lie.

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photo credit: The Gorilla Foundation

Back in the eighties, it was common for young people to ask each other, “What’s your sign?” They honestly believed that everyone’s “sign” revealed a lot about them.  I never bought into any of that, but I did learn a lot about people by just watching them. I’ve always believed that non-verbal communication often speaks louder than words.  Perhaps that understanding is one reason why the Lord called me to deaf ministry.

My sign today (or should I say sign language) is A.S.L, which stands for American Sign Language. I love the ability to communicate with hearing impaired individuals, and I enjoy watching the expressive way they “speak.” Knowing sign language has come in handy many times; sometimes in rather unexpected ways. For instance, I recently had a unique experience with a gorilla. Of course, we didn’t carry on a lengthy conversation, but he did tell me he was sick.

Let me first explain, some gorillas do know sign language. Have you ever heard of Koko? She is a Western Lowland Gorilla who was born at the San Francisco Zoo in 1971. Placed under the tutelage of scientist Francine Patterson, Koko has learned over one-thousand signs in which to communicate with humans. She wasn’t the first gorilla to learn sign, but she has certainly excelled at it. Because of Koko’s accomplishments, scientists continue to pursue inter-species communication through the use of sign language and they are having good success.

Whether or not the sick gorilla at our local zoo had ever been formally taught sign language or not, he was clearly communicating with sign. Every time I visit the zoo, I linger at the indoor gorilla enclosure for a while and sign to those intriguing primates just to see if I can actually elicit an understandable response.

One day, as I stood there signing “How are you?” one particular gorilla caught my attention. He fixed his gaze on me and I am almost certain he was frowning. “How are you? I asked again. The gorilla then clearly signed, “Sick. Stomach-ache. Headache.” To be sure I had understood him correctly, I signed back to him, “You sick?  “Sick- stomach ache- headache,” the gorilla repeated. A closer look at the precious gorilla revealed that he did have a runny nose and puffy eyes.

I wanted very much to find one of the zoo keepers, but there wasn’t one available. As the next best option, I gave the information to one of the general staff. The message probably never got passed-on, which saddened me greatly because this gorilla was asking for help and I couldn’t give it.

There have been several times I felt that way while at my children’s high school. At one particular event, I took the time to really ‘see’ those teenagers. And rather than being disturbed at the obnoxious hair colors and styles, piercings and tattoos, and the repulsive clothing, I was able to see them through the same eyes with which I watched the gorilla.

Many of these young people were desperately trying in their own way to communicate. They weren’t using sign language, but with their body language and body image, they were clearly shouting: Look at me! I’m hurting neglected, scared and so on. I stood there wondering, how many of us are really “listening” to these young people.

Koko has many critics who insist that she may have learned to imitate some gestures but has no concept of their meaning. Likewise, there are lots of adults who look at today’s teens and think, they are not conveying any particular message; they are just a reflection of their culture. That may be the case with some, but there are a great many that are desperate for someone to notice –someone to care.

There are also countless others out there who seem to be happy and have their lives in perfect order, but looks can be deceiving. If we looked through God’s eyes, it is quite probable that we would see everyone quite differently.

When he [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36).

As God’s children, we are to have the same love and compassion as our Heavenly Father does. I pray that we all continuously strive to gain a slightly different perspective; one that will cause us to alter our perceptions in such a way that we are more aware of the needs of those around us.

Most importantly, when we do detect that someone is hurting neglected, scared and so on; may we always be quick to show them the love, mercy and compassion of our Lord, Jesus Christ. The world can sometimes be a very dark place, and there are times when we all need a ray of light to bring hope.  Jesus is that light!  Will you be the one He shines through to brighten the lives of others?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JlRK1vqcuvg

postscript: Koko has her own website. You can learn all about her and the Gorilla Foundation here:
The Gorilla Foundation -Koko

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About the only time I experience the manly phenomenon of being “compartmentalized” is when I am in cleaning mode. I’m not talking about the fifth round of counter wiping and floor sweeping. Rather, I mean the all-out offensive war on grime.

Some of you women know what I’m talking about. When in that mode, we rigorously clean and sanitize everything in sight including the dog if it gets in the way. We are focused!

My son once caught me in the middle of one of those cleaning sprees and asked if he could have one of the apples on the table. They were wooden apples and he knew it, so this was obviously his cute little attempt to pull one over on mom while she was preoccupied. And he did.

“Go for it” I said, calling his bluff.

I stopped scrubbing sticky stuff long enough to watch him bite off a big chunk and chew on it with glee. Normally his ear-to-ear grin would have given him away instantly, but I was focused. It took a short while for my brain to process the fact that he had earlier switched the fake apple for a real one.

Having succeeded in his endeavor to make me laugh, he really enjoyed that apple and I’m glad he did! After all, he gets his sense of humor from his mama so what can I say?

Today was kind of the opposite. I picked a nicely colored apple –a real one — and bit into it expecting the sweet flavor of apple. I might as well have bit into one of those wooden look-alikes though, because it probably tasted about the same. Even caramel wouldn’t have helped this one.

Oddly, the same kind of thing happened this past week. While grocery shopping, I noted how paltry all of the produce looked. Nevertheless, the nectarines looked pleasing enough so I bought one to nibble on while making dinner. What a disappointment! When I bit into that pitiful thing there was zero taste. None!

I said to my husband, “Well, they finally did it; they managed to geneticallly engineer something which resembles fruit –but they forgot to give it any flavor.” He took one bite and realized I was not exaggerating the least bit. Then, wanting to check-out this peculiarity for himself, my youngest son took a bite. Even his taste buds manifested their confusion through the expression on his face as he tossed the remainder of the ‘nectarine’ into the trash.

Later that evening, I was thinking about that flavorless piece of ‘fruit’ and bemoaned the fact that I haven’t enjoyed a really good apple, pear or peach for many years. certain types of fruit have retained some of their flavor but certainly not all.

Then it hit me! Is any of my spiritual fruit tasteless? The fruit of the spirit, according to the fifth chapter of Galatians, are these:

Love * Joy * Peace * Patience * Kindness * Goodness * Faithfulness
* Gentleness *Self-control

Notice these nine attributes of fruit, according to scripture, are singular. This is significant. If someone is living according to God’s word, they shouldn’t exhibit only some of these attributes in their lives–they should exhibit them all.

I truly desire that my own fruit basket be overflowing with every one of the tasty, nutritious fruit of the Spirit. But truthfully, I have to admit that some of my fruit is less flavorful than others. I trust that none of my fruit may be likened to a wooden decoration but even so, real fruit is of little value to others if it is merely a tasteless hybrid.

Heaven forbid that any person every be confused by my testimony of faith because they realize that the fruit I attempt to share has absolutely no flavor. But how do I ensure that my fruit is really good?

First, I am willing to confess to myself, and to you, that some of my fruit is not fully ripe. Therefore, I ask my heavenly Father often that He cultivate me in whichever way He sees fit until my fruit is all HE desires it to be. Once it is, I must be willing to share my fruit with everyone I encounter. After all, fruit is meant to be consumed not merely displayed. The more fruit we share with others, the more they can see God’s goodness –that should be our focus.

My son’s fun little prank helped me learn an important lesson that day. We should all honestly examine our own fruit baskets to see if the fruit is real or artificial. After all, when someone comes to us expecting to find tasty, nutritious fruit, we don’t want them biting into wood.

Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples. (John 15:8)

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