Peace of the Past

Week three of studying the fruits of the Spirit, and we’re on peace. As usual, I’ll try to have my present take on it by this weekend. In the meantime, what follows is my blog on peace from five years ago.

Vizualize whirled peas…
7/31/06

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, against such there is no law.” (Gal. 5:22-23 KJV)

Okay, so it’s been a while since I last blogged about the fruit of the Spirit, but it seems every time I’m about to write on one, I get challenges in my life that test the fruit which I’m studying. It was no different with peace. The last week has been anything but peaceful. My mind has been a jumble of thoughts and emotions, and peace has been the furthest thing from my mind.

So, what is peace? In the verse above, the Greek word for peace is eirene, which is defined as harmony, tranquility, safety. Sounds beautiful, but how is it possible to achieve that in the world today? There are wars everywhere, unrest in all aspects of life, a breakneck pace to our day-to-day routine that doesn’t allow room for peace. How can you be tranquil when you have to shove 40 hours of stuff to do into a 24 hour day? How can there be safety when your hours at work are cut, and your bills increase? How can there be harmony when we live in a world where there’s a very real possibility of a terrorist attack anywhere, including the US? What is this eirene that the Bible talks about, and how is it possible to achieve that in this day and age? In John 14:27, Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” He makes it perfectly clear that there are two kinds of peace; the peace of the world, and the peace of God. It’s amazing how it seems that every one of the aspects of the fruit of the Spirit I’ve studied so far has an earthly counterpart, a shadow of the spiritual at best, and a cheap counterfeit at worst. Agape, self-sacrificing love, has its counterpart, which is self-serving love. At times, it can look like agape, as long as both parties stand to benefit, and at worst, it results in physically or emotionally abusive relationships. Joy also has its earthly shadow, better known as happiness. And the Peace of God is copied by the peace of the world. But there is one major difference between the original and the copies – the copies fade, they’re only temporary. The originals are eternal. Self-serving love, happiness and world peace are on shifting sand. Agape, joy, and the peace of God are on the Rock.

The peace of the world consists of the moments in between crises where we get to catch our breaths and brace ourselves for the next one. We’re thankful for a moment’s peace, when the kids are in bed, when our workload is caught up, when the tests from the doctor come back negative, (which, in doctor-speak, is a good thing), or any time when it seems like life manages to stand still long enough for us to look around. The peace of the world is like a roller coaster ride, but not as fun. Lots of twists and turns, breathlessness and anticipation throughout the entire trip, and the rare moments when you reach the top of a climb and everything stands still, just before you’re rocketed back downward. That’s the peace of the world. Depending on your situation, you’re at peace or you’re not.

The peace of God is the complete opposite of that. The peace of God remains with you in spite of your situation. No matter how bad things get or how good things get, our peace is in God and with God. It’s the peace of knowing we’re forgiven, the peace of knowing that we belong to God and He will never forsake us. It’s the peace of knowing that we will live with our Creator eternally, worshipping Him forever, living in a relationship of pure love. That’s a peace that cannot be shaken by an unexpected expense, by a sudden accident or death in the family, by a loss of a job, or by anything the world can throw at us. We know that all the cares and troubles of the world are but a passing vapor, here today and gone tomorrow.

Paul knew a secret about peace. He knew we had to understand grace before we could understand or receive the peace of God. In all his letters, he always said, “Grace to you, and peace.” Grace always came before peace because Paul knew that it’s only once we understand how incredible God’s grace is, we understand the price Jesus paid on the cross of taking all our sins – not some sins, not only past ones, but every single sin we have committed or ever will commit – it’s only then that we will realize that we have nothing to stress out over, nothing to worry about. We have the peace, the inner calm, the anchor that keeps us from being battered by life’s storms.

As I mentioned, my peace had been tested recently. I had myself quite a roller coaster ride, as some of you are aware. I let those things shift my focus from the peace I had in God, and, just as a pilot who tries to fly while blindfolded, I had trouble figuring out which direction I was supposed to be heading in. I forgot to use my instruments – prayer and the Bible. I forgot to check with my flight crew – friends and family. And I forgot to rely on the One who sustains me and carries me – Jesus, my Lord and Savior. Thankfully, some people in my life who I dearly love – and you all know who you are – helped me, and now I’m flying straight…mostly.

Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Me-ow!!!

For you regular readers of this blog, you know that my major theme is out-of-the-box thinking and living. Today is going to be a little different, as it involves full-on inside-the-box thinking. I’ve been thinking about Schrodinger’s Cat this morning. For those of you who know what I’m talking about, feel free to skim through the next paragraph. For those who have no idea, a little science lesson follows. Don’t worry! There won’t be a quiz afterwards.

The basic premise is that a cat is put into a closed box with a flask of poison and a small amount of a radioactive substance. If, at any time, an atom from the radioactive matter decays, a hammer is triggered that will break the flask and the poison will then kill the cat. Before all you animal lovers get outraged, this is pure theory. No one has ever actually done this to a cat (that I’m aware of, anyway). Because there’s no way to tell when an atom will choose to decay, as long as the box is closed, the outcome is uncertain as to whether the cat is dead or alive. So, until the box is opened and the outcome is observed, the cat exists in a state both alive and dead.

I realized today that, in a bizarre sort of way, I’m that cat – at least as far as my friends and family are concerned. The box is my “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” appearance. The outcomes are anything from leaving with $1000 for playing the game up to winning a million dollars. Once the show airs, then the outcome will be known, but until then, my outcome is in a state of flux, just like the cat. And therein lies the paradox. My outcome is not in a state of flux, because the “experiment” is over and the results are in, but to my friends and family, and even strangers who I mention my game show experience to, I could be anything from a thousand-aire to a millionaire. Pretty cool, huh?

Once I got started down that rabbit trail, I realized that we actually are all just like Schrodinger’s Cat. We are in this box we call life, and many factors that act upon us while we are in here. And when the box is opened, i.e., we draw our last breath, we have two states that we can be in – ready for heaven or ready for hell. But, we have an advantage Schrodinger’s cat never did. We can impact the outcome of the “experiment”. I’m sure if that cat had a choice, it would have disabled the hammer first chance it got, so that the poison would never be released. We don’t have that option though. The hammer has fallen and the poison has been released into the world. This poison is sin. As I mentioned in an older blog, Galatians 5:19-21 describes some of the toxic fumes of this poison. “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like.” We are all guilty of some of these – I personally can attest to having been guilty of over half-a-dozen of those in my lifetime. That poison infuses our lives and leads only to death, destruction and hell.

There is one, though, who came into the box, and removed the poison within us by taking it all into himself. He died with our poison running through his veins, so that we could live. Three days later, he returned from the dead, having paid the price required from each of us when we die, allowing us the opportunity to live when our particular box is opened. The problem is that the poisonous fumes of sin still exist in the box, and some people would rather inhale those fumes – which smell so sweet, but ultimately lead to death – than to accept the amazing gift of the life after this one. For those who haven’t accepted that the only way to heaven is through Jesus, you are that cat in the box with a future still in flux. You can still alter the way the experiment ends. But don’t wait, because you never know when that box will open and your outcome will be set in stone – literally.

Live from New York, it’s Saturday night!

As promised, here is my blog on joy.
But before I do that, just a little update for those who are interested. I have arrived safely in New York, and have already experienced memories of why I loved it here and also why I had to move. I’d forgotten how noisy is can be to be surrounded by people, but I’d also forgotten how beautiful the skyline is. I’d forgotten how many homeless people there are all over, but I’d also forgotten the palpable energy that pervades this city. I am so excited at the opportunity to spend this week rediscovering New York. That being said, let’s talk about joy.
This has been a very happy week for me, for obvious reasons. As i said, I am in New York, a couple of days away from playing Who Wants to be a Millionaire. I get to see my dad, albeit for only a day. I get to spend time back in my hometown. Everything seems perfect. Happiness is easy for me this week.
But we all know how quickly things can change from one day to the next, from one moment to the next. We all know that happiness is fleeting, and tomorrow could bring deep sorrow and pain. We’ve all faced those changes in circumstance at one time or another. And we’ve experienced the reverse as well. Sorrow today, and happiness tomorrow.
Joy, on the other hand, is present despite our circumstances. The Bible tells us to rejoice in all things. We all say, “How is that possible when (insert your trouble here) is going on in my life?” And the reason we ask that is because we confuse happiness with joy.
I’m going to use a story Ray Comfort tells when he talks about how to best approach people with the Gospel. I think it could also be used to distinguish between happiness and joy.
There is a man on an airplane that is told by the flight attendant to put on a parachute. When he asks why, the attendant says it will make the flight more enjoyable. He puts it on, and it’s uncomfortable. People laugh at him for wearing it. The more things go wrong on the flight, the more he blames the parachute until, finally, he takes it off.
Another man on another flight is told by the flight attendant to put on a parachute. When he asks why, the attendant says because, when the plane hits 30,000 feet, he’s going to have to jump out of the plane. He puts it on and it’s uncomfortable. People laugh at him for wearing it. But, here’s the difference. He knows that parachute is his salvation and nothing can convince him to remove it. As a matter of fact, the worse things get on the flight, the more he’ll look forward to jumping out.
As I mentioned, Ray Comfort uses that story to illustrate the difference between telling someone becoming a Christian will make them feel good or telling someone becoming a Christian will save them from hell. But I think it might be a decent contrast between joy and happiness. Happiness comes from events in our lives; births, graduations, weddings, etc. Sometimes a brief happiness can come from things we buy. Sometimes we look to others to make us happy. But events pass, things break and people disappoint. And we are left with unhappiness. Joy, true joy, can only come from knowing that, no matter what happens in our lives, we are wearing that parachute that will save us when the time comes for us to “jump out.” and we all eventually jump out of this “plane of existence” and into the next, where we will land before God’s judgment seat. If we have not accepted Jesus as our savior and Lord, our “parachute”, we will be judged on our own works. And none of us, myself included, has lived a perfect, sinless life. We will not be good enough for heaven.  But if we have accepted Jesus as our savior and Lord, Jesus will cover our sins and we will appear spotless and without sin before God. We will be made good enough for heaven.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that the things of this world can only make you happy. Joy only comes in the safety of knowing your eternal soul is in the hands of Jesus.
My happiness may come and go, but my joy is a permanent resident in my life. Are you happy? Or joyful? There’s a world of difference between the two.

Happy happy joy joy!

Even with everything else that’s going on in my life right now, I’m going to try and continue my study on the fruits of the Spirit. I will be posting my thoughts on joy this Saturday, if I manage to find the time. It’s strange how, once again, something comes up every week which falls right in line with my study. This week, once again, I’m facing the differences between joy and happiness. I’ll go into more detail this weekend. In the meantime, here are my goals:

Goal Fruit – Joy

Goal Weight – 293 lbs.

And here is my blog on joy from five years ago:

Joy – it’s not just a dishwashing liquid!
7/20/06

Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me [with thy] free spirit. Psa 51:12

This was going to be a theoretical discussion about joy, but I’m beginning to see that God is going to use this study as a way to test me as well.  I’ve already been tested on love.  I’ve had to come face to face with what I consider to be love, what I do to show that love, and I come up woefully short of the mark.  As I mentioned before, I grew up disconnected from other people, so I didn’t really know what it was like to forge loving bonds until much later in life.  And even to this day, I still think that is one of the toughest things I deal with.  And, of course, since I really don’t understand love here on earth, it makes it that much harder to understand God’s love, an unconditional love that never asks for anything, and yet gives everything.  A love that will always be there, no matter what.  When the love I see and feel here on earth is so fleeting, it’s just hard to grasp the concept of self-sacrificing love, agape.  So, I’m working on it.
Which brings me to joy.  I’m always big on saying I may not always be happy, but I’m always joyful.  The joy is from knowing I’m saved, knowing that my future is secure.  But, just like David, I’ve let the worries of the world steal my joy.  I’ve let trivialities knock me down, forcing me to take my eyes off God.  And if I’m not focusing on God, I forget the reason why I do all that I do.  I’m reminded of Peter, when he walked on water.  As long as he focused on Jesus, he was safe from the storm, but as soon as he concentrated on the storm, he lost faith, was afraid, and fell into the water.  The cool thing about it is that Jesus was right there to pull him up, just like He’s there to pull us all up out of the crashing waves.
David wrote Psalm 51 after being confronted by Nathan for the sins he’d committed.  There was no question that, although David broke every commandment, he was still saved.  But, he was no longer joyful.  He’d let the world intrude into his relationship with God.  Instead of looking to the heavens toward his Creator, he chose to look down to earth where Bathsheba bathed.  I’ve been looking down at the earth for too long.  I’ve forgotten that nothing here on earth matters if I’m not focused on Jesus, on my Creator, my Savior, my King.
Joy is not happiness.  Happiness depends on current circumstances.  Something good happens, you’re happy.  Something bad happens, you’re not happy.  But being joyful is completely different.  1 Thessalonians 5:16 says “Rejoice evermore.”  Always be joyful?  How’s that possible?  Things go wrong, life takes a nasty turn, how can you be joyful in times like that?  That’s where happiness and joy are different.  You can be joyful and not be happy.  Happiness is the temporary state, joy is the eternal state.  Can you be happy and not joyful?  Absolutely.  But it’s an empty happiness, almost an echo of happiness and not the real thing.
You can lose your joy.  David did.  Any time you take your eyes off the prize, you lose sight of your goal.  My goal is heaven, and eternal unity with the Lord Jesus.  I forget that goal in pursuit of earthly goals: a good job, a wife, the next good book or TV show or movie.  Those things can make you happy, but they cannot bring you eternal joy like God can.
I’ve been acting a lot like David lately and I realize this.  I know I have sinned and fallen far short of where I should be.  I’ve let my joy wither while I concentrated on the elusive pursuit of happiness which, while a constitutional right, is not as fulfilling or satisfying as the pursuit of joy.  Today, I pray like David did, Lord, restore unto me the joy of my salvation, remind me of the important things, help me to walk the path You have set for me, no matter the price, no matter the consequences.  I’m ready to go wherever You need me, whenever You need me there.  Restore my heart, and allow me to appreciate Your love for me, how deep and eternal and unchanging it is.  Holy Spirit, fill me with joy, fill me with wisdom, guide me today and every day.  Jesus, help me to be more like you, help me to keep the old man dead and buried.  Amen.

Millionaire Musings

I love this song, and it’s been running through my head for obvious reasons. The first verse starts out:

Imagine this, I get a phone call from Regis.
He says “Do you want to be a millionaire?
They put me on the show and I win with two lifelines to spare.

I’ve sung this many, many times, and I never would have imagined I’d be this close to not having to imagine that. A week from today, I will be at a taping for Who Wants to be a Millionaire, and I could win big. That’s an amazing thought. But then the song continues:

Picture this
I act like nothing ever happened
and bury all the money in a coffee can
Well, I’ve been given more than Regis ever gave away
I was a dead man who was called to come out of my grave.

I think the reason this song is running through my head is God’s way of reminding me that, while being on Millionaire may be a big thing in some ways, in others, in the ways that matter, it’s not that big at all.
No matter how I do on the show, the best I can walk away with is money. And while money helps make life easier in some ways, it can do nothing for you in the long run. “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36)
I have been given more than Regis, or Donald Trump, or Bill Gates could ever give away. I have been given eternal life. I have more treasures than I can imagine stored up for me in heaven, “where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.” (Matthew 6:20) By realizing that the things of this earth are ephemeral and transitory, it puts everything into perspective. Who will remember my appearance on a TV show ten years from now? Or even next year for that matter? Other than me and a few close friends, no one will remember. Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 12:8, “all is vanity”. One of the wisest men in all the world realized that, in the end, things of this earth don’t matter. Did he discover anything that mattered? Well, just a few short verses later, he says, “Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this [is] the whole [duty] of man.” (Eccl. 12:13) The man who had it all knew what really mattered. There is so much I could say about that one verse, enough to fill several blogs, but I’ll try to keep it short and to the point here. No matter what you think you have in this world, it could all end tomorrow. It could all end today, for that matter. And then where will you be? There are only two options – heaven or hell. For those who think they’re good enough to get into heaven on their own, you can stop reading this blog now and go here. The rest of you can continue on.
The only way into heaven is to be perfect and sinless, and not a one of us – myself included – can say that about ourselves. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8) How, then, can any of us get into heaven? We can through the one person who was sinless, who was perfect, and who became the doorway for us. That person is Jesus Christ. When He was nailed to that cross, he took upon Himself every one of our sins, past present and future, so that we could appear spotless before God in our time of judgment. But just like a Christmas present we cannot appreciate if we never unwrap it, that spotlessness, that salvation is a gift that we can choose to receive or reject. And if we reject that gift, then we will appear before God clad in our sinfulness, and we will not be able to enter heaven. Which leaves only one place to go…
If you haven’t opened that gift, if you haven’t accepted that the only way to Heaven is through Jesus, search your heart, search the Bible, phone a friend, whatever it takes to help you find “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6) before it’s too late and you’re out of lifelines. The treasures waiting for you in Heaven are immeasurable. And that’s my final answer.

Feeling like a million “box”

As I mentioned on the 13th, I had planned on revisiting my study of the fruits of the Spirit for the next nine weeks. As the saying goes, life is what happens when you’re busy making plans. Two days after that blog, I got a phone call from New York. For those of you who read my Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Me! post, you may already be able to figure out who called. For those who haven’t read that post, what are you waiting for? Go read it! I’ll be right here, waiting…

Okay, now that everyone is caught up, that’s right, the people from Who Wants to be a Millionaire called me on Thursday to be on the show! Needless to say, that has thrown all my plans into a bit of a whirlwind. I fly to New York next Saturday and tape on Monday, the 26th. Assuming everything goes well. Could be the 27th, if things don’t go as planned. Either way, I will be spending all week back in my old stomping grounds and looking forward to it. So, my studies may not be as in-depth as they were five years ago.

But, the more I think about it, the more I think that’s a good thing. Five years ago, I approached the fruits more from an analytical angle, than a practical angle. There was more head knowledge than heart knowledge. So maybe I don’t need to pull out the concordance or translate the Greek root of words. Maybe this time, I can just say what I feel. Before I do that, though, here’s my study on love from five years ago:

Picking fruit – Love
7/16/06

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, against such there is no law.” (Gal. 5:22-23 KJV)
I think it’s interesting that love is the first fruit mentioned. There are several verses throughout the Bible that state that without love there is nothing. “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become [as] sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” (1 Cor 13:1) “Charity” in this verse and “love” in Galatians are translated from the same Greek work “agape”. Now there are many types of love mentioned in the Bible, each with different words. Phileo is a brotherly love, storge is affection, eros is romantic love, but agape is a self-sacrificing love, a love that is unconditional and selfless. Paul says that without that type of love, all his words amount to nothing more than noise. And immediately after saying that, he goes on to give one of the best biblical descriptions of agape, just in case any of his listeners might not know what he’s talking about.
Agape is long-suffering – perseveres patiently and bravely in enduring misfortunes and troubles.
Agape is kind.
Agape does not envy.
Agape is not boastful.
Agape is not full of pride.
Agape does not act unbecomingly.
Agape is not self-serving.
Agape is not easily angered.
Agape harbors no evil thoughts.
Agape does not rejoice in the face of unrighteousness.
Agape does rejoice in the truth.
Agape bears all, believes all, hopes all, endures all.
Agape NEVER fails.
That’s a tall order, and few people can attain that level of love…
I’ve been thinking of the love I give in my life, and I know that, before I was a Christian, the love I had for people was more in the storge or eros category. I grew up moving from place to place, unable to make close friends, and knowing that, even if I did, I would be moving away again anyway. I had no roots, my parents both worked hard, so, emotionally, I tended to be on my own a lot. I knew my parents loved me, because they sacrificed all in order to care for us. We never went hungry, we always had a roof over our heads and clothes on our backs. But, emotionally, there was something missing in my life. I became a loner, unable or unwilling to make friends, and every time I tried, I ended up being hurt. So, I learned to be emotionally self-sufficient (by the way, it’s impossible to do so, but it is possible to fool yourself into thinking you are.). I built my castle walls and guarded my heart from pain…as well as from joy…
Relationships I had with women were shallow and short-lived. I didn’t have my first real relationship until the age of 26. It was the first time I’d been with someone longer than three months, and the first time I truly allowed myself to care about someone. That relationship only lasted a year, but I immediately met someone else. I married her, thinking she was the answer to all I was looking for. But, in all honesty, I didn’t know her at all when we got married. Not only that, but I was looking for things from her that I should have been looking for from God. At that time, though, I wanted nothing to do with God. Needless to say, the marriage didn’t last. We both wanted things from each other that the other wasn’t able to give. It was a self-serving love, each of us putting our happiness above the other’s. We got divorced six and a half years ago.
Since that time, I came to Christ and realized what I’d been looking for was right there with Him. He truly loves me just the way I am, and there’s nothing I can do to make Him love me any more or any less. He accepts me, warts and all. He died so that I wouldn’t have to. He gave His all for me.I still am very guarded about giving my heart away. After all, old habits die hard. But I have developed some very strong friendships, people who I would die for.
“For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:7-8)And yes, the word love in that verse is also agape.
Husbands, would you die for your wives? Wives, would you die for your husbands? Would you die for your friend? Most people would say yes. But agape asks this question – “Would you die for an unrighteous person, for a stranger?” Would you give all that you can to help another at the expense of suffering yourself? Jesus said, “Love your enemies.” The word used here is agapao, self-sacrificing love. Would you sacrifice yourself for your enemy? Jesus did.
When I started this blog, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Love, agape, is something that can be and has been written about for ages, and yet never fully understood until one actually experiences it.
I thank all those of you who actually read this, and I will close with another verse from 1 Corinthians 13 – “And now abideth faith, hope, charity(agape), these three; but the greatest of these [is] charity(agape).

I just reread that post and find it fascinating that I had no idea what was just around the corner when I wrote this. Three days before I posted this, some woman contacted me on MySpace complimenting my blogs. She was happy to see someone who claimed to be a Christian who actually seemed to walk the talk. She and I emailed each other for a couple of weeks before finally deciding to meet on July 22nd. That woman’s name was Heather Geer, and a little over a year later, she became Heather Tejada. Instead of writing about love in a clinical, scholarly fashion, I got to experience love for a change. She was a wonderful example of agape. She would do all she could for others and would give until she had nothing left to give. She did that with me, she did that with her family, especially her nieces and nephews, and even with strangers across the world that she supported through ministries like Compassion International. She loved so much and helped me to understand love like I never had before I knew her. And then, she was gone. At the ripe old age of 41, my wife passed away. But her love lives on. I see it in every single one of her nieces and nephews. I see it in her mother, her sister, her brother. I see it in every single life she touched. Her love made a difference in this world. And, really, that’s all we can hope to accomplish in our oh-so-brief time on Earth.

I still struggle with love every day. I’m even struggling writing about it. I have been hurt a lot in my past, and that has made it difficult to trust and love. I find it easy to slip right back into “lone wolf” mode. But, I can not, I WILL not, let that happen. I am going to challenge myself to love more – family, friends, enemies, even strangers. And that will be a HUGE step out of the box for me…

By the way, as for my other goal, I lost 2 pounds. I am now at 298.

Nine in the Afternoon

Nine is an interesting number. We say we’re on cloud nine and we dress to the nines. A stitch in time saves nine. (Not sure what that one means.) A cat has nine lives. Our solar system has nine planets – I don’t care what the scientists say, I say Pluto still counts. There are nine Muses in mythology. And I just learned about the Nine Worthies, which is a subject I’ll be coming back to in my blogs at some point.

So, why is the number nine on my mind? It seems I’ve had a few events occurring at the same time revolving around nine. I have recently rediscovered my blog series on the fruits of the Spirit, of which nine are listed in Galatians 5:22-23. They are love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. Having done those blogs five years ago, I decided to revisit the series and see what has changed and what hasn’t. The last time I did this, I found I was challenged on every one of the fruits as I was studying it. I expect it will be no different this time. I will be posting the original blogs as well.

The other major nine that popped up recently was in an exercise regime which I just began. It is a nine week program, divided into three phases of three weeks each. It’s not going to be easy. As a matter of fact, I only made it halfway through the routine yesterday. But I know that, if I stick with it, it will help me lose weight. This morning, I weighed in at an even 300.

With both of these things coming in the form of nine, I figured, why not combine the two and work on my spiritual and physical health at the same time? To top it all off – all this just happens to fall during the ninth month of the year. Coincidence? Yeah, probably, but I’m willing to go along with it. Join me, if you will, for what will hopefully be an enlightening, and lighten-ing, nine weeks.

Goal fruit for the week – Love

Goal weight for the week – 295

 

Picking Fruit (originally written 7/14/06)

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, against such there is no law.”(Gal. 5:22-23 KJV)

For some time now, I’ve been wanting to do an in-depth study of the fruit of the Spirit. The proof of a Christian life is in the fruit, just like the proof of a good tree is the good fruit it bears. If the Christian life doesn’t show good fruit, then one would be left to wonder if it truly is a Christian life.
The Bible says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, against such there is no law.” (Gal. 5:22-23 KJV) So that is the fruit by which the Christian life is measured. It’s my intention to talk about each of the nine aspects of the fruit of the Spirit, but before I do that, I want to spend some time on the verses right before those, which are not quoted as often. Galatians 5:19-21 tell the other side of the story – “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” That is a long list of bad fruit, fruit of the flesh versus fruit of the Spirit. And it covers a large range of issues, and most are covered by the Ten Commandments. Sex, both adulterous and premarital, Hatred, wrath and murder, which, according to Jesus, are the same. Bearing false witness, covered by sedition and heresy. Covetousness with the envying, and so on.
They which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But, aren’t we all guilty of doing these things even after we give our lives to Christ? Does that mean none of us will inherit the kingdom of God? Are we all doomed to hell?
The answer is in the Greek. The word “do” could better be translated as practice, perpetrate, exercise. All words which show a long-term disobedience to God. And that is the difference. I’ve heard a metaphor which paints a good picture. Imagine a pig and a sheep falling into a puddle of mud. The pig continues to wallow in the mud, while the sheep gets up and tries to clean itself off. That’s the difference. Those who practice, commit, exercise the fruit of the flesh are content to wallow in the mud. Those who try to live by the fruit of the Spirit will try to clean themselves off. Sure, there are times we Christians stumble. We are by no means perfect. It’s because we realize this that we have come to the One who is perfect.
So…ask yourself this question today – do you lay with the pigs or hang with the sheep?

 

Death, Where is thy Sting?

I don’t handle death very well. I know that’s true for most people, but I was one of the fortunate ones whose life was untouched by death for a long time. For forty years, death and I had an understanding – it would leave my loved ones alone and I…well, I guess I really didn’t have anything to offer in return. For forty years, death was a nebulous concept, one I did not have to think on. Other than having one of my cat’s kittens die in my hands when I was in my twenties, death did not directly affect my life.

In January of 2009, all that changed. Paul Geer, my father-in-law, passed away. Although he had only been in my life a little less than three years, he was very dear to me. He and I had similar reading interests and could discuss books for hours. I also was able to have deep, Biblical discussions in which I learned so much. And my fondest memory is the one time I got to go fishing with him. It was my first time ever fishing – being from Brooklyn, New York, I did not have many – any – opportunities to fish as a kid. It was a wonderful bonding experience, and only one of many great experiences. And then death broke our pact and took someone close to me.

It was hard adjusting to the thought that my father-in-law was no longer around, that I would never be able to see him or speak to him again this side of Heaven, but I couldn’t fall apart, because my wife needed me more than ever. She was a daddy’s girl and absolutely devastated by his loss. I did the best I could to fill those VERY BIG shoes for her. And time, as it always does, marched on. Death and I had a different understanding now. It had moved closer into my life, and I didn’t like it one bit.

If I’m to be completely honest, I suppose death first started invading my territory in February of 2008. Our marriage still had that new car smell, and life was good. Not perfect, but definitely good. One weekend, Heather started feeling bad, but chalked it up as the flu or something similar. But she kept getting worse, and I finally convinced her I needed to take her to the hospital. It was not the flu. It was a severe case of diabetic ketoacidosis. Her blood sugar was at 800. Her triglycerides were in the thousands. The doctors said if she’d waited one more day to be admitted, she could have died.

From that point on, her health was never quite the same. There were some good days, but the down days outweighed them by a long shot. The specter of death was never too far away. She kept telling me, semi-jokingly, that she could die any day. I refused to believe. Even after her father passed away, I refused to believe that death would have the audacity to invade our home.

The beginning of the end happened on October 30, 2010. We were supposed to be taking all the nieces and nephews to a “Trunk or Treat” being held at a church, but she wasn’t feeling well. And, having seen her push through pain in order to be there for the kids, I can’t even imagine how terrible the pain had to be to keep her from being there for them. It just kept getting worse and worse through the night, to the point where she had to go home. I couldn’t stay the night with her because I had to help her mom with the kids’ sleepover. In the morning, she seemed to be better, and it seemed like that was that. But Tuesday, when she went to the doctor and told him what she had been feeling, he decided to run some tests on her. It turned out she had been suffering a heart attack that night. He got her admitted to the hospital, where they found she had complete blockage in one artery and major blockage in two others. They put in stents to repair the complete blockage and planned to do the others in a couple of weeks, after her heart had had time to heal from the surgery. She stayed in the hospital until Saturday, the 6th. She seemed to be in a better mood, and she felt great.

Sunday, she had a bad episode where her blood sugar dropped dangerously low, but between her mom and I, we managed to get her feeling better. Heather and I said our good nights and our “I love you”s, something we did every night, even those nights when we were mad at each other. It reminds me of the advice that Ryan, her brother, gave me on our wedding day. He said, “You may not always like each other, but always love each other.” Wise words. Then we slept, and while we slept, death barged into our house.

It’s the strangest feeling. One moment, I close my eyes, in the next moment I open them and life has changed irrevocably. I fall asleep a married man, and I wake up a widower. And death and I became enemies.

Why is all this on my mind today? Because today would have been our fourth wedding anniversary. So, I’m reminded of what could have been, what should have been if not for death, the enemy that comes for us all in the end.

But…

As a Christian, I know death is not the end. I know that, as powerful as death may be, there is One greater than death who has conquered death and who has promised us eternal life. We all know the verse, John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Everlasting life. That is a concept I can’t even begin to imagine. Death will be “swallowed up in victory”.(1 Cor 15:54) All those who trust in Jesus, who believe in Jesus, will only sleep for a while and wake up to find themselves in the presence of their Lord and Savior. That’s where Heather is. That’s where Heather’s father is. And, someday, that’s where I’ll be. Forever. One of my favorite verses of “Amazing Grace” says:

When we’ve been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun.
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’ve first begun.

It blows my mind and makes me realize that the cares of this world are but a wink in the eye of eternity. And, quick as a wink, we can find ourselves or our loved ones on the other side of eternity. Because we never know what can happen from one second to another, we need to always ensure we let the people we love know that we love them, because we never know when we’ll see them for the last time. We need to let go of resentments and grudges, because we never know if today is the last day to mend fences. We can’t count on tomorrow, because tomorrow is not guaranteed for any of us. Which is why I say, take a step out of that box, tell someone – tell everyone! – how you feel about them today.

For those who don’t’ trust in Jesus, who haven’t made up your minds about him, or who believe that you can live as you like and make a deathbed confession, it’s even more important for you to realize that any breath could be your last. Jesus made it clear that those who don’t trust in him but would rather carry on in their sinful lives shall be cast “into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”(Mat. 13:42) And that also will be for eternity. If this thought makes anyone uncomfortable – good. God is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9) He loves each and every one of you and is offering you eternal life. Eternal. Life. Now that is really way out of the box.

Out of the Box B-“ugh”-ffet

On my quest for out of the box living, I knew that, at some point, I would have to deal with food. I have a very selective diet, and it’s very difficult to get me out of that very comfortable box. I like what I like and I don’t like what I don’t like and never the twain shall meet. But…I want to change that. I want to at least be able to come up with a valid reason why I don’t like what I don’t like. So, I took the opportunity of a lunch date with a friend today at a Chinese buffet to sample things I’d never tried before.
Unsurprisingly, this experiment met with the most resistance. I was intending to start immediately sampling new things, but convinced myself to get something familiar for the first go-around and try the new stuff on the second trip. I did break away from my usual sweet and sour chicken, but I didn’t stray too far, having something called Hawaiian chicken. Yes, technically, it was a new food, but would only qualify as sticking my big toe out of the box, if even that.
Then came the moment. The first plate was done, and it was time for the second plate. Again, I almost decided I would save the food experiment for another time, but finally managed to convince myself to go through with it. This is what my second plate looked like:

One mussel, one shrimp, one seafood donut, and one crab rangoon. Again, I found myself ready to call it quits as the smell rising from the plate was not agreeing with me, and I even set the plate aside in order to allow my stomach a moment to settle. After the moment passed, I set the plate before me again. My friend, who had decided to step out of the box at the buffet as well, tried a mussel, which she immediately spit out. She suggested I might not want to try that and said the crab rangoon would probably be the best one for me to try out of the four. I broke the rangoon in two, dipped part in sweet and sour sauce – smothered would probably be a more appropriate word, anything that would help to make this easier – and took a bite.
At this point, I would love to say that the crab rangoon was absolutely delicious and I found something new to add to my culinary repertoire. I would love to say that, but I can’t. The moment the rangoon hit my taste buds, I knew I was in trouble. Instead of discovering a brand new taste, I was on the verge of rediscovering the Hawaiian chicken. Thus I found myself perched in a precarious epicurean position. Do I spit it out and run the risk of spitting out more than the rangoon, or do I try to swallow it and run an even greater risk of disturbing the very uneasy balance upon which my lunch was resting? I opted for the latter. I attempted to drown the taste of the rangoon with Coke. A lot of Coke. And, although the outcome was in doubt for some time, I finally won the battle and managed to keep the chicken, the rangoon and the Coke down. At that point, I declared the experiment over. Some might say the experiment failed, but they would be missing the point. The point was not to discover something I liked, or even to try every one of the four items. The whole point was to take a step out of the box and try something I’d never tried before. And, using that as a parameter, I declare this experiment an unqualified success. Plus, as an added bonus, I now know that there is a reason I do not like crab rangoon. At all. Here’s to life out of the box!

…but God

I was talking to a very dear friend last night, and during our conversation I was reminded how powerful those two words – “but God” – can be. She is going through a difficult time in her life and she was talking about the pain she was going through, and she finished her statement by saying, “but God has helped me tremendously and is giving me strength daily.” Those two words immediately sapped the power from the pain and gave the power to God, where it belongs.

As humans, we tend to put the positive thought first, then immediately nullify it with a “but”. “I would love to get that promotion, but I probably won’t.” “I should start dieting, but it’s too hard right now.” The problem with that is that anything before the “but” doesn’t matter. And it’s the same way with God. When He’s involved, anything before the “but” does not matter either.

“But as for you, ye thought evil against me; [but] God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as [it is] this day, to save much people alive.” Genesis 50:20.

“And he was sore athirst, and called on the LORD, and said, Thou hast given this great deliverance into the hand of thy servant: and now shall I die for thirst, and fall into the hand of the uncircumcised? But God clave an hollow place that [was] in the jaw, and there came water thereout; and when he had drunk, his spirit came again, and he revived:” Judges 15:18-19

“Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them; and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning; and their beauty shall consume in the grave from their dwelling. But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave: for he shall receive me. Selah.” Psalms 49:14-15

And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him (Jesus), they took [him] down from the tree, and laid [him] in a sepulchre. But God raised him from the dead:” Acts 15:29-30

Something terrible has happened, is happening, or will happen, but God is in control. And when God is in control, everything before the “but” DOES. NOT. MATTER.

Having that conversation with her has made me more aware of all the “buts” in my life. I’ve allowed some negative things to define my life, but now I will remember that God is stronger and bigger than anything that’s going on in my life. See what I did there with the “but”? Try it yourself. Think of the worst thing that’s going on in your life. Then say, “_________ is what is happening to me, but God will help me get through it and give me the strength I need.” You may be surprised by how the change in perspective can help you see things in a different light.