The Fruit of the Spirit

This morning I’m just thinking upon the Fruit of the Spirit:

Peace
Joy
Love
Patience
Kindness
Goodness (I like to think of this as humility)
Faithfulness
Gentleness
Self-Control

In some ways, they’re like a staircase going up in either direction. I can choose to accept the peace that surpasses and build upon it, or I can start with the strength God gives to lead me to self-control and go from there. Literally, one-syllable words, two-syllable words, three syllable words. Building. Growing. Improving. Being improved. Being redeemed from the un-fruit (selfishness being one – what others would you say?)

But also, I see the fruit as circular, one always leading to another, spiraling up and up towards what I was meant to be, but, in this life, never completing the rising. The sky’s the limit!

Learning the hard way about the easy way…

Learning the hard way about the easy way…

399I believe in God, the Creator. I believe in His promise of an age to come where everything is made right. Fixed. Repaired. Like new. No more tears. No more pain. No evil. No dangerous options in the list of choices we have. (Personally, I hope to be eternally singing and playing in the band, serving with beautiful worship, but I’ll be ok with just making a loud, joyful noise – since I have experience at that.)

jack-palance-just-one-thingTherefore, my purpose is to listen and be taught by experience about spiritual things, to Share God’s Story in my life with anyone who’ll sit still long enough, to love, encourage, and be of service and support to the people in my sphere of influence, and to practice and prepare to exist in that coming age, whether it be a somewhere-else heaven, or an earth made heaven-like. This world is a classroom where I learn the hard way what the truly easy way is all about. I want to “pay that forward.”

Come and hear, all you who fear God. Let me tell you what He has done for me.
Psalm 66:16

IMG_3763To me, at first glance, that easy way looked like the impossible – and undesirable – way. “You want me to do what?” Trust in something I can’t see? Obey? Not please myself and enjoy? Not just have fun? I should do for others? Be a slave to “virtue?” Sacrifice? Of course, I turned the other way instead of the other cheek. Of course, I enjoyed physical pleasures and pastimes and the many things I could consume to achieve an “alternate” mood.

img_0885It took me four decades to realize that I’d taken a road that was not what it seemed, and I’d become owned by useless and empty habits and attitudes. I was shackled to, and solely, soullessly, pulling a heavy wagon overflowing with heaped-on emotional baggage. What had seemed the simpler, painless path was really a cleverly disguised gilded cage with a treadmill set next to a looping slideshow, a holodeck of holograms going nowhere, a bouncing in a rubber room of insanity. (You’ve no doubt heard the definition: doing the same thing over and over, but expecting the results to differ.)

In 2008, my pursuit of happiness via xxx, video gaming, and substance over-use came to crashing halt when I took a virtual two-by-four upside the head and awoke to realize with horror what I had been doing to myself. I needed help. I’d been given a preview of the gruesome downward spiral I was following full-speed, but I’d been given new life to seek a different race course.

adventureThis blog is the readable documentary of that salvation, a textbook of the lessons I’ve learned. It starts every morning with being still and knowing, with frankly accepting how I’m made, and with a daily resolution to go wherever the Maker leads. He is the One for whom I am here. I am now carefully choosing how to live. And that is not by self-centeredly living my story, but instead Sharing God’s Story in my precious life.

I invite you to join me on this journey. I welcome your comments and commiseration, and especially, your own enlightenment.

Blessings,image

 

Because it’s “good” to be “nice”. NOT!

Well, “not enough,” is what I really mean.

So, in the wake of yet another mass killing, I posted a meme on FB which (in summary) said, “The problem… is a Godless society.” It was questioned by some of my (atheist, I think that’s how they would describe themselves) friends, who tried to bring the blame to religion. I replied, “God, not religion.” And then, when they persisted:

Again, God, not religion. A deep, studied, learn-ed relationship with The Creator. A foundation for/of morals and ethics. …the difference between faith and a set of do’s and don’t’s (that oh-by-the-way everyone should follow; it therefore being ok that they are made to follow, or else …removed). Spiritual formation. The WHY we do and live rightly and goodly, not so much the how. Personal, individual, trusting-yet-testing against the delivered-over-generations Word of said Creator, and daily “communication” (for want of a better word) from/with The Creator. The #1 question we all need to ask ourselves: IS there a being, a higher power who created all? If I believe, I live one way; if not, it’s all about me (and others’ lives/lack doesn’t matter).

Let me be clear: I’m talking about where I come from, Western Civ, arguably founded on or with a very healthy dose of Judeo-Christian principles.

[But] “progressivity” has taken spiritual, moral, and ethical development out of the basic education of people for generations now. This part of learning used to have the practical, secular by-product of good citizenship, (even in non-radical theocratic societies (or so conservative people of those faiths seem to claim – I have limited knowledge in this area.)) However, TRUE Christ-likeness is peaceful and supporting of all, exactly as they are.

There’s a “sham” good without New-Testament God, because the “why” question is never answered. And what’s the #1 question children ask? “Why?” Why? Why? “Because it’s good to be nice” isn’t sufficient as an answer.

Let me be further clear: Conservative != Christ-like.

I stress, the “religion” commonly known as Christianity is, in many ways, a farce. It’s a show: church on Sunday, maybe, but without even dusting off The Family Bible (if there even is one in the house), and then complete lack of faith-based living in the rat-race rest of the week. The condition of first world, western civilization, (truly, the have’s of the world) which has been failing to invest in/failing to back spiritual… maturation for its people is partly to blame, in that it’s non-God-of-all-based living has fostered the acceptance of radicalization in those brought up in other faiths (mostly the “have nots” outside of western civ).

Wow, “There are a lot of long words in there, Miss; we’re naught but humble pirates. What is it that you (are trying to say)?”

“Christian” is not something I do; it’s who I am. It starts at an individual level, one-on-one, between God and me. It forms how I deal with, treat, serve, love, accept, give to others – expecting nothing in return, because that’s how God, The Creator, is with and to me. It’s a daily, on-going process; for example, every morning I ‘meet with the big boss’ so-to-speak, deliberately thinking upon my blessings, and thanking Him, and looking at areas for improvement in how I measure up to the standard He has set, Jesus Christ. (And I admit, I have a long way to go to even come close- but that’s another post.) In other words, spiritual growth. Just like exercise for physical health, and training for career improvement (learning by doing is best). (And by-the-way, I was one of those non-Bible-opening “Christians” growing up. I left it at the words of the preacher. Now I know this is not enough.)

Followers of this Christ-likeness gather together in the body of the Church. As an organization, the Church further clarifies/educates, and treats with, serves, loves, accepts, gives to other peoples and organizations. But again, regarding this education – it first has to pass the individual’s test, based on his/her reading and understanding of the divinely-inspired word, (which means, he/she actually has to read it, and know it.) Frankly, I’m not sure I know too many professing Christians who read the Bible at all, certainly not daily or deeply. And non-Christians (ok, non-religious) people seem to have absolutely no way to develop and grow their morals and ethics. (Which explains how things are today.)

The Church’s intended work happens to some extent these days, but not nearly enough. Instead, we people build our bigger barns, improve our little estates, enjoy our entertainments, our bread and circus, and wonder why the rest of the world hates us, and who should do something about it. It’s the same as in our political lives: “Vigilance is the price of freedom.” (And, really, this election cycle should make clear to us all our lack of vigilance.)

I wanna watch! Me-centricity impedes giving

A recent WiRE asked, “What is adventure?” It said we should maybe re-consider the standard answer of exciting activities, X-treme sports, outdoor past-times, and wild vacations, and instead think of

  • confessing to our Christian brothers (or sisters) something embarrassing to our pride
  • risking a friendship by engaging in a tough conversation
  • taking a risk with careers or finances
  • serving others in a way that makes us uncomfortable

“…Aren’t these things more likely the adventures for which God designed us? … we tend to view them as unwanted interruptions, unpleasant hindrances, unnecessary risks to the safe lives we’ve worked hard to create.

“Ask yourself: might these have been intentionally placed in my way by a loving Father God?”

Unwanted interruptions, unpleasant hindrances, unnecessary risks… I started thinking about these things. Why do I find anything to be undesirable? And it occurred to me that sometimes it was because I always want to know how my actions turn out. How I affect others. I want to know the ending. I wanna watch. In that sense, I’m being me-centric, not God-focused.

God knows all. It’s God’s plan, operated through each of us acting as His hands, feet, and voice. We spin through our orbits and touch many others’ lives briefly, but in those moments can be the small steps of God’s work in another life. Only, we’re not meant to know how. But oh, how I want to see and know how I’m doing God’s work.

This attitude is strong, I think, because of this modern world’s movie mindset, TV tendencies, and watching ways. More than ever before in history, we’re an audience, viewing the whole world revolving around us. We see life unfold on the news, live complete experiences with heroes and everyday people in 2-hour segments in theaters, and get the whole scoop (usually unasked for) on almost anyone’s life via social media. Little is left to the imagination anymore.

I’m so wrapped up in my plans that I fail to reach out – fail to notice even – and take the small opportunities to give and serve when I run face-first right into them. Until recently. The most common example perhaps is focused on simple things, like helping a stranger out with a couple of bucks. The other night at our Worcester Celebrate Recovery a guy came in asking for help getting to Boston. The bus was like $10. A few gave him a couple of dollars, and I (for once) had cash in my wallet. I was moved to contribute a ten. Usually, I’d’ve been hesitant.

I’ll never know how that man made out, but today I’m ok with that. It was a learning moment. It doesn’t have to be money – sometimes maybe it shouldn’t be just cash, but something a little more risky. Even just a smile or a kind word as I pass someone on the street. Taking a risk to get involved in a brother’s life – because maybe God is giving me the chance to. Maybe He needs me to. I don’t need to know how it all turns out. I can hope and pray for the best. I just trust and believe in God, and that this is how He works.

 

I’m no economystic, but…

I’m no economystic. I’m just a guy – a guy trying to follow Christ – who sees and thinks upon what he sees. And naturally, money is one of the biggy topics – I see, I think;  it matters in big ways for every one of us. We’re all very concerned with it, from my brother-from-another-mother, Dave, so concerned about the mail delivery of his $20 spending check every Friday, all the way to the most interesting man in the world, _____.

I just read an article, The Compassion of Capitalism, by Dr Anne Bradley on the website The Institute for Faith, Work, & Economics (tifwe.org), in which she writes,

“Entrepreneurs play a vital role in identifying the misfortunes of others, putting themselves in other’s shoes, to really experience what they are going through. We can create better ways of doing things only when we’re able to do this – and are incentivized to do so. Free market exchange provides for both.” (emphasis mine)

I really desperately want to agree with the sentiment that Capitalism = Compassion, but I just can’t anymore. Maybe this was more true at some point in history, but it’s a far cry from the truth of today. (Like I said, I see and I just think upon it.)

Let me break down that quote: “identifying the misfortunes of others.” This is certainly true. Aren’t we all very good at this? “Boyo, I’m sure glad I’m not in your shoes.” This recognition of when someone else is up s**ts creek is easy to come by. But to care to “to really experience what they are going through”? No way. Not any more. Now we are advised to recognize purely for exploiltative purposes. The “incentivization” comes first. “How can I make money by ‘helping’ others?” instead of “I want to help, thank you for your support.”

I have no cold, hard facts, but here are some impressions, some cases in point:
– note how Big Pharma seems more interested in keeping the ill as residual customers than in actually finding cures;
– note the recent three-figure-percent increase in a much-needed medication;
– note the trend in corporate out-sourcing and down-sizing, the focus on the bottom line;
– note the ‘warehousing’ that is human services, where CEO’s of ‘non-profits’ make six-figure salaries;
– note the whole disposable-goods approach to manufacturing – nothing’s built to last anymore, in spite of what the waste does to the planet.
These are not ways that put “the good of others” first.

Sure, maybe it used to be more prevalent that industries formed around providing a service where there was need. And there certainly is good that comes from this today. But the “helping” is no longer the primary purpose (if it ever was), the profit is. Any benefits are more a side-effect of making a fortune. It’s all backwards.

This much is true:

“…innovation, which is encouraged within a capitalistic system, breeds compassion even among the greedy and selfish. It doesn’t eliminate greed. Nothing can. It does encourage ordinary people to unleash their God-given creativity to identify the sufferings of others and eliminate them. That is compassion and we need more of it everywhere.”

“Encouraged” is the key word. It speaks to the motivation for “helping. To my mind, heavily influenced by Christ, compassion needs no material reward. Dictionary.com defines compassion as “a feeling of deep sympathy and concern for another who is stricken by misfortune accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.” Not a word about recompense. And literally, the origin is Latin, compati, “suffer with“, not “benefit from.”

I do agree with this quote from Adam Smith, quoted in the article, as well:

“How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it… “

We are made, designed by God, our Maker, to desire to serve for the benefit of others. Making someone else’s day a little better makes our own much more so. This is compassion.

What I see today is, plainly, opportunism, which Merriam-Webster defines as “the art, policy, or practice of taking advantage of opportunities or circumstances often with little regard for principles or consequences.”

Yes, a by-product of Capitalism is benefits. But is it the best way mankind has to accomplish this? Will we ever be ready – are we ready now – to profit another way?

Personal Experience vs…

We have moments of great importance which we will always remember in exact detail. Examples from my lifetime are The Challenger and 9/11. I can recall where I was, what I was doing, and many of the specific circumstances of my life at the time. The rest of my moments blur together into general collages, from which I derive concepts and themes. We can “relive”, so to speak, only the impactful events.

Likewise, spiritually, I have had just a precious few moments of personal experience of God and Jesus Christ. But “personal experience” is a very weak phrase to describe it. There are things I “knew” before Christ found me. Head knowledge, book smarts, street wisdom. Stuff I read or was taught. I have always been good at reciting facts and dates. But to actually live a moment of divine grace and intervention (lol like I was really there), and truly know something because it was for real happening to me – that is something else entirely, something beyond basic knowledge or fond memory.

Matthew 11:28 the “Come to Me … and I will give you rest” verse, is what this kind of moment is, one in which I experienced unbelievable belief, the infinitely too good to be true. Can you dig it?

And I greatly desire to live every minute in this mountaintop-like-way. Sadly, though, I only seem to get close in times of extreme desperation. Rock-bottom times. I’m searching for ways to do this. What have you found?

(Unfortunately, it’s time to head to dialysis, which itself is a miracle in its own way.)

A 3-Hour Tour or To Boldy Go…?

This body is not “me”, it is mine. It’s the vessel in which I sail through life on this sea, this world. Here and now. On either end of this singular, once-in-a-lifetime journey, a port. Some port. The same port? Hmmm…

The destination might influence the reason for the trip, but not necessarily the manner of sailing. Is this a luxurious cruise I’m on, returning to the starting point after a vacation of sorts? Or an expedition of discovery and exploration? Either I drift along or chart a course into the sometimes-fearful unknown. The latter requires militaristic discipline, and is guided by the legends and stories of those who have gone before – in particular, The One who blazed the trail; the only one who put to sea with an objective but an attitude straight from peaceful latitudes, both. He traveled to experience the world, but in obedience to orders from on high.

A voyage of determination, to change the way things are – or rather, to wisely determine and to change, with courage, the things I can. A trip to be enjoyed, most definitely. But for what purpose? Not mine, but assigned. Yes, that’s it! I’m in the supernatural navy, but this body is my earthly yacht. Like Star Trek, not The Minnow. All the comforts of home, but ready (although certainly not always willing, and often barely able) to do what it takes to stay on course and to not be marooned alone on some deserted island.

I think what I’m trying to say, especially given the wonderful life of ease our modern technology has enabled, is that both, cruise or exploration, have their times. In fact, my James 1:8 means I’m floating or steering from one day to the next. And I’m learning – I have to learn – how to be alright with that. That’s the attitude part. Enjoy, but be ready to take evasive maneuvers, or to batten down the hatches and ride it out. Heavy on the prayer either way.

Consider: on a cruise, the crew and passengers both enjoy. The body and the soul. The soul is mellow, having signed up (and paid for) a jaunt through warm waters and sandy beaches. The crew is all to happy to accommodate – shouldn’t anyone be able to “work” in such comfortable environments? A cruise is looking to avoid the unknown and stick to safe waters, to take a break from the mundane.

An expedition is very different. The Captain has orders from the Admiralty. The crew, literally impressed, must have no choice but to obey or face the lash, unless there be mutiny here, and the body rebels to stop at the nearest sunny shoreline filled with pretty, naked natives. An expedition seeks out the uncharted, persevering through storms to do so. But when that tropical isle is discovered? A break can be refreshing.

Captain, my Captain, which will you decide to be today? To be Master and Commander or to sit back as passenger, letting the body choose? HMS Surprise or Love Boat?

There are two things that strike me as the deciding factors. First, going back-n-forth as I do leaves me (or leads me) on an erratic path. I imagine watching a wooden sailing ship from afar, canvas billowing and flapping, tacking unpredictably and “lubberly” straight into the sinking-storm. Second is our fate that there will be storms. Don’t we have to be prepared to meet them?

Fortunately, life is no longer Noah-like – all ocean and no land. There are protected harbors and timely inlets to stop at and take temporary shelter. To refit and refuel. Shore leave. Church. Support group. Forever family. Then onward again!

No matter how much I may want to stay docked uneventfully at the marina, I can’t change the fact that this body, this ship, is made/built to sail, to be out there on the high seas, whether cruising or exploring.

In fact, today’s My Utmost for His Highest (which inspired the sailing theme of this post), makes that very point in the quote, “It’s easier to sacrifice yourself than to fulfill your spiritual destiny.” (Reference Romans 12:1-2) The definition of sacrifice is “an act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy.” The sacrifice for me is the safety and comfort of never leaving home waters.

So I choose To Boldly Go, unless I really need that 3-Hour Tour.