Fresh Fruit (Week 4)

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Before gathering to discuss our week on “patience” last night, everyone had an assignment:  bring to the dinner table at least item from God’s creation that you would say has intricate design. (I had to define “intricate”…which took some patience to achieve).  So in addition to slices of pizza, the patio table accumulated flowers, a fern frond, a strawberry, a blueberry, a “pokey leaf from a holly bush,” and fire (yes, from the middle schooler).  We examined the intricate details of each one and pondered the details God put into every design. patience

Then for a little imagination, I asked, “do you think that each one of these came out exactly like this the first time God made them?”  Food for thought.  I mean, what if when God created the blueberry it came out more like a radish?  He doesn’t sin.  And He doesn’t make mistakes.  Could he not have looked at the radish with as much joy as He had when He got to the blueberry?

This exercise was not intended to be lesson from Genesis as much as it was to have my family think about God’s patience with us as He nurtures us toward what He desires.

In my masters program, I had the honor of sitting under Walter Brueggemann for a couple of OT courses.  He always amazed me with the way the ancient Hebrew people valued concrete imagery in their lessons about God.  I remember the day he spoke on a text from Psalm 103:8…

The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.

That phrase slow to anger (arek–ap) is a Hebrew idiom directly translated as long nostrils.  So if we translate this section of the verse literally, it reads:  The LORD is compassionate and gracious, He has a long nose, and is abounding in love.

My kids burst out laughing at this point…never imagining God as Kilroy.

But here’s the deal…the Hebrew image was like picturing God as a fire-breathing dragon.  But this isn’t just any dragon…even though He gets angry, He is so full of lovingkindness and his nose is so long, that when He becomes angry the fire is nothing but a puff of smoke by the time it reaches the end.  He tempers His anger with His patience, for the benefit of the ones He calls His children.

Whether we count to 10, inhale deeply/exhale slowly, take a walk to cool down or find another medium, we would all do well to find a practical, initial alternative to retaliation.  Doing so, keeps the relationship intact, and honors the other person.  It gives us time to process the truth and to pray about appropriate and just responses.  This is what God does for us.  So we are surely called to model this for those around us.

What do you find yourself nurturing this week: a child, a family, a marriage, an employee, a staff, a paper, a sermon, an account?  You might try imagining yourself a bit more like Pinocchio.  And remember…you and I have been honored to be a part of the creative process; however we are ultimately not in charge.  The outcome may take a another path and may be different (and better) than what we had in mind.

kilroyBut the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience… (Gal. 5:22)

Fresh Fruit (Week 3)

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peaceI’ll be honest:  the week on Peace was a little like what happens when one prays for Patience.  Why doesn’t God just zap us with the virtue we ask for?  Wouldn’t we save time and frustration if we could just get to the product?!  But apparently, He sees value in the practice that leads to it.  Let’s just say that all 5 of us had multiple opportunities to “practice” peace this week.

Toward the end of the week, we took the boys on a surprise, quick trip to the beach where we joined some great friends whose vacation was already in progress.  Among all the items dragged out into the sand were 2 large paddle boards which the boys quickly decided to use as surfboards.  Living near the Gulf, surfing is not something generally on our radar.  But the waves were actually large enough to give it a go.  It was comical at first…then amazing to watch their determination of climbing back on the boards to try again after some serious and painful wipeouts.  Before long, all 3 were successful surfer dudes riding all the way into shore.  On a side note, I can see how this could be addictive and ego-stroking.  Even our 6-year-old wanted to make certain that his new-found (girl) friend “Miley Grace” was watching him on shore!

Throughout the week, we discussed the Old Testament Hebrew word “Shalom” in light of peace.  It wasn’t a term that necessarily meant just an absence of conflict.  It is a spoken blessing that literally means “may your life be balanced.”  Balance is difficult to achieve.  In relationships, it’s nearly impossible without the Holy Spirit guiding our hearts.  What comes natural to us when we feel wronged is retaliation.  As human beings, we thoughtlessly achieve “balance” by returning slight and injustice in kind.  But all that does is perpetuate more imbalance.  It’s a truth that we all have to learn…whether it’s the Middle East or our living room.  On the surfboard, when one feels like he is about to lose balance, the way he stays on is to shift weight in the opposite direction.  Christ’s Spirit empowers us in the same way…to shift the opposite direction…to respond with humility, grace and kindness, even when it is not deserved.

Which brings us to the point…peace is not just the absence of conflict but is the presence of Christ. 

 

 

Fresh Fruit (Week 2)

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Sorry Merriam-Webster.  You are not entirely correct this time.  You say “joy” is “the emotion evoked by the prospect of possessing what one desires.” photo-2

It was a lesson that emerged later in the week as our family conversation & prayer time centered on JOY as a fruit of the Spirit.  Oddly enough, the event that pointed out the error was something that rarely brings me joy:  a yard sale.  How is it that clothing, household items & toys that once cost top dollar–and that are in excellent condition–look like .50 cent flea market trinkets when placed on a lawn?  Sometime near the end of the sale, my youngest (6) was racing around the driveway on a Hot Wheels trike that he hadn’t touched in a year screaming “don’t sell my bike daddy!”  He exclaimed this in response to a text I had just received from a friend who wanted to purchase it…and I was happy to find a new home for it!  It’s not the first time I’ve noticed this happening…perhaps you’ve had the same experience with your children.  You put things away in the attic for a few months; then when you take them out it’s like Christmas morning all over again!

Rediscovery is a great spiritual lesson.  It’s tied to contentment.  As sons and daughters of God, He has supplied us with so many blessings beyond the extravagant material things we all enjoy in our culture.  It is easy to lose sight of the wealth of blessing the LORD has poured out on each person.  This is why prayer time as family is so important.  Whether we are expressing gratitude for Jesus or for the paper napkins and silverware on the table, we recognize the presence of the Father in our lives.  We recognize that He is the source of our joy…not our circumstances or the next thing we may purchase.

The Apostle Paul certainly knew this.  In Philippians 4, he writes:  “Rejoice in the Lord always!   I will say it again:  Rejoice!”  Then a few verses later:  “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

The big family lesson this week:  JOY is tied to contentment regardless of circumstances.

Merriam, you are usually pretty smart.  But I’ve got 2 words for you this time:  Philippians 4.

 

Fresh Fruit (Week 1)

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Thanks to our spectacular Children’s Pastor (the astounding Laura Rubin), our kids have had the Fruit of the Spirit drilled into them…well, at least they know Galatians 5:22-23 really well.  I don’t know if the “fruit of the Spirit” song they keep singing is an original or not, but it has definitely stuck.  So Emily & I decided that this might be a good opportunity to take 1 per week, over the Summer, as a family, and investigate each one. photo

Of course with boys everything is a competition…so the added layer to learning is that at the end of each week, we will vote.  Whoever we believe modeled that particular virtue or fruit during the week, gets the “game ball.”  No just hold on, all ye theologians who feel we may instill works righteousness into our kids…you gotta start somewhere!  You are correct:  we don’t start with fruit and get to the root of the tree.  It IS the other way around.  My hope as a parent is that in practicing these, and talking about each one throughout the week as a family will help us see how desperately we need Christ in our hearts in order for these to become natural.

First up:  Love.  It was family vacation this week, and we attempted to practice “loving our neighbor as we love ourselves,” and “treating each other the way we desire to be treated.”  A couple lessons emerged from this…even for mom and dad :).

1)  It’s frequently easier to show love to my “neighbor” with whom I do not live!  The person who is always around and in/near my space has a tendency to get on my nerves.  Why is it so easy to be thoughtless and disrespectful to family in ways we would never imagine with others?

2)  The LORD makes a significant point when He said to love others as we love ourselves.  Most of us REALLY love ourselves.  Not in an over-the-top narcissistic kind of way, but in most moments of the day I reveal great concern about ME:  what I’m going to eat, what this outfit will look like on me, what others think about me, will I get to eat at the restaurant I want,  is there enough money to buy the thing I want…on and on.  It’s as if I want to ensure I’m taken care of first, then I’ll get to you.  What the Spirit reveals in practicing love is that I’m not against you, I’m just so FOR ME.  Practicing agape’ (loving without expecting in return) is hard, unnatural, and impossible without the Spirit of Christ.

Parents…remember that we are the primary disciplers of our children, not the Church.  I love the Church.  I’m a huge fan and have committed my life to working in the Church.  I’m deeply grateful for ALL of the things the Church does to provide material, education, godly examples and wonderful experiences to expose my children to Christ and the community of faith.  Let’s embrace the opportunity to use those tools to infuse Christ into our conversation and experiences at home.  At best, the Church has your kids 100 hours per year.  They have you over 3000 hours per year!

Who got the game ball this week?  Likely not I.  We’ll find out at bedtime 🙂