Steps of a temple in the Mayan Ruins of Tikal, Peten, Guatemala

Being patient with other people

Do you ever just want to haul off and smack someone? I do. Some people get under my skin to the point that I really just want to shake them. I don’t, of course. I usually resort to making faces at them and taking notes about their behavior to feature them as an irritating character in my next novel (you’ve heard it’s not wise to upset a writer, haven’t you?).

But is that the way we’re supposed to be? As followers of Christ, we all have the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We just don’t always choose to use it. According to Galatians 5:22-23, everyone who has the Holy Spirit has the opportunity to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit: “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

Yesterday I blogged about being patient through circumstances. But what about being patient through relationships?

Steps of a temple in the Mayan Ruins of Tikal, Peten, Guatemala

Steps of a temple in the Mayan Ruins of Tikal, Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verse is Colossians 3:13.

Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.

When it comes down to being patient in difficult situations, I can do that. Actually, anymore, the more difficult a situation gets, the better I am at being patient through it. In the last five or six years, I feel like every situation I’ve been in has been difficult, and this year has felt like a constant emotional roller coaster. We’re not even halfway through 2013 and I’m already exhausted. But I’m not impatient.

However, all it takes for me to lose my cool–I mean really lose my cool–is for me to come in contact with a stupid person. If you’ve ever driven in the car with me, you know this is true. I don’t get angry very easily, but when it comes to bad drivers? Wow. Yeah, that’s all I’m going to say about that.

Today’s verse stings because I’m not very good at making allowances for the faults of others. I think it’s my own perfectionism. Deep down inside I hold myself to such high standards that I expect others to perform to a certain level, and if they don’t, I get impatient with them. After all, excellence isn’t that hard to achieve. If I can do it, why can’t they? Right? Any other perfectionists out there hear me?

But the heart of today’s verse is patience and humility. Maybe I’m driven to be perfect, but I guarantee you that I’m not. No one is. And everybody knows that, but there’s a difference between knowing it and living it.

When someone wrongs you, forgive them. Why? Because it won’t be very long before you turn around and wrong someone else, whether you intend to or not. And you appreciate being forgiven, don’t you? You appreciate people being patient with you, don’t you?

Granted, there’s a level of stupidity that you shouldn’t have to deal with. Some people are fools, and f0ols are dangerous to have in your life. Those are the people who keep making the same mistakes over and over again and never learn from them. But even those people don’t deserve cruelty. We should still be patient with them, even when we cut them out of our lives.

God forgave us. And when God forgives, He puts our faults out of His mind. They don’t exist to Him anymore. And that’s how we need to forgive others. When someone offends us or does wrong to us, we need to choose to see them as a human being who isn’t perfect, just like us.

Yes, there may need to be a change in the relationship, but don’t give up on them. Just be patient with them. People are people, and they don’t change until they start listening to God. And that is true for believers and non-believers alike because you can be a follower of Christ and not be listening to the Holy Spirit.

Think of a person in your life who drives you crazy. Identify why that is. I’ve got one in mind right now. Decide that you’re going to be patient with that person today, that you’re going to show them love and forgiveness even if they don’t reciprocate, that you won’t let their actions dictate your responses, that you’ll listen to the Holy Spirit’s whisper above the screaming of your heart.

It will make a huge difference in your day. And it might even make a difference in their heart. You never know how God will use you, but it starts with listening and obeying the Spirit.

Dead sunflower in a snowy field at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Our struggles have a greater purpose

Sometimes I wonder why we have to suffer through difficult situations. I know we grow. I know we get stronger. But when difficult situation after difficult situation keeps rolling at me, I just want to throw up my hands and shout, “Enough already!” I mean, how strong do I need to be anyway?

And then this old insecure voice starts whispering at the back of my mind: What have you done wrong to deserve this? When situations in my life continue to be difficult, I start wondering if I did something to make God angry at me. But most of the time, no matter how I wrack my brain, I can’t think of anything I’ve done that would have made God so mad that He would keep throwing struggle after struggle at me. And thinking like that eventually leads to the belief that God doesn’t care. But if He cares, why do we struggle?

Dead sunflower in a snowy field at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Dead sunflower in a snowy field at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are John 9:1-7.

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him. We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work. But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.” Then he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and spread the mud over the blind man’s eyes. He told him, “Go wash yourself in the pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “sent”). So the man went and washed and came back seeing!

Just imagine being this poor blind guy. He was just sitting on the ground, minding his own business, and somebody (the blind man didn’t necessarily know it was Jesus) walks over and spits in the dirt and wipes mud on his face? Seriously? I would have freaked out.

But he didn’t. And he went and did what Jesus told him to do, and he was healed.

This is one of those famous Bible stories that you’ll always hear in Sunday School, and most of the time, the storytellers focus on the fact that Jesus healed the guy. Don’t get me wrong, that’s an important thing to focus on. Jesus healed a lot of people, and it was evidence of who He was (and who He is). But what caught my eye this morning is the fact that the man was born blind not because of something he did or something his parents did; he was born blind so that he could be healed.

That was the entire purpose behind it. There was a reason for this man’s blindness. When he was born, God made him born blind, and that sounds horrible. That sounds cruel and unusual that God would take away his sight as an infant, never even give him the chance to see the world. But God didn’t do it without a reason. He knew that this man would be sitting on this street corner however many years later and that Jesus would heal him.

How many times do we look at the circumstances in our lives as punishment from God? Granted, many times, they might be. I don’t know your life. I don’t know your choices. And if you’ve made choices that are contrary to what God says is right, of course, you’re going to endure consequences. It’s like the natural process of planting and harvesting. You’re going to get the kind of fruit you plant. If you plant bad seeds, you’re going to get a bad crop. That’s not God’s doing; that’s your choices coming back to bite you. So if you’ve made bad choices, don’t get upset with God when your life turns upside-down.

But I know my life. And I know the lives of the people close to me. And I know that none of us have necessarily done anything that merits the struggles we’re facing. And in many instances, the struggles we’re going through are just part of living in a broken world. But in some cases, it really does feel like God has a sledgehammer and is pounding away at us. But that’s a lie. And if we just step back for a moment, maybe we can wrap our heads around a new perspective this morning.

This month I’m studying the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!” Among them is patience. And patience is something that we shouldn’t try to get through difficult circumstances without. Why? Because most of the time we don’t understand the greater purpose for our suffering.

There is a purpose. There is a reason. God doesn’t let anything happen to His children for no reason. Maybe we’ll never understand the reason. Maybe we’ll never see the resolution while we’re alive on earth, but it’s our job to be patient in whatever trials and troubles come our way.

Think about the blind man in this story. He was born blind. He didn’t have a choice in the matter. He lived every day of his life knowing that he would never see–until Jesus walked up to him. How many years was that? I don’t know. But what I do know is that his blindness wasn’t a curse; it was an opportunity to be a blessing. I’m sure that man never would have guessed that people would still be talking about him 2,000+ years later and finding encouragement from his story.

I tell you what. If I know that God is working in my situation, that’s reason enough for me to be patient a little while longer. I trust Him that much. He knows what He’s doing, and I would rather have things happen in His time.

So whatever you’re facing today, be patient. You aren’t suffering for no reason, and the challenges you’re enduring present you with an opportunity to display God’s glory for everyone to see. Who knows? Maybe in 2,000 more years, someone will hear about you and find a reason to be patient where they didn’t have one before.

Wheat fields at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Good things come to those who wait

I hate waiting. I think I’ve said that on this blog once or twice. Waiting just isn’t something I’m good at, but it’s something I usually end up having a lot of practice with. I don’t know if it’s because I have an active imagination and can see all the different possibilities of how life could work out the way I want it to or if it’s because I’m a perfectionist with an inferiority complex. Whatever the reason, I just don’t like waiting. If people got medals for patience, I wouldn’t medal in the top three.

Patience is a characteristic that we grow over time. We don’t really just wake up with it. That would be nice, but it’s one of those qualities we have to develop. You’ve heard the phrase: “Good things come to those who wait”? Exactly.

But patience is more than a character quality. It’s a gift.

Wheat fields at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Wheat fields at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Galatians 5:22-23.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

I’ve heard some people say that asking God for patience is a bad idea because then He’ll give it to you and you’ll end up having to stay in the same situation where you have to have patience for longer than you would have had to if you hadn’t asked for it. That was a long, rambling introduction, but I hope you get the point.

Many of us are in circumstances where we are waiting for God to tell us what to do next. Or some of us are in a situation where we know what God wants us to do… He’s told us to wait. To be patient. To be still. Am I the only one who hates that answer?

Whether it’s the answer we want or not, patience is good for us. The more patience we learn to have, the more we grow in other areas of our life–like faith. Because when you’re sitting still and depending on God to work out the details, you have to learn to trust Him more. When you’re not running around trying to arrange your life to fit the mold of your expectations, you have to let God design it the way He wants. And when you do that, your life works out better anyway because God is a better architect than you are. Just saying.

But personally I think asking for patience is a good idea. Asking God to help me be patient is more than a good idea–it’s a necessity. Otherwise, I’ll twist off and go do things my own way, and my life is too big for me to handle on my own already without me getting into situations I don’t understand.

So how do you have patience? How do you use patience? Because there is such a thing as being lazy. People can be lazy and just say they’re waiting for God to move. People can be lazy and just say they’re being patient. It’s a lot easier to be lazy than patient. But you can tell the difference when God does tell you to do something. If you’re being lazy you’ll look for an excuse to keep being lazy. If you’re being patient, you’ll jump at the opportunity to be useful.

Patience is a gift that God gives us when we accept Christ into our lives. We already have it. It’s our choice to use it or not. If you ignore it, you’re going to walk into a lot of situations where you aren’t prepared and you’ll probably end up falling on your face. But if you implement it, you’ll always be ready for the challenges that are coming. Well–maybe you won’t be ready, but you’ll be as prepared as you can be. And by the time the challenge gets to you, you’ll already have lots of practice waiting on God, and that’s the best way to prepare for any circumstance.

So if you’re faced with a choice today — to do or to wait — you might think about waiting. Granted, if you’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting, double check. Make sure God is telling you to keep waiting. But if you’re getting ready to run off half-c0cked and do things your own way, you might think twice. It’s better to wait and be sure you know what God wants before you do what you want.

White rose in the Rose Garden at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Living a world-changing love

How many kinds of love are there? Well, there’s more than one, but I can’t tell you exactly how many there are. What’s interesting to me, as a word nerd, is that the English language only has one word for love, but some other languages have more than one word for it. I find this ironic because American English is a crazy melting pot of words that continues to grow larger and lazier every year, but the fact that we still have one word for love fascinates me.

I don’t know how many words for love Greek has, but there are quite a few. And each one means something different–different words for different kinds of love. There’s family love. There’s romantic love. And then there’s a peculiar kind of love that sounds impossible and that’s the word for love that’s used in Galatians 5:22-23 where the Bible lists the Fruit of the Spirit: “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!”

If you’ve been around the church you may have heard the term agape. Now, I don’t speak Greek, so I may have spelled it wrong (according to Google Translate, it looks like this: ἀγάπη). But agape love is the kind of love that only can be produced by having God’s Spirit in our lives, and the best definition of that kind of love is found into today’s verses.

White rose in the Rose Garden at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

White rose in the Rose Garden at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

If you want to read the whole chapter of 1 Corinthians 13, you should. It’s not long, and it’s revolutionary. But I think verses 4 through 7 really encapsulate what this kind of love is about. Love like this is impossible without God, whether you’re married or single, whether you’re friends or enemies. This kind of love isn’t something that just happens. It’s something you have to choose, and it’s something you have to ask God to help you with.

This kind of love doesn’t come naturally to anyone. Don’t get me wrong. I love people, but I like getting my own way. I don’t like waiting. I want things other people have. I like getting my way, and far too often I hold grudges. And there is a part of me that has a party when someone who’s hurt me gets hurt in return. All of that is natural, but none of that comes from God. None of that demonstrates that I’m living by the Spirit.

So when someone is bothering me, when someone is nagging me, this kind of love is patient and kind to them. When someone else gets something that I want, this kind of love rejoices with them. And when I achieve something, this kind of love is humble about it and doesn’t rub it in people’s faces. This kind of love backs off and lets others set the pace, and it doesn’t keep track of bad history.

But more than anything, this kind of love never gives up and never goes away.

How’s your checklist? Mine’s not doing so well. Granted, in the instances where it’s people I already love, I’m doing okay. But what about people you don’t love? What about people you don’t like? That’s where I start cringing because don’t show them this kind of love, not the way a Christ-follower should. And that’s where I need God’s help.

No matter where you are today, everyone needs this. Nobody has this figured out. None of us can achieve this kind of love, not on our own, but it’s not impossible. If we have the Spirit, we have God in our lives, and nothing is impossible for God.

Why is living this kind of love important? Well, it changes you, for one. Loving like this makes you into the kind of person you need to be. And secondly, it’s a bright, shining beacon to a world without hope that there is something more to life. Christ-followers are called to be different, and living this kind of love is the best way.

So make a choice today. Choose to love those people who you don’t like. Choose to be still and listen to what God is saying about love, about how to love those people, about how to show His love to others. It doesn’t have to be a huge display. More often than not, love is in the small things. A smile. Holding open a door. Bringing someone a flower. Giving someone a hug. A kind word. A listening ear. None of those are world shattering, but they just might be world changing.

New apricots in the orchard at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Choosing to live by the Spirit

I’m hoping that spring will be here soon. In other parts of the country (maybe the world), spring may have already settled in but not in Kansas. In Kansas, we’ve enjoyed a few days of summer and apparently today winter is coming back for a (hopefully) last hurrah. Spring is a wonderful time of year where life comes back to the world, a beautiful picture of what God does in our lives. Yes, the allergies are awful, but watching the world turn green and smelling the blossoming flowers and feeling the warm breezes is absolutely worth it. Spring reminds us that life doesn’t end when we think it does.

I have an orchard here at my little farm. It’s nothing spectacular, just a few apricot trees and pear trees that give new definition to the concept of organic. But in springtime, after the blossoms have fallen, the fruit starts to appear. And it’s a good reminder for me that trees that don’t look like they’re accomplishing anything are actually working–they’re producing something.

New apricots in the orchard at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

New apricots in the orchard at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Galatians 5:16-24.

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.

What does it mean to live by the Spirit? Some people take it too far, I think, and turn Spirit-filled living into some emotional experience. I’m not saying living by the Spirit is void of emotion; that’s not it at all. But I really think a hallmark of Spirit-filled living is balance. You aren’t ruled by emotion. You aren’t ruled by the law. You’re ruled by the Spirit.

You can be a follower of Christ and have the Spirit of God in you without being filled by Him. You can believe in Christ but not allow the Spirit to work. So how do you live by the Spirit? Well, first of all, you have to know what God wants, and that’s where Bible reading comes in. And then you have to communicate with God, and that’s where prayer comes in. And then you have listen. That’s the hard part for me. Sitting still and listening for God’s voice is difficult when I feel like I need to be rushing around doing ten things at once. But once you can get the point where you learn to recognize God’s voice and obey, you’ll start noticing a difference in your life. And others around you will start noticing too.

Today’s passage is pretty long but it’s one of the best set of verses about living by the Spirit. It’s a good measurement because if you’re living by the Spirit, your life is going to have certain qualities:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These nine qualities are often called the Fruit of the Spirit, and they are what the Holy Spirit will produce in our lives if we listen to God’s voice and obey.

So for the month of May, I want to study the Fruit of the Spirit. I want to know what they are, what they mean, and what they look like in our lives. I want to make sure I have them because I want to live a life that is Spirit-led. And the first step of accomplishing that is to be still and listen.

Just like verses 24 and 25 say above, as a follower of Christ, my sinful nature has been nailed to the cross. It has no power over me anymore, and through God’s power, I can resist. I don’t have to sin. I can choose not to sin through Christ’s strength. But just because sin has no power over me and heaven is my eternal destination doesn’t automatically mean that I am filled with the Spirit. I have the Spirit; He’s a part of my life. But that doesn’t mean I let Him lead. And that’s what I want.

It’s not required to live by the Spirit if you’re a Christ-follower but it’s the kind of life that God desires for us. It’s the kind of life that can make a difference in the world, and the beautiful thing is that we don’t have to do anything. God has already taken care of the truly hard part. We just have to listen and take God at His Word, and while that can be challenging sometimes, in the grand scheme of things, it’s not that big of a deal.

So make up your mind. You can be a Christian and cling to your hell insurance or you can choose to let the Spirit lead. The choice is yours, but I say if I’m going to live for Christ, I want to live all out.