Grasshopper on a windowscreen at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

What kind of life do you want to live?

I’d like to think I’m a fairly patient person, but the people who know me best know that I’m not really. I can be patient if I try really really hard, but most of the time it takes so much effort that I’d rather just run around like an idiot until something happens that I can exert some kind of control over. Even though I accomplish absolutely nothing, running around like a madwoman at least makes me feel like I can change things that are beyond me. Anyone else ever feel like that?

Well, you’re not alone. And neither am I. I’m willing to bet everyone has been there and done that at some point in their lives, but that’s not the way we’re commanded to live. We aren’t supposed to plow through life, running over anything and anyone who gets in our way.

Grasshopper on a windowscreen at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Grasshopper on a windowscreen at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Ephesians 4:2.

Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.

Ouch. Anyone else hear my toes crunching as that verse hops all over them?

I think it’s really interesting that we’re commanded to be humble and gentle all the time, followed by being patient with each other. Haven’t you noticed that impatient people usually aren’t very humble or gentle? And the opposite is true too. The proud and cruel aren’t very patient. I think these are three character qualities that go hand in hand (or hand in hand in hand).

I hate being interrupted, especially when I’m in “the zone” at work or at my home office. But that’s part of my everyday life. So I have to get used to it, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it. And I honestly do fight the urge to snap at people when they interrupt me because I don’t think they understand exactly how difficult it is to get to a point where I’m being productive only to have them drag me out of it to answer their question.

But since when is my work about me? My work is about my company and doing the best job I can for them. Even my personal writing exists to glorify God. But that’s what that attitude says. “You shouldn’t interrupt me because what I’m doing is more important than what you need.” Yeah? How humble is that?

And once I’m all stirred up, it’s just a short hop and a jump away before I get snappy and mean. And then I turn into a very un-gentle person. But I can’t tell you if this stems from my impatience or if my impatience comes about because of my lack of humility and gentleness. What I do know for sure is that all three of those characteristics—impatience, pride, and meanness—don’t represent the kind of life I want to live. And they sure don’t represent the life a Christian should be living, no matter who you are or what kind of situation you’re in.

The best thing we can do for ourselves and for the people around us is learning to recognize those traits and doing something to stop them. Maybe you don’t mean to feel one or all of them once, but that doesn’t mean you have to keep feeling them. And you certainly don’t have to base your life around them.

Always be humble. Think about what you do before you do it. Don’t automatically assume that people owe you something just by virtue of who you are. And even if they do, think twice before demanding they give it to you.

Always be gentle. There’s never a call for cruelty. There’s never a reason to be mean. There’s never a purpose for tearing people down with your words or your actions. This is one I have to watch because I have a sarcastic streak a mile wide, and sometimes my sarcasm gets the better of me. It’s one thing to tease; it’s something else to hurt. Think about what you say before you say it. You might save yourself and someone else a lot of pain.

And be patient. Just because you know something is true or right doesn’t mean other people have had the same opportunities to learn that you have. Just because your life experiences have taught you valuable wisdom doesn’t mean that other people are stupid because they don’t know the same thing. And just because someone is getting on your nerves doesn’t mean they’re doing it on purpose. Maybe they’re trying to help you. They might be trying to help you into a nervous breakdown, but at least their intentions are good. Chill out. Back off. Calm down. Take a minute or two to refocus and try again.

Maybe we don’t know what causes pride, meanness, or impatience (other than our own sin nature), but there’s plenty of explanation about what encourages patience, humility, and gentleness.

Love.

Seems to be a running theme in the Bible, doesn’t it?

Be humble. Be gentle. Be patient. Why? Because we love each other. And we love each other because Jesus loved us first.

It’s not easy. Oh boy, it’s not easy. But I guarantee life is so much better if you listen.

The Houses of Parliament, London, England

Sometimes love is a better teacher than justice

Have you ever been driving and someone behind you is riding your bumper and acting like an absolute idiot? I’m usually okay at controlling what I say, but when it comes to bad drivers, a lot of my inhibitions fly out the window. Bad drivers upset me worse than almost any other person, mainly because in their irresponsibility they not only endanger their own lives but the lives of other people around them.

So after the guy who was riding your bumper needlessly for the last three miles zooms around you and disappears down the road at 90 mph, how do you feel? Relieved? Or vindictive? I hate to admit it, but a major part of me leans more toward the vindictive side. Then, suppose you encounter this driver again a little ways down the road, stuck on the shoulder with a flat tire or an empty gas tank. How do you feel then?

I wish I were a good enough Christian to tell you that I would pull over and have compassion on the poor idiot, but I’m not. Just being honest, I’d probably drive on and feel justified. After all, he’s getting the least of what he deserves. A flat tire or an empty gas tank isn’t a big deal, and it’s the least punishment he deserves for his reckless behavior.

On first blush, that’s probably the reaction everyone would have. That’s probably what any other driver would do. If the weather is okay and a gas station is close at hand, why not? Today’s verse tells us why not and reminds me that we’re not supposed to react like everyone else. As a Christ-follower, we are supposed to love.

The Houses of Parliament, London, England

The Houses of Parliament, London, England

Today’s verse is 1 Corinthians 13:6.

It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.

The word it in this verse is love, but not just regular love. This is agape love, the word for the kind of love that only comes from God. It’s the kind of love that allows us to love people who hurt us, who use us, who betray us, and it’s how we–as Christ followers–are supposed to live.

The way I see it, this is different from a speeder being pulled over or a drunk driver being arrested. To me, it’s good to see justice done. It’s good to see that people will be held accountable for their actions, but that is something that a law enforcement officer has to do. It’s not my job to determine crime and punishment for people just like me. Rather, it’s my job to love others no matter what they’ve done to me.

It’s easy for me to rejoice when someone else receives what I think is owed them. It’s not as easy to love that person in spite of how they hurt me or how they offended me or how they inconvenienced me.

Yes, my gut instinct is to leave a bad driver on the side of the road. Maybe he’ll think about his carelessness as he’s waiting for someone to come along and help him. But as Christ followers we’re not supposed to live by gut instinct. We’re supposed to live as Christ lived. We’re supposed to do things the way Christ would have done them. And what would Christ do in this situation? He’d stop and help the person in His path, no matter whether He thought they deserved their life lesson or not. Why? Because that’s love. And love is a far better teacher than vindictive self-righteousness any day.

So who is that person who drives you crazy? What are the circumstances that make you angry? And when do you want to sit back and watch as someone gets their just desserts? Try thinking about it from a different perspective. Try thinking about that person with the love that comes from God. Do they look any different to you now?

God is in charge of justice and revenge. God is in charge of doling out punishment. That’s not our arena, unless you’re a law enforcement officer or a member of the courts who are charged with upholding the law in our society. I don’t fit into one of those categories. I’m just an average Christ follower with a shamefully powerful tendency toward road rage. My job is to love people no matter what they’ve done to me.

You never know how God is going to use you. Sometimes love can teach lessons better than justice. Who knows? Maybe that person you stop to help would listen to you much sooner than they would listen to an authority. Maybe your one act of love helps save that person’s life as well as the lives of other drivers around him.

Mulberries rippening on the tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Loving those who don’t deserve it

I usually learn best by example. If someone can give me an example or tell me a story about a concept, I can usually grasp it. That’s why I love Jesus’ method of teaching because He was (and is) a storyteller. That’s one of the reasons why I’m wild about stories, because they do more than just entertain. Stories teach. And it’s the best way for me to learn something.

So this month, I’m studying the Fruit of the Spirit, as explained 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.” For the moment I’m studying love. But not just any love–agape (αγαπη) love. It’s the kind of love that we can only have when we are following Christ. It’s 1 Corinthians 13 love.

But it’s one thing to tell me what this kind of love is. It’s something else to show me.

Mulberries rippening on the tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Mulberries rippening on the tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Luke 10:30-37.

Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road. By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side. Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’

“Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked. The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”

The Parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the best known stories that Jesus’ told, but you really have to understand the historical context for the truth of the story to sink in. The nutshell version is that the Samaritan people weren’t well-liked at all among the Jews. They weren’t Jewish. They were a mixed race people, and the Jews just despised them. Something else we need to understand is who Jesus was telling this story to.

If you look a bit farther back in the chapter, you’ll see Jesus used this story as an answer to a question an expert in religious law asked. The expert had asked a question, trying to trap Jesus, wanting to know what the greatest commandment was. Jesus, of course, had the perfect answer (Love God, Love People), but the expert wanted to justify himself and wanted to know which people he could love and which people he didn’t have to love. This was Jesus’ answer.

I can’t wait to get to heaven so I can talk to people who were there for this moment. One of the joys of my life is sharing movies I love with people who haven’t seen them. I love the huge plot twists that make people gasp, and I love being able to share great stories with people just because I love watching their reactions. And that’s what I imagine happened when Jesus told this story. Because it wasn’t uncommon for a Jewish man to travel between Jerusalem and Jericho. It wasn’t uncommon for someone traveling alone to be attacked by bandits, especially along that particular road. The priest and the temple assistant might have been expected to stop and help, but none of them expected the Samaritan to help.

Samaritans were bad. They were hated. So I’m sure when listeners heard Jesus say a Samaritan was coming, they thought he would finish the poor victim off. But he didn’t. Not only did he stop and take care of the man, he carried him to where he could heal and paid for him to rest, all the while knowing that if their situation had been reversed, the Jewish man would have let him die.

That is agape. That is love.

So how do we demonstrate that in our own lives? Well, I don’t know about you, but I don’t often run across men who’ve been beaten and stripped laying by the side of the road. But I do encounter people who are hurting. So maybe it’s not the physical symptoms we need to be looking for but the emotional ones.

Too often we are caught up in our own problems and we don’t notice how much people around us are hurting. I get so focused on what I’m doing that I forget why I’m here–to bring glory to God. And it’s not that I can’t bring glory to God by dealing with my own issues. I absolutely can. But if I reach the end of my life and the only person who I’ve improved is myself, what’s the point?

The trouble with reaching out to people is that we make ourselves vulnerable. People are mean. Let’s just face it. People are selfish. People are frustrating and difficult and stubborn and hurtful, and opening your life to them makes you a target. But it’s worth it.

I love sequels. Even if they aren’t well done sequels, a part of me still enjoys seeing the next step in a character’s growth, and I always have wondered if the Good Samaritan ever met this Jewish man again. That would have been a meeting I would have liked to see, because if the Jewish man was a typical Jewish man of the time, he wouldn’t haven’t given the Samaritan the time of day. And see there’s no indication that the Samaritan wanted the man to know who he was. They could have met on the street, and the Jewish man would have had no idea who he was.

That’s what this kind of love looks like, Christian. It’s the silent servant who catches people when they fall and never asks for recognition.

Don’t hesitate to share this kind of love with people around you. It makes a difference, and it’s something God can use. Look for opportunities to share this kind of love. Be on the lookout for people who are hurting. If you are willing to love people like this, God will change you and He may even change them. You never know what God will accomplish if you simply let Him.

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.