Harvest of the Spirit

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Our church is reading through Galatians.  We’re doing it as a six-week series, one chapter per week.  We read the assigned chapter every day (ideally), reflect on it, and discuss it during the week; then our pastor shares his thoughts on it the following Sunday–not to tell us if we’re right or wrong, but simply to offer what spoke to him about it.

This week we’re reading chapter 5.  So much good stuff in there!  “Christ set us free, to be free men.  Stand firm, then, and refuse to be tied to the yoke of slavery again.” (5:1)  That’s a whole sermon right there!  But there’s also “…the only thing that counts is faith active in love.” (5:6)  Again, a whole sermon in just a handful of words.

Then we get to verses 22-23: “But the harvest of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fidelity, gentleness, and self-control.”  I was kind of relieved when I came to this because I thought, “Oh, fruit of the Spirit; I’ve heard that before–I get this–Hooray!”  I liked the familiarity of it and I liked that it suggests our goal is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fidelity, gentleness, and self-control.  While I don’t have them all mastered by any means, they at least seem doable–thank goodness “sinless” and “perfection” aren’t on the list.  Plus, I’ve always liked the “fruit” metaphor and the idea that love, joy, peace, etc. are growing in me.  Yes, I hope so!

It wasn’t until my third readthrough of chapter 5 this week that I realized my translation actually said “harvest of the Spirit” instead of “fruit of the Spirit”.  Out of habit, I had automatically seen it as “fruit”; but that morning I finally noticed the word “harvest”.  I admit my first thought was that my translation was wrong–Don’t they know it’s FRUIT of the Spirit?

But then I thought about the word “harvest”.  My grandpa was a farmer, so I grew up around agriculture and seasons of planting and harvesting.  After all the pruning and watering and sunshine does its work over the year, one day the fruit is finally ready.  A big juicy peach or a crisp red apple may look beautiful on the tree, but it doesn’t do anyone any good unless it’s picked and added to the harvest.  Once that happens, the peach or apple can be eaten plain or cut up into fruit salad or made into jam or (better yet) a pie–it doesn’t matter so much how the fruit is used but simply that it isn’t left unused on the tree going to waste.

The same goes for us.
“…the harvest of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fidelity, gentleness, and self-control.”  It’s one thing to have that fruit growing within us, but it’s another thing to harvest it and put it to use.

I loved that realization, but for a moment it felt like a burden, like a chore I was being assigned:  get to work and start harvesting!

But I kept reading.

“If the Spirit is the source of our life, let the Spirit also direct our course.” (5:25)

Ah.

“Harvesting” isn’t a job.  It’s not a big heavy task.  We don’t have to go out searching for “jams” and “pies” or keep track of how many bushels we’ve picked.  Rather, “if the Spirit is the source of our life, let the Spirit also direct our course.”  Meaning: when the fruit is ready, He’ll tell us how to use it.

So stay tuned.
Be open.
Listen up.
(that’s the trickiest one for me–shhh…listen…)
Listen some more.

Then share.
Share the harvest that God has so carefully been watering and growing and preparing in you.  Because although the fruit makes for a very pretty tree, it also makes for an even prettier (tastier) pie.

Share the harvest.

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Chosen

kickball
Remember kickball?
Similar to baseball but no bat and instead of a rock-hard, 3-inch projectile there’s a 10-inch red rubber ball.  Theoretically, it was a lot less scary than baseball, although I still remember the sting of it smacking into my little kid hands.  Plus, I was never a great catcher, so most of the time it bounced off my fingers and back up into the sky, making my sore hands completely pointless.

Before we even took the field, though, there was always the gut-wrenching ritual of picking teams.  The teacher would designate two captains and the rest of the class lined up while the captains alternated picking teammates one by one.  The first couple picks were always a given:  best friends and most athletic.  After that it was anyone’s guess.  The captains would look us over, weighing equally the factors of popularity and skill level.

“I’ll take Jack,” says one of them.

“Maggie,” counters the other.

“Jose.”

“Marty.”

Some kids would jump around, waving their arms, begging to be picked.  The rest of us waited it out, willing the captains to get on with it already.  Most days I was recruited about mid-pack, but there were definitely times when I was one of the last few, standing there awkwardly, hoping I’d be next.

Invariably, when it got down to the final two, the captains practically sighed as they debated between the lesser of two evils.

“All right,” says one of them, “I guess I’ll take Jimmy.”

Jimmy, humiliated yet grateful, raced over to his new team, while the other kid walked sheepishly over to the team that was now stuck with him.  Unless there happened to be an exceptionally empathetic captain, the last kid picked was almost always the same; there was just something about him that was difficult, so the captains avoided him as long as possible.  I hated that.  Although I was relieved to not be the last one standing, seeing that kid’s shaky attempt at cool courage time after time made me want to cry.  As if it wasn’t bad enough for him to go through his day feeling like no one liked him, here was tangible proof of it.

How great would it have been for that kid to have been picked first one day?
Not as a joke.
Not because the teacher whispered the suggestion in the captain’s ear.
But because the captain wanted to.
What if, after looking over the entire line of possibilities, the captain pointed to him and said, “I choose you.”
What might that have done for that kid’s heart–for that kid’s life–to know that he was chosen?  He wasn’t a leftover.  He wasn’t last.  He wasn’t the worst.  He wasn’t being forced on anyone.  He was chosen…on purpose.

What a great feeling that would be.

What a great feeling that is.

God doesn’t have to love us.
No one forces Him to pick.
He chooses…on purpose.
He chooses us…on purpose.

We line up and although I’m sure it’s totally against the rules, He points to all of us and says, “I choose you.”  We don’t even have to jump around and wave our arms and beg.

“I choose you,” He says.
Even the difficult ones.
Even the unpopular ones.
Even the ones who can’t catch very well.
Even the ones who tend to eat way too many cookies.
“I choose you.”

And we realize, somewhat surprised, that He’s pointing to us–to you and to me.  The Captain of All Captains has picked us; He wants us on His team.  He’s seen us in action, so He knows our strengths and our weaknesses, our highs and lows, and still He says, “You.  I choose you.”

 

“For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.”
-Deuteronomy 7:6

 

And as we walk over to join Him, we can’t help but smile.

Whew…what a relief.

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The Wave

great
I love the song “Great Are You Lord”.

I love the opening:
You give life, You are love
You bring light to the darkness
You give hope, You restore
Every heart that is broken

It’s so lovely and so gentle and so what I need to hear sometimes.

I also love the first line of the chorus:
It’s your breath in our lungs.

It’s Your breath in our lungs.
We get another day on this earth because of Your breath in our lungs.
I love that image…and that reminder.

But my favorite part is the bridge:
And all the earth will shout Your praise
Our hearts will cry, these bones will sing
Great are You, Lord.

I like the words, but it’s my favorite part because of what happens in my church when we get to it.  Up until that point in the song, a few people have usually stood up, a few have raised a hand, and a couple folks may even have double arms up.  But when we get to the bridge and the music starts to build and the lyrics say, “And all the earth will shout Your praise” someone else always stands.  Someone gets up, then the person next to them stands, then someone behind them, then someone next to them, one after the other after the other.  It’s like we’re at a football game and the cheerleaders are leading us in The Wave except nobody sits back down.  “Our hearts will cry, these bones will sing.”  By then even the hesitant ones can’t help it.  We’re all up, moved by the increasing crescendo, just in time for: “Greeaaat…are…You…Lord!”

We sing loud!
All the earth will shout Your praise!

We lift our hands!
Our hearts will cry, these bones will sing!

For that brief moment we are completely united.
Greeaaat…are…You…Lord!

Greeaaat…are…You…Lord!

 

It fills my heart every single time.

Well, Your heart, that is.

 

Great are You, Lord.

Thank You.

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Your Mom’s Not Chinese

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My friend’s mom is difficult.

She’s self-absorbed.
She’s negative.
And she’s not terribly supportive…at all.

My friend admits that her mom has been like this as long as she can remember and acknowledges that there’s probably some level of borderline personality disorder (or other issue) that’s causing it.  The woman is now in her 80s and my friend knows there’s not much chance that things are going to change.

Nevertheless, my friend continues to hope.
Sometimes consciously, sometimes subconsciously.
She hopes for kindness on the other end of the phone.
She hopes for encouragement in an unexpected email.
She hopes for laughter, like two old pals might share.
And she hopes for love…big, fat, nurturing, squishy mom love.

She hopes, but she’s disappointed again and again.

The other day, following another “mom” incident, she was venting about her renewed frustration and hurt.

“I’m gonna say something,” I said to my blond-haired, blue-eyed friend, “and I’m not sure I should say it, but I’m gonna say it anyway because we’re friends and we get each other.”

“OK,” she said.

“It’s like you want your mom to be Chinese.”

“Chinese?”

“Chinese…or wherever.  You want her to be Chinese.  But she can’t be Chinese–that’s not who she is.  She doesn’t have that in her.  She can’t be who you want her to be–because that’s not how she’s made.”

Although I don’t think my friend was thrilled with the analogy, she knew what I meant, and we grieved the sad reality of the situation for a while.

“On the plus side,” she said after a bit, wiping away tears, “I do have a lot of ‘moms’ in my life that take care of me and encourage me and love on me.  I’m so blessed in that way.”

Bingo.

Some days it’s like we’re Oliver Twist.  We’re starving for love and we bring our empty bowls and stand before someone and beg, “Please, sir, I want some more.”  We want that one single person so badly to fill our bowl.  He or she wouldn’t even have to fill it; we’d settle for a couple of drops, just a little something to keep us going.

Meanwhile, there are people in our lives standing by with huge pots filled to the brim ready and willing to pour their love into us.  No expectations, no strings attached–it’s just who they are; it’s how they’re made.

So, rather than lamenting the love that is not to be–not because of any lack within ourselves, but simply because that person cannot be who they are not made to be–let’s feast on and accept the love that’s right in front of us.  Let’s not discount the clean, healthy, abundant love that’s being held out and offered merely because someone sees us…and knows us…and likes us just the same.  Let’s gladly, gratefully let them fill us up and be blessed in that way.

And let’s do the same for someone else.
Someone who’s quietly starving.
Let them know you see them.
And offer up a little something sweet and cozy to put in their bowl and keep them going.

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“And now these three remain:  faith, hope, and love.  But the greatest of these is love. ”
-1 Corinthians 13:13

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Follow-Up

lab pup
Careful…it’s a trap!

Last week I shared with you my reluctance to ask for things, primarily for fear of being told “No”–whether by an average Joe or by the Big Guy himself.  But we worked through it and figured out that maybe there were perfectly good (and possibly even delicious) reasons why the answer could be “No.”

That post was, by far, the most-read piece I’ve ever written.  Something about it hit home with people and that led them to pass it along to readers outside my usual little group.  Plus, as one friend pointed out, it started off with a picture of cake which also probably reeled in a few folks (hence today’s photo of the shamelessly adorable but completely irrelevant pup included merely to entice you to stop scrolling and take a peek…Forgive me).  Whether it was the topic or the cake, I was grateful that last week’s post found an audience.

I’ve kind of been leading this secret writer’s life for a while.  Only a few friends and a handful of total strangers know about it because I haven’t been willing to take the risk and really put it out there.  I haven’t been willing to risk the questions (How many followers do you have?  What have you published?  Are you making any money?).  I haven’t been willing to risk the judgment (Just what is it you’re trying to do here anyway?).  And, of course, I haven’t been willing to risk the hope–because it just might get squashed by a “No.”

But more and more I’ve felt like God has something for me to say.
Something encouraging.
Something hopeful.
Something He wants me to share.

So I’m risking it.
I’m putting it out there.
I’m putting me out there.

And here’s what happened.

Last Friday morning in my daily journal I asked God for “a platform for my writing”.  24 hours later I posted the article about not wanting to ask for things because I was afraid of being told “No”–and that post reached more people than I’ve ever reached.

(Are you catching the irony here?)

I had to ask.
I had to ask and risk the “No”–so that God could say, “Yes!”

He doesn’t only say, “No.”
Sometimes He smiles and throws out His hands and says, “Yes!  Of course!  I thought you’d never ask!”

 

So, this is what we do:

We ask.

We risk it.

He might say, “Yes.”
He might say, “No.”
He might say, “Hold that thought.”

We don’t know which one it will be.
But we ask.

 

We take a big, deep, happy breath…

…and we ask.

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” So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
-Isaiah 41:10

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So do not fear…I will strengthen you and help you…

Just ask.

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When God Says, “No.”

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I’m not good at asking.

I’m okay with asking about:  What time does the movie start?  How do you want your eggs?  Has anyone seen Jimmy?

It’s asking for that hangs me up:  Would you please…?  May I have…?  Do you think you could possibly help me with…?

Not surprisingly, my reluctance to ask carries over into my prayer time as well:  I do not like to ask God for things.  I know that goes against the whole “Ask and ye shall receive” line of thinking, but I have my reasons.
The top three of which are:
1. I don’t want to bother Him.  He’s God.  He’s busy.  He already has plenty of fish to fry without throwing my “trout” on the pile.

2. I don’t want to be ungrateful.  I am truly blessed–healthy and happy, enjoying an amazing season of life right now–so how dare I ask for anything more?

3. I don’t want to be disappointed.  I know from experience (not just with God but with life in general) that sometimes the answer is “No.”  And for me, after all the build up it takes to summon the courage to ask for something, a “No” hits me hard…and is often paired up with a smirk that says, “See?  I told you not to ask.”

Even though it’s clearly the most selfish, reason #3 carries the most weight with me.  As a result, quite often I would simply rather not ask than risk being told, “No.”

But the other day I was thinking about God…aka Heavenly Father…aka Loving Parent…and I was thinking about me as a mom, fielding requests from my son.  I never feel like he’s bothering me.  I never feel like he’s ungrateful.  And although I never want to disappoint him, sometimes the answer is indeed “No.”

And that led me to the following Cookie Theory.

Case #1:  A boy asks his mom for a cookie ten minutes before dinner.  She says, “No” because the timing’s not right.  She’s watching the clock, and she knows that now is not the time for a cookie.

Case #2:  A boy asks his mom for an entire bag of Oreos.  She says, “No” because it’s not good for him.  She knows that even though it’s what he wants, it’s not what he needs (and would actually make him sick and sorry later).

Case #3:  A boy asks his mom for one cookie in the middle of the afternoon, hours before dinner, but she still says, “No.”  To the boy it makes no sense:  his room is clean, his homework is done, and he said, “please”; so his mom’s “No” leaves him confused and disappointed.
But what the boy doesn’t know is that in the other room tucked away on the top shelf of the kitchen cabinet is a huge cake covered in gooey frosting and those rainbow sprinkles he loves so much.  He wanted a cookie, but she said, “No”…because she has something so much better planned!

Perhaps that’s what’s going on when God says, “No.”

Maybe the timing’s not right.
Or maybe what we want isn’t good for us.
Or maybe…just maybe…what He has planned is so much better than what we ever imagined.

” ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’.”     -Jeremiah 29:11

In other words…

stick around…

’cause there just might be cake.

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