Saturday, January 26, 2008

JUICY FRUITY PEACE - Juicy Fruit of the Spirit - Part 4 - January 26, 2008

Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God.
Matthew 5:9 NIV


Speaking of children of God, I had the great pleasure of spending an entire day with my four month old grandson, Evan, on Monday. I am officially Evan’s “Granny Nanny” on Mondays – from now until he graduates from high school. Hmmm… I’ll be seventy-something by then, so maybe I’ll want to retire, say, before he hits those difficult teen years.

And speaking of peace, there’s nothing more peaceful than a baby’s gaze while taking his bottle or an angelic face while snoozing during naptime. I couldn’t resist dressing Evan in his, “You’re looking at PERFECTION” t-shirt. The prophet Isaiah said, “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!” (Isaiah. 26:3 NLT) This Granny Nanny certainly experienced perfect peace!

The concept of peace, unfortunately, is divisive. Peoples and parties disagree vehemently with each other on how to establish peace. There’s the nonviolent camp and the violence-can’t-be-avoided camp, and every shade and flavor in between. According to christianlibrary.org, during the 3100 years of recorded world history, the world has been at peace only 8% of the time (that’s a paltry 286 out of 3100 years) and 8,000 treaties have been made—and broken. Clemens Kirchner defines peace as, “a short pause between wars for enemy identification.” I imagine Kirchner spoke sarcastically, but given the statistics, I’m afraid that he is right on target.

Peace on earth is precarious, both to establish and to preserve, and our track record is lousy. While Jesus is called the Prince of Peace, he also said, "I've come to start a fire on this earth—how I wish it were blazing right now! I've come to change everything, turn everything right-side up—how I long for it to be finished! Do you think I came to smooth things over and make everything nice? Not so. I've come to disrupt and confront!” (Luke 12:49-53 The Message) But Jesus also promised, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you,” and in the same breath encouraged us to, “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27 NIV)

My heart is often “troubled” and my life is shadowed by all sorts of fears. So how do I make Jesus’ words a reality in my life? Apostle Paul makes this suggestion: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7 NIV)


My writer-friend, Connie Arnold, expresses a similar thought:

"A Still, Small Voice"

There’s a quiet spot in the depths of my being
where God in silence dwells,
The holy, infinite presence of God,
where awareness slowly wells.
Away from the noisy outer world,
enclosed where it’s calm and still,
Breathing in deep tranquility,
as mind and spirit fill.
It’s a silence that speaks without words,
and doesn’t sound to the ear,
But listening to it with my heart,
can soothe every doubt and fear.
The unconditional love I feel
makes each anxiety cease,
As the overwhelming essence of God
floods my soul with the sweetest peace.

Connie Arnold

I met Connie in an online writers’ group. On Monday, while writing this column, I took a break to catch up on all the e-mails that had piled up while I was gone on vacation last week. Connie actually sent me this poem that very day. Given the dozens of e-mails awaiting me, I wasn’t reading them very carefully. I sped through Connie’s poem and was about to close the e-mail when I felt a nudge to reread it. The second time through, the peace of her poetry seeped into my soul and I felt its message.

Rather than rushing on to the next newspaper article, I encourage you to read Connie’s poem again and let the Spirit guide you into “the holy, infinite presence of God.” May your soul be flooded “with the sweetest peace” today.

FYI: you can check out Connie’s poetry at http://www.freewebs.com/conniearnold/.

JUICY FRUITY JOY - Juicy Fruit of the Spirit - Part 3 - January 19, 2008

“Joy is the ribbon of the Lord's personality wrapped around and tied to all the gifts He gives us.”
Sharon West


My daughter’s middle name is Joy. According to one version of Webster’s dictionary, joy is “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.” Another version equates joy with happiness, gladness, cheerfulness. Bethany’s middle name is not based on Webster’s worldview, but on the Biblical meaning of joy.

This particular Fruit of the Spirit is a cornucopia of fruitiness, so lush and full that it is difficult to paint its portrait within the limits of this column. Close your eyes and imagine with me a cluster of warm, fragrant, fresh-off-the-vine grapes. Pluck and savor the burst of flavorful juice as you partake of each grape one by one:

1. Joy is a quality derived from our transformational relationship with God.

2. As we yield to God’s creative purpose—in which we are being transformed into His image—joy takes root, grows, blossoms, and produces fruit.

3. “Joy is the sign that life has found its purpose, its reason for being!” John W. Ritenbaugh

4. The fruit of love and joy are inseparable: Joy is the offspring of our obedience to Jesus’ command to love.

5. Biblical joy is not an end in itself; it is a blessing, a byproduct of our relationship with God.

6. Joy is a product, not of the natural mind, but of the Holy Spirit.

7. Joy involves self-denial. When carried out with the intent of serving God and ministering to others, selflessness produces sustained and eternal blessings.

8. Joy and suffering are woven together in the cloth of life. As we listen to the presidential debates, it is evident that our world is riddled with a multitude of insolvable problems. We live each day with an edge of anxiety based on an historical knowledge that all sorts of disasters, both natural and human-made, are inevitable. No presidential, candidate—or any political or religious world leader—has all the answers.

The first seven grapes are tasty and easy to digest. This eighth one gives me indigestion! The fact that suffering is an inevitable aspect of life is hard for me to swallow. Especially such bitter grapes as child and domestic abuse, war, terrorism, world hunger, poverty, greed, theft, murder, corruption in politics (and religion)… And yet, the Biblical message is that we are to “rejoice always.”

9. "Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crops fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength. Habakkuk 3:17-19

So how do we “yet…rejoice”? How do we not get bogged down in suffering and lose sight of joy? The ever present tension between these two realities finds resolution only when we yield to God’s creative purpose, to that mysterious transformation into God’s image (#2).
While God wants to save and transform us, Satan, “the god of this age,” seeks to separate us from God’s love. But keep in mind that:

10. “The devil may be able to attack you but he has no power to steal your joy. Joy is a spiritual force inside your human spirit. Satan can touch your body, finances and family as the book of Job teaches, but he can't touch your spirit. Your spirit is off limits to the devil.” (Tom Brown)

“Joy and sorrow are inseparable,” said Kahlil Gibran. “Together they come and when one sits along with you…remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.” When sorrow sits with you, remember that joy is curled up close by. When joy sits with you, do not let anxiety rob you of your joy. Partake of its juiciness and be strengthened.

True to her name, my daughter, Bethany Joy, gives me great joy, but her essence is a mere foretaste of the JOY to come!

JUICY FRUITY LOVE: Juicy Fruit of the Spirit - Part 2 - January 12, 2008

“If I know what love is, it is because of you.”
Herman Hesse


Since the beginning of time, human beings have puzzled about, agonized over, sought after, shied away from, and bask in the light of love. It’s one of those things that are difficult to define—although everyone from Charlie Brown to Gandhi have tried—but you know it when you see it.
Or maybe I should say, you know it when you feel it. In Story of My Life, Helen Keller wrote:

Have you ever been at sea in a dense fog, when it seemed as if a tangible white darkness shut you in and the great ship, tense and anxious, groped her way toward the shore with plummet and sounding-line, and you waited with beating heart for something to happen? I was like that ship before my education began, only I was without compass or sounding line, and no way of knowing how near the harbor was. "Light! Give me light!" was the wordless cry of my soul, and the light of love shone on me in that very hour.

We have all had our “at sea in a dense fog” experiences; times when it feels like we are groping along without plummet and sounding-line.

Years ago, when I was still a fairly new and inexperienced driver, I was driving home alone from my counseling job at Northern Michigan University, to K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base, in a white-out. I was terrified! It was pitch black and my headlights illuminated the blizzard of snowflakes that the wind was driving relentlessly at my windshield. My eyes struggled in vain to focus past the snow. I was lost in a shaken up snow globe with no sense of direction.

Having grown up in New York and Indiana, I thought I knew snow, but life in northern Michigan introduced me to the profound power and danger of all those delicate, beautiful, tiny little flakes in cahoots with each other and with the wind. This, of course, was before the days of cell phones, GPS devices, and OnStar. It was just me and God and a gazillion capricious snowflakes. The sense of aloneness was overwhelming. And, believe you me, I was prayin’ up a storm (pun intended)! How my tires remained on the roadway, God only knows.

For Helen Keller, Anne Sullivan’s determination to reach through Helen’s blindness and deafness was the beacon of love responding to “the wordless cry of my soul.” The beacon of love that led me safely home that wintry evening was God. Sometimes LOVE reaches out to us through other people; and sometimes LOVE enters our terror directly and steers us home.

What fog or white-out are you lost in right now? Perhaps you are in the midst of a stormy relationship, or negotiating blindly through divorce, or feeling deluged by a diagnosis of cancer. Maybe you have been blindsided by the death of a loved one or the loss of a job. Or maybe your heart is being tugged in two directions and you don’t know what to do. Your soul cries out, “Light! Give me light!” Trust that your Harbor is close by, even though you can’t see it. Know that this storm will pass and your path will become clear.

The only thing that gets us through the overwhelming storms in life is love: God’s love. But it is our calling, our privilege, to be God’s love with skin on it. We are the beacons of God’s love. Mother Teresa said, “In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.” What small thing can you do to help another person hold onto hope in the midst of their storm? Just knowing that someone else cares, that someone else sees your pain and is willing to sit with you through it, is the miracle that keeps you paddling. A card. A hug. A smile. A willingness to make eye contact with eyes full of fear or sadness. A casserole. A ride to the hospital. A phone call. A sack of groceries. A shoveled driveway…

You are God’s GPS to the lives around you.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

JUICY-FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT - Part 1 - January 5, 2008

“Gotta have sweet, gotta have Juicy Fruit. You want, you need, you gotta have more sweet.” Yum! Just typing that phrase makes my mouth water! I’ve not enjoyed a stick of Juicy Fruit for years, having switched to the sugarless varieties years back. But my mind obviously remembers the experience and waters at the mere thought of it. My brain is probably tapping into a cluster of associations from childhood: walking to the corner store with a friend and buying Juicy Fruit, Sputnik gum, and licorice sticks; blowing bubbles that burst all over my face; laughing and cutting up… Yes, gum, and the activities that go along with it, is a flavorful experience.

Juicy Fruit—the number one fruit gum brand in the U.S. and the gum of choice of kids—has been around for over a century. Besides being a tasty treat, according to Wrigley, chewing gum increases your focus, concentration, and alertness, soothes your nerves under stress, fights and reduce cavities, strengthens teeth, reduces and neutralizes harmful plaque acids, aids in remineralization of enamel and in washing away food particles.

“Chewing gum before an afternoon snack helps reduce hunger, diminishes cravings for sweets, and can decrease snack intake by 36 calories.” This may not sound like much, dear dieters, but it adds up to 13,140 calories avoided in a year’s time—just from chewing a stick of gum before your snack! And parents, your children can potentially reduce their cavities by nearly 40 percent by chewing [sugarfree] gum after meals!

Gum and grace—is there a connection? For the next nine weeks, I will be writing about the “Juicy-Fruit of the Spirit” from Galatians 5:22-23. I do hope that I give you some good thoughts to chew on (“Moan!!!” “Hey, I heard that, readers!”).

According to Annie, a Wrigley representative, there are four fruit flavors in Juicy Fruit: lemon, orange, pineapple, and banana. There may be other flavors as well, and the flavors may be natural or artificial. In the Juicy Fruit of the Spirit, there are nine flavors—all natural expressions of God’s Spirit: love, joy, peace patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

The main theme of Galatians 5 is freedom:

“Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you… It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don't use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that's how freedom grows. For everything we know about God's Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That's an act of true freedom… My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God's Spirit. Then you won't feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day… What happens when we live God's way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard…” (Galatians 5:1-22 The Message)

The gifts that the Spirit brings into our lives—the fruit in our spiritual orchard—are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. If we truly wish to be juicy-fruitful, Paul encourages us to, “make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.” (Galatians 5:22-26)

In the Juicy-Fruit of God’s garden, no one flavor is better than another—and the fruity taste is expressed in fresh ways through each and every one of us.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

NEW YEARS RESOLUTION - December 29, 2007

The year is quickly drawing to a close and, as was true in previous years, I am hopelessly behind on all the projects I resolved to complete in 2007. Those ten pounds that I regained that I was going to re-lose? Still hanging out around my middle… Clearing out the clutter? Still accumulating… Pictures to be put in albums? Still on disks and digital camera… Computer skills I was going to master? Still hoping a computer geek will materialize like a genie… This is rather discouraging, don’t you think?

Thus, I hereby resolve to ignore all loose ends of 2007 and get a jump start on 2008. So here’s my one (and only) resolution for the new year:

I resolve—really, I do—to lose those ten pounds that ever-so-slowly crept back on my body, giving me a more generous appearance.

There! That’s done! My desktop is cleared. I’m off to a fresh start. Surely I can accomplish one resolution!

Wouldn’t it be nice if I could just make one resolution and be done with it? But the resolution to lose weight necessitates additional changes as well: I resolve to eat less—and to exercise more. Okay! Two resolutions. This still seems doable! Hmm…yet these resolutions beg for further clarification:

I resolve to take smaller portions at mealtime; to limit my snacking to two small snacks a day, fruit only; to not eat after 8:00 p.m.; to eat desert only twice a week; to resist the temptation to replace my Lean Cuisine with the high fat, high calorie lunches the drug reps bring to the office; to go to Curves three times a week; to do the full half hour workout and not count chatting as exercise.

Aughh! Perhaps I should resolve to NOT resolve anything! Well, it was a nice idea, this getting off to a strong start for 2008. But I think I need to use the last few days of December to rest up for the arduous tasks of the New Year.

I think my stab at creating an orderly 2008 is a reflection of my sense of disorder due to the holiday disruptions of my daily routine: there are decorations to disassemble and pack away; plastic containers full of leftovers crammed into my frig and cluttering my counter; gifts that don’t quite fit my body or my d├ęcor that need to be exchanged; wads of wrapping paper continue to turn up under pillows and stacks of new books; and, of course, baby paraphernalia accidentally left behind when Evan went home.

Speaking of Evan, the chaos of Christmas was replaced with a sense of “all is calm, all is bright,” every time I held that precious little guy! His crooked little grin causes global warming of my heart! Ahhh… Who cares about the clutter and crumbs when I hold Evan close and watch his eyelids flutter over his deep blue eyes and listen for that deep shutter of a sigh when he gives way to dreamland. “Slee-eep in Heavenly Peace.”

Focusing on grandbaby Evan definitely helps me realign my 2008 priorities:

Resolution 1: I resolve to spend every Monday babysitting Evan (Just you try to make me break this resolution!).

Resolution 2: Holding Evan reminds me to follow Mary’s example and “ponder” the mysteries and miracles of God. (Luke 2:19)

Resolution 3: I resolve to strive to see the precious child within everyone I encounter—the child that God created in his very own image (Genesis 1:26-27) and who he loves with an abounding, enduring, everlasting, and unfailing love. (Check out how many times the Bible describes God’s love in these terms.)

Resolution 4: I will strive to, “Trust in the Lord with all my heart and lean not on my own understanding; in all my ways acknowledge him, and he will make my paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV)

Resolution 5: I will “do unto others as I would have them do unto me.” (Matthew 7:12)

What great resolutions! God’s word is a great place to turn for ideas on New Year’s resolutions. I encourage you to flip through a few pages of the Good Book and choose a few of your own.
I wish you strong resolve—and health and happiness in 2008!