Fruity Fridays: Passing the Self-Control Test

(Final posting in this series about the Fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5)

(photo credit Amber Hatch FB page)

Nothing like a hurricane to test your self-control.

Publix test…check

Wawa test…check

I-75 test…still in progress

Saving the snacks…hasn’t even started

This very real storm brings to life how many situations in our lives make us feel in our minds and emotions. So Paul may have had some intention to placing this fruit at the end of the list. If the other fruits have been produced, this one should be easier to nurture. And we need it to pass the tests of life’s storms.

When I’ve not being doing well passing the self-control test, here are a few questions I review to check myself:

  • Where’s my sensitivity level? It’s entirely possible I’m making more of this situation than it is. Making more could mean I’m taking it too personally, I’m not paying attention to common sense, or I’m playing the “what if” game way too long.
  • What assumptions might I be making? Assumptions are usually the result of lacking communication (listening, clear explanations, waiting on someone else to take the first step, etc.). In these cases, I must review what has actually been said or not said and own my role in the communication failure.
  • What do I know? It’s my responsibility in my relationships to know who I am and who they are, what triggers I have and what triggers they have. That knowledge then should be the foundation for treating the relationship with the respect and the control it needs.
  • What boundaries are being violated? This question assumes boundaries are in place; if that’s not the case, then it’s time to set them. If they are in place, I must identify my violation and own up to it, both to myself and to the one I violated.

As we go through the next few days, let’s help each other pass the self-control test. 

*I want to thank the contributors to this series-Danny Bote, Jeremy Nixon, and Eric Vorhies. We started the series October 1, 2016. Alas, we’ve finished the task. Readers, thanks for sharing the journey with us.

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Fruity Fridays: Digging Deep

(A series about the Fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5)

post by Eric Vorhies

Before I walk in, I think to myself, “Self-Control. I got this.

Why wouldn’t I? There are a lot of things in life to which people lose control of themselves. Alcohol, drugs, lust, hatred, anger, thoughts, friends, words. I mean, of course, I have slipped up here and there, but by no means do I consider to not have self-control. I don’t use destructive language. I don’t really get angry. I try hard to capture my thoughts before they capture me. I have never been drunk…not even buzzed.

But as I sit down, it doesn’t matter though because the chips and salsa are placed on the table before I even order. Game over. I haven’t even had a chip yet, and I already know that they will just need to place my meal in a to-go box.

Sad, but true. Though I do find it funny, that no matter how hard I try to discipline my life, there is always something that can defeat me.

Lately, that thing is me. As a freelance filmmaker, work isn’t always coming in. As someone new to an area, it can be challenging to meet the people who can give you the work you need. Lately, there has been a lot of pressure on me (mostly, by myself) to drum up new work. I have confidence in my abilities and in my personality. But when it comes time to solicit work or to network, the excuses come so naturally that I treat them as if they are the truth. “I don’t have time for this,” “I need to get this thing done before I can do that,” or “I can do this later …I wonder what’s on Netflix.” (It’s like trying to start a diet!) Then, when I lay my head down at night, I hate myself. I wasted my time. I set myself back another day…and for what, a few more scrolls of Facebook or a couple more episodes of TV.

I just read the parable of the two men who built houses in Matthew 7. One man built it on rock, and the other one built it on sand. It is easy to miss the depth of this because most of us have never built a house, let alone one in 1st-century Israel. To get to the rocky base of the land over there, people would have to dig several feet through hard-packed sand. That is miserable work that no one wants to do….unless…they want to build something that will last.

I am sure that you are like me, and you know exactly where you need to start digging down deep to build that thing that you want to last. You know what your excuses and weaknesses are. But if you want to be able to go to bed fulfilled each night, you need to become diligent and purposeful. For me, I quit watching TV on my own, I only am using Facebook to communicate with people I work with, and I definitely don’t sit down to eat some chips and salsa but that is related to a totally different problem. I am digging deep so that I won’t be defeated by some silly thing like excuses.

Now, I can’t close this without giving some specific clarity. Our strength and foundation aren’t found in ourselves. It is God. This whole series is about the fruit of the Spirit. I can honestly say that I don’t dig with my own strength, but with God’s. Eric, without God, takes shortcuts and finds the easiest-path-right-now option. But I receive strength from God through the Holy Spirit. The foundation is Him and His truth. And God is always taking people on journeys to help them discover just how much they can accomplish for His glory.

Fruity Fridays: We All Struggle with Something

(A series about the Fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5)

post by Jeremy Nixon

The last fruit of the Spirit is self-control. You know the old saying…”we saved the best for last?” Well this one is a doozy. To me, it’s the hardest fruit to attain. I say that only because I’m lacking the most in self-control. I’m a bit on the unhealthy side when it comes to weight, and the hardest thing for me to do is stop eating. Especially if it’s good, and believe me, in Arkansas, it’s all good! 

Many people may think the same way, but the deal is…I think we all struggle with something. Everybody has a vice…it may be ice cream, buying stuff, spending too much money or insert yours here, etc. Whatever it may be, there is good news: Paul tells us in Galatians that we can be free!!! Matter of fact, Paul urges us to choose this freedom that’s found in Christ instead of being enslaved. (I think he knows a thing or two about that.)

The very definition of self-control is this: the ability to control oneself. But for Christians it is much more than that. For us it means to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions. Basically, behavior that doesn’t please God and allowing things to be so important to you that they make you sinful or participate in sinful behavior is the very thing we have to stay away from. That’s self-control, and we don’t have to do it alone. Paul says that when the Holy Spirit is living in us God will help to maintain self-control.  

Self-Control is throughout the whole Bible. God is pretty serious when it comes to self-control. In Paul’s letter, Titus 2, the word self-control comes up several times and speaks to everyone young and old to have self-control in order for others to experience the love and salvation of the Lord. Another story: Jesus painted the picture of self-control when he rejected Satan’s temptations for 40 days. Jesus chose to honor God instead of giving in to Satan. We too have the same power through the Holy Spirit to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions.   

So what is self-control to you? What is your struggle? When are you most tempted to lose self-control? These are great questions to ask yourself so that when you are tempted, you can seek God for help…because God WILL help you maintain self-control.

The fruit of the Spirit study has been good for me. It has caused me to stop and think more about these fruits and see how God can use me. It has brought light to areas of my life that need improvement, and I hope it’s done the same for you. The truth is this: all Christians, we, should grow the fruit of the Spirit; the more we are nurtured and empowered by the Holy Spirit…our fruit grows. The first blog was about getting dirty, and sometimes we have to get dirty to produce fruit; but when it comes to self-control we have to ask for help. Christ wants us to be free! Stand firm. Produce fruit. Love God. Love people. When you are doing these, your fruits are blooming and God is being honored.

Condemnation vs. Salvation

Finger pointing. Hardly anything new. Remember Adam?

Whether the finger pointing is for something that happened today or yesterday, the question is does is really work. What does it accomplish? Is the end result what was the desired goal?

If anybody had the right to point his finger for something that happened today or yesterday, that would be God. But look at what he said in John 3:17 was his choice.

  • For God did not send his Son into the world that he might condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved. (CSB)
  • God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. (MSG)

This verse states simply and clearly why the Father sent the Son into the world. Since this was the Son’s purpose, it seems to reason that followers of Jesus would strive to pursue the same purpose. Rather than finger pointing through conversation in person or online, we should be helping put the world right again through salvation.

  • Condemnation pushes away; salvation welcomes.
  • Condemnation builds walls and encloses potential; salvation builds relationships and opens possibilities.
  • Condemnation separates and rejects; salvation welcomes and accepts.
  • Condemnation fosters hate; salvation proclaims love.
  • Condemnation says, “I’m right; you’re wrong.” Salvation says, “We’re all messed up. Let’s seek healing together.”

Fruity Fridays: Gentle like Jesus

(A series about the Fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5)

My Bible reading plan has me in the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). Knowing it was my turn to write about gentleness and having already thought through some things, it was a natural connection to make between my thoughts and the actions of Jesus as told by these four authors. So first, think along with me about steps we can take toward being gentle, and then consider along with me how Jesus took these steps in three different scenes from the book of John.

Some things I know that produce the fruit of gentleness in me when I do them are listening, checking my emotions, and putting myself in other’s shoes.

Listening:

Very few things put us in a better state of humility than keeping our mouths shut and listening. Avoiding the temptations of interrupting or talking over others leans us into gentleness. Silence welcomes calmness and averts hotheadedness, in both parties.

Checking Emotions:

We all have triggers, which means, like it or not, we all have emotions. Knowing our triggers that might lead to harshness is vital to checking our emotions. Having a plan when the trigger goes off will enhance our chances of responding gently. With these triggers, maintaining a gentle spirit through all emotions can seem impossible. But let’s be honest, sometimes a situation calls for bold, powerful reactions. These are rare situations for most people. Our reactions don’t have to be mean-spirited or destructive. If you find yourself feeling like every situation ends in bold reactions, it’s definitely a sign that gentleness is missing.

Put Yourself in Their Shoes:

Over the years, this discipline has produced gentleness in me when I’ve most needed it. But it doesn’t come naturally to me. Does it you? So how do you nurture putting yourself in someone’s shoes if it isn’t how you’re bent? A few things come to mind:

  • You can’t be the focus of every moment or thought.
  • While listening, refrain from thinking how you’re going to respond or how you feel about the person or the situation.
  • Force yourself to do things that are out of your norm or that are uncomfortable but represent other’s reality, such as volunteer at a shelter, pause and talk with a homeless person, walk somewhere when you could have taken transportation, go without eating, or live on a fixed income.
  • Meditate on the specific dynamics of a person’s life that impact their perspectives, such as family of origin, education, employment, or religious background.

Jesus did these things very well. Take for example his interactions with three people as told by John.

John 3, Nicodemus

He listened to Nicodemus questioning and trying to understand. He checked his emotions by not dismissing him as another Pharisee who might be after him. He put himself in his shoes as a Jewish leader working out his beliefs about who Jesus was.

John 4, Samaritan woman

He actually started this conversation. His gentleness is seen in that move alone. He listened to her question his motives, his common sense, his culture understanding, and her attempts to distract him from her story. He checked his emotions when she tried to challenge him as a Jew, more than once. He put himself in her shoes by recognizing her situation and her desire for something different.

John 11, the village of Bethany

This village was hurting. They were mourning the death of their neighbor and family member, Lazarus. Even in his delay, which no one understood, he ultimately showed gentleness. He showed all gentleness is found in the purpose of glorifying the Father. Through his listening to the mourners, checking his own emotions, and putting himself in their shoes, he turned hearts of sadness and unbelief into joy and conviction.

There is power in gentleness. May we be gentle like Jesus.

Deep Water

Luke 5:4 (MSG)

When he finished teaching, he said to Simon, “Push out into deep water and let your nets out for a catch.”

If you’ve read the Gospels, you are familiar with this story.  Simon and his coworkers had been fishing all night and caught nothing.  Then Jesus tells them to do this.

Using that deep water thought, what area of life might God be telling you to push out?  What if He knows something you don’t and all you have to do is respond like Simon, “If you say so”?

  • It’s possible you’ve done all you can in the water where you are; it’s time to trust God by going into deeper water.
  • It’s possible you’ve exhausted all your resources in doing the same routine, doing what you know; it’s time to follow God in doing something new in deeper water.
  • It’s possible you’ve matured beyond the needs of your current location; it’s time to believe God has more for you by stretching you in deeper water.

Why be content in your “all night’s” work?

Why not consider the possibilities where God is offering to guide you?

Closing the Gap

Nehemiah is a rich book. One great example of the story is how Nehemiah and his community managed themselves and others as they completed a massive project. As with any project, there is a starting point and a vision of what the finished work looks like. This gap between the start and the finish is where life happens.

Some of us have a tendency to expect the completion of our vision sooner than is logical. Sometimes this tendency leads us to go beyond ignoring logic and simply not having the patience to wait through the logical. It’s as if we are always asking God for miracles.

Does God still perform miracles? Sure. But many of the situations we want to experience change, where we envision the completion of a “project,” aren’t “lion’s den” moments. For example, changing the culture of an organization doesn’t happen in 24 hours, overcoming a cocaine addiction most likely takes months or years, and reshaping a dysfunctional family can be the work of an entire generation.

That’s reality. Some questions we should ask ourselves are, “Am I committed to closing the gap? Am I willing to see this through rather than expecting God to do what He intends me to do?” We know where we are and can probably envision where we want to be, but are we committed to the work and time to close the gap.

That’s doable. It actually may be even more life transforming than an instantaneous miracle.

So here are some questions to challenge ourselves when beginning a project, committing to closing a gap of any nature:

  • Where am I and where do I want to be?
  • What’s the real challenge I want to overcome?
  • What does God desire for this situation?
  • What steps are needed to start overcoming?
  • How long am I willing to work on closing the gap?
  • Who should I recruit to walk with me through this gap-closing season?
  • How will I celebrate when the gap is closed?

Fruity Fridays: Slow, Soft, Seeing Gentleness

(A series about the Fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5)

post by Eric Vorhies 

When I think of gentleness, the first image that comes to mind is a new parent holding their child. Or maybe, gentleness is the appropriate amount of pressure to a car’s gas pedal when a teen is behind the wheel. It’s the spy in the movie handling the bomb, it’s a team of nurses in the hospital transferring a patient from a stretcher to a bed, and it’s the way one picks up the pieces of broken glass. Gentleness is slow in the way it moves. It understands the importance of a situation and is aware of the consequences of hurriedness. Gentleness is soft in the way it touches. It is reserved for handling the most delicate and fragile of all items. Gentleness sees in the way eyes cannot. Gentleness is guided, not by the present situation, but by the possibilities of many situations that are yet to come. 

Everyone understands the consequences of not being gentle when holding a baby. You could drop them… which apparently isn’t funny to even joke about. But what about the consequences of handling a relationship? Like luggage at an airport — most of the damage is on the inside and goes unseen by the person who handled it poorly. How messed up will someone be on the inside if they are not handled with gentleness? 

I need you to understand something — I haven’t been able to write this post because I have been distracted with life. Work has been unpleasantly slow, and I have been primarily a stay-at-home parent (which I am not good at) of three boys under 5yo (who I love dearly) that are, by default, very dependent on me. Then today, I learned that some very expensive equipment of mine can’t be fixed, I ordered the wrong rental to use this weekend in place of my broken equipment, and everything was frustratingly avoidable. I haven’t wanted to write this because gentleness has been absent from my life. 

And it makes me think…

The level of gentleness that God must possess…It seems unfathomable. Think about it — I am broken with sin, you are broken with sin…everyone is broken. We are metaphorically like fractured and cracked pieces of glass or jars of clay, and God is carrying us to our destination, slowly, softly, and seeing everything that could go wrong. My eyes well up thinking about how differently He has Fathered me than I would have fathered myself. 

The thing that has been weighing heavily on me is the thought that I might somehow be contributing to the brokenness of those around me because I am not being gentle. Is my sin damaging the fragile parts of the people I care most about? I have been short when I should have been patient. I have projected frustration when I should have projected insightfulness. I have been rash when I should have been calming. I have shaken the relational foundations with others to cope with my own feelings.

Maybe you are like me in some way…not applying gentleness to situations that resemble a bomb that is about to explode or to relationships that so are damaged they need to be treated like an ER patient.

Well, that’s why James writes, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.”

Be Slow when you react to people. It will give you time to find the right words to say, if anything needs to be said at all.

Be Soft in the way you deal with them. It is not about the amount of pressure that is applied, but how and where and when that pressure is applied that can break something…or someone.

And See the potential consequences of how not being gentle will play out. Because deep down, we are vulnerable and susceptible to being damaged because of the baggage we carry.

3 Keys to Distinguishing Yourself

In a world where everyone and everything is readily accessible, the idea of making a mark, of being memorable, of branding well is high on the priority list. Believe it or not, there’s a guy in the Bible whose storyline gives insights into distinguishing yourself. You find him in Daniel 6.

“Daniel distinguished himself above the administrators and satraps because he had an extraordinary spirit, so the king planned to set him over the whole realm. The administrators and satraps, therefore, kept trying to find a charge against Daniel regarding the kingdom. But they could find no charge or corruption, for he was trustworthy, and no negligence or corruption was found in him.” ‭‭Daniel‬ ‭6:3-4‬ ‭CSB‬‬

Daniel was a foreigner, in exile. Yet he respected God’s purposes enough to distinguish himself, not for himself but for God. Verse 3 says he had an extraordinary spirit; verse 4 says he was trustworthy and without corruption. How did these three keys set him apart?

Extraordinary Spirit

When you’re forced to be somewhere not of your choosing, your first inclination is not to be extraordinary. Most would be tempted with bitterness or anger. For the person who truly believes like Daniel that God sees and knows all things, those temptations can easily be overcome. Whatever challenge you face-job situation, financial struggles, family tension, unexpected loss-you have access to the God who is working for you who can give you an extraordinary spirit. That’s distinguishing. 

Trustworthy 

Nurturing and cultivating trust in all relationships is worth any amount of time and effort. Think about the people you most trust. How did that trust get built? What character traits do they manifest that distinguished them to foster your willingness to trust them? Daniel had saved lives by his dream interpretation skills. That’s trustbuilding. But even more cultivating was he didn’t take credit. He acknowledged his power source was his God. Daniel built trust by doing his job selflessly and humbly giving proper credit. That’s distinguishing. 

Without Corruption

Position brings power. Power attracts opportunities. Opportunities can be the enemy’s minefield. The storyline of Daniel 6 illustrates the opposing responses to power and opportunity and their results. Daniel remained incorrupt by staying closer to his God daily and avoiding the enemy’s lure into his minefield. Even the threat of death lost its power. That’s distinguishing. 

Should we wonder why God found Daniel innocent  (verse 22)? Just like Daniel, we can be distinguished. Our spirit can be extraordinary. We don’t have to allow bitterness or anger to lead us into mistrust or corruption. Daniel accomplished this by maintaining his routine of communicating with God. His location, occupation, and feelings were not allowed to sway him from being who God wanted him to be. That’s distinguishing. 

Fruity Fridays: Strength in Gentleness

(A series about the Fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5)

post by Jeremy Nixon

Galations 5:23 – “the fruit of the spirit is…gentleness.” You know, my favorite thing about the Bible is the stories. There is literally a story about everything in the Bible. Over and over again the Bible shows us the importance of gentleness.  

I’m reminded of the story about the adulterous woman brought to Jesus in the temple in John 8. The scribes and Pharisees caught a lady in the act of adultery and wanted to test Jesus to see what he would do. I think the lady probably expected Jesus to blow up and get angry, while ordering them to stone her…but Jesus was as gentle as could be. He painted a picture of gentleness for us to know how we should act when difficult circumstances and problems come up.  

Most people equate gentleness with weakness, but it is far from weakness. How strong was it for Jesus to stand up to the Pharisees? Even though he is the Son of God, there were several of them and just one of Him. Jesus squatted down and wrote in the dirt. Without a raise of His voice he simply said, “If you are without sin, then cast the first stone.” One by one they left. He turned to the lady and said, “Go and sin no more.” Powerful and gentle, it was far from weak. Jesus didn’t excuse or pass over her sin; He gently called her to change. The same way Jesus was gentle with the adulterous lady is the way we need to be with the people we are around.   

You see, our world needs more gentleness. There is so much hate in our world, and everyone wants to be at the top of food chain. We’ll do anything to get ahead, even if it means hurting others. God doesn’t call us to that. He calls us to be gentle. In Philippians 4:5 Paul says, “Let your gentleness be evident to all.” A gentle person speaks truth, and true followers are known by their gentleness. The same way Jesus spoke truth into the adulterous lady is the same way He calls us to speak truth into this world. When we do this, people will see Christ in us. It’s definitely not easy, but God calls us to it; and we have to strive to be gentle, especially in our day and age. People need it. They desperately need to hear this message about Jesus and His gentle spirit. They’ll see it in us and our actions far before they’ll read it in the Bible.  

How will you show gentleness this week?