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.

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.

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.

Praying for Your Pastors

We paid church staffers are often asked, “What can I do for you? How can I pray for you?” So, let me give you an example of how any pastor could use your prayers.

Sunday mornings are when they have the largest volume of interaction with churchgoers, visitors and members. And the range of conversations is quite broad. Just this morning after the service, in less than ten minutes I had five different brief interactions with people about the following subjects:

  1. Church member facing gall bladder surgery
  2. Church member grieving loss of adult son
  3. Church member preparing for professional exams
  4. Church member out of work and shelter
  5. Church member asking about the temperature in the Worship Center

This is common, normal Sunday intake for your pastors. Put yourself in that space for a moment. What prayer(s) come to mind for you to offer on behalf of your pastors?

The one that comes to mind right now is that your pastors would be an example of Galatians 5:16-26. Your pastors are human. They are prone to the same tendencies as anyone else. Paul writes here that we cannot operate well for God’s kingdom without being led by his Spirit. Pray that your pastors stay closer to God than to anyone else, that they remain ready to withstand their flesh and anyone else’s, and that they then will produce the fruit of the Spirit not becoming “conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”

A last thought. Tell your pastors you pray for them. Tell them how you feel led to pray for them. Tell them you have a glimpse of their Sundays.

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?

Fruity Fridays: 5 Ways to Own Your Faithfulness 

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

The fruit of faithfulness is one of the nine fruits of the Spirit which require the most use of Galatians 5:24, which says,

Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Faithfulness is not a natural trait we are born with. It flies in the face of our natural bend toward selfishness. Left to our own desires and passions, we keep moving from job to job, bed to bed, habit to habit, relationship to relationship because it’s just too hard to be faithful when you are wrapped up in “what’s in it for me?”

We have to give that bend to God. We have to choose to own faithfulness rather than selfishness and pursue it with the Holy Spirit’s aid. So how can we own our faithfulness? Here are five thoughts:

Own Your Purpose

Yes, your purpose is God-given. But he doesn’t make you pursue education. He doesn’t make you go on the job interview. He doesn’t make you leave a purposeless job to pursue the purposeful job. He gives you a purpose, but you have to own it. Chances are when you do own his given purpose, faithfulness will follow. (Biblical example: John the Baptist)

Own Your Margin

We all have the same amount of time. We haven’t all learned the value of margin, the value of saying “no,” or the hurt created by a flippant, inattentive “yes.” Your margin is yours; your time is yours to obediently and wisely fulfill your God-given purpose. Chances are when you own your margin, faithfulness will follow. (Biblical example: Jethro)

Own Your Commitments

If we take care of owning purpose and margin, this one is a lot easier. Commitments should not be causal, quick, or thoughtless. If the commitment is entered into only after checking it against purpose and margin, the odds of its longevity increase. Chances are when you own your commitments, faithfulness will follow. (Biblical examples: David and Jonathan)

Own Your Distractions

Owning purpose, margin, and commitments don’t negate self-imposed or enemy-induced distractions. You can be your own worst enemy; and, you are always target practice for enemy attacks to your mind, body, and soul. Know your susceptibilities. Know your distractions. Chances are when you own your distractions, faithfulness will follow. (Biblical example: Daniel)

Own Your Tendencies

Very few people know you like you know you. It may be that no human really knows you. We should all own the truth that God knows us, every part of us, even when we forget he does or try to behave like he doesn’t. Knowing your tendency to leave when you should stay, run when you should walk, talk when you should listen, or obsess when you should forget will move you along in owning your selfishness. Chances are when you own your tendencies, faithfulness will follow. (Biblical example: Paul)

Fruity Fridays: A Story of Faithfulness

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

post by Jeremy Nixon

“But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness…and FAITHFULNESS.” Galatians 5: 22-23 

There are a lot of stories in the Bible about faithfulness that I enjoy reading. God has been faithful throughout the whole book in showing he created us for a purpose and for our purpose to be fulfilled. There is one story in particular that sticks out, and it’s found in the Old Testament. Read 1 Samuel 15-18. 

In 1 Samuel 15, God paints a picture of how important faithfulness is to Him. Saul was the king of Israel. Saul was not a king who pleased God, so God chose to give the honor of being the king to David, a young man who worked for King Saul. David spent a lot of time in the palace and became very good friends with Saul’s son Jonathan. After some time, King Saul became so jealous of David that he wanted to kill him and even though he wanted to kill him, Jonathan, Saul’s son, remained David’s best friend. In 1 Samuel 23: 16-18 you see how faithful Jonathan is to David. So faithful that the two of them made a covenant, and Jonathan promised David that his dad wouldn’t lay a hand on him. That’s pretty powerful when you are poised to be the next in line for the throne but you also know that God wants to make your best friend king. I couldn’t imagine how that would feel, but right here we see how important faithfulness is.  

Faithfulness: the words strict, truth, allegiance, reliable, and trusted come to mind. When we read about the friendship between Jonathan and David, it shows us that true friends are faithful to each other even in difficult circumstances. It shows me that being faithful means that we are willing to give up our own valuable things for what is important to God. Faithfulness means sticking by God in the easy times as well as the hard times, and He honors our sacrifices. 

God honors those who are faithful. We are faithful to God when we obey his commandments and choose to do what is right. I think about David, how he didn’t kill Saul even though Saul was trying to kill him. God rewarded David’s faithfulness by allowing David to become the king of Israel. And there was Abraham, who was faithful because he followed God’s directions to go to an unknown land far away. He believed that God would give him a son, and at an old age God was faithful to Abraham. God rewarded Abraham’s faithfulness by making his descendants many! There is story after story where God honors the faithful. 

God has shown his faithfulness time and time again in the Bible. He cared for the faithful men and women of the Bible, and we can trust that He will care for us too. God is who He says He is and does what He says He will do. God is faithful to us, and we can always trust in Him….and because He does that, He is worthy of our praise and our faithfulness.  

Go and be a faithful servant today and watch God be faithful to you. Give Him all the praise and be the faithful people God has called us to be. 

Fruity Fridays: Don’t Give Up

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

post by Eric Vorhies

After Adam and Eve ate the fruit, becoming aware of good and evil, God made a promise to bless the world through her seed. That blessing was Jesus. Now, let’s think about the events that took place between those two points in time. The newly freed Jews desired to be enslaved in Egypt rather than to depend on their miraculous God. From prophets to judges to kings, God’s chosen leader often rejected guidance and wisdom from their Creator. The world became so detestable at one point that God wiped it clean except for Noah and his family. And so on and so on.

If I was God, I would have been out by book two. So, in terms of what it means to be faithful, God is our model.

Faithfulness is an unswerving adherence to a person, thing, promise, etc. This is the characteristic that allows parents to have hope that their estranged child will come home. It gives permission to a devastated spouse to forgive the unfaithfulness (of any kind) of their partner. Faithfulness is at the heart of the story of the adult child who prays for 17 years that their mother would accept Christ as their Savior. Supernatural faithfulness isn’t a characteristic of the resilience of humanity. Rather, it is a fruit of the Holy Spirit that is imparted on us by God.

Here’s the take away — You don’t have to give up or give in. Everyone has some hope or desire that has been worn down and beat up by disappointments as time drags along. And, let’s be honest, it’s hard. It’s exhausting. It even seems pointless to continue pressing on. But the endurance that faithfulness demands of us isn’t our own. We have access to a Father that understands. And it is His strength that carries us. We don’t have to give up because God is our source.

Or maybe you are on the other side of the equation. Maybe you are the one who keeps failing. The one who keeps rejecting God when the pressure of the world seems to be upon you. You also don’t need to give up or give in. God’s faithfulness is greater than our unfaithfulness. And though we may stumble and fall, if we keep trying again and again, as many times as it takes, we will be able to tap into that power that God is offering us and become faithful.

So, don’t be like me…don’t say, ‘I’m out,’ before the end of book two…because the story that God is writing is much bigger than we can imagine…and masterpieces take time to complete.