Friday, May 31, 2013

Recalculating Route

I have had this post in mind for a long time. I honestly thought I had already written it somewhere, but I guess I haven’t. I haven’t yet been able to find it in my computer, anyway.

About five years ago, I visited my middle brother and his family in California. You need to understand that as I have lived most of the last twenty years in Indonesia, only returning to the States for visits, I am often amazed by technology that is old to others, but new to me.

Image found here
In this case, I was amazed by the talking GPS in their car. We were heading somewhere. The destination isn’t important. Steve had entered the destination into the GPS, and off we went. He’d hear something like:
“Take the exit ramp on the right in 200 feet.”
Unfortunately, we were on the inside lane of a busy, multi-lane highway, and couldn’t get over in time. We missed the exit. No problem for the GPS. We hear the female voice say:
“Recalculating route.”
 In a few seconds, Miss GPS gives another instruction.
“Take the exit ramp on the right in 200 feet…100 feet…50 feet.”
 We manage to get off at that exit, and Miss GPS gives further instructions. We eventually get to our destination.

In the case above, we couldn’t help missing the exit ramp the first time. Then there are the times when drivers won’t follow Miss GPS’s instructions because they are sure they know a better way. Maybe they are right. After all, the satellite might not yet know about the water line being dug up along the road Miss GPS is telling you to use. Other times, the driver just thinks they know better, and end up in a lot of trouble.

No matter what the reason for ignoring Miss GPS, she is unphased. You take a turn different from what was instructed, for whatever reason. She simply says,
“Recalculating route.” 
 She gets you back on track.

Now, I know that a GPS system is not fool-proof. I am sure there are thousands of stories out there of people who followed their GPS and got into a hopeless snarl. No man-made system is perfect.

I’d just like to point out that we have Someone much more reliable than Miss GPS to guide us through our lives. Our Heavenly Father is always working, always speaking, always there to guide us. He is never inaccurate. He always has complete information. If we follow His guidance, we will always end up where we need to be. That is not saying His road will always be easy, but it will always be right.

The trouble is, sometimes we fail to listen to Him. Sometimes we hear, but think we know better. We go our own way…and we find ourselves in trouble.

The wonderful thing is that when we find ourselves “lost in a rough part of town” spiritually speaking, because we chose our own way, our Heavenly Father will say,”
“Recalculating route.”
 He is well able to get us back on the right road. We may see things, or go through difficult areas that we would not have had to experience had we followed His route in the first place, but He will be with us. He never gives up on us.

If you find yourself at a point in your life right now where taking off in your own direction has gotten you into a mess, take heart. Your Heavenly Father is saying,
“Recalculating route.”
 Follow His guidance this time, and He will get you back on track.

Without good direction, people lose their way
Proverbs 11:14 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Look Before You …

Rachel at age three and a half. As I recall, this actually was the dress she was wearing when this incident happened.
Something rather embarrassingly funny happened to me when Rachel was about three and a half years old. I ran across something I had written about the incident in one of my old newsletters that I wrote at the time. I thought I'd share it with you, as well. Fun with a point.
I had taken Rachel to a supermarket / department store / food court / kids’ play area all rolled into one.  We went to the supermarket first to buy some milk before going to the food court to eat. I was in the checkout line nearest the entrance ready to pay the cashier. Rachel was looking over the shopping carts just a few steps away.  

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her prepare to dash past me to the play area beyond. I reached back to grab her dress as she passed by.   

In the split second it took for me to realize that the fabric in my hand was NOT my daughter’s dress, a woman behind me started laughing hysterically. Of course, I immediately let go and looked around to see that the fabric I had been holding was the back of her husband’s trouser leg. (Soooo glad it was the back.)

Rachel with a good friend wearing matching dresses.
This tourist couple had been entering the supermarket as Rachel made her dash. She evidently passed through on the far side of the couple. I apologized to the woman profusely, and I am certain, with an extremely red face. I don't think I have been that embarrassed for a very long time, either before or since. I had no opportunity to apologize to the man, though. He just kept walking into the store without once glancing back. 

This incident serves as a reminder to consider the consequences of my choices.  Impulse reactions don’t always end with funny stories.  

In Luke 14:28, we read, 
"Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won't you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?”  
Jesus was speaking here about counting the cost of following Him.  But “counting the cost” in other areas is important as well. Many things deserve careful consideration, or at least a second glance, before jumping into them – choosing a job, a mate, a home, choosing how to discipline your children, choosing how to respond to someone who hurts you, etc.  

And yes, when it came to making a grab for Rachel’s dress as she ran past me . . . a second glance would have been a very good idea.   

The lesson here…”Look before you ______.”  (You can fill in the blank.)

 TIme for Reflection
  •  Have you ever "taken a leap" without counting the cost? How did that turn out for you?
  • Is there something going on in your life now for which you really need to count the cost before making a decision?
  • Will you do it? 

Friday, May 24, 2013

God, I Want to Talk to You About Your Attitude

In my last post, I shared how my daughter called me on what she saw as an “attitude problem”. Now, I’m not groveling in guilt because my seven-year-old said she thinks I yell too much and get “all crazy”. I took her words to heart. I took an honest look at myself and how I interact with her. I concluded that yes, there is room for improvement. But I really don’t think my behavior is far over the top.

As I thought about that little exchange, though, it occurred to me that Rachel was doing something very much like we sometimes do with God. How so?

Let’s go back to Rachel, and that sample conversation I shared in the previous post. In that situation, there was something I had asked her to do. I even gave her time to wrap up what she was doing before she started the new task. She kept going…and going…and going…doing exactly what she wanted to do, and ignoring what she had been asked to do. Finally, when (yes, I admit it) I raised my voice at her, she reacted with a bad attitude of her own. She would have identified that as one of the times I supposedly got “all crazy”.

Isn’t it interesting how Rachel can repeatedly ignore what she is told to do, and then is surprised when something happens that she doesn’t like. She told me, “I like it when you use a sweet voice to talk to me.” 

Well…yeah. Of course, a sweet voice is more pleasant. But when the sweet voice is ignored, further steps will need to be taken, and things will go a different direction. Sometimes, that direction is not pleasant. (Yes, I know there are more effective steps to take than yelling, but that’s not my point here.)

My point is that we sometimes do the same thing with God. Oh we would probably never speak out anything like the title of this post. We are not likely to say outright, “God, I want to talk to You about Your attitude.” But maybe we do say that in other ways.

We do this when there is something we know we should do. We know it is right. But we delay…and delay…or outright refuse to do it.
God speaks gently, at first.

We ignore Him.

He speaks a little more strongly.

Again we delay.

He speaks to us through friends or family members who warn us we are heading the wrong way.

We find something else to hold our attention.

The situation starts to deteriorate. We see warning signs.

We still find some reason why we can’t take action now.

Finally, the situation itself degenerates to a place where natural consequences of our actions…or inaction…blow up in our faces.

And we say, “Why God? How could You let this happen?”
In so many words, we are saying, “God, You are doing it all wrong. You are getting all crazy on me here. I like it when You are gentle and sweet with me. I don’t like it when You let difficult things happen to me. I don’t like Your attitude!”

Let’s get real here. Some…not all…but some painful things happen to us because we have, for too long, ignored God’s sweet, gentle voice. He loves us so much, though, that He will do what is needed to get our attention and bring us back. Even when that means that He lets painful, natural consequences of our actions take their course.

Just as I urged Rachel to listen and respond to my gentle voice, let us also respond to God’s voice while it is still gentle. Suppose we fail to do that, and we experience the more painful consequences of our choice, let’s put the responsibility exactly where it belongs. When I find myself in that situation, I need to say to myself, "Julie, I need to talk to you about your attitude.”

Time for Reflection
  • Have you ever ignored God for so long that eventually, painful consequences blew up in your face? How did you respond? Blame God? Take responsibility?
  • Is there any area of your life right now where you have been ignoring God’s gentle voice, and things are escalating? If so, how do you need to respond today to get back on the right track?
For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines
 Hebrews 12:6a

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

"Mommy, I Want to Talk to You About Your Attitude"

A couple weeks ago, my seven-year-old daughter was trying every trick she could think of to delay going to bed. You must understand that this is unusual for her. Since she was a baby, she has always been a very good sleeper. Once she adjusted to her “big girl bed”, she has really given me very little trouble in that area. In fact, tonight I tucked her into bed and then went to get a quick shower. She was dead to the world by the time I got out.

But that night….What in the world was going on? I’m not really all that concerned with why she was fighting sleep that night. Maybe her nap that day had been especially restful and satisfying, and she simply wasn’t tired. I’m OK with that.

What was especially interesting, though, was how the whole thing ended up. I’d gone to bed and was finishing off the night reading. My daughter slipped into my room and sat cross-legged on my bed. She said very seriously, “Mommy, I want to talk to you about something important."

My first instinct was to take this as yet another ploy to delay bedtime, and firmly direct her back to her bed. For some reason, though, I chose instead to hear her out. I put down my Kindle and gave her my undivided attention.

“OK, what do you want to talk about?” I asked.

"I want to talk to you about your attitude,” she replied.

It was all I could do to suppress an amused grin at little squirt taking her mom to task about an attitude problem. But she was so serious. Something deep inside told me to be careful not to shut her down. So I listened. Although I could have interrupted her with a million and one reasons to justify myself and show her where she was wrong, I chose to truly listen.

What was her complaint? According to my daughter, I raise my voice too often. I yell too much. According to her, I get “all crazy”.  Now, I’m not sure what exactly constitutes getting “all crazy”, especially since it seems that what most parents would classify as simply a firm voice seems to count as “yelling” to her.

If I am totally honest, though, I do admit that I use a raised voice more often than I like. I also admit that the raised voice is rarely effective. Instead, it does more to blow off some of my own stress than it does to shape, teach, and guide my daughter’s actions.

So, how did I handle my seven-year-old’s “attitude check” lecture? I admitted that I probably did raise my voice too much. I admitted that doing this was wrong. Period.

However, little squirt has some behaviors of her own that also need to be dealt with. She has developed a tendency to completely ignore me when I say it is time to do something. Here is how a typical interaction might go. 

“Rachel, it’s time to put away your toys and do your math.” (calm, sweet voice) 

"Just a minute or two.” (preoccupied) 

“OK. I'll give you two more minutes to finish what you are doing, but then you need to clean up.” (still calm)

(Two minutes later.) 

“It really is time to put away your toys and do your math.” (more firm) 

“Wait, Mommy. Just WAIT!”

“Rachel, it is time! Put it away NOW!” (stress level rising) 

“I’m almost done. Just wait!” (still busily playing) 

“NO Rachel, That’s LONG ENOUGH. PUT THEM AWAY AND DO...YOUR ...MATH... NOW.!!!” (Probably a bit over the top here.) 

At this point, she either puts away the toys and slams her math book open, or she runs out of the room in tears.

I suppose that I could make a case that my daughter provoked me into raising my voice. She did disobey. She did basically ignore me…repeatedly. I do indeed need to deal with her attitude and actions. But here’s the thing. I can’t use my seven-years-old’s bad behavior to excuse my own bad behavior.

Yelling at her in frustration may be understandable. I’m sure every parent has done this…probably more than once. I know I have. That doesn’t make it right. It isn’t mature. And it isn’t even effective. Not in the long run.

You’ve probably heard insanity defined as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” I think that is from Albert Einstein. Do I really want to keep dealing with my daughter’s disobedience in a way that has already proven to fail? Do I really want to deal with her disrespect in a disrespectful way? Do I want to perpetuate the insanity? Of course not. I’ll no doubt mess up again from time to time, but I want to take the opportunity to try to develop new, healthier habits.

Obviously, our conversation that night did cover Rachel’s part of the problem as well, but that’s a topic for another post…maybe. In this post, I just wanted to share how God used my little girl to convict me of something in my own life that needs attention. Out of the mouths of babes, you know.

And do you know what else? Maybe this was really why Rachel had such a hard time going to sleep that night. Maybe she was waiting for me to finally shut down my computer. Maybe she was waiting for me to be quietly in bed before she could get my undivided attention and share something that was on her heart.

I’m glad I didn’t order her back to bed. I’m glad I listened. Now comes the hard part…actually DOING what I know to be right.


Well, that is one thing I learned from this little interaction. In my next post, I'll share another, very different take on the same conversation. I hope you’ll join me for that.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Counterfeit Self-Control

Starfruit (belimbing in Indoensian) is not my favorite tropical fruit, so maybe that makes it a good representative of self-control. Although I don't particularly like the flavor, the star shape certainly does look pretty on a fruit platter. We might not appreciate self-control as much as we appreciate joy and peace, but it is a necessary beautiful fruit that the Holy Spirit wants to grow in us.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
(Galatians 5:22-23)

We come at last to the end of the list of the fruit of the Spirit. As I read this list, I see that most of the nine fruits mentioned here either refer to how we act or react to others (love, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness). Others seem to refer to a general state of being…what we are like deep in our hearts (joy, peace, patience).

Then, we come to self-control. Somehow, self-control seems to require a category all its own. It isn’t necessarily a state of being that simply comes to characterize us. Neither is it something that we do to or toward others.

No, self-control requires us to actively discipline ourselves, to consciously decide, at God's direction, what things we will and will not do, say, see, think, etc.

1 Corinthians 6:12 says,
“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything.

Starfruit is beautiful on the plate.
“Real deal” self-control carries the idea that nothing but God Himself is to master us. It might be easy to sit back and think that we are doing pretty well in that area. After all, obviously, an alcoholic needs to be certain alcohol does not become the master. Drug addicts struggle with self-control. Some people really need to work on getting control of explosive anger.

Hold on a minute, though. What about all those seemingly innocent things that can master us. What about that coffee or soda that you know you drink too much of? (Yes, Mom, I’m still working on that.) What about the extra hour on Facebook that might have been better spent with family? What about the insistence that your way of doing something is the right way?

Huh? What? Doesn’t that last one kind of jump out as being different than the others? It should. It is.

Counterfeit Self-Control
The way I see it is this. The insistence that the way I do something is the right way may indeed reflect self-control when applied to my own life. It may reflect a deep inner conviction that God has truly called me to discipline myself in a particular area.

That conviction crosses the line into counterfeit self-control if I try to insist that everyone else has to do it the way God has called me to do it. If they don’t share my same conviction, they are obviously wrong.

I am not talking here about things that are obviously black and white. (Murder is wrong. Don’t do it.) Nor am I talking about an “If it feels good, do it” philosophy.

I am speaking of the myriad of things that believers are perfectly free to do and experience and still be within God’s will for them. God may call some of His children to forego their “freedom” to enjoy a particular thing, but He doesn’t call all to do this.

Is it fruit or are they flowers? (See clip here)
Let me share a couple examples

There are the ordinary, everyday things. Things like, there is only one “right way” to make the bed, vacuum the carpet, wash the car, mow the lawn, load the dishwasher…and the list goes on. It may be true that one way works better or is more efficient, but it isn’t necessarily the only “right way”. We cross into counterfeit self-control if we insist that our “right way” is the only “right way”, and everyone who does it differently is, of course, wrong. These things don't even really involve a conviction from God. They are merely acquired habits.

Here is a cultural example. In most areas of the country where I live, the majority of people will not eat pork for reasons of faith. Believers in Jesus who live here have the freedom to eat bacon if they want to. Most choose not to have this food in their homes so as not to offend their neighbors, or make their neighbors feel it is “unsafe” to eat anything offered to them when the neighbors come to visit. That is self-control. However, if that believer turns around and insists that I am wrong to eat bacon for breakfast, and that I should share the same conviction as they do, that crosses into counterfeit self-control. (By the way, in the area where I live, eating pork is not a problem to the majority. I still rarely eat it because I like chicken better.)

Now for a personal example. There are certain themes that exist in movies, novels, TV shows, and even news stories that paint very vivid, dark pictures in my mind that I have a hard time kicking out of my thoughts. This used to be a bigger problem than it is now. Perhaps I rarely struggle with thoughts like these any more because I have exercised self-control and do not feed my mind with these types of themes. For me, watching CSI in all its variations is just not something I will do. But if I insist that you are wrong to watch CSI, I cross the line into counterfeit self-control.

I must admit that I personally can’t see how CSI is particularly wholesome. I guess it seems to fall into the “but not everything is beneficial” category. Even so, it is not my place to force my conviction that I should not watch that show onto anyone else. I need to let God do that.

Self-Control or Controlling Others
see clip here
Counterfeit self-control isn’t self-control at all. It is legalism. It is an attempt to control others. It is an effort to “play God” in someone else’s life. Legalism tries to impose iron-clad laws when actually, God allows freedom.

If God’s “real-deal” fruit of self-control is growing in us, we can exercise self-control in the areas where God calls us to do so, while allowing others the freedom to listen to God’s voice for themselves.

Time for Reflection

  • Think of at least one area where God has impressed upon you that you should either do or not do a certain thing in a certain way.
  • Do you find yourself somewhat shocked when another believer does not share your conviction?
  • Is this a truly black and white area that God calls all to observe, or is it something that He actually does not either approve or forbid?
  • Is there any area of legalism that you need to release in your life…either for yourself or for others?
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal these to you.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Counterfeit Gentleness

With its hard protective shell, coconut has an interesting parallel to gentleness.
By the way, you don't want to park your car under a tree that looks like this.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

(Galatians 5:22-23)

I have a confession to make. When I started this series about the Fruit of the Spirit, I made a list of the various fruit and what I saw as their counterfeits. From the very beginning, I was anxious to get to this one because it is something I feel very strongly about. Now, it is time to write about it. I still feel strongly, but I have been faced today with a difficult situation to which this post applies. As I write, I will be speaking as much to myself as anyone else.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Counterfeit Faithulness

I thought jackfruit, or nangka, as it is known in Indonesia, is quite appropriate to represent counterfeit faithfulness. Read on to find out why. I'll put a few pictures of this fruit into this post...just because they are so interesting. 
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
(Galatians 5:22-23)

I must admit had a bit of a difficult time identifying the counterfeit of faithfulness. I looked at a number of different verses that used the word. Actually, the Greek word used in Galatians, is translated in a two ways: faith…and faithfulness.

"Real Deal" Faithfulness

There was a long string of definitions for this word, too. Most of them had to do with faith that is directed toward God.

That long string of definitions also referred to the word we translate as faithfulness. Faithfulness has to do with the one who inspires faith. When we talk about the faithfulness of God, we speak of an aspect of His character. This is the portion of the definition that applies here.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Counterfeit Goodness

It took me awhile to appreciate passion fruit (markisa, in Indonesian). The fruit looks very pretty on the outside, but I must admit that I kind of lost my appetite when I saw the inside of the fruit for the first time. But here's the thing. When this fruit is mixed into a fruit salad, it just kind of blends in and adds its flavor without being noticed. Some people enjoy slurping the entire gob of slippery pulp and seeds at one gulp, enjoying the fruit outright. Passion fruit may be noticed by the "slurpers" or unconsciously enjoyed in a fruit salad. Noticed or not, passion fruit, like "real deal" goodness adds its flavor wherever it goes.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
(Galatians 5:22-23)

As we continue looking at the Fruit of the Spirit, and the counterfeits of each one, we come to the spiritual fruit of goodness.

The word good is used so freely and in so many situations that it may lose some of the meaning intended when referring to the fruit of the Spirit. How do we use this word?

“Do you want another cup of coffee?” “No, I’m good.”
“He’s a really good guy.”
“That’s a really good book!”
“I’m having a really good day today.”
“Eat lots of fresh veggies so you get all the natural goodness of the vitamins.”

Friday, May 3, 2013

Counterfeit Kindness

I don’t know about you, but I have learned a lot myself as I have written these past few posts. We have looked at self-centered lust that often substitutes itself for other-centered love. We have considered how happiness often masquerades as joy. We have seen how avoidance is the counterfeit of peace. Finally, we the “real deal” spiritual fruit of hope-filled patience being supplanted by hopeless mere resignation. Let’s continue now with the fifth in the list of the fruit of the Spirit. Let’s consider what counterfeit often passes itself off as kindness.
Mangoes are probably my favorite tropical fruit. Deliciously sweet when ripe, I really don't enjoy the green mangoes which are eaten here with a spicy sauce. Spicy fruit just doesn't appeal to me. "Real deal" ripeness is what I love.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
(Galatians 5:22-23)
We all enjoy people who are kind. They are pleasant to be around. Kind people will reach out with help where help is needed. Kind people are considerate, careful of the feelings of others. Someone who exemplifies the spiritual gift of kindness has these things rooted in their character. Such a person sounds like someone I’d like to be around. How about you?

I’d like to point out one of those descriptions that, when out of balance, turns kindness into a counterfeit. Kind people are careful of other people’s feelings.

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