Teachable Moments

Fruit Check: The Necessity of Gentleness

I love apple picking in the Fall!  My husband and I took our kids out to an apple orchard every fall to pick apples.  (If Mom liked it, then everyone got to join in the fun.) Applesauce, apple pies, fried apples, apple chutney – you need an apple recipe, I probably have it.  Besides a feast of fruit, we also used this opportunity to teach some basic theology. The question we discussed one fine Fall day was, how do you know if someone is a Christian?  What do apples and Christians have in common?  Glad you asked!

Scripture teaches that you will know a Christian by their fruit.  Galatians 5:22,23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

Fruit is referring to what is produced out of the life of a believer who is filled and walking in the Spirit.  If I have come to Christ as my Savior, then God has deposited within me His Spirit (2 Cor. 1:21,22) and in fact, the Spirit of God within me is proof that I am a believer (Romans 8:9). But in explaining this to children, how do you explain to a child someone they can not see?  Children won’t argue that the Spirit exists, as most children have vivid imaginations and live in the world of all-things-possible. But they will want to know, what is the Holy Spirit like and how can I know if I have the Spirit?

The Spirit is likened to fruit.  When we went to an orchard, there were pears, apples, pumpkins and corn that we could choose from the harvest.  We could easily tell what type of plant we are looking at because we could see the fruit. How do I know if we are picking from an Apple tree?  Because there are apples. How do I know if I am picking from a Pear tree? Because there are pears. Trees bear the type of fruit that is in their DNA; the fruit bears witness to what type of tree it is.

Same for believers – what kind of a person am I – a believing person or a non-believing person?  The answer isn’t how many bible verses you can quote (though memorizing scripture is important) nor how much doctrine you can explain (though solid doctrine is important).  More important than knowledge is the character that is produced as a result of faith. Do you want to know if someone knows Christ? Then you should SEE their faith.

One of the characteristics of a believer should be the fruit of gentleness.  Gentleness is described in scripture as both a believer trait as well as something we can do.  If you do a study of gentleness (sometimes translated meekness), you can find 4 thematic qualities that help define it:

  • Gentleness is NOT harsh – calm and kind in demeanor
  • Gentleness is NOT thoughtless – considers the other person more than one’s self
  • Gentleness IS protective – cares for the welfare of others
  • Gentleness IS powerful – strength under control

The Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology defines gentleness as, ”Sensitivity of disposition and kindness of behavior, founded on strength and prompted by love.

The fruit of gentleness has for the many centuries been touted as a key characteristic of faithful believers. Jonathan Edwards said, “All who are truly godly and are real disciples of Christ have a gentle spirit in them.” Jesus was described as the gentle King (Matthew 11:29); Paul defined his ministry to the church in Thessalonica as gentle as a mother caring for her little children and in Philippians; Paul gives a final charge to Timothy to pursue gentleness and finally, Paul urges everyone “to let your gentleness be evident to all.”

How important is the spiritual fruit of gentleness?  I’d suggest very!

Dear Reader, grabbing every opportunity as a teachable moment to help our children know and appreciate theological truth is a great habit to get into.  And besides our children, it’s good for us. Are you going to eat a piece of fruit today? As you do, remind yourself that the fruit the Spirit produces in you is an indicator of how your relationship with God is going.  Are you walking with Him closely? Do a fruit check! And start with the fruit of gentleness.

Gentleness fruit check – NOT harsh, NOT thoughtless, IS protective, IS powerful:  does this describe you?

May we today be obedient to the challenge Paul gives all believers, “May your gentleness be evident to all.” And I pray others will be gentle with you.

Fondly yours with gentle blessings!  Elizabeth

 

Teachable Moments

Explain Life To Me

Starting 2019 off in a controversial decision, the 46th anniversary of Roe vs Wade was passed with cheers of joy in New York as new abortion laws extended the window in which an abortion could now be legally obtained within this state.  Extending a woman’s right to have an abortion into the 3rd trimester and striking abortion from the criminal code completely brings national attention to the debate over a woman’s right to choose and a baby’s right to live.

This debate is not going away any time soon, and nor do I think it should.  The question for me as a Christian is to know the position I take, but not to stop there.  How I will discuss and present this issue in front of a watching world is just as pertinent.  Yes, I believe that babies in the womb are humans and their life deserves protection by the laws of our land.  But, how I discuss this and what informs my position may be the keys to Christ-honoring discussions that actually make a difference.

Holding a position

When my kids were little and I wanted them to come to the table for dinner, I rarely made a big impression or difference on their decision to come to the table by adamantly and loudly repeating “dinner is served!!” They could quickly learn to drown out my loud voice or have it blend in with the other family noises in our home. My position that they must come to dinner was not what drew them or persuaded them to show up on time with hands washed.

I believe the same could be said for holding a position on protecting life in the womb – saying it loudly and adamantly may not get the results of change that we seek.  Hold a position, but don’t expect the mere holding of it to change anyone’s mind.

Stating the position

Going back to my children coming to dinner, holding a position adamantly never helped if I stated my position over and over without any clear rationale. I could state that I wanted them to eat dinner right now – again, and again, and again – but it didn’t motivate them to consider how key my position was to their life. They just knew I had a strong opinion I liked to say over and over. They became desensitized to the message and were even more inspired to ignore me.

Same with our strongly held views on prenatal life – stating our position repeatedly may only deafen a world that doesn’t want to listen.  Benjamin Franklin said, Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.Considering how we help people learn and not just listen and to engage in the discussion with us are key to furthering a constructive discussion on the challenging topic of life in the womb.

Explaining the position

What persuaded my children to come to dinner when I called was their understanding of why coming to dinner and doing it when I asked was crucial to them and our family.  Knowing why it was good for them and good for our relationships encouraged them to look at dinner in a whole new light. It wasn’t just something to obey or do because I thought it was “right”; I equipped them with a rationale that made sense to them.

Again, same with our discussion regarding abortion.  Why do we believe that abortion is wrong? And when is it wrong?  And for whom is it wrong? And is it always wrong? These may seem obvious at first, but thinking deeper than an obvious answer will be more compelling to anyone we engage with than surface truths.  

For me, this has lead to a deeper study and appreciation of what it means to be made in God’s image.  Genesis 1:27, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”  The theological understanding of what it means to be an image-bearer can be discussed across a historical landscape and with various understandings.  Are we image bearers of God because we inherently are created with attributes that we alone in creation share with Him? Are we image bearers because our function is to carry out a God-given vocation of ruling and representing our creator?  Or, are we image bearers because of our relational abilities, unique in creation in how we know, love and experience God and one another? Hopefully, this deeper theological thinking creates within myself an appreciation for the distinctiveness and preciousness of human life which in turn inspires me to engage in rationale and engaging conversations regarding the baby in the womb.

The “How” of the position

Last, but definitely, not least – how I speak of my position should always be leading by my Christian virtue.  Even in hard conversations, consistently showing grace and the fruit of the Spirit is commanded.

  • Colossians 4:6, “Your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
  • Galatians 5:22, 23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Against such thing there is no law.”

Dear Reader, may our engagement with our culture over issues that hit at the very heart of our families, the very lives of our children, be productive in leading others to know their Creator God and to love Him with all their hearts. May we hold a position, state our position, explain our position and do so in winsome ways that capture the attention and heart of our listener to the glory of God.

Blessings on your life!  

Fondly yours, Elizabeth

Teachable Moments

The Truth about Habits

As a counselor of over 30 years now, I have a key message that I give to all the families I get to work with, especially those just starting off.  Everyone thrives in an environment of consistent order BUT avoid order becoming a dictator rather than an influencer.

I love the first part of this advice (live a life of orderliness), because I had it taught to me by my precious Mom while growing-up. Also, I’ll confess, I like predictable schedules, organized drawers and the calendar of celebrations I can look forward to.  When I was a young wife many years ago, I loved making a weekly routine; I knew when I cleaned, did the laundry and ran errands. I am not one who enjoys surprises as I would prefer to anticipate events versus have them sprung on me.  AND YET –  the great thing about marriage in my life is I got to challenge this love of routines some 30 years ago and while it is still true that we humans need order to thrive, I have learned when habits are healthy and when they are best put aside.

When Habits Are Healthy

Habits are routines of behavior whether in action or thought that are repeated at regular intervals; you know you have a habit when it is something you think or do that is difficult for you to give-up.  They are predictable and give us a sense of security and order that is key to human wellness. Our God is a God of order and that is reflected in His creation (1 Tim. 2:13), how Paul discipled the church in Corinth (1 Cor. 14:33, 40) and how Titus was encouraged to structure the church on the island of Crete (Titus 1:5).  

Habits are better reflections of a person’s character than independent events.  Look at someone’s pattern over time and you’ll get to know the true person they are – what they value, what their goals are and what they truly love.  Habits are present whether someone is watching or not and will rear their heads especially when we are under stress.

Habits that enable us to honor God’s word in our worship of Him, care for our body and the resources He has given to us, and love others well are wonderful and need to be preserved.  The “habit” of saying “I love you” to any of my family at the end of a phone conversation reflects my value of family and my heart for them. It affirms our relationship and the priority they have in  my life, even if the conversation was difficult.

Determine if your habits are healthy by asking yourself these questions:

  • Do others who see this habit affirm and encourage it as one they would want to emulate?
  • Does this habit draw others toward Christ?
  • Does this habit encourage me to love Jesus more?
  • If this habit of thinking or doing was put-up on the huge screen in Times Square, would I be ashamed?  (ex – if you have a habit of impatience when your children interrupt you, would you want that filmed for all the world to see?)
  • Do you believe God will say, “well done, good and faithful servant”, when all your habits are revealed to Him at the end?

When Habits Are Unhealthy

Anything can be taken to an extreme – even habits.  Either showing a disregard for habits or embracing a compulsive drive toward habits reveal an inflexibility that does not serve anyone well.  Let’s consider the Pharisees. The Pharisees were opponents of Jesus whom Josephus, a first-century scholar of Roman and Jewish origins, described as simple in lifestyle, believing in both the sovereignty of God and the free will of man, and while the most accurate interpreters of the law, they held rigid the “chief importance to the observation of those commandments.  

Observance of the law and the law itself became more important than the law-giver, and as such, they missed the appearance of the law-giver (Jesus) when He arrived.  Why? Because Jesus knew the heart of the law and thus, did not always obey it the way the Pharisees thought it “should” be obeyed. Jesus healed on the Sabbath, engaged in conversations across cultural boundaries, and feasted on wine and food with tax collectors and sinners and of course, the Pharisees were appalled by such behavior.  Their religion had become a set of habits, a pattern of life that observed the rules, but had lost the heart of them.

Have your habits become unhealthy? Consider your response to the following to decide.

  • Do you become anxious or even angry when your habits are interrupted?
  • Is the following statement true for you?  “If others do not practice their faith with the exact same behavior or belief I do, I automatically see them as wrong, worldly or immature in their faith.”
  • Does your joy in living for Christ and enjoying His presence depend on what you do?
  • Do you evaluate your godliness on what you do or the fruit of the Spirit?
  • Do people talk more about who you are or what you do?

Dear Reader, life is more both/and living than either/or.  Let us desire to live both an orderly life and one that reflects a character of grace and spiritual fruit.  May what we do never be more important than who we are. May the habits of our life encourage our godly character that values faith over religious works.  May we embrace habits we desire to pass on to our children and are worthy of their imitation and may we break those habits that lead to legalism.

Blessings on you and the habits you embrace – may they lead you to both loving and living out your faith well.  

Fondly yours, Elizabeth