Posts Tagged ‘Fruit of the Spirit’

Relationship Scarring

It is impossible to go through life without ending up with scars from relationships. The fact that we wound at all is a testament to our humanity.  The fact that we are often as much the deliverers of scars as the receivers of scars speaks loudly to our own brokenness.  Children are scarred by parents.  Siblings grow up leaving scars upon one another.  Co-workers and bosses leave wounds that can range from minor paper-cut like ones to major open, seeping wounds.

Not all scarring from relational squabbles is the same. Minor ones leave their mark as do major ones.   All of them leave a lasting memory and reminder of a battle won or lost.  It seems that the closer the relationships, the deeper and longer lasting the wound and subsequent scar left behind.  Likewise, everyone deals with their relationship wounds in different ways.  Some people are more resilient and successful than others; while the others languish under memories and unforgiveness.

It may come across as naive, but it seems that people expect fellow Christians to never leave a wound or scar upon others, particularly other believers. So, when this does occur, the surprise and hurt go deep.  There is an expectation that “christians” will somehow exhibit a perfected humanity that is devoid of any ability to wound or scar with words, actions or attitudes.  This is far from the case.

The other day I was listening to a fellow believer share the story of their spiritual journey. Raised in a religiously strict, legalistic home, this person was not able to do anything “worldly;” which included among other things going to movies, playing billiards, bowling, attending dances or associating with anyone who did such things.  When this individual finally left home, they discovered a whole different world of Christian beliefs and practices.  It caused them quite a personal identification crisis.

The biggest problem for this individual, however, was not with the particular Christian expression with which they grew up. Instead, it was the readily apparent hypocrisy that was witnessed among parents, established church members and church leadership.  They could spout the doctrines of the faith, display a modicum of religious behavior and then turn right around and speak evil of one another, attack leadership and hold others in disdain.  Spiritual knowledge was greater than the spiritual fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Once liberated from their past, the person who shared their story with me expressed the joy of being able to work with other Christians. Seeing how others worshipped and practiced their faith gave a new perspective.  Unfortunately, the story shared with me included many places in the journey where terrible wounds were left by those in church leadership positions.  I felt the pain expressed.  I sensed the hurt and frustration over those that anyone would expect better behavior from in spiritual leadership.  I also knew that any such expectations were wholly unrealistic.

Hot Rod, Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, June 2009

Hot Rod, Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, June 2009

We are a people of clay feet who follow the leadership of individuals with clay feet. We are a community of broken and wounded sheep who follow broken and wounded leaders.  This is all the more reason that love, acceptance and forgiveness should be the hallmarks of such communities.  Too often these qualities are absent in order to protect the appearance of spiritual perfection.  In the presence of such spiritual “perfection,” one is deemed an authority and a leader, regardless of true inward character.

Too often, what happens behind the closed doors of church offices between staff or at the board meetings or membership meetings of the congregation becomes the place where wounds are given and received. Instead of being the sanctuaries they are touted to be, they become torture chambers of spiritual abuse.  I have personal experiences with those meetings.  Unfortunately, I also have too many friends who have either left ministry or left church altogether because of the stinging scars they still nurse.

The ironic answer to all this lies within the very thing that causes us to hand out scars to others like Boy Scout or Girl Scout badges. It lies in our brokenness.  It is our brokenness within ourselves, towards others and towards God that fails us and causes us to fail others.  Like broken pottery, the shards of our life lie hidden until someone steps upon them or touches them.  Then we leave a wound.

At the same time, our brokenness holds the answer for all of us. Instead of attempting to hold up perfected lives before others to see and applaud, we would be better off acknowledging our broken places.  Instead of playing to our strengths to lord it over others, we would do better to lead and influence from our own woundedness.  Instead of attempting to portray a community of victors and overcomers who have no problems, we would serve ourselves and others better by admitting that we are a community of confessors and repenters.

I am not advocating for a fellowship of moaners and complainers who go around with sullen faces.  I am not suggesting that defeatism and spiritual poverty become the Christian model for spirituality. We have already been down that road before with the Puritans, Quakers and Pietists.  What I am suggesting is a spiritual formation and communal journey that includes a spiritual “sunshine policy.”  A “sunshine policy” is one that allows light upon a situation so that everyone knows what is going on.  It demands honesty, integrity, truthfulness, accountability, and openness.

This approach, of course, offers no guarantee against relationship scarring even among Christians. However, it does offer a more transparent way of healing our self-inflicted wounds upon the body of Christ.  This is much better than just moving from church to church or getting rid of staff for unexplainable reasons.  In this I readily acknowledge that because I am in community with and being led by broken individuals, I cannot expect to never be wounded.  Nor can I expect that I will never deliver a wound because I, too, am broken.  As such, I do understand that continuing in this community will require me to extend love, grace and mercy to others, just as they extend it towards me.

We are not called to lives of perfection on this side of eternity. We do not have the right to expect to come through this life unscarred and unwounded.  God in Christ Jesus gave us the model for dealing with sin and forgiveness.  Only through love, grace and mercy can the relationship scars we receive and deliver become the marks of true spiritual community.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Unmarried Culture

In our American culture, marriage gets a bum rap. It is touted as an archaic institution by liberals, yet an institution in which homosexuals want equal share.  Preached as an option for couples by our television sitcoms, a marriage commitment is shunned or looked upon with suspicion at best.  As a result, we have couples living together in ‘trial marriages’ despite the research that proves co-habitation before marriage actually lowers the success rate of couples, not raises it.

Unfortunately, the Christian community in America is not fairing any better in their marriage relationships.  The divorce rate among Christians versus non-Christians is negligible at best.  The co-habitation of Christian couples before marriage is rising with the cultural tide.  How can the Church speak to a broken world if its relationships are broken, too?  How can the Christian community set an example of God’s righteous ways if we do not walk in them?

Leaves In Fall Colors, Howard Amon Park, Richland, Washington, Fall 2009

Leaves In Fall Colors, Howard Amon Park, Richland, Washington, Fall 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almber, Jr. (2010)

Our Creator offers people an answer to their brokenness. Not only can our broken relationship with our Heavenly Father be healed, but our broken human relationships can be restored too.  The answers are provided for us in his Word.  Our submission and obedience to his ways in all of our human relations is the ‘healing Balm of Gilead’ we need to be made whole.  The real question is, Will we apply it to our wounds?  Will we submit to the Spirit’s surgery to remove the diseased parts of our lives so that we can be healed and made whole?

God calls his followers to live in the fullness of his blessings for every part of their lives.  This includes marriage relationships.  The answer lies in honoring the Marriage Covenant we made with him and our spouse.  Unfortunately, too many people think the marriage contract they signed after the wedding ceremony is all they need to honor.  As long as it remains intact and unbroken by divorce, then they are honoring God.  But this is untrue!

Many couples live in a divorced relationship even though they still have the state’s marriage license.  They are merely co-habitating under the same roof.  The love of Christ, his forgiveness, mercy and grace, and the Fruit of the Spirit are all absent from their relationship.  There is no life in the marriage any more.  Just as harmful, nothing to inspire young people to want to enter into a marriage relationship!  Rather, it screams, “Don’t get married!”

God calls his people back to honoring their Marriage Covenants – to honor “the spouse of their youth” (Malachi 3:14).  Every married couple must recognize that “the LORD made them one.  In flesh and spirit they are his” (Mal. 3:15).  Why is this so important to the Lord?  Because he is “seeking godly offspring.”  Every Christian’s marriage witnesses to the world that God’s purposes and promises are true – or not.

The remedy to the present unmarried culture is marriage relationships that are lived out as God intended.  Imagine marriage relationships that become the envy of children, youth, young adults and the rest of the world.  What would happen if the marriage relationship became the prime example where the Fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22, 23) – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – were displayed to the world?  Who knows for certain, of course.  But I would like to think that marriage would be much more attractive than it is portrayed right now.  On thing is for certain.  It has got to be better than the unmarried culture we live in right now.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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A farmer repeatedly invited a friend into his apple orchard to taste the fruit and make some fresh cider.  But, just as often, the friend said, “No, I would rather not.”

Finally, the farmer said, “I guess you are prejudiced against my apples.”

“Well, to tell the truth,” his friend said, “I have tasted a few of them and they are very sour.”

The farmer then asked which apples his friend had eaten.  “Why, those apples which fell along the road over your fence,” he replied.

“Ah, yes,” said the farmer, “they are sour.  I planted them to fool the boys who live around here.  But, if you will come into the middle of my orchard, you will find a different taste.”  [Quoted from “Echoing God’s Love” by Charles Mills (Review and Herald Publishing Company, 1999), pages 141-142.]

Daisies at Howard Amon Park, Richland, Washington, Fall 2009

Daisies at Howard Amon Park, Richland, Washington, Fall 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

On the edges of Christianity are some very sour apples – conviction, self-denial, repentance, holiness, and purity of life – which keep off hypocrites and mere professors.  If these are all that one experiences in following God, then they are just “playing around the edges of the Christian religion”.  The moral fences and spiritual boundaries are not all that God has planned for his children.  Nevertheless, for some people, this is all they know about Christianity.  They have tried it and did not like it.  It was a very sour life.  However, in the middle of the God’s orchard are delicious fruits, sweet and desirable.  The nearer to God, the center of the orchard per se, the sweeter the joy.

Are you playing around the edges of Christianity? Do you have just enough of God to make you miserable?   God invites you into personal relationship with him that offers sweet and desirable things – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Move away from the edges of a religious life.  Fully enter into the middle of all God desires and has planned for you.  There you will find what you are really searching for in life.  There you will find the sweet reward of drawing nearer to God.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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I read about a family who once lived on a county road that was in very bad condition.  Every day they dodged potholes on the way to town.  They were greatly relieved to finally see a road construction crew working on the road one morning.  Later, on the way back home, they noticed that the work crew was gone but had made no improvement on the road.  However, where the crew had been working stood a new, bright-yellow sign with the words: “Rough Road Ahead.”

It is a common human problem to avoid dealing with problems.  We sometimes satisfy ourselves in just identifying what is wrong – like a sign on a rough road – but leave it unfixed.  Or, perhaps we deal with only the symptoms of the problem and what is really wrong – like our bad feelings, anger, moodiness, spiritual dryness – remains unchanged.

When we fail to address the real issues of our life’s problems, we only punish ourselves by continuing to drive down a very bumpy and bone-jarring road through life.  Life will never be a smooth ride because we continue to go down the same problem road again and again.  It may be the only road of life we know.  We need to either fix the road or take a different one all together.

Like buildings, roads need a good foundation.  You do not want to only fill in the potholes.  Potholes only bet bigger, not smaller.  Simply filling them in does not fix them.  They never go away, they always come back.  The only real answer is to make a new road.

Professional road crews must scrape the earth down to a smooth and solid base.  Then, on top of this, they will pour and roll over it tons of rock and crushed gravel.  This layer could be a foot or more thick.  The integrity of the road depends upon this foundational layer.

Our life must go through the same transformation.  We must allow the Holy Spirit with the Word of God to scrape away the deep imperfections of our character and lay upon us the nature and character of Jesus.  Our life and character will lack integrity and be susceptible to potholes returning if this work is not done.

Next, over the work of scraping and graveling, the road crew puts on layers of asphalt, which are rolled again and again to compact them firmly.  Then, the final layer, called a ‘lid,’ is put on so smoothly that the seams are barely noticeable.  These keep away the erosion from daily traffic and continuous wear.  The water and frost cannot get in to do any damage.  The rain runoff will not erode it away.

The ‘finishing’ work of the Holy Spirit is a continuous work in our lives.  It is necessary to protect us from the daily wear and tear of living in this world.  The smooth ‘lid’ applied to our lives is the finishing touch that the Fruit of the Spirit gives us.  It guards us against the world’s erosive pressure to conform to its destructive ways.  Instead, the nature and character of Christ takes its form in us.  This changes us from the people that we once were before we allowed the Lord to build in us a new foundation for living a transformed life.

Mossy Tree On Eagle Creek Trail, 2002

Mossy Tree On Eagle Creek Trail, 2002 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

Has your life been marked by a “Rough Road” sign?  Tired of the same bumpy old ride?  Sick of the ‘bone-jarring’ ride through life you have had so far?  Ready to get rid of the same old life problems that bully and bloody you?  Determined to deal with the real problems this time instead of just the surface symptoms?

Only the work of the Spirit of God can dig down deep enough to deal with our character flaws.  Only God’s Word can give our lives a firm foundation for a new way of traveling through life.  Only his Holy Spirit can bring about real change and strength to live differently.  The one who declared “I am the way” wants to make a new way for you.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

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