Category Archives: Religion

Overcoming Adversity

Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

— Joshua 1:9

There has had no shortage of hard times and struggles the last few years, and as much as we’d like to run away from those struggles, we can’t. However, we can look to God to guide us through difficult times. We’ve had the ups and downs of life during a pandemic. There has been political upheavals, millions of deaths, supply shortages, economic problems, whether that be inflation, the high price of gas, or the loss of a job. A lot of us have experienced a combination of these adversities over the past few years. The writer Arthur Golden said, “Sometimes we get through adversity only by imagining what the world might be like if our dreams should ever come true.” For many of us, we imagine what the post-pandemic world will look like. Some of us worry the world has changed irreparably. Some of those changes have been bad, but some have been good.

If we were going it alone, any of these things might have been enough to break us, but through it all a strong faith that God is working in our lives, that we can trust Him, and that His strength is enough will get us through these adversities and the ones yet to come. One of hardest things to do as a Christian is to have faith that God is working, and to not be afraid of all the things that come our way. Isaiah 41:13 says, “For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”

God hasn’t promised that we won’t suffer in this life, but He has told us that He’ll walk through our valleys with us. He’ll be right by our side, and His grace will be enough.

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will [d]dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.

—Psalm 23

When we look to God He will give us the strength we need to carry through the dark times. God has an unwavering love for us, and He will give us strength when we look to Him in prayer. First Peter 5:7 tells us to, “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” With God as our strength and our guiding light, we can overcome and rise above our hardships. Psalm 46:1 advises us, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.


Mothers

“Can a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, yet I will not forget you.” 

—Isaiah 49:15

What the Bible is saying in this passage is: that while a mother can forget the love she has for her child, God never will. The design of this passage is apparent. It is to show that the love which God has for his people is stronger than that which is produced by the most tender ties created by any natural relation. The love of a mother for her infant child is one of the strongest attachments in nature. The question here implies that it was unusual for a mother to be unmindful of that tie, and to forsake the child that she should nourish and love. With that being said, in the passage above, Isaiah was asking a theoretical question when he said, “Can a woman forget her nursing child?” This passage praises mothers as symbols of amazing compassion, never forgetting their beloved children.

Mothers are not perfect. Mine sure isn’t. Every mother is flawed, just as we are all flawed. However, no matter how flawed we may be, God’s love for us is unchanging and unchangeable. He gives us generous grace and great compassion for all time and throughout eternity. While my mother and I may have our disagreements, we have a strong bond, though not nearly as strong as it once was. While it is not as strong as it was before I came out, it is still there. She is my comfort, even when she is not comforting. That may sound odd, but when I was young, my mother often sang to us. Sometimes it was silly little songs like “Fishy in a Bowl,” “Do Lord,” or “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby,” though she had her own versions of each one. However, the one I remember most is “You Are My Sunshine.” Even today, when I am sad and lonely or having anxiety or even a full-on panic attack, I can remember my mother singing ‘You Are My Sunshine,” and I am comforted. Part of it has to do with the rhythm of the song helping to slow my rapidly beating heart, but it’s also because I remember the good times when my mother would sing this to me. For the most part, my mother has always been there when I needed her. 

As she has gotten older, she tends to focus more on herself, but she was a nurse for most of her life and spent her life taking care of others. Deep down, she is a caring woman; she just shows it a little differently these days. I want to leave you with a different verse because while we may see things very differently, my mother does still love me. I firmly believe that she always will. She can’t help but love me. (Who couldn’t? I’m quite loveable. LOL)

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

—1 Corinthians 13:4-7


Our Paths

You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

— Psalm 16:11

In Scripture, there is abundant advice for what path in life will provide the most meaning and fulfillment. Our path refers to the way we live and what we decide to do with our limited time on earth. If we want to take a path that will make us happier, we must include a respect for the parts of us that are most wounded, neglected, and painful to look at and take steps toward incorporating the good and the bad in our life to become more self-aware of who we are. By doing so, we can lead ourselves down a path to peace and contentment in our being, because we will no longer be fighting who we are.

It’s not easy to look at all the parts of us that make us who we are. In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus tells us, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” This is one of my favorite passages in the Bible. When I pray, one of the things I always pray for is that God will show me my true path. We all know that life is not going to be easy, even for those who seem to have everything, there is always something that is not perfect. Much of life is hard. We sometimes have to do things that are against the grain, that are unacceptable to some people. For many of us, that is accepting our sexuality. Accepting who we are is the narrow path that “leads to life.”

God is actually all-powerful and ever-present – constantly guiding with His love and assurance. Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us to: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” Have you ever thought about what it means to be open to God’s guidance? When faced with a decision that needs to be made, a problem to be resolved, or accepting who we are, it’s not always easy to know what to do. That’s why we need to trust in God and ask Him to guide us on the correct path.

If we follow the path that God has shown us, we will feel a deep sense of God’s love for all of His creatures. By being still and listening, and acknowledging God as an ever-present source of help, we can be freed from the entrapments of doubt and fear.


Go and Do Likewise

Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

—Matthew 7:12

In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode “Past Tense,” a transporter anomaly accidentally sends Commander Sisko, Dr. Bashir, and Jadzia Dax back in time to a pivotal moment in Earth’s history, August 30, 2024. The date was significant in the storyline because it was the day before the Bell Riots. “Past Tense” was a two-part episode that has recently garnered more scrutiny by many Star Trek fans because the current season of Star Trek: Picard is also taking place in 2024, this time in mid-April. The DS9 episode received critical acclaim for analyzing U.S. social issues in a science-fiction context and addressing various societal problems such as homelessness, poverty, and technology. Sisko and Bashir find themselves in the Sanctuary District of San Francisco, a section of a city designated for the homeless and financially destitute members of society in the 21st century United States. The U.S. government created the Sanctuary Districts in response to serious social and economic problems that had resulted in an increased rate of poverty and social destitution during the early 21st century. By the early 2020s, every major city in the United States had a sanctuary district. In the wake of the Bell Riots and the senseless deaths of so many people, American public opinion turned against the Sanctuary policy, and the districts were eventually abolished. By the 24th century, the Sanctuary Districts, and with them, the lack of empathy and public apathy toward the plight of the masses was seen as one of the darkest chapters of Earth’s history. The episode’s final lines have Dr. Bashir asking Commander Sisko, “You know, Commander, having seen a little of the 21st century, there is one thing I don’t understand: how could they have let things get so bad?” Sisko responded, “That’s a good question. I wish I had an answer.”

While it is improbable that Sanctuary Districts will ever materialize in our history, a large part of the U.S. population lacks empathy and has a public apathy toward the plight of the masses, especially the poor and those who are seen as different. The current Republican party seems to hate everything considered different: LGBTQ+, those who are not white, the poor and destitute, and individuals with health problems. As long as Republicans can feel like they can look down on others, they believe they elevate themselves, even if the policies of the leaders of the Republican Party harm the majority of Republican voters. They would rather be harmed themselves than have any of their tax dollars going to those who need help or allow laws guaranteeing equality. Most Republicans claim to be Christian, but the people they vote for and the policies they advocate are diametrically opposed to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

One of Jesus’s most famous (and often misunderstood) parables is that of the Good Samaritan. The parable is told in Luke 10:25-37:

And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?”

So he answered and said, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.'”

And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.”

But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’ So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?”

And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

As I said, this parable is one of the most well-known and most misunderstood of Jesus’s parables because most people are unaware of its context, i.e., the oppression of the Samaritans and the bitter hatred that Jesus’s listeners and the Samaritans had for each other. Most people saw “Samaritan” as merely a convenient name for that individual when in fact, it stood for “hated outsider who worships falsely and desecrates our religion.” Today, to remedy this missing context, the story is often recast in a more modern setting where the people are ones in equivalent social groups known not to interact comfortably. Thus, cast appropriately, the parable regains its message to modern listeners: namely, that an individual of a social group they disapprove of can exhibit superior moral behavior to individuals of the groups they approve of. One example is Democrats, who advocate for the poor, those who face discrimination, and support universal (or at least more affordable) healthcare, are vilified and hated by Republicans who oppose any such reforms.

Christians have used the Parable of the Good Samaritan as an example of Christianity’s opposition to racial, ethnic, and sectarian prejudice. For example, anti-slavery campaigner William Jay described clergy who ignored slavery as “following the example of the priest and Levite.” Martin Luther King Jr., in his April 1968 “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech, described the Samaritan as “a man of another race.” Sundee Tucker Frazier saw the Samaritan more specifically as an example of a “mixed-race” person. Klyne Snodgrass wrote: “On the basis of this parable, we must deal with our own racism but must also seek justice for, and offer assistance to, those in need, regardless of the group to which they belong.” I am using it in the context of the LGBTQ+  community.

Who were the Samaritans? The Samaritans claim descent from northern Israelite tribes who the Neo-Assyrian Empire did not deport after the destruction of the Kingdom of Israel. They believe that Samaritanism is the true religion of the ancient Israelites, preserved by those who remained in the Land of Israel during the Babylonian captivity; this belief is held in opposition to Judaism, the ethnic religion of the Jewish people, which Samaritans see as a closely related but altered and amended religion brought back by Judeans returning from captivity in Babylon. Samaritans consider Mount Gerizim near Nablus (biblical Shechem) and not the Temple Mount in Jerusalem to be the holiest place on Earth. If you look at biblical teachings and Jewish religious beliefs before the Babylonian Captivity, they are different. Judaism did not have a sense of Hell before the religion came into contact with the Zoroastrians, who believed in two different afterlife possibilities: one for the good and one for the evil.

Jewish hatred of Samaritans was all-encompassing, much like Republicans for Democrats. Jesus’ target audience, the Jews, hated Samaritans to such a degree that they destroyed the Samaritans’ temple on Mount Gerizim. The Samaritans, reciprocally, hated the Jews. Tensions between them were exceptionally high in the early decades of the 1st century because Samaritans had desecrated the Jewish Temple at Passover with human bones. Due to this hatred, some think that the lawyer’s phrase “He who showed mercy on him.” (Luke 10:37) may indicate a reluctance to name the Samaritan. Or, on another, more positive note, it may mean that the lawyer has recognized that both his questions have been answered and now concludes by generally expressing that anyone behaving thus is a “neighbor” eligible to inherit eternal life as described in Leviticus 19:18 which says, “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”

The state of the world around us, whether in the domestic issues at the heart of so many political disputes in the U.S. or the Russian invasion of Ukraine, brings us back to Dr. Bashir’s question, “How could they have let things get so bad?” Democrats and Republicans oppose each other’s policies just because the other thought advocates for them. It doesn’t matter the policy, or if the other side agrees that it would benefit their constituents, they will still refuse to support the policy. For example, Republican Congressmembers went into their home districts and touted how wonderful and helpful the infrastructure bill was that they had voted against. To oppose something just because those who support it are from a different party is bad enough, but it’s even worse when you know that the policy would do a tremendous amount of good, and you oppose it is even worse. 

Jesus used a Samaritan when telling the parable because he knew that the Jewish people he was talking to would hate anything a Samaritan did just because they were Samaritan. He told a story of a man who was hurt, and his people passed him by, but his most hated enemy was the one who came to his rescue. Shame is a great motivator, as Jesus was making the point that it should be shameful not to help your fellow human, no matter how you might feel about them, which is why the news is so depressing to me lately. For years, especially recently, it has been happening in Republican-dominated states who are passing harmful laws against LGBTQ+ individuals. The various “Don’t Say Gay Bills” or the transgender discrimination bills are done out of pure hate without thinking about Christian beliefs. They will claim they are doing the Christian thing and protecting the family, but Jesus gave the Greatest Commandment “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus did not say that this only applied to those who believe the same as you. Instead, Jesus asked, “So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” The lawyer answered, “He who showed mercy on him.” Notice again that the lawyer refused even to say “the Samaritan.” But Jesus replied to the lawyer, “Go and do likewise.”

Jesus commands us to “Go and do likewise.” We aren’t told to love, support, and help others only if they have the same belief or look the same as we do, but He commands us to “Go and do likewise.” Simply and plainly, no caveat, no exceptions or exemptions, just simply “Go and do likewise.” When we look at the world around us and ask, “How could they have let things get so bad?” The answer is that we did not “Go and do likewise.”


Happy Easter! ✝️

As the war in Ukraine continues into the Easter season—with the Catholic and Protestant churches celebrating Easter on April 17, and Orthodox Easter, as celebrated by many Ukrainians, falling on April 24—a spotlight is shining on the Ukrainian Easter tradition of decorating Easter eggs known as pysanky. Decorating them has become a gesture of peace, as the war has brought new meaning to an old tradition that dates back to pre-Christian times.
In Christianity, eggs are a common symbol of the resurrection of Christ. Traditional designs on the eggs are also imbued with meaning. Per Christian tradition, triangles on eggs represents the Holy Trinity. Different regions of Ukraine decorate eggs in different ways. For example, the pysanky in Western Ukraine boast drawings of chicks to represent fertility and deer to represent strength and prosperity.

Now the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.”

—John 20:1-2

Growing up, I was always taught that Easter was the most important celebration in all of Christianity. The death and resurrection of Jesus are the most important events and a foundation of the Christian faith. Whether Jesus rose from the dead is the most critical question regarding the Christian faith. The resurrection of Jesus was part of the plan of salvation and redemption by atonement for man’s sin.

When I think of the arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus, I always think of how terrified his disciples must have been. Rome was the greatest authority in the known world for them, and Jesus had been arrested by the Temple guards of the Sanhedrin, the representatives of Imperial Rome’s authority in Judaea. They had to be asking themselves: Would they be next? Would they be tried and crucified? What would become of them? How could they go on without their leader and Savior?

They had seen their Lord and Savior die in the most brutal form of execution in the Roman Empire. The crucifixion had been a frightening experience according to Luke 23:44-45, which says, “Now it was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. Then the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two. Following the world around them literally turning to darkness as their Savior died, Luke 23:46 tells us that, “And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, “Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My spirit.’ ” Having said this, He breathed His last.” Their Savior had died. I would have felt like my life was over.

Even though Jesus had told them he would be resurrected, the disciples did not understand. In John 2:19, Jesus “said to them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’” The disciples thought he was speaking literally of the Temple, just John 2:21 tells us, “But He was speaking of the temple of His body.” Even if they believed that Jesus would rise from the dead, they thought he was speaking of living in eternity in Heaven with his Father or of a literal rebuilding of the Temple. It was not until they saw him in the flesh that they believed in a literal resurrection. So, the fear of his death was real. They were in a heightened state of fear during this time.

Their fear is evident in the discovery that Jesus’s body was missing from the tomb. Matthew 28:1-7 describes the scene:

Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from Heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men. But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.”

Even after Mary Magdalene told the others that she had seen the risen Lord and that he had spoken to her, they were still afraid: John 20:19-20 tells us about this continued fear:

Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.

The sight of the risen Jesus must have been a wondrous sight for the disciples. Not all would believe it was Him. Matthew 28:17 says, “When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted.” The Apostle Thomas (Doubting Thomas) refused to believe that the resurrected Jesus had appeared to the ten other apostles. When Jesus appeared to him as related in John 20:24–29, he still did not believe until he could see and feel the wounds received by Jesus on the cross.

The joy that the disciples must have felt when they realized that Jesus had risen from the dead must have been ecstatic. Jesus then gave them the Great Commission. Matthew 28:18-20 says:

And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in Heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

This Easter and every day, we should remember what Jesus commands of us. We should not forget the love and sacrifice that Jesus brought to this world as our Savior. Jesus is with us always, and as corny as it may be these days, all our actions should be influenced by asking ourselves, “What would Jesus do?” Jesus showed partiality to the downtrodden, the oppressed, and those who society cast aside. We can’t hide in fear but live proudly in a Christ-like manner. Jesus taught that all are accepted and loved by God, not just those who follow the narrow-minded beliefs of fundamentalist Christians, who have lost what it means to be followers of Christ. Jesus died and suffered for us to love and accept our fellow humans and to live by His example. If we hate, show prejudice, or reject those who do not believe as we think they should believe, we are not following the example given to us by Jesus.

HAPPY EASTER, EVERYONE!
MAY THE LOVE OF CHRIST BE IN YOU.

On a happier note, below you will find the cutest Easter card that I received from my friend Susan. As the card says on the inside:

Happy, Happy Easter!


Fresh Starts

Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead.

—Philippians 3:13

Spring is a season of new beginnings. The trees are budding, the snow is melting, and the birds are returning from their winter migration. It’s a beautiful time of year. It’s a fresh start for the world around us, and it can be a fresh start for us as well.

My recent move to a new apartment feels like a fresh start. I am in a new town and a bit further from work. There are new opportunities and new people to meet. I think anyone who has moved has purged their belongings of things they no longer need or want. I am getting rid of many old clothes that I can no longer wear after my weight loss. You may also get a few new things you need for your new place. I got a new mattress and a few new pieces of furniture. This move feels like a fresh start, a new beginning. I still have my same job, that’s not changing, but there is a fresh start in my new place.

New beginnings can be from a range of contexts; entering a new year, starting a new job, moving to a new city, or beginning a new relationship. A new beginning could also be entering a new phase of life with an updated outlook or belief, like moving to a new place. The Bible offers advice and encouragement for beginning a new chapter by providing the strength and support of God. Embrace a fresh start. Second Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”

Every moment is an opportunity for a fresh start. You can argue that everything that preceded this moment has created who you are and how you think. To quote Avery Brooks’ Star Trek: Deep Space Nine character Commander Benjamin Sisko, “We use past experience to help guide us….all the experiences in our lives prepared us for [this moment].” (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine “Emissary”) We still have the capacity to notice the momentum of our lives pushing us in a certain direction, be still, and choose a new response. We don’t need a life-changing event for a fresh start. As you wind down the day, see if you can view tomorrow as the beginning of the rest of your life. Embrace what is to come.


Inner Peace


Spring’s Renewal

To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.—Ecclesiastes 3:1

Snow is melting. Temperatures are rising. Bright colors are replacing browns and grays. There’s only one explanation: It must be spring! Spring is a reminder that God is all about making things new. In Revelation 21:5, Jesus promised to make everything new one day, “Then He who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’” In the meantime, He gives us glimpses of the coming attractions through spring. To help you celebrate the shift from one season to another, here are some verses that hit on the best themes of spring.

“He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.” Psalm 1:3

Spring is a time for growth. In nature, that comes from the right combination of sunlight and water. For our spiritual lives, it comes from the right combination of time with God in His word and time with other Christians in fellowship. The alternative is to be chaff that blows away and comes to nothing.

“Then I will give you the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the latter rain, that you may gather in your grain, your new wine, and your oil.” Deuteronomy 11:14

Life is a balancing act between working like everything depends on you and trusting like everything depends on God. He will send the rains you need, but you’ve also got to do your part by working the harvest.

“Let my teaching drop as the rain, my speech distill as the dew, as raindrops on the tender herb, and as showers on the grass.” Deuteronomy 32:2

You’re never too old to learn, especially when it comes to learning more about God’s love and His goodness. Just like rain provides nourishment to the plants, His word reaches into our hearts and shows us things we never would have imagined.

“So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” Matthew 6:28–29

Take a look at the flowers and plants blooming around you. They didn’t worry their way to awesomeness. And you can’t either. God cares about you, so let Him carry your worries and fears. First Peter 5:7 says, “Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.”

Whether it’s a long walk on a sunny day or splashing through puddles during an unexpected shower, soak up the blessings of spring. Let the sights, sounds and smells of a new season bring to life something new within you.


The Fruit of the Spirit

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.

—Galatians 5:22-23

The Greek word translated “fruit” refers to the natural product of a living thing. Paul used “fruit” to help us understand the product produced, not by us, but by the Holy Spirit within us. The Greek word is singular, showing that “fruit” is a unified whole, not independent characteristics. As we grow, all the characteristics of Christ will be manifested in our lives.

The fruits of the Spirit need to be allowed to grow within us and become a part of who we are. When we plant seeds in our flower beds, we have to watch out and remove any weeds, which is a constant threat. Weeds will choke what we’ve planted. If weeds are allowed to grow, then what we planted will never have the opportunity to reach its full maturity and beauty. Just as we don’t want weeds in our garden, we must constantly work to rid our lives of the “weeds” of our temptations that want to choke out the work of the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit gives us the power we need to reject those old sinful desires. We can say “no” to temptation and accept the “way out” God provides through the Holy Spirit. First Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” As we give the Spirit more control of our lives, God will shape us and grow us to look like Jesus. Second Corinthians 3:17-18 tells us, “Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”

Paul uses nine characteristics to describe the fruit of the Spirit in the book of Galatians: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. The first characteristic is love (Greek: agape, Latin: caritas). Agape (love) seeks the highest good for others, no matter their behavior. It is a love that gives freely without asking anything in return and does not consider the worth of its object. Agape is more a love by choice than Philos, which is love by chance; and it refers to the will rather than the emotion. Agape describes the unconditional love God has for the world. Paul describes love in 1 Corinthians 13:4–8:

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.

The second characteristic is joy (Greek: chara, Latin: gaudium) The joy referred to here is deeper than mere happiness; it is rooted in God and comes from Him. Since it comes from God, it is more serene and stable than worldly happiness, which is merely emotional and lasts only for a time. Without peace, there would be no joy. Peace is the third characteristic. Jesus is described as the Prince of Peace, who brings peace to the hearts of those who desire it. He says in John 14:27: ” Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” In the Beatitudes Jesus says in Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

The fourth characteristic is long-suffering and sometimes referred to as patience. Generally the Greek world applied this word to a man who could avenge himself but did not. This word is often used in the Greek Scriptures in reference to God and God’s attitude to humans. Exodus 34:6 says, “And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abounding in goodness and truth.’” The Lord is described as “slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.”

Some English Bibles translate the single Greek word chrestotes into two English words: kindness and goodness, which are the fifth and six characteristics. In Greek, old wine was called “chrestos” which meant that it was mellow or smooth. Christ used this word in Matthew 11:30, ” For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Kindness is acting for the good of people regardless of what they do. Goodness can be defined in a number of ways: the state or quality of being good; Moral excellence; virtue; kindly feeling, kindness, generosity, joy in being good; or a general character recognized in quality or conduct.

The seventh characteristic is faithfulness (Greek: pistis, Latin: fides). The root of pistis (“faith”) is peithô, that is to persuade or be persuaded, which supplies the core-meaning of faith as being “divine persuasion”, received from God, and never generated by man. It is defined as the following: objectively, trustworthy; subjectively, trustful:—believing, faithfulness, surety, truth. The eighth, gentleness is “a divinely-balanced virtue that can only operate through faith.” Gentleness which is prautes in Greek, is commonly known as meekness.

The ninth and final characteristic is self-control. The Greek word used in Galatians 5:23 is “enkrateia”, meaning “strong, having mastery, able to control one’s thoughts and actions.” Second Peter 1:5-7 discusses fruitful growth in the faith, saying, “But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love.


Paths

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.

— 1 Peter 5:6-7

Do you ever have days where you feel like you don’t know who you are anymore? Especially, as members of the LGBTQ+ community, I think we have all had that day when we questioned who we are. Those of us who were raised in a conservative church probably questioned out identity even more. When you are raised believing that it is not possible that you could be attracted to those of the same sex or have a gender other than the one determined by your sexual organs, it can be a long terrifying process to know who we really are. Some days and for even years people, life, and events get in the way of our “knowing” and we find ourselves wondering, “Who am I?”

I am a firm believer that if we are taught acceptance from the beginning of our lives, then the struggle we go through to accept ourselves will not be as difficult. We sometimes say, “I need to find myself!” If we learn unconditional acceptance, then we will not be lost and will not need to find ourselves. Greater acceptance would change the world, but it will take a lot of work. Colossians 3:9-10 says, “Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.” God tells us that, “Christ is all and in all.” If we don’t have acceptance of our fellow humans for their differences, then we also do not accept Christ.

We also often wonder, “Why am I here? What is my purpose?” Those are the days we need reminding, that we are part of something bigger. We are connected to something with a bigger purpose. I know the model prayer in the Bible (Matthew 6:5-15), and I find prayer to be a very personal experience, Matthew 6:6-7 says, “When you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.”

When I pray, I have a conversation with God. While I don’t hear Him talking back to me, I do see his actions. One of the things I always pray for is that God will show me the path that is right for me in this life. We need guidance and to feel God’s love and acceptance. I think we are all on a path and God is there with us guiding us. This always reminds me of the poem, “Footprints in the Sand”:

One night I had a dream…

I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord, and
Across the sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand;
One belonged to me, and the other to the Lord.
When the last scene of my life flashed before us,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that many times along the path of my life,
There was only one set of footprints.

I also noticed that it happened at the very lowest
and saddest times in my life
This really bothered me, and I questioned the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said that once I decided to follow you,
You would walk with me all the way;
But I have noticed that during the
most troublesome times in my life,
There is only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why in times when I
needed you the most, you should leave me.

The Lord replied, “My precious, precious
child. I love you, and I would never,
never leave you during your times of
trial and suffering.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.