Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Fruit of Who?

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" -Galatians 5:22

As a kid, I did not feel loved by my parents. It wasn't their fault, don't get me wrong. I've always been a person who loves others but has a hard time feeling loved. Why? I have no clue. My parents have always loved me very much and done everything they can to show it to me. I just happen to be incredibly stubborn and hard-headed and, consequently, didn't really see their love until sometime in the last year. You see, I didn't understand the meaning of "relationship". Having a relationship with someone always meant pleasing them to me. This was never more true than when it came to my parents. I was obsessed with pleasing my parents as a kid. That sounds wonderful in theory, but it practice... it's miserable. I spent every second of my childhood wondering, "Will Mom be happy with me when I do this?" or "What would Dad think of me if he could see me right now?" Very quickly, everything became about does and don'ts, all the way down to the stupidest little things. If Mom had ever said at any point in my life not to do something, it was now in the little law book that I carried around in my head. It wasn't that I love rules and regulations....honestly, I hate them. It was because it was the only solid way I could think of to please my parents. Sure, I learned a lot from that little imaginary book. "Hang clothes on the line instead of using the dryer, it saves money." "Heat food on the stove, not in the microwave, as the microwave drains nutrients." "Don't leave dishes in the rack on the counter as they make the kitchen look cluttered." But, it also robbed me of 20 years of relationship with my parents. Not only that, but I tried to get my siblings to do the same as I was doing my best to make sure they didn't get hurt, that Mom and Dad approved of them, that they would live what I thought was a happy life. I spent all that time deathly afraid of them getting mad at me and ultimately disapproving of me, when all they wanted to love me and for me to love them back. 

Now that I think about it... don't we do that with God? We wear these t-shirts that say, "It's not about religon, it's about a relationship" and yet go on to make it exactly that. We believe that if we don't go to church every week, read our Bibles every day, hang out with "churchy people", and live every day on fire for Him, that there's something wrong with us... we're not "good Christians". We have to try harder, be better, do more. We have to go to Challenge, mission trips, and help out at homeless shelters. We have to evangelize to the cashier at Walmart and hand out Bible tracts to the people on the street. We have to live sinless lives and if... gasp!!!... we were to fall or fail, we have to pick ourselves back up and make sure we never do it again. Those t-shirts are about as true about most of us as the t-shirts that cynically say, "They'll know we're Christians by our t-shirts."

So, what are we supposed to do? What about those days when we're not all out sold for Christ? When we lose our focus on Him? When suddenly the world falls apart and we fall....bad... what do we do? 

Well, I'll tell you what we usually do. We pray and ask God, "Help me to be better" and we go to our leaders at church and they tell us to try harder and to move the obstacles out of our way. So, we pull ourselves back to our feet and push harder, harder, harder. We fall and we fall again, only to fall once more. A vicious circle of the well-intentions of following Christ and being on fire for Him. 

Yeah...that works really well. I can say this sarcastically because I've been there. In fact, I spent most of my life there, and I've seen where it leads. Going back to the example of my parents, I followed that rule book to the letter day after day after day. Yet, to my surprise, I didn't feel any more loved... in fact, I felt farther from them. I would slip up and I was worse off than I was the day before. I couldn't keep up and I couldn't get anywhere. I began to see that there was a fault somewhere....but I blamed in on them. I decided they were impossible to please. That they would always disapprove of me (even though they didn't) and would never really love me (even though they had all along). And, in order to try to save my siblings from the immense pain I was feeling, I began to try to convince them of the same. I feel so horrible now, looking back. I eventually had to leave my home because I was a very bad influence on them (obviously) and never really recovered from the ultimate rejection and loss of love that I felt from a probably wise decision. I took a few months to pick myself back up and to straighten up, at which time I was allowed back... only to fall into the same pattern again. I hadn't really fixed anything... I had just tried to fix it myself. 

About the same time, the same thing happened with God. I had tried to be the perfect Christian that I believed I had to be and failed...and failed... and failed. I felt further from God every time I failed until He couldn't have felt further away. I finally felt, after going through the same thing with my parents, that I wasn't good enough. I couldn't do it. Here was the standard, and I was too much of a screw-up to get to it. No matter how much time I gave myself, it was only going to get worse. This is when I started to think about suicide. I knew I was saved, so God had to let me into heaven....even if it was begrudgingly. I had failed everyone and there was no other option left. 

And even if you disagree with everything I say after this... YOU CAN'T IGNORE IT. Why? Because I'm not the only one who has felt this way. I have had so many campers come to Hidden Acres with this exact problem. They're told that they have to be all out for Christ, but they also know they can't be. So, they're on the road to giving up.... whether that means rejection of God and the Church completely, or of life. People wonder why so many have left the Church and why even more refuse to join. From my experience, and from talking to hundreds, if not thousands, of people about this, either personally or over the internet, this is why. We are told that we can be saved if we ask Jesus into our hearts. Then we are told that this is what a "true Christian" looks like. If you're not a "true Christian", you are lukewarm and He will spit you out. There is forgiveness of an extent. So when you fall, try harder. doesn't work. Why? Because that's not the way Christianity is supposed to work. 

Christianity is about a relationship, but not the kind we're living. We are no different than the Pharisees when we are living this way...actually I would argue that we're worse. At least they were, mostly, living their lives by the Law laid down in the Torah. Us? We're just living our lives by the law laid down There is really no difference here. That is not faith, that is not a relationship. That is works and that is legalism. Go ahead... yell at me. Call me a heretic. Yep, go ahead. Get it all out. But please, when you're done.... keep listening. 

Let's see what the Bible says. "But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved...So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ." -Romans 10:8-10, 17 These verses are a little confusing in the order that they're in... probably because the Romans had a different thought process than us, but here's what Paul is saying. If we confess with our mouth and believe in our hearts Jesus is Lord, we will be saved. But, how can we do that unless we know what we are confessing and believing? And how can we know (have faith), unless we hear? And what to do we need to hear? The word of God (P.S. Great passage for missionaries). So, God uses His Word to show us Himself and to give us faith and that is how we receive salvation. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek."-Romans 1:16  "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast."- Ephesians 2:8-9

Our salvation comes by faith, not works. And we receive faith through the Holy Spirit. It isn't a result of our works or anything we have done, but rather through the grace of God. The Bible also says, though I can't quite remember where, that when we are saved something called the "Great Exchange" happens. That means that all our sin, past-present-future, is put on Jesus and all His righteousness is put on us. When God looks at us, He isn't mad at us or disappointed in us. He doesn't think we're failures. When we receive faith, we jointly receive His favor. The two come hand in hand. Not because we're cool and awesome, but because Jesus's merit is put on us. "Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." -Hebrews 4:16 We are now His children. "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God."-Galatians 4:4-6 

We are His children. Think about that for a second. Let's go back to my parents. I learned, after leaving home and being on my own for awhile, that my parents do love me. Always have. Always will. Why? Because I'm their child. My mom says that when I was born, she was laughing and crying at the same time. They gave me the middle name "Joy" because I brought them so much of it. And... you know what? God feels the same way about us. Don't believe me? 
"The Lord your God is in your midst,
    a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
    he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing."
-Zephaniah 3:17
Not only is God not disappointed in you, not only is He not mad at you.... He rejoices over you with singing! He loves you so much (yes, you) that He sent His only Son, His most precious treasure, to die for you. He loves you so much, He looks at your helplessness and He is the One who makes you who He intended you to be. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" -Galatians 5:22 It's the fruit of the Spirit...not the fruit of Leeanna or whatever your name is. He is the One who gives us faith. He is the One who gives us love and self-control. He is the One who does...everything! 

When we received salvation, we brought our sin to the Cross and left it there. We entrusted Him to take care of it. How? He gave us the ability to do it in the first place! It's the same with our lives. All the Law depends on this: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”- Matthew 22:36-40 And how to we love God in the first place? Same way we have faith in the first place! He gives it to us. Yes, I know. It seems circular and kinda...crazy. But, "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!" -Romans 11:33 God is so cool...sometimes we don't understand Him. Actually....most of the time we don't understand Him. We're like little kids who wonder why their dad doesn't drive like a rocket scientist when we all know he could, or why our mom says we have to sleep when all know it's no fun. We don't have to understand, we just have to trust. (P.S. He gives us that too). In John 15, Jesus says, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." Not "you will try" or even "you'll be really good at". Nope. You will. When we're loving God, we're following His commandments, for sin is naught but us taking over and saying we know better and we're not going to listen. 

How does the Bible say we are identified as Christians? "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”-John 13:35 Gasp! It doesn't say "if you go to church", "if you read your Bible everyday", or "if you on mission trips." Nope. Those things are all wonderful, but our life isn't motivated by dos or don't-dos. Nope. That motivation simply gets us further into despair. Our lives our motivated by the love of Jesus Christ and the work He has done for us. 

So, when you are on fire for Christ, thank Him for the passion... He gave it to you. When you are going through life with peace in your heart, thank Him... He gave it to you. When you sin, no matter how bad, lay it at the foot of the Cross. It's already paid for. It's already forgiven. It's already gone. And then trust Him, by His grace, to cause you to grow His fruit. Love, peace, patience, etc. He smiles on you. Don't forget it. He doesn't smile on your sin, and this doesn't mean that you can run around sinning whenever you feel like it. No. But we no longer live in fear of sin or death, but walk in the way everlasting by His grace. Live for Him, by His grace. Love Him, by His grace. And don't be afraid when you fall. You are forgiven, by His grace. It's the fruit of the Spirit, not the fruit of you. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

My LAUNCH experience

It is often thought that the big moments in our history: our births, our salvation, our marriages, our children, are the moments that shape us. I would like to argue that it is, in fact, the little everyday moments that make our lives. It seems to me that it is the decisions made in the middle of humdrum life that fashion the people we are. One might say that it was my decision to join LAUNCH that made me who I am, but I would contend that it was the everyday decisions made during the program that created the framework for the way I live today.  
When I came to Hidden Acres, I had no idea who I was, what I was to do with my life, and how to relate to the real-life world that I was about to jump into as a recent High School Graduate. The whole idea was very intimidating to me.  I was moving away from my family, taking my first real job, and was the only girl in the program, to boot. I was very unsure of myself and my abilities and expected to be fired no later than 6 months in. 
That is not what happened, praise be to God, because of the patience and love that I was shown by my instructor, Brett Wiuff, the other LAUNCH students, and the rest of the Hidden Acres Staff. My experience there really did provide the "launch pad" for me to go out into the world with confidence. Yes, I learned how to split wood, work a dishroom, drive a pickup truck (which has proved invaluable) and many other practical tasks, but more importantly I learned how to be part of a team, how to respect authority, and how to be the person Christ made me to be to the fullest. At Hidden Acres, I was given the desire to pursue the Lord, to grow in my relationships with those around me, and  to serve others tirelessly.     
What is LAUNCH like, you may ask? Well, I won't tell  you it's easy, because it's not. The hours are long, the work much more than anticipated, and the atmosphere most often stressful. I won't tell you that you're sure to grow in your abilities, relationships, and spiritual life because the program is only as much as you put into it. But what I will tell you is that it is worth it. What I will tell you is that it was the best spent year of my life. What I will tell you is that if you come into it with an open heart, willing and ready to listen to the Lord and what He has to tell you, your life will never be the same. This program not only taught me how to work in most any enviromant, how be part of a team, and how to have a servant-like attitude, but how to live. Because of LAUNCH, I came to understand the depth of Christ's love for me, the plans He has for me as an individual, and the abundance of grace bestowed on us day-by-day. I built life-long relationships with the staff at Hidden Acres and my fellow students. In fact, I was married 3 weeks ago to Brian Lunn, one of the other graduates of LAUNCH 2012, believe it or not (results not typical).  
When I came to LAUNCH, I was unsure of my every move, thought, and decision. When I left, and to this day, I can walk through life with a smile on my face, purpose in my step, and my head held high because of the grace and love of Jesus Christ our Lord and the people at Hidden Acres Christian Center.