Figs From Thistles

If you’ve ever done any gardening, you’ll know how similar seeds can look. If one were to, say, spill opened seed packets of zucchini and pumpkin. . .

Well. One would have quite a mess of identical-looking, flat, off-white seeds. The only recourse would be to plant them and wait to see what sprouted.

And while our fictitious gardening klutz may not know where to expect zucchini and where to expect pumpkins, she can at least be certain none of her mixed-up seeds will produce oranges.

This is one way I used to introduce the “Fruit of the Spirit Project” to my photography students, complete with samples of the seeds. But the lesson portion isn’t just for students of photography. It’s one I learned from the Master Teacher, Himself (that would be the Holy Spirit), and I wanted to share it with you.

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

Many of us read Galatians 5:22-23 as if it were a checklist of character traits to work on. Today, I need to try to be more patient. Tomorrow, I’ll cultivate kindness or set my mind to being more gentle.

I used to do the same. What I learned from my endeavors is that trying to produce these attributes on my own is as practical as trying to grow a unicorn tree or teach my puppy finite math.

Instead, we ought to consider those nine characteristics as evidence.

In truth, we are utterly incapable of growing the fruit of the Spirit with even our most valiant efforts. Why? Because it’s the fruit of the Spirit.

It isn’t a list of things we can work on; it’s the proof of the work of the Spirit in us.

Just like our fictional horticultural friend from earlier will discover where her pumpkin seeds were planted by the evidence of pumpkins, so the fruit of the Spirit is evidence that the Holy Spirit is “planted” in us.

This is not to say we will have a full harvest of completely mature, perfectly ripened fruit all at once. It simply means if we are not continually growing in love, joy, peace, patience, and so on, the evidence points to a lack of the Holy Spirit in us. If these traits are increasing in our lives – even if they are very wee and not much to boast about – well, growth is growth. God will give the increase.

Or as our Lord put it:

You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.

Matthew 7:16-17

The fruit of the Spirit is evidence of the work God is doing within us. If you lack it, don’t despair. Ask God to give you His Spirit, then ask for help hearing and obeying His voice. Let Him do the growing. Just be sure make your life fertile ground.

Labor of Love: A Former Teacher’s Thoughts on Teacher Shortages

Disclaimer: I’m not a real teacher.

That is to say, I’ve had little formal training as a teacher; never took courses towards a teaching degree even during my miniscule collegiate experience; and never harbored even the teensiest trifling thought of teaching anyone anything on any basis before my Lord called me to homeschool our little brood of three.

So by the current American view of what it takes to be a “professional” teacher, I’m not one. But I have played one in various contexts. In doing so, I’ve discovered three facts that make me appreciate teachers even more.

Fact #1

Teaching is less a job and more of a lifestyle.

Most teachers are required to have a college degree. Some places even require them for preschool – a truth which never ceases to boggle my mind (as if your average, non-substance-addicted human being isn’t capable of teaching the alphabet, letter sounds, and color recognition !!).

Yet I doubt any degree can prepare you for the actual job. Despite the classroom time, most teachers spend hours arranging and decorating the classroom itself (often partly out of the teacher’s own pocket).

Untold hours are devoted to grading, brainstorming new ways to present key concepts, licensing requirements, helping with athletic events or drama productions, attending meetings, and so on. For many teachers, an average day begins around 7:00 a.m. and often extends past 9:00 p.m.

And despite the stigma, not many teachers take summers completely off. Summer is a time to sleep past sunrise and do some lesson plans and/or curriculum tweaking without the pressure of skipping lunch or prepping for that kid who simply will not stay on task.

And that’s for teachers who are supplied a curriculum. Some of us write our own.

Fact #2

The teaching lifestyle is not highly profitable.

One former teaching colleague graduated with a degree in data science and was asked to step in to fill a sudden gap in the math department during the school year. And he loved the job – until he moved out of his parents’ house.

College degrees are not cheaply obtained, and teacher salaries make the payback difficult for those who enjoy eating every day. Not only is teaching not for everyone, it isn’t affordable for many of us.

Fact #3

Teachers often burn out from fighting battles on too many fronts.

American teachers are often treated as the enemy – or even the servant of the enemy – rather than as the professional, hard-working, child-loving human beings most of them are.

Even in the very warm and wonderful environment I taught in, I experienced a few parents who reminded me of my waitress days and what I always called “low priority customers” – something to think about next time you’re treating your waiter as an inferior being. 😉

In social settings, I’ve spoken with well-meaning parents who simply cannot grasp why a teacher with fifteen or thirty other kids can’t provide the one-on-one time their little Charlie or Susie needs to flourish. It’s as if some folks indulge a bizarre belief that a teaching degree confers upon a person the ability to sidestep the space/time continuum and also perform actual sorcery.

The truth is, most teachers have bent over backwards so often, a side gig as a sideshow freak is a viable revenue stream.

If little Charlie or Susie were the only child with unique needs, it would be possible to help. But close to 15% of today’s kids have some type of learning challenge, while the rest of them are dealing with the heaviness of modern life. The teacher is left trying to present the day’s lesson multiple ways, competing with near-invisible earbuds and fifty-million video game hacks while still giving individualized attention to several kids – all in less than an hour.

Of course, this is assuming the day goes smoothly and there are no external distractions. Which happens, well. . . never.

Support Your Teachers!

If you are a Christian, please remember we are called to treat others as we would like to be treated and to consider others as more important than ourselves. This includes teachers, even if they are getting paid a few coins to shape and mold the minds of our future.

If you are not a Christian, you are still human. You may not have the motivation of realizing Jesus died to pay for all those horrible things you’ve done (though He DID, and He’s always willing for you to accept the free gift of eternal life from Him), but you can still be a decentish human.

Just be nice to your kids’ teachers. Please.

Why I Love the Church Despite Her Flaws

I’ll be among the first to tell you that the Church is far from perfect. People get hurt in church, at church, and even by the Church. I daresay all church attendees could pop out a MeToo hashtag along with their own grim tales of church-induced suffering, whether real or perceived.

If I may be so bold, I imagine pastors could write a book about the pain caused at the hands of the flocks they shepherd. Their wives could probably fill volumes. The reasons for this are manifold, but for time’s sake I will only explore a couple.

To start, the Church is a collection of sinful human beings at various stages of sanctification. Not all are mature, not all are wise, not all have understanding, and not all really know what the Bible says or what being a Christian actually means.

In fact, not all people who engage in weekly worship and claim the name of Christ are legitimately members of His Church – the worldwide body of dedicated, true disciples who love Him with their whole heart, soul, mind, and strength.

In fact, Yeshua (Jesus) Himself warned His disciples of weeds sown among the fruitful crop (Matthew 13:36-43) and that not all who call Him Lord will enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 7:21-23).

Its simple to see how any person could be hurt by participation in an assembly which includes people filled with the love of God, people filled with selfish ambition, and everything in between.

But none of these things explain why I love the Church.

It isn’t because she’s never hurt me; she has. Worse than my own hurts were watching my son take friendly fire at a time when he most needed Christian mentoring. Instead, he was invited to various activities by pastors who never followed up. One time in particular involved my then-11-year-old being invited to a group, never told the particulars, then listening in as the group discussed how fun it had been afterwards.

Ouch.

My son walked away from it all. And although I hate it with every fiber of my being, part of me understands. If my faith had been in a pastor, a group of people, or anything other than God Himself, I would have walked away, too.

But I love the Church despite what she’s done to me and to my family for the very simple reason that Yeshua loves me despite what I’ve done to Him.

Every sin I’ve ever committed, whether intentionally or not, is an abject act of rebellion against the One who created me.

Every careless word, every failure to love my neighbor as myself, each and every self-focused thought and action I’ve engaged in may as well be a hammer-stroke on the crude nails which pierced the flesh of the Son of Man.

You see, I have hurt the Christ. I’ve grieved the Holy Spirit. I have brought sorrow to the heart of my Heavenly Father, and yet despite it all – even despite the fact that I still fall into sin – He loves me.

Love is not just a feeling; it’s also a choice. I choose to love the Church not because she deserves it, but because I don’t deserve it and yet Yeshua loves me.

He also loves His church; loves her enough that He gave himself up for her. And if He who is perfect and pure can love such a writhing mess of sin and self-sabotage as His Church, well then, so can I.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

Ephesians 5:25-27

On Fire

I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!

Luke 12:49

Here’s a random bit of personal trivia for you: I am the family fire starter. In younger years of camping, I would be the one to light the campfire. On our large lot, I am the one who is tasked with burning the debris from yard cleanup efforts.

Why? Because I like it. There’s something about starting and tending a fire which I find relaxing. It’s a slow, analog process in a frenetic digital world. Tending a fire leaves the mind free to contemplate all God made and to reflect on the lessons He’s stamped into His creation.

Kindling

At its inception fire can be finicky. Particularly in damp or less-than-ideal conditions, a new fire needs correct fuel in correct amounts and at regular intervals. Too much too quickly will smother it; too sparse and the flames will flare and rapidly expire. It also needs air and a little bit of coaxing in order to grow.

We tend to be like this in our walk with the Lord. At first, our zeal is feeble and finicky. We need to fuel it with intentional prayerful perusal of the Scriptures at regular intervals. In order for our little flickers of devotion to grow, we’ll also need the breath of the Spirit and a bit of coaxing.

Growth

As the flames grow and become established, larger portions of fuel are required. This is the sweet spot where the fire burns merrily and needs no coaxing but it is not yet large enough to need taming. Keep feeding it and enjoy the warmth.

In our walk with the Lord, we often reach a point where many of life’s mysteries begin to make sense in light of God’s Word. Truths about the world click into place as our understanding of God grows. We are capable of digesting larger chunks of the Word and our zeal has taken a life of its own and no longer requires as much external effort. We simply need to feed it and enjoy the warmth of God’s love.

Free-Burn

Once hot enough, fire is no longer picky about the fuel it consumes. Damp wood and even green plants will catch fire if dropped into the flames. At this point, more attention is needed to the surroundings. A stray gust of wind or a small explosion from a source like bamboo can cause sparks to fly. Anything dry and flammable nearby becomes a potential fuel source.

For the careless or distracted manager, it takes mere seconds for a controlled burn to become an impending threat. Even for an experienced pyrophile, a momentary failure to consider all the elements – fuel source, climate, conditions, surroundings – can turn a fruitful burn into a frantic effort to protect the house or treeline.

It’s important to maintain vigilance in our Christian walk, too. Our fallen nature means that the fire of zeal in our hearts will all too easily seize hold of the wrong fuel. Before we know it, our passion for the Gospel has devolved into fervent outspokenness about justice or freedom or 5-inch swaths of cloth. We lose sight of eternity and latch onto the temporary concerns of this world.

As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife.

Proverbs 26:21 (ESV)

We let our opinions drive the flames and we’re careless about the fuel we feed on. We gorge on the opinions of influencers, podcasts, and blogs rather than the very words of our Creator and spread little sparks into flammable arenas we should have tended with more care. Or we fail to notice the surroundings and enter into thoughtless exchanges of outrage rather than revealing the pure Light of the World we have lost sight of in the raging fires of misguided passion.

The consequences to out-of-control fire can be devastating if not stopped. So can the consequences of out-of-control and misdirected passions.

And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.

James 3:6 ESV

This is important to remember in the climate of today. Most people are weary. Many are confused; many are angry. Now is our time to kindle a fire, but we who are in Christ MUST resist the impulse to feed the fires of fury and bewilderment. We need to kindle a fire of love and devotion to the One who is THE Way, THE Truth, and THE Life in a lost, deceived, and dying world.

This is not freedom to anything but rather freedom from; from the chains of sin and death. Freedom to begin living for eternity now, enjoying a peace with God that will last forever. This peace makes death no longer something to fear but a change to welcome, knowing that when this sin-corrupted flesh of ours expires, our truest and best freedom will begin.

This is the peace Christ Jesus – Yeshua Messiah – offers to all who will submit to His Lordship. This is the fire I want to kindle in me and in my family: A fire that will not decay but will burn steadily, consuming every impurity within and leaving behind all that I’ve built on the sure foundation of my King. A passion for truth, for true justice, for absolute joy, for the glorious presence of the King of kings.

Will you join me?

Prayer – Does It Work?

Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

Matthew 26:41

A friend once told me he’d prayed for God to take away the pain during a season of severe abuse and it didn’t work. The abuse – and the pain – continued.

Other people have prayed that a loved one would be healed from cancer or disease and still watched them die. Or for someone to be freed from addiction only to watch them waste away, enslaved to a substance.

So many people live out stories like this and conclude that prayer doesn’t work. And in strictly consumer terms, it doesn’t.

Prayer is not a thing like a soda machine or a streaming channel where you make your selection, enter your currency, and receive what you ordered. Prayer isn’t an order at all. A prayer can be a request, but in our native human selfishness, I think we forget that requests are not guaranteed.

I might request a raise from my boss and be denied; just as I might request God heal me from ME/CFS, but He might whisper instead, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

But let’s imagine for a moment prayer did work like a vending machine. What currency would we use to pay for our purchase? Hmm… there’s a tricky one. Even if prayer did operate on the same principle, are we really willing to count the cost and ante up? Food for thought.

However, prayer is so much more than making requests from the Almighty. In our topsy-turvy way, our fixation on requests highlight the glaring truth of who we truly believe is in charge. But we are wrong; God is not our waiter. In reality, we should be the ones taking orders, not Him.

Other than our tendency to look at the situation backwards and upside down, there’s another point I want to make. To say prayer doesn’t work is equivalent to saying conversation doesn’t work.

Prayer, like conversation, only works if both parties are talking about the same thing. One major breakdown in prayer seems to occur because God is talking to us about eternity and how He designed us to operate and we are talking about feelings we can’t even define from moment to moment.

I mean, honestly, we aren’t doing very good with definitions these days anyway. How can we expect to understand the still, small whispers of Truth when we’ve convoluted simple observations of basic biology into intricate fantasy worlds? But that’s a different discussion…

Prayer does work. But it works on my heart and on my sin, not on my terms.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, emphasis mine

ME/CFS and Long COVID or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pandemic

A Day With ME/CFS Part 2

If you are just joining, start with Part 1 of what it’s like to live with ME/CFS.

Orthostatic Intolerance

You stand up from the table to put your Bible away (if you remember to put it away, that is), but you stand slowly. No dizziness right now. That’s good. Thankfully, this symptom is nothing new. You’ve dealt with it your whole life – it’s just a little worse now.

What you hate is when a wave of dizziness hits for no reason while you’re on the stairs.

The Other Things

You’ve started talking about your ME journey a little bit because you realize so many people who have it are not as fortunate as you. Some are housebound. Others are bedridden.

Driving to work, you see a homeless person asleep in a bundle of blankets under a bridge and wonder if he suffers with ME/CFS.

Still, you hesitate to talk much because of the stigma. So many people think it’s all in your head. You were once one of them.

But time after time, you pushed through and pushed through only to end up with bronchitis or meningitis or some other major issue as your body simply couldn’t muster the energy to both push through the fatigue and produce an appropriate immune response.

Some days you drive to work but have to take a 20-minute nap in the car before going in. Or you have to pull over and take a 20-minute nap so you don’t fall asleep at the wheel.

You realize you are nearing a crash. Thankfully, it’s Thursday and the weekend is coming, although you’d really like to do something with your weekend other than recover. Like clean. Or even something fun.

The body aches are annoying. Your thinking is sluggish and you feel generally unwell – like the beginnings of a bad cold or a mild flu.

But you’re thankful it’s not a bad day.

Even on a not-so-bad day, it feels like the air is made of molasses. During class, you slur a few words and tell your students to get out their cameras. You meant to say laptops. Ah, aphasia! So a migraine plans to join the party. At least there’s medicine for that.

Photo by meo on Pexels.com

Your students help you sort your words out. Thankfully, they are sweet girls and you already told them not to worry if this happens. More than likely, it’s a migraine prodrome and not a stroke. You rely on the weird manic energy you’ve been able to concoct in public for the last several years to get through classes. And you don’t sit still for long so you don’t fall asleep.

Your gut is a mess, but you decide not to get into that. It’s just unpleasant to talk about.

On the drive home, your body hurts worse and you look forward to bed. Now that you’ve learned to balance things a little better, gotten strict with your sleep schedule, and accepted that you can’t exercise like you used to, bed is no longer the only thing you look forward to.

The heartrate alarm on your watch goes off because the organ decided to jump up over 100 beats a minute even though you’re just driving. So weird. You shrug.

Before bed, you thank God for His mercy. You realize that ME/CFS has made you rely more and more on Him, and so it’s good. It’s also given you compassion for others, because not everyone who looks healthy, is.

Even so, you have days of sadness. You miss being able to get up super-early, working out, and being productive. It’s hard to feel like crud most of the time. You don’t really get excited about much these days except Eternity and God. You keenly feel the truth that “the outer self is wasting away but the inner self is being renewed day by day.”

You try to decide if your achiness is enough to warrant taking an OTC medicine or if you can sleep reasonably without it. It’s best not to since you need to save things like that for migraines, so you skip it.

You skipped dinner because of the gut thing. That’s OK. There are people all over the world who skip dinner because they don’t have any. You thank God that you have the option and pray for those who don’t.

As you turn out the lights, your heart does a gymnastics routine. It feels like a guy with a peg leg trying to run through a yard riddled with mole hills – but in your chest.

You pray – in part to keep your mind focused on the Lord and in part to suppress your body’s adrenaline response to the weird heart stuff. As you do, you feel comforted that you have the Lord. He is with you.

You pray for people who don’t know Him and have the peace of trusting in His plans. You imagine ME/CFS without God. If you didn’t trust Him, didn’t trust His purposes for allowing this in your life, there would be no point in going on. Without the certainty of His goodness, you would have given up long ago.

You thank Him for being a God who is not a stranger to suffering, and you surrender to His plan.

You can rest in knowing He is good, even when life is not.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4