Sometimes when I look at the list of Fruit of the Spirit, I get discouraged.  I know these are things that God will add to me as I develop and grow as a Christian, but I want them now! (I guess I haven’t grown much patience yet.)  However, the last fruit, self control, gives me encouragement.  Why?  Because it tells me we are never going to be perfect and God doesn’t expect us to.

Think about it.  If we could grow to perfection, we would be abundantly loving, joyful, patient, kind, good, faithful and gentle.  Why would we need self control?  We would already be perfect!  But God tells us we will grow more self controlled.  Therefore, we will never be perfect and should not beat ourselves up if we aren’t perfect in all the other areas.

Have you ever known someone who lacked self control?  We all lack it in some way or another, but have you ever known someone who had virtually no self control?  Chances are, he or she was in a sad situation.  I read a Proverb this morning that I had never heard before.  “A person without self-control is like a city with broken-down walls.”  That’s quite an image isn’t it?  If we don’t practice self control, all kinds of things can go into us and come out of us, just like a city that isn’t protected by walls.

God tells us that we are going to be tempted.  Even Christ was tempted. You can read about it in Matthew 4.  After Jesus had fasted for 40 days, Satan tempted him by telling him to make stones into bread.  Jesus’ answer started with, “It is written.”  When we are tempted, a great way to combat that is to follow His example and go to the Word.  The more we study and the more we pray, the more self control we will develop.

According to Romans 12:1-2, we are to be a living sacrifice to God.  That means that we are to work to give up our own wants to follow Him and do His will.  The problem with a living sacrifice is that it keeps crawling off the altar.  We have to put ourselves back into the will of God over and over and over.  We will keep messing up, and we have to keep repenting and trying again. 

Just like everything in life, self control gets easier with practice.  I was thinking about the time a few years ago when the Beetle got a Ripstick for Christmas.  In case you don’t know what that is, it’s a skateboard with crazy wheels.  It only has two wheels instead of four, and they move in every direction.  You have to use balance and skill to make the thing work.

The Beetle wanted a Ripstick so badly, and he was so excited when he got it.  I insisted that he wear protective gear, and I reminded him before sending him out the door that we had no medical insurance.  He went outside, jumped on and immediately fell down.  He got on again and fell again.  This child of mine was so determined to ride that thing that he got on over and over and over again, and he fell over and over and over again.  Pretty soon, he could stay on for at least three seconds before falling.  Then, it was five seconds.  He worked at that thing for hours until he was exhausted and bleeding.  The next day, he did it again, and the next day, he did it again.  Eventually, the Beetle got pretty good at riding the Ripstick, and he could stay on for a while unless he hit a bump.  Fast forward a few years of practice.  Now, the Beetle rides that thing better than he can walk.  It is amazing to watch him.  He can whip in and out, avoid bumps and keep himself falling even when he hits a bump.  He still falls occasionally, but more often, he stays on and makes it look easy.  Through practice, he prevailed.

That is so symbolic for what our lives should be!  When we are new Christians, we will fall constantly.  With practice, living the life we should will get a little easier and a little easier.  Over time, we will get better at walking the Christian walk.  We will become more loving and more joyful and more of all of the fruits of the spirit.  After years, we may even reach the point where we make it look easy.  That doesn’t mean we will never fall, but it does mean we will fall less and succeed more.  When we do fall, we will know how to pick ourselves up and start again.

My hope for you and for me is that we can grow and develop in the ways of Galatians 5:22-23.  I pray that our fruit will continue to grow and that we will grow more self controlled day by day.  On days when it is harder, remember that you are running a marathon.  It won’t always be easy, but endurance is the key.  Hopefully, some day, we will be able to quote Paul and mean it as we say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.”  (2 Tim. 4:7)                                                                                          -Al

While working on this study, as I started thinking about gentleness, I was pretty sure I had already been disqualified from this fruit of the spirit.  I am anything but gentle.  I am big, and I am loud.  Have you heard my laugh?  It echoes for miles.  Mr. Everything says I can wake up the neighborhood just by being me on the mornings when I am trying to quietly get up before everyone else.  He says I am the loudest morning person he’s ever heard, and sadly, at that point, I’m trying to be quiet!

Luckily, gentleness doesn’t mean quietness (thank goodness).  Although I think there is value in knowing how to be calm and quiet.  I wish I could learn that.  Another translation of gentleness is meekness.  I think I can develop meekness.  Maybe.

The Bible says, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth,” in Matthew 5:5.  That’s near one of my favorites to quote to my children: Matthew 5:9, “Please are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.”

In our country and in this day and age, I don’t think we are taught to be meek, and many of us don’t even know what it means.  The dictionary defines it as, “the feeling of patient, submissive humbleness.”  Another way I saw it described was, “strength under control.”  I like that definition.

Meekness is not weakness.  It is not making yourself a doormat and allowing others to trample you underfoot.  It is a decision, though you could go against them, to submit to other people and to allow other people to be more important than you.  Meekness actually takes a lot of strength.  It is a choice.

Meekness is putting other people first.  It is putting God’s will first.  It is making a decision to allow other people’s needs, wants or opinions to come before your own.  It is a fruit of the spirit that God will develop in us as we grow as Christians.  The Bible tells us in Psalm 37:11, “But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace.”

Reading about meekness made me start wondering how I could become meek.  There were some things I found as I studied.

First, pray about it.  God answers prayer.  If you ask Him to help you become meek, He will.  However, be prepared before you pray.  God has a way of answering our prayers differently than we expect.  If you pray for meekness, you will be given opportunities to be meek.  (Just like when you pray for patience, you will have your patience tested!)  Sometimes, it is scary to pray these things, knowing that God will give us circumstances to help us develop, but it is worth because we will become better people in the long-run.

Second, look for opportunities to put others before yourself.  This can be as simple as holding the door open for someone or waiting to go last at the potluck at church.  You can let others out in front of you in traffic (and test the meekness of the person behind you in traffic).  You can give to those in need.  You will probably be amazed at how many opportunities there are to put others first. 

Volunteering at a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter or anywhere that there are people less fortunately than you is a great way to find meekness and humility.  As you are there, think about what it would take for you to reach that point in your life.  Could you be homeless?  Could you need help buying groceries someday?  I think you will find that you are closer to needing assistance than you might think.

Having to leave our house at the end of 2007 really changed my perspective about that very subject.  I don’t think I judged homeless people, exactly, but I do think I thought I was too good for that.  I thought they had messed up and it was through their own lack of intelligence that they had ended up poor and without a home.  Leaving our home and living with relatives and eventually living in a single wide trailer has certainly changed my perspective there.  It made me realize that we are all really just one or two steps away from being destitute.  How can we judge others when we could be in that exact situation so easily?  And, if you think you are above being in that situation, you’d better watch out.  God may just allow your circumstances to prove you wrong.

I pray that God will develop meekness in me.  I hope my children will learn to put others first by watching me.  I will start looking for ways to purposely put others first.  Then, eventually (hopefully), meekness, or gentleness, will be easier and easier.  Maybe in the process, I’ll learn to be quiet while I’m at it! (I wouldn’t count on it, though.)   -Al

Whenever I think about faith, I think of the verse that says, “He replied, 'Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move.  Nothing will be impossible for you.'"  When I hear that verse, I think of a family who used to attend our church.  I always loved the husband’s story of the mustard seed.  He said when he was in elementary school, he had been given a bookmark with this mustard seed verse on it.  It also had a tiny mustard seed stuck to it as a visual for the verse.  When he and his wife were dating, they were sitting in church one day, and he opened his Bible to the page where that bookmark was kept.  As they sat there listening to the sermon, she looked over and saw something stuck to the bookmark.  She reached over and flicked it off, thinking it was a piece of dirt.  She had thumped away his mustard seed!  Years later, they still laughed about how she flicked his faith away in one thump.  Luckily, faith is not something that can be thumped away.  Real faith grows and grows and becomes easier and easier.

A perfect example of faith in the Bible is the story of Abraham and Isaac.  This story can be found in Genesis 22.  Abraham and Sarah had prayed for this child.  Sarah had a baby much later in life, when it wasn’t even physically possible for her to do so.  Their prayers had finally been answered.  Then, God tested Abraham’s faith.  He told Abraham to sacrifice his only son.  Abraham, showing great faith in God, led his son up the mountain and prepared an altar.  When Isaac asked his father where their sacrifice was, Abraham told him that God would provide.  Abraham tied his own son up and put him on the altar.  It was not until Abraham’s blade was over the boy that God told him to stop.  Abraham was willing to go through with it, if that was God ordered him to do, but I’m sure he was relieved to see a ram in the bushes that could serve as a sacrifice.  Abraham showed ultimate faith.  He was willing to give it all for God.

This story is an example of big faith!  Most of us will never be able to show our faith in such a big way, and not everyone would even react in the same way.  Many of us would run in the other direction if God told us to make such a sacrifice.  Faith is hard!  Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.”  It’s the whole “believing in something you can’t see” thing that is difficult!

Have you ever taken the Lipton plunge?  There used to be a commercial (back in the dinosaur ages, according to my kids) where people would drink Lipton tea and then they would free fall backwards into a pool of refreshment.  When I was little, I used to do the Lipton plunge into our swimming pool.  Each spring when the pool was opened, the first time I took the plunge, it was really difficult.  I had to close my eyes, work up my nerve and just fall.  Once I had plunged and realized I wasn’t going to die, it got easier and easier to do it.

The same can be said of faith in God.  The first time you just let go and trust God, it is so hard.  Your mind is full of “what if’s.”  “What if He forgets me?”  “What if He doesn’t come through?”  “What if He doesn’t catch me?”  You have to pray and make your brain hush.  Then, you hold your breath and trust.  God comes through, and He does catch you and He does not forget you.  Then, the next time you have to trust in God and your mind starts asking questions, you can remember that God didn’t let you fail the first time.  This gets easier and easier and easier as God proves Himself to you. 

For whatever reason, God has really worked on me to give me faith.  I may not have many other fruits, but I’ve got faith.  Oh, sure.  I used to have plenty of doubts.  I did not grow up believing in God.  Once I thought I had “found” God, I still had years of doubts.  I had my “atheist” period in my teen years.  Then, I was gung-ho for Jesus (sounds like a T-shirt, doesn’t it?).  Then, I went through the “He might exist” stage.  I have bounced back and forth and up and down.  I have purposely done things against God just because I was mad at Him.  I have judged other people because I was so righteous and they were not.  I have been every color of the rainbow when it comes to Christianity.  Finally, through years of struggles, I can firmly quote and believe 2 Timothy 1:12, “Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.” 

I have seen Him. I have known Him.  I have been saved by Him.  I have been carried by Him.  I know He will protect me, yet I doubt it.  I am a contradiction in myself.  Mark 9:24 says, “The father instantly cried out, ‘I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!’”  That pretty much sums up how I feel, and it is how all Christians feel (if they are honest about it).  We believe, yet we don’t.  We have faith, yet we doubt.  We pray to God that we trust Him, and then we worry.  Faith takes practice, and it is never perfected.

Many times, if we lack faith, we beat ourselves up.  We think we aren’t good enough Christians.  We think everyone around is so faithful, but we are so weak.  The truth is, we are all weak, and we are all full of doubts.  Even Abraham was weak, and he had doubts!  He was a man of great faith.  He was willing to kill his only son, if that was God wanted him to do.  He was listed in Hebrews 11 in the “Hall of Faith.”  Abraham was one of the tops in faith, as far as I’m concerned.  However, Genesis 15 tells us of a conversation between Abraham and God.  It tells us about Abraham’s “what if’s.”  He had them too!  When God said he would make a nation out of Abraham, Abraham started questioning.  He had fear and doubt.  So, if Abraham, the father of all nations, had doubts, how can we not?  Our doubts don’t make us bad.  They make us human.

So, face today with as much faith as you can muster.  God doesn’t expect 100% faith all the time.  He says if you have faith that is the size of a mustard seed, you can move mountains.  I’m pretty sure we can manage a speck of faith, and when we find ourselves doubting, we can pray, “Lord, I believe.  Help me in my unbelief.”  -Al

Galatians 5:22-23 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

I wasn’t really sure what to say about goodness.  I have struggled to know what to write, because I really wasn’t sure how it was different from kindness.  It seems to me that if you are showing kindness, you are showing goodness.  However, the Bible differentiates between the two, so they are different.

We tell our kids to be good, and what do we mean?  We’re not asking them to be perfect.  We aren’t asking them to be angels.  We just want them to act like decent human beings who have a mother and father.  Instead of telling the Beetle to be good when he was little, for some reason, I always used the phrase, “Behave.”  He would say, “I’m bein’ have, Mama!”  I can still hear his little voice telling me that.  I want to make sure I’m bein’ have for God!

So, if we are going to develop goodness as a fruit of the spirit, how are we going to change?  I think we will begin to act like we are decent human beings who have a Father.  As we become more like Him, we will naturally develop goodness, because God is good.  Just as we wait when our kids are little to see them show signs of a conscience and goodness toward others, I think God watches for us to show signs of a conscience and goodness.  We are proud when our kids quote us (assuming they are quoting something good we taught them), and God is proud when we quote Him.

A dear preacher that Mr. Everything and I have known for a long time always says, “God is good all the time.”  When he preaches, he has the congregation finish the statement.  He’ll say, “God is good,” and the people will say, “All the time.”  He repeats this several times.  His point is that God is good, even when things aren’t going our way.  He is right.  God is good all the time.

So, if God is good all the time, it only makes sense that as we develop in Him, we will become more like him by growing goodness as a fruit.

Psalm 31:19 says, “Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind!”

The fruits of the spirit are not a grocery list of things we have to force ourselves to do.  Instead, they are a promise of things we can expect to see in ourselves and other Christians as we grow.  As we grow in God, we can look forward to bearing more fruit, including goodness.  What are some signs that we are becoming good?

We begin to look for ways to help others.  Instead of waiting for others to ask for help, we seek ways to bless them.  Galatians 6:10 says, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”  This morning in church, it was announced that someone had put gas cards out in the foyer for anyone who needed them.  They were free to take with no strings and no obligation.  The person just wanted to be sure there was no one who was worried about how to pay for gas to get home.  That’s goodness in action.

We treat others as we want to be treated.  Matthew 7:12 is known as the “Golden Rule.”  You can quote it with me, I’m sure.  I have to quote in the version that I learned it in: “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.”  This really is easier said than done, but it is a great rule to live by.  When we follow this rule, we are showing the goodness that only comes through God.

We change our focus.  Colossians 3:2 says, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”  The things in this world become less important.  If this world is all there is to offer in life, that’s sad.  But, if we can look forward to eternal reward in heaven, every tear, every sadness, every hurt and every pain will have been worth it.  As we grow closer to God, we become more like him, and we show his goodness by the things we focus on.

Goodness seems to come easier with experience.  For new Christians, focusing on others and focusing on God will not come naturally.  We live in a “me” world, and it is hard to let go of those tendencies to look out for ourselves.  As we grow in Christ, we will find that being good becomes easier and easier.  I hope that one day, putting others first and focusing on God will be second nature.  Then, we can know that we have developed the spiritual fruit of goodness.  What a great day that will be!

“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.” Psalm 107:1    -Al

Have you ever met someone who is kind?  There do not seem to be many truly kind people out there, so if you have had the pleasure of knowing one, you are lucky.  Many people are somewhat kind when it benefits them, but few are genuinely kind all the time.

Kindness is not about doing good for others to be seen or known.  How many times have you seen big announcements when a rich and famous person donates money?  It is amazing how public many people, famous or not, are in their good deeds.  Matthew 6:3 says, “But when you give to someone in need, don't let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.”  Giving to someone is good.  Giving in secret is better.  Truly kind people give to others when no one else is looking.

Kindness is not self-serving.  Many people do good things for themselves.  High school students volunteer for points for their scholarship programs.  Adults volunteer for credit at work.  There’s nothing wrong with that, as they are still helping others.  However, truly kind people look for ways to help others when it does not benefit them at all.

Kindness is not self-centered.  It’s easy for people to help others when it is convenient for them.  They may schedule times to help or volunteer.  While there’s nothing wrong with that, truly kind people help others when they need help.  This may be in the middle of dinner or in the middle of the night.  It doesn’t matter.

I’ve spent a good bit of time trying to come up with some ways to show kindness in this world.  Lately, I’ve found myself surrounded by middle school aged girls, and in general, they are not very kind.  I have actually grown quite discouraged by the way they treat each other.  They are vicious and cruel and ugly, and I’m pretty sure they are little reflections of the society around them.  People are just mean to each other, and it’s a real shame.  A little bit of kindness could help things a lot.

We live in a “Me” society.  If you don’t believe that, just go to the mall and read some of the messages the stores are putting out.  “It’s all about me.”  “I deserve it.”  “I’ll buy it for me, because no one else matters.”  No wonder our kids are only looking out for themselves!  That’s what we as a society are raising them to do.

Kindness is a fruit of the spirit, which means that as we grow as Christians, we will start to develop more of it.  However, some people develop fruit faster than others.  For those of us who struggle with kindness, here is a great Bible verse:

Ephesians 4:32 “Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”  Since Christ was (and is) kind to us, we need to be kind to others.

A great way to practice kindness (and it does take practice!) is to do random good deeds.  If you’ve never tried it, you should.  It’s fun!  For my 40th birthday, I pledged to do 40 random good deeds.  I must confess that I have not reached my 40 deeds yet.  Life got in the way, and I got distracted.  I’m over halfway there, but I still have more to go.

I think the most fun good deed I did was handing a stranger with a baby a pack of diapers.  The look on her face was so worth the bargain price I paid for the diapers (with coupons of course!).   There have been other fun ones, too, but that was the best, because I’ve been in her shoes.  I know how expensive it is to keep a baby’s butt happy, so I was glad to help out a little.

If we all pledged to do one good deed a day, we could make our community a better place.  Did you know there are whole websites about doing good deeds?  Google it.  You’ll find all kinds of ideas.

Will you make a pledge with me to do one kind deed a day?  Your deeds don’t have to be elaborate.  They can be as simple as letting someone go in front of you in traffic.  If we all did one good deed a day, those deeds would add up to a lot.  Then, the people we were kind to would be kind to other people, and we could start a kindness epidemic!

If we are going to be kind, we have to plan for it.  Ephesians 5:15-16 says, “Be careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”  We have to be purposeful in how we live.  If we intend to be kind, we have to plan to be kind.  Otherwise, the days will get away from us.  We need to plan how we will respond kindly when someone is rude to us.  That way, when it happens, we’re ready.  We have to plan how we will be kind in the grocery store or in traffic or in life.  That way, when the opportunity arises, we are ready.  Form a plan of kindness and stick to it!  Will you join me in making the most of every opportunity for kindness?  Our lives and our world will be better if we do!  -Al

Galatians 5:22-23 names patience as one of the fruits of the spirit.  That means as we live a Christian life, we will develop more patience.  I’m looking forward to developing more patience, but I wish it would hurry up and happen.

I’ve found that it isn’t a good idea to pray for patience.  When I do, God sends me something to help me develop more patience.  I’m pretty sure I prayed that prayer in September, 1996 and again in September, 2000.  Both of my children were born in April.  Of course, I say that jokingly.  My kids may be my biggest test of patience, but I can’t imagine my life without them.  So, maybe it is a good idea to pray for patience.  God will give us just what we need to develop more.  However, if you pray for it, be prepared for God to answer your prayer!

What I find as the most ironic part is that I got up this morning, intending to study patience.  I got up early so I could have quiet time to myself.  Of course, both kids got up 5 minutes after me.  (Why is it that they never sleep when I want them to?)  Now, as I am trying to read scriptures and figure out what to write, the Goose is testing my patience to the very limit.  I’m pretty sure just thinking the word, “Patience,” caused these things to happen.  Maybe I should think, “Chocolate,” and see what happens.  Wait, watch this….”Clean house!”……  It didn’t work.

I am convinced that patience is one of the hardest, if not the hardest, fruits of the spirit to grow.  It is the sopadilla fruit of the spiritual world.  The sopadilla plant looks easy enough to grow.  It grows slowly and takes five to eight years to bear fruit.  Then, just when the farmer thinks his tree is producing fruit, something happens.  The plant is extremely sensitive to cold.  With just a small dip in temperature, it dies easily.  It also molds and mildews easily.  Isn’t that the same with our patience?  Just when we think we’re finally growing patience, a cold spell comes along and kills it out.  Then, our patience mildews, and we find ourselves snapping at our loved ones before we know it!

According to Wikipedia, patience is defined as, “The capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.”  It is suffering discomfort without complaint.  What kind of discomfort?  Any kind will do.

I don’t know about you, but there have been times in my life when I had to practice patience towards God.  That sounds terrible, I know, because how could I not be patient with God?  He created me.  He knows me.  He provides for me.  Unfortunately, I forget that.  I go to Him in prayer, and I give Him suggestions on how to fix the problems in my life.  Then, when it isn’t fixed my way and in my time, I get impatient.  I have found over and over that God rarely if ever fixes things my way.  Usually, my problems are solved in a way that I never even considered possible.  I’m pretty sure that’s God’s way of saying, “I’ve got this one.  Stop trying to be in control.”  Whatever it is, it’s awesome.  I love to see how God will work things out.  Isaiah 40:31 says, “Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary.”  When I was young, I understood that verse.  I didn’t know why I would need to wait on the Lord.  Then, life happened, and I learned.

I struggle sometimes with having patience for God.  I’ve gotten better at that as I’ve learned to trust Him.  I know He will provide for me and take care of me, so when I find myself feeling anxious or impatient, I take a deep breath and repeat my mantra.  “God will provide.  He always does.”  And He does, even if I have to wait for it.

I struggle even more with patience towards others.  People really get on my nerves.  They move slowly in front of me.  They have annoying habits like crunching ice or chomping gum.  They do things I don’t want them to do and say things I don’t want them to say.  I am to be patient anyway.  That’s easier said than done.

James 1:19-20 says, “This you know, my beloved brethren. But let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.”  When is the last time you practiced being quick to hear and slow to speak?  I know I don’t do that very often.  Usually, when I’m talking to someone, I am thinking about what I am going to say and waiting for them to finish talking so I can speak.  Instead, I should be listening to them.  Especially in an argument or a heated moment, I need to learn to hush and hear.  (Oh, I like that!  That may be my new phrase for my kids.  They’re going to hate it!  “Hush and hear, children.  Hush and hear!”)  Ephesians 4: 1-2 says, “Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God.  Always be humble and gentle.  Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other's faults because of your love.”

Galatians 6:9 says, “And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary.”  There are times when we feel like we are doing good for all those around us and they do not appreciate us or reciprocate the kindness.  We should do it anyway.  That’s a form of patience.  Instead of being rewarded here on earth for our good deeds, we can patiently wait for God to reward us in heaven.  His reward will be better than what other people could give us or do for us anyway.

Perseverance is a word that is often used synonymously with patience.  I think I like that word better.  Perseverance sounds more difficult to me, so it reflects just how hard patience can be.  It’s easy to just throw out the statement, “Just be patient!” but following through with patience is more difficult.  It is endurance.  It is perseverance.

The burning question is, “How do I develop patience?”  I don’t know about you, but I want an answer to this, and I want it now!  The Bible tells us in Romans 5:3, “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance.”

The bad news is that, to develop patience, we are going to have to face troubles.  The good news is, if your life is anything like mine, you will have plenty of opportunities to grow!  So, when someone is testing your patience, thank them for helping you become a little fruitier.  When something difficult is happening in your life, protect your spiritual sopadilla and make sure it doesn’t die from the change in temperature.  Take one moment at a time and count each moment you manage to be patient as a victory.  An when your patience wanes, as I know it will, nourish your fruit tree with prayer and some scriptures, and move on to life’s next challenge.  If you face today with a little more patience than yesterday, you have succeeded.  Just imagine what you will be able to do tomorrow!  -Al

I’ve been pondering what to write about peace for a while now.  I think this is a difficult one for me, because I feel like my life is the anti-peace, if there is such a thing.  My life is so hectic that there is typically no time for peace.

I quote the scripture, “Be still and know that I am God” to myself quite often, but it doesn’t help.  I run in and run out and run up and run down.  Half my life is spent in the car, and the other half is spent on the computer.

I think quiet living is a blessing, and I think most of us need to work on simplifying.  We tend to let the noise and the hustle and bustle of life crowd out God.  We don’t stop and listen and learn about Him through every day life and through the beauty of nature.  That’s definitely something I need to work on.

Fortunately for me, when the Bible mentions peace as a fruit of the spirit, I don’t think it is talking about quiet living.  While I think we are to have time to be quiet and be still and listen for God, I don’t think that’s the fruit that we develop through Christian living.  You’ll notice I said, “I don’t think,” because I am certainly no expert.  However, I’m pretty sure the peace that we begin to grow through living a Christian life is the peace referred to in Philippians 4:7.  It says, “Then you will experience God's peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”  (I love the New Living Translation because it’s easy for me to understand.)

I must say, I may be no expert, and I am certainly not perfect at this, but this fruit of the spirit is one that I have at least begun to develop.  During the many rough times that my family has had in the last several years, I have felt peace.  That was a direct blessing from God to help me through tough times.  I had numerous people make comments like, “You seem awfully calm about this.  How are handling this so well?”  The answer that I gave to everyone who asked was in two parts.  First, I always said, “It is what it is,” and second, I said, “God will provide.  He always does.”

The peace of “It is what it is,” is a beautiful thing.  (That was a very complicated sentence.)  In times of trial or anger or strife, I say this phrase to myself and to those around me quite often.  In fact, I’m pretty sure my family is sick of hearing me say it, but it is fitting for many situations.  What I mean by the phrase is that I am not in control.  No matter what “It” is, I can’t control “It” so there is no reason for me to get upset about “It.”  God is in control.  He’ll handle “It” so I don’t have to worry about "It."

A few years ago, the Goose came home from Spanish class one day all excited, and she said, “Mama, I learned something today!”  I asked her what, and what I heard her say was, “S. O. C. K. S.”  I just looked at her and said, “Great.  You can spell socks.”  She said, “No!  S. O. C. K. S!”  Again, I just looked at her.  Then, she said, “It is what it is!  Eso si que es!  It is what it is!”  Then, I got it.  She learned how to say my favorite phrase in Spanish.  From that, my family has developed a different saying.  On bad days, we can say, “It’s just socks,” meaning, “Eso si que es.”  I hope you will develop “socks.”  Just remember, it is what it is.  Luke 12:25 says, “Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?”  Stop worrying.  God’s got it under control.  It’s all just socks.

The second phrase I use quiet often is, “God will provide.  He always does.” 

Matthew 6: 28-33 says, “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?  So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”  God will provide for your needs, so you can be at peace about them.

Stop worrying!  Don’t let the everyday cares of this world rob you of your peace!  Life is too precious to be spent in worry.  When you hear yourself worrying, make it stop.  I know that sounds strange, but you are the only one who can control your worry.  More accurately, you, with God’s help, can control your worry.  If you find yourself wondering how you will pay the bills or if your child will get well or whether someone will break into your house while you are sleeping, turn it over to God.  Ask Him to help you stop worrying.  He will, and He will give you a peace that passes understanding.

A few verses that I quote to myself when I am worrying are:

2 Timothy 1:7 “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.”  I will not be a slave to my fear, but I will be powerful and self disciplined through Christ.  This verse has empowered me in times of extreme fear.  I remembered who made me, and I knew I'd be okay.

The other verse I quote to myself is the ending to the scripture I listed from Matthew 6.  It is Matthew 6:33, and it says, “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”  Isn’t that the truth?  There is plenty to do today, so stop wasting your time wondering, “What if?”  Instead, trust God and know that He is in control, and you will be filled with the peace “which exceeds anything we can understand.”  God bless you as you strive for peace.  Don’t forget your socks.  -Al

The second fruit of the spirit in the list of Galatians 5:22-23 is joy.  What is joy, really?  

The Bible tells us to rejoice.  Philippians 4:4 says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”  We are also told that Jesus came to give us life more abundantly. (John 10:10)  God wants us to be joyful.  He wants us to be happy.  He did not put us on this earth to live a miserable life.

Webster defines joy as, “The emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.”  So, how can that be a fruit of the spirit?  How do we find joy in Christ?  We find joy through Christ because we have all we want through Him.

A logical answer is found in Matthew 6:33.  I have to quote it in the King James Version, because that’s how it sounds best to me.  “But seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added until you.”  If we walk around looking for joy, we may not find it.  However, if we are busy seeking God’s will and doing His work, we will find joy (along with the other fruits of the spirit).

We can find joy through helping others find Christ.  John 3:29 says, “It is the bridegroom who marries the bride, and the best man is simply glad to stand with him and hear his vows. Therefore, I am filled with joy at his success.”  Christ is the bridegroom and the church is the bride.  In a way, if we are teaching others about Christ, we are the “best man” as we stand by and watch them become joined to Christ.  That is true joy!

We can find joy through suffering.  That sounds weird, but it’s true.  James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  We only grow when we are tested.  We are tested through trials and tribulations.  If we are never challenged in our faith, we can never prove our faith.  True joy comes through persevering even when it’s hard. If you never have to go uphill, you don’t appreciate the downhill coast.

I saw a saying Facebook that said, “Regrets?  I have no regrets.  Even if I could, I would not change anything in my past.  Rather, I look back with gratitude because if it weren’t for my past, I would not be who I am today.”

Your past has formed you.  Through struggles, you have grown and become more faithful, more patient, more caring, more compassionate and more human.  Praise God for the speed bumps in your road of life, because those bumps formed who you are today.  (Okay, I guess if I had tried, I could have come up with a better word picture there, but I didn’t.  Just go with it.)

Joy is a choice. You can learn to be joyful and content.  Paul said in Philippians 4:11, “Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have.”  He chose to be content.  In times when he was hungry or tired or rejected, he chose joy, and we can too.

What are you doing to choose joy?  Are you struggling with finding joy in your life?  Do you feel bleak or hopeless?  Are you battling depression?  Follow these steps to help your joy increase:

Pray for joy.  If you are depressed, tell it to God.  If you are sad, tell Him.  If you feel like you never laugh or smile, let Him know.  Ask Him to increase the joy in your life.  Ask Him to show you reasons to be joyful.  God will provide.  He always does.

Go outside.  Studies have proven that sunshine helps your body in many ways.  It improves your health and your mood.  It helps you combat depression and even speeds up your metabolism.  Sunshine helps you stay health and happy.  Your mom was right.  Fresh air really does do you good!

Take time to laugh.  Read a good book or talk to a friend or watch a funny movie.  Do whatever it takes to get the job done, but laugh!  Laughter relaxes you and stimulates your immune system.  It causes your body to release endorphins, the “feel good” chemicals.  It even can help your heart.  Laughter really is the best medicine.

Help someone else.  Many times, we just need to get out of our own troubles.  We get bogged down with our own lives.  By helping someone else, it helps you put your own life in perspective.  It also lets you think about something else besides yourself.

Replace negative statements in your mind.  I’ve played this game before when I was feeling negative about a situation.  Anytime I caught myself thinking a negative thought, I would force myself to replace it with a positive.  If I looked at someone I was mad at and thought, “I don’t like her,” I would force myself to follow up with, “But her hair looks great!”  It sounds silly, but you really can train your brain to think more positive thoughts.

There are many other things you can do to seek joy in your life.  These are just a start to get you moving in the right direction.  Above all, put God first and obey His will to the best of your ability, and the rest will follow.  -Al

Thinking about the fruit of the spirit made me realize that studying each fruit might be a really good way to grow more fruit. (How many times can I use the word “fruit” in one sentence?)  We can’t be perfect, but we can strive to be more like Christ day by day.  The fruit of the spirit can be found in Galatians 5:22-23.  The Bible says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

The first fruit we hope to grow as Christians is love.  What exactly is love?

There are four types of love in the Greek language.

First is eros.  This is a passionate love.  It means “intimate love,” but it does not necessarily have a sexual connotation.  Along with between man and woman, it can be applied to friendship as good friends know each other intimately.  Just ask my BFF…she knows a lot of dirt on me.  (But she’s not talking, because I’ve got dirt on her too!)

Next is storge.  This is a natural affection, like parents have for children.  Even when my kids are being beasts, I feel storge for them because they are my little beasties.

Third is philia.  This is brotherly love. (That’s why Philadelphia is the “City of Brotherly Love.”)  It can be translated as loyalty.  This could be loyalty to friends, family and the neighborhood around you.

The last one is agape.  This means unconditional love.  This is the one that the Bible refers to most often.  God has agape for us.

Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

This means that Christ showed us the ultimate form of love when we did not even love him!  That is agape if I’ve ever seen it.

According to the New Testament, we are supposed to have unconditional love for others.  1 John 4:7 says, “Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God.”

Now, that’s easy to agree to when you’re sitting in church.  It’s easy to love those around you when you are all singing songs and worshiping together.  However, in the real world, it’s not so easy!  There are some real jerks out there (and there are some real jerks in the church too)!  The sad truth is, those jerks need our love more than anyone else.  The most difficult people among us need agape the most.

I heard a suggestion one time to read 1 Corinthians 13 but to plug in your own name in the verses.  For example:

Al is patient.

Al is kind.

Al does not envy.

Al does not boast.

Al is not proud.

Al is not rude.

Al is not self-seeking.

Al is not easily angered.

Al keeps no record of wrongs.

Al does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

Al always protects, always trust, always hopes, always perseveres.

Can you read that with your name in it and say that you are living up to those verses?  I certainly can’t!  I have a lot of work to do!

Most of us are not going to be offered the opportunity to die for those around us.  So, what are some practical ways we can show agape to others?  There are ways big and small to show love to others.  You can cook meals for mothers with new babies, or you can visit people in the hospital.  You can send cards.  You can give gifts.  You can do something as simple as let someone in front of you in traffic or in front of you in the line at the grocery store.  These are easy ways to show agape to others.

We can perform random good deeds.  I am still doing good deeds in honor of my birthday.  (It is taking me a while to do 40 of them!  40 is a lot of years, but I wanted to do one good deed for each year I’ve lived.)  I think I am enjoying doing good deeds for others more than the recipients are enjoying my deeds.  (Of course, my kids are horrified most of the time when they are with me and I do a deed, but I know deep down they are watching and learning.)

There are websites that list random good deeds that you can do.  Check out http://voices.yahoo.com/random-acts-kindness-list-20-good-deeds-can-8594645.html or http://www.daretobeanangel.com/tasklist.php  These websites list good deeds that you could do.  Of course, you can think of your own, but these might just get you started.

Have you ever had a random good deed done for you?  I have.  It feels so good, and no matter how small it is, it brightens your day!  Why not give that gift to others?

Of course, good deeds aren’t the only ways to show love to others, but it’s a start.  If we start small, God will grow it into something big.  What can you grow?  I want to grow more love!    -Al

The fruit of the spirit’s not an apple.
The fruit of the spirit’s not an apple.
If you want to be an apple,
You might as well hear it.
You can’t be a fruit of the spirit,
Because there’s love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self contro-O-ol.
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self contro-O-ol.

Okay, in case you think I’m crazy (er), that’s a song that we sing with the kids in Bible class.  It’s also a great way to remember the fruits of the spirit.  In fact, the only way I can name them is to sing the song.  (The same is true for the books of the Bible.  I have to sing them.)

Galatians 5:22 -23 says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”  It is easy to just glaze over this list, but we can learn a lot from these two little Bible verses.

I used to feel guilty for not having the fruit of the spirit.  I wasn’t faithful.  I wasn’t gentle.  I certainly wasn’t self-controlled.  I lacked in all of the nine fruits.  I wondered how I would ever live up to that list.  I still don’t have all the fruits, but I realized something that eased my guilt.  This list wasn’t meant to be a checklist of things we need in order to go to heaven.  Instead, this list is meant to give us something to look forward to.  The fruits are what we will develop as we live our daily lives as Christians.

New Christians are babies in Christ. They aren’t expected to know everything or do everything or be everything.  1 Peter 2:2 says, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.”  As we study and learn, it only makes sense that we will grow.  As we grow, we will improve, and before we know it, we'll be bearing fruit!  We will never be perfect, but we can continue to improve through the grace of God.

Matthew 12:35 says, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.”  How do we store up good?  Read Matthew 6:20.  “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”  As we put value in heavenly things and as we fill our lives with heavenly things, we will begin to reflect heavenly things.  We can’t help it.  We are like little mirrors.  We will either reflect good or bad, depending on what we’re looking at.  As Christ fills our souls and we look to Him, we will reflect Him.  With Christ, comes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

So don’t feel bad about not bearing enough good fruit.  Instead, keep looking at Christ.  Look at His life.  Look at His works.  Look at His words.  Talk to Him.  Listen to Him.  Live your life for Him.  Before you know it, you will be reflecting Him just like a little mirror!  And through reflecting Christ, you will grow more fruit.  I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to be more fruity!  -Al



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    Fruit Of The Spirit