May 26, 2015

What Are You Listening To?

Please excuse this interruption in our regularly scheduled programming, but I have a question for you that can't wait. Plus, I have something I want to give away!

In His Love Letter to End All Love Letters, God tells us to guard our hearts. I like these translations of Proverbs 4:23:
  • "Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life." (CSB)
  • "Guard your heart more than anything else, because the source of your life flows from it." (GW)
  • "Keep vigilant watch over your heart; that's where life starts." (MSG)
  • "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life." (NIV)
  • "Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it." (TNIV)
Keeping your heart safe is so important because what's in your heart comes out your mouth, your hands, and your feet. What's in your heart affects what you say. What's in your heart affects what you do. What's in your heart affects where you go.

How do you guard your heart? Some translations of Proverbs 4:23 trade "guard your heart" for "be careful what you think." What you put in your mind makes its way to your heart. What you know (in your mind) translates to what you believe and feel (in your heart). So you need to guard your mind as well as your heart. And one way to do that is to be careful about what you're listening to.

I know music is a big part of most tween and teen lives...the minute we get in the van, my 11-year-old is putting in her earbuds. (This is also how she and her sister survive the bus every day.) And that's why what you listen to--I'm talking song lyrics here--matters so much to the state of your heart. 

Whatever is coming out of those earbuds and going into your head is changing your mind, heart, and soul--for better or worse. 

Is this the point where you're thinking, "I don't even pay attention to the lyrics!" or "I just like the way the song sounds!"? I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to write the truth in love here and tell you that what a song says works its way into your brain, and that trickles down to your heart, and that trickles out your mouth and hands and feet.

Have you heard the expression "garbage in, garbage out"? You probably know it means a computer can only give as good as it gets. If bad code or programming or whatever it is (I'm a mom, not an IT guy!) goes in, junk comes out. Now take a look at Isaiah 43:1. And also at Jeremiah 31:3. You are a valuable, priceless, cherished, irreplaceable creation of a God Who made you just because He wanted you! Anything you put into your mind and heart that puts distance between you and this God is garbage.

I love Christian music. My girls love Christian music. I love my girls, and I love that they love Christian music. One of our new all-time favorites is the Hawk Nelson album Diamonds. I love this CD so much, in fact, that I want to give one away. Leave a comment on this page, or head over to the Sweet For Your Soul Facebook page, like the post about this give-way or message the page, and you'll be entered into a drawing for Diamonds. You don't have to like the page or share the post. You don't have to buy anything or or sign up for email updates. You won't even have to give me your address; I can send this CD via digital download with just an email address. I'll announce the winner in a new blog post and on the Facebook page on June 5th at 9 a.m. EST. You'll need to check these spots to find out if you've won. I can tag you in the Facebook post if you leave a comment or respond to you if you message the page, but I can't contact you on your page. Of course, if you're under 18, don't do any of this without checking with your parents.

So I'll ask it again: what are you listening to? I'd love to hear your answer! (Be honest.) And if God is talking to you about what you've been letting into your heart, I'd really like to know that, too. God made your heart. He wants the best for it. 

We will now return to our regularly scheduled programming. Part 2 of our series on the fruit of the Spirit will be up soon, I promise. 

May 8, 2015

Who is the Holy Spirit and What Does He Have to Do with Fruit? (Part 1)

As Christians, we're supposed to be filled with the Spirit of God. But what, exactly, does that look like? Well, for one thing, it looks like love.

What in the Word: Galatians 5:22-25

Hang-Onto-It Verse: "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." (Galatians 5:22-23a)

The Backstory:

You've probably heard Christians talk about "having Jesus in my heart."  Head to Ephesians 3:17a (the first half of the verse) to check out where this phrase comes from.

Okay, so through faith, you've got Jesus living in your heart. But how does this work? What does it even mean? Obviously, the physical person of Jesus is not hanging out inside our bodies. Flip to 2 Timothy 1:14. Who else is living in our hearts, according to this verse? 

When Jesus' time on earth was finished and He was getting ready to go back to heaven to be with his dad, God the Father, He told His followers that He wasn't just leaving them on their own to fend for themselves: He was going to send them a Helper, a Counselor, "the Spirit of truth" (John 14:16, 17). When we put our faith in God through Christ, the Spirit of God moves into our souls. The Holy Spirit (H.S. for short) makes Himself at home in the part of us that is eternal--the "you" of you and the "me" of me. 

At that point, one of our jobs as believers is to live by the Spirit in us, not by who we are in our own nature and strength. When we live this way, we show the fruit of the Spirit. Literal fruit is the visible result of something that is planted, something that is alive and growing. In the same way, the fruit of the H.S. is something we and others can see that shows that God is planted inside us and that we are growing in our knowledge and love of Him. 

That was a really long back-story, but you need to know what you know! Now that we've hopefully accomplished that, let's get into the first characteristic of the fruit of the Spirit. (BTW: you'll often hear people refer to the "fruits" of the Spirit. Actually, there is just one fruit with different attributes. Look at it this way: an apple is an apple. But you can also describe it as red, shiny, crisp, sweet, fragrant, beautiful, delicious, etc. So the H.S. gives us His one fruit, but it has 9 different characteristics that show up in us if we cooperate and work at it. Okay, now we really, really are going to get to the fruit of the Spirit--FOTS, for short.

The Main Event:
Glance at the Hang-Onto-It Verse. What is the first characteristic of the FOTS? Why do you think it's first on the list? Here's what God has to say on the subject: "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins" (1 Peter 4:8).

What does love look like? We have to figure this out, because saying we "love" someone or that we "have love" in our hearts sounds like a nice Hallmark Valentine's card but doesn't do us a lot of good when we're dealing with our enemies or people we just don't like. 

Love from a Christian viewpoint is less about feeling and more about doing. It's about a choice we make to treat other people the way Jesus treated them. One of my favorite quotes about love is from St. Therese of Liseux: “It isn't enough to love. We must prove it.” 

My daughters (Lydia the older and Anna the younger) are typical sisters who get on each other's nerves on a regular basis. But they also love each other (love, the choice and the action, if not always the feeling). At our house on school days, we have approximately 38.5 minutes to squeeze in breakfast, wardrobe management, personal maintenance, dental hygiene, backpack loading, schedule confirmation, and quiz cramming. (Sound familiar?) In the middle of all this, one way Lydia proves love is by doing her sister's hair. On any given morning, Lydia might be tired, stressed, worried, or grumpy. She may feel all these things, but what she does is love.

What does John 15:13 say love looks like? You might think that "laying down your life" means jumping in front of the car that's about to hit your friend. Which it would be. But we're supposed to love--the verb--many times every day. How often do you get a chance to save your friend's life by putting yourself in the path of an out-of-control car? Most of the time, laying down your life means setting aside your feelings, your agenda, your plans, and doing what's good or helpful or encouraging or best for someone else. When she does Anna's hair, Lydia lays down her own schedule and plans and and picks up Anna's. My Momsage (MMSG) paraphrase of John 15:13 as it applies to this situation is, "Greater love has no teenager than this, that she lay down her biology study guide for her sister"!

The Truth in Action:
The most important part of The Truth in Action for every part of this FOTS series is going to be the same: ask the Holy Spirit to give you His fruit! Listen up, precious girl, you cannot come up with the FOTS on your own. You can't will yourself to love someone, especially if they're hard to love. You can't just grit your teeth and make this FOTS thing happen. You have to ask the H.S. to fill you up with His power every day. 

The great news here is that God will always say "yes" when we ask for something He wants to give (on His own perfect schedule, of course). And we KNOW He wants to give us love and all the rest of the parts of the FOTS. So you can ask for a fresh fill-up of love to get you through your day and feel confident God is going to be all over that request. So ask! Then, remember that love does. How can you do love today? How can you prove love today? 

Ask the H.S. to give you His supernatural power, because people can't literally see God's Spirit in you, but they can see love. And remember, you're not doing this hard thing on your own! I'm not doing it on my own. That's why it's not called the Fruit of Elizabeth or the Fruit of (your name goes here). It's the Fruit of the Spirit

His Spirit.
His fruit. 
In you. 

"When your words came, I ate them; 
they were my joy and my heart's delight." (Jeremiah 15:16)