Fruit of the Spirit Challenge: Reflections on Peace

This is a guest post by Susannah Cafardi, NCC Barracks Row Saturday Small Group Director.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
-Jesus (John 14:27)

When we started this week on peace, I found myself wondering what my interactions would look like if I really embraced His peace. Like all the time.

If I’m being honest, I’d say that fear is much more of a natural response for me. I like to think that if I intellectually prepare for what might happen I won’t get caught off guard, but how many times have I missed a moment of loving or praying for someone or just genuinely listening because I’m contingency planning about a “What if…”?

When I take a step back, I am fairly certain that my time is far better spent pursuing Him as compared to relying on my own strength (because that’s really what my “intellectual preparation” is – a fancy way of saying that I like to rely on myself). Yeek.

In those moments of stillness that I’ve taken over the last few days (and, I’ll admit, there haven’t been as many as there should have been), I’ve learned two things of note.

First – when I spend time pursuing Him and digging in, the likelihood of my embracing His peace amidst the curveballs of my day increases immensely. I’m pretty sure that’s not a coincidence.

Secondly – if I find myself slipping into fear and worry, that’s not the time to consider my day a failure and throw in the towel, but instead to go back to prayer and Scripture and worship and actively pursue Him and the peace that only He gives.

Fruit of the Spirit Challenge: Thoughts on Peace

There are two ways that we can be at peace.

The first happens when everything externally is okay. Our lives are undisturbed. Nothing bothersome is going on. Nothing is uncertain. No one we love is sick. Us and ours are safe, secure, and happy.

This is the type of peace that the American dream pursues. If we work hard enough we can buy security and stability.

The problem with this kind of peace is that it never lasts. People die, jobs are lost, friends betray, spouses cheat, economies crash, and disasters happen. No matter how hard we work or how much money we have, we’re ultimately not in control.

The second way to be at peace is to recognize that in spite of these things, everything will be okay. I don’t mean this in a patronizing way. You know, when things are really bad and we tell people, “It will be okay.”

The fact is that in the near term, it might not be okay. It’s not okay when your parents disown you. It’s not okay when you lose your house. It’s not okay when your best friend succumbs to cancer. None of that is okay.

But that’s the short view. And while the things that happen in the short view matter, taking the long view is critical.

In the long view, we recognize that God is on the throne, that He is telling His story and working out His purposes in the world. We recognize that even if it’s all going to hell in a handbasket now, God is still at work, that He has called us and redeemed us, and that in the end we will reside with Him in a world that knows no sorrow, suffering, or pain. That in the end, it truly will be okay.

The Apostle Paul—the one who was imprisoned, beaten, and shipwrecked—puts it like this, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength."

Fruit of the Spirit Challenge: Thoughts on Joy

This is a guest post by Susannah Cafardi, NCC Barracks Row Saturday Small Group Director.

The past few months have been a fairly awesome season of life for me.  I’ve explored Boston and the Grand Canyon, spent time with my family along Lake Erie, and celebrated my niece and nephew’s first birthday, complete with all the food a hungry caterpillar could eat.  I’ve seen growth in established friendships and have even become more secure in my career: my first peer reviewed journal article will be published in early 2015.

Amidst the blessings, I am mindful not to let the happiness and emotion of the moment allow me to become complacent in my pursuit of true joy. When things are good, it's all too easy to coast along on outward successes and circumstances.

But joy that comes from God is unfailing and so much more powerful than anything that those circumstances can provide.  When a nagging injury keeps me off my expected race time finish, when the fourth person takes me out to lunch to tell me she’s pregnant, and when my transmission dies resulting in forty-five minutes of quality time with a chain smoking tow truck driver named Kirby, I realize that yesterday’s events are not enough to sustain me and that I need to dig in to find the unwavering joy that only comes from Him.

With that, I hope you’ll excuse me – I have some unhurried time with God that I need to get to.

Fruit of the Spirit Challenge: Scriptures on Joy

Joy isn’t something that I would say really characterizes my life, so I wanted to start the week by digging into the Scriptures to see what they say about it. As I was reading through the passages that Andrew put together for us, I took note of what each one said would bring joy:

Each day this week I’m going to read/meditate on the passages associated with one of these topics.

I started today with The Gospel and Salvation, and I can say that I have found joy in the midst of clogged sinks, water leaks, and little sleep.

In fact, much of my day was devoted to setting up for our baptism service tonight, and I’m not sure there was any better way to engage with the joy found in the Gospel and Christ’s saving work than celebrating with our baptism candidates.

Fruit of the Spirit Challenge: Reflections on Love

Perhaps you've heard the saying, “Love conquers all.”

So many people get into trouble because they enter into a romantic relationship with their eyes closed and a simplistic understanding of that statement, but in it’s truest, deepest form, love actually does conquer all.

Love an inexplicable, unstoppable force that places the other above self and overcomes all obstacles.

In 1 Corinthians we read Paul’s description of love. 1 Corinthians 13 has been so overused and overplayed that it has become cliched, but if we stop and take a hard look at what Paul is saying, it’s astounding.

Paul writes that love is the foundation of patience, kindness, and faithfulness. He says that without love, even the sacrifice of our very lives is meaningless. He tells us that love is enduring and unending.

And this is where we get into trouble, because our imperfect love cannot conquer all. Love that is conditional and based on the response of the one loved is not truly love.

In the book of Hosea we catch a glimpse of true love. God calls Hosea to love his wife in spite of her infidelity. He calls Hosea to love Gomer regardless of her actions and the pain she causes him, and God says that Hosea’s marriage is a reflection of the love that God has for His people: love that is not contingent on the actions of the other but that exists unconditionally.

And on the cross we see just how far God’s unconditional love goes.

This week as I’ve sought to live a life of love, I have found myself incapable and inadequate, but I have also seen God answer my inadequacy and found that when I press into Him, I am able to begin to reflect His love to those around me.

Fruit of the Spirit Challenge: Love, Day 1

It’s amazing how a little bit of focus can change your perspective.

I woke up this morning thinking about beginning this nine week challenge and what it means to love, and within three hours of starting my day (which started at 0530) I had noticed more about the people around me than I usually notice in a week.

From the prostitutes standing on the corner eight blocks from my house to the wounded warriors racing in a marathon with a hand cycle, I started to see people through different eyes this morning.

I evaluate people based on how they relate to me. The Starbucks barista rings me up quickly, so I like her. The driver in front of me is slow, so he is probably a person of low moral character. That guy over there has no impact on my life, so I don’t give him a second thought.

But today I tried to take a different perspective..  I found myself feeling the pain of working the corner all night to make a few dollars; feeling the horror of losing comrades, loved ones, and limbs in combat; wondering if guy cleaning the plaza feels like he's stuck in a dead-end job.

On the cross Jesus identified with us, took on our sin, suffering, and pain.  Romans 5:10 tells us that while we were still God’s enemies, Christ died for us.

If God viewed us with compassion and love in the midst of our outright rebellion against Him, perhaps that is how I need to view others in the midst of my “busy schedule” and minor annoyances.

Perhaps that is where love begins.