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the fertile paradox Posts

From Sacred Space to Public Grace

I was at a Christmas party with my kids this past holiday season and I was conflicted. The music was hot, the kids were eating well, and everyone was merry. Problem was, I wasn’t enjoying myself. I was trying to figure out why. I mean, I like rap, I like R&B, I like Bruno mars and Beyonce, but today I was unable to enjoy their music. Why? Because this party was in church.

I was trying to figure out why I couldn’t enjoy myself:
-Was I taking a holier than thou attitude?
-Was I being hypocritcal?
-Don’t I hear this music in other places, like the gym?
-Would Jesus even care? Would he be that offended?

Then it hit me: this is supposed to be a sacred space. Then I had to think to myself, what is the role of the sacred in our lives? Why do we distinguish the sacred from the everyday, quotidan, profane?

The sacred is a display of public grace.

What do we mean when we say something is a public grace? Grace is displayed:
-because the sacred indicates our sense of God’s existence
-because the sacred indicates our need for God’s presence
-the sacred displays our desire to know and experience God
-the sacred expresses our submission to His perfections
-the sacred indicates our awareness of sin and need for purity
-the sacred reinforces our hope in the transcendent

When we say that something is profane, on the other hand, we mean to prioritize the lowly over the heavenly, the immediate over the right, the tangible over transcendent. Profanity obscures God, while the sacred is meant to reveal Him.

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The Creative Power of Forgiveness

Akulacreative Color Palette
The irreversibility of action is one of the most profound truths of life. When we act, we interact with others from our position of human plurality to accomplish something more creative and powerful than we could ever accomplish on our own. Action is always an inter-action with others, and action is always resulting in an outcome that exceeds our own creativity and personal power. When we act, the consequences of our actions out live our selves. However, forgiveness can reverse the power of destructive action.

The inter-active, inter-personal reality of action is remarkable to consider. Because of our fallen nature and our lack of foreknowledge of future events, our actions can be creatively productive or creatively destructive. For example, we routinely see the creative power of action at work in politics. When DeRay McKesson asserts that #BlackLivesMatter, his actions are multiplied beyond his own power because others subject their personal will to the ideal that other Americans are willing to productively confront the structural devaluing of minority lives in our justice system. When President Donald J. Trump asserts that only he can #MakeAmericaGreatAgain, i.e., #MAGA, his actions are multiplied beyond his own power because others subject their personal will to the creative destruction of the American-dominated world order in favor of re-creating another domestic future.

We saw the irreversibility of action this past week in profoundly destructive and profoundly redeeming ways in Las Vegas. While the shooter may have had (yet unknown) plans effected in his own actions, the destructive power of his actions has been greatly multiplied beyond anything beyond his own power as the losses of life and health ripple through all of the families and communities affected. At the same time, his actions released the creatively redeeming actions of others who sacrificed themselves to protect others, risked their lives to keep the company of the dying, and provide immediate physical and spiritual relief to those who were suffering in the moment. While on the one hand, there was one irreversibly destructive act, on the other hand there were many irreversibly redeeming acts that negated the power of one’s rebellion against the sanctity of life.

In fact, action is so powerful that the only thing that can reverse or undo destructive acts is forgiveness. Forgiveness is the sole personal action that can release the actor and the one who is acted upon from the irreversible consequences of action. This is because forgiveness is so unexpected in the wake of actions with creatively destructive actions. Most of the time, when the circumstance demands forgiveness, it is because the hurt and pain caused by the original action is so deep that it creates a cycle of retribution in which the one acted upon is obligated to reciprocate the original action. Thus, the original action attains its destructive power. But forgiveness can have redemptive power, because it destroys the cycle of retribution while re-configuring the relation between the actor and the one acted upon. Ideally, forgiveness re-configures this relationship so that both parties can proceed as if the original act had never happened. In our human world, this is obviously not true since some of the artifacts of originally destructive acts cannot be reversed or restored (e.g., a man is paralyzed because he was struck by a drunk driver). However, future actions are no longer predetermined by the original act of destruction.

Have the events of the past week made you reconsider the meaning of life? The meaning of our actions? The power of forgiveness?

Peace and Blessings.

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Plantar Fasciitis Recovery: Hopefully the Last I’ll Post on This!

I’ll keep this short. It’s been 14 weeks since I started on this journey of plantar fasciitis. I had to drop my plans to run a marathon, and I may even need to change my half marathon plans. I’ve been able to savor the blessings of physical strength, learned to love swimming, and work through two calf strains. Along the way, I’ve hit personal bests in the deadlift, weighted pullup, and squat. Nonetheless, I’m ready to start running.

There is something wonderful about running. Especially in the fall and early spring. The cool crisp days on the trails are just what the body needs to escape the office and reset. And while weightlifting is much, much easier on the body (ask anyone who does both), there seems to be completely different physiological benefits to running (don’t ask me what they are).

Hopefully, my Monday post will be describing how wonderful it felt to run again!

Peace and blessing.

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Recovery Running #mondaymiles

I’m ready for this to be a regular part of my life again…

I’m at a stage in my life where every run I take is a recovery run. I’m coming back from plantar fasciitis (PF), and it really tests my resolve to run.

First off, I must say that since I’ve been lifting more and my cardio based on swimming, folks have been asking me how often I work out. That is somewhat gratifying, to say the very least. When I was running only, no one ever stopped me to ask any such questions. Even my parents commented on the new muscular look I must be wearing. I was revising my training plan today to accommodate a half marathon in 9 weeks, and I was asking myself “do I really want to run that much and risk losing that much muscle?

Second, since my cardio fitness has come exclusively from walking (during my commute, not as a workout) and from swimming, running is pretty difficult still. It makes me ask myself whether I’m willing to train through some very sluggish days ahead to get to half-marathon fitness.

Third, my plantar fasciitis. Even though I took 9 weeks off to let it heal some, it is not yet completely healed in the sense of feeling like my non-injured foot. Running is not so much the problem, it’s basically all the other times when my foot has a chance to stiffen up. And although the foot is not painful during workouts, it takes a lot of disciplined exercise just to make sure that it remains pain-free.

All this said, I am going to push through. Running is not forever. Training and strength are gifts from God. I am going to enjoy it fully. Plus, my running helps me address everything else I’m engaged in. There’s something about hitting the trails or the roads, especially in cool or almost cold fall weather, that clears your mind and prepares your heart for work [and worship??].

Where will you hit the trails today?

 

PS. Some PF Tips—I don’t want to leave this post without giving a plantar fasciitis tip, so here it is. I’ve been taping my foot before I run. The best thing I can compare it to is taping your ankles. If you’ve sprained an ankle, and you know what it’s like to come back from that, you know that the tape helps you compete even if it will be some unpredictable amount of time before the ankle is 100% again. That’s what it feels like with taping PF. It works! But how long will it take for my foot to be strong again? There are many low-dye taping methods, but the most important thing for me has been to not tape the metatarsals’ anchor strap around the top of the foot. Anchor the strip only from side to side. If you can, use waterproof tape as it flexes some to help support without chafing. Whatever you do, do not use kinesio tape. KT tape did not work for me for PF. Also, I’ve been taking my easy runs in Saucony Guide 10’s. I do not run in my Pegasus 33s since I feel they are a little too unstable. I use those only for walking, but the Saucony’s have been very good on the run.

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Plantar Fasciitis Recovery Update–Good to Go! (Hopefully)

Today, I wanted to culminate my plantar fasciitis posts by letting everyone know that I think I’m good to go!

Well, I hope I’m good to go. It’s been 9 weeks since I last ran, and so I’m going to test it out tomorrow to see how it responds. This week, I have started lower body weightlifting again, and the one lift I’ve added back into my routine is the front squat. I went up to 245# today for triples, so not very heavy. My foot didn’t hurt throughout the day, and the only soreness is on the outsides of the foot where my weight has been shifting throughout the 9 weeks. So, I’m a bit nervous, but I’m excited to test it out tomorrow.

One other thing I’ve noticed is that footwear makes a big difference. I’ve been walking around almost nonstop in my Nike Zoom Pegasus 33’s, even inside, unless I get a bit skittish about wearing shoes I’ve worn pretty much everywhere else inside my house. Then I’m wearing my Adidas Sequence 9’s, which I’ve not worn outside (except to put kids in the car) yet. I can wear my Cole Haan GrandOS shoes with my SuperFeet inserts, but my Nike Pegasus 33’s with the SuperFeet Insoles are by far the most comfortable combination. So anyone with non-chronic PF may want to try certainly the SuperFeet, but also the Pegasus 33’s. Don’t wear the Pegasus without some inserts or additional support, however, since the Pegasus is not very supportive at all. Try the Asics Gel Nimbus if you want a neutral shoe that has a bit more support. I thoroughly enjoyed those shoes, and would still run in them if they weren’t completely worn down. In fact, if I were to do it from scratch today, I’d probably rotate the Gel Nimbus and the Pegasus 33’s (of course with my SuperFeet) as my training combination. I’m not serious enough for racing flats…

If you’re struggling with plantar fasciitis, and it just won’t go away, my advice to you is to rest. Before I took 9 weeks off of running, I had been dealing with PF from April 9th through July 9th or so. I would let it rest just enough to not hurt through the day, and then I’d run on it and it would hurt for two or three days. I’d go on and off like this until I tried to run a 60-minute fartlek workout in late June and it felt like something popped. I thought I’d broken something or torn a foot muscle and scheduled a doctor’s appointment, only to have a diagnosis of PF confirmed by cortisone injection. That acute injury probably saved my running career, certainly in the near-term. If I had kept on running on it, it might have turned into a chronic PF case. So, if you don’t have money for doctors, etc.., my advice to you is to bite the bullet and rest. If you can see a doctor, go get a cortisone shot and rest. Don’t run on it for at least 6 weeks. Go swim, tackle some weightlifting or calisthenics goals, catch up on reading or family/friends time, gain some weight (not too much) and let the rest of your body recover as well. Have the discipline to shut it down and alter your race plans. From what I’ve read, rest is the only thing that works for most people, and if you’ve gotten PF from running, you’ve probably got an acute case that will respond to rest. So make sure you rest. Don’t go looking for a magic cure or secret that will help you recover fast. There is no such thing, and people who recover instantly have a unique natural history with the disease.

I’m so excited to get back running, even if I have gotten into a sort of rhythm with swimming. I bless God for recovery, and I am more passionate about staying fit than I was before. This injury has taught me that your physical strength and health is not a blessing to take lightly, and that you should enjoy it while you can.

Peace and Blessings. 

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Plantar Fasciitis Recovery, Week 5, Day 6

This past week has seen very little working out, quite a lot of rest, and quite a lot of celebration and retreat. While my foot is not perfect, I’ll be a bit confused if I won’t be able to resume my running after I meet the doctor this week. 

However, I am very thankful for the experiences that have led me away from my training momentarily. First off, we bought a car–a 2014 Ford Focus–and I love every bit about how it drives. Second, our family friends–really, family to Lucine–celebrated a daughter’s wedding. It was one of the best weddings I’ve been at in a couple years. Third, I attended the InterVarsity Northeast Faculty Conference at the University of Rhode Island in Kingston, RI. This meeting was a great blessing and encouragement to my soul. So while I miss the rhythm of dropping my kids off, training, then working, I have been greatly blessed by the events that have interrupted my normal schedule.

The rest, however, has been great for my foot. It doesn’t hurt as much anymore, even though I can still “feel” it, if that makes any sense. It is a bit stiff, even if it doesn’t hurt when I wake up in the morning. I’ve also been careful to be somewhat gentle with it. When I begin training, I won’t be treating it gently–except when I’m not running.

No additional updates. I’ll check back in after I see the doc this week!

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Do we choose God, or has He chosen us?

Last week, we attended an Assemblies of God church called Trinity Life here in North Baltimore. I took a moment to read a bit about the Assemblies of God, with a specific emphasis on church doctrine. More specifically, I wanted to know if the church was Reformed in its theology, or if not, how much of the Reformed doctrine they reject.

When I say that I am concerned about Reformed theology, I am not necessarily talking about things like the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, and I am not necessarily talking about conforming to those things taught by The Gospel Coalition or Desiring God. While much of my own life has been greatly influenced by the books and sermons published by pastors who are members of these groups, there are several teachings they articulate to which I do not subscribe. However, I generally agree with them when it comes to the basic doctrines of Reformed theology: TULIP-

Total Depravity [addressing the nature of man]

Unconditional Election [addressing the Sovereign action of God in salvation]

Limited Atonement [addressing the efficacy of the death and atonement of Christ]

Irresistible Grace [addressing the conviction of the Holy Spirit]

Perseverance of the Saints [addressing eternal security of those who are in Christ]

The only reason I qualify my agreement with the term “generally” is because I do believe that the Bible presents all of these essential truths as antinomies. For example, it is clear that the nature of man is totally depraved–meaning that man rejects the nature, personality, and law of God. Nonetheless, it is clear from what we can observe and what we know about man being formed in the image of God that man can do some things that are good, from our perspective. Therefore, we see that while man does not seek for God, the life we experience is not completely negative in every aspect. Nonetheless, because men fundamentally reject God, we have not only the potential for immense good, but immense evil.

The antinomies that become more important for sorting through the different varieties of Christian theology are the antinomies in which the free will of man is set in contradiction to the sovereign will of God. This antinomy bears most on the doctrines of unconditional election, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints. Some Christians believe that election is not unconditional; that is, the Holy Spirit enables the sinner to become aware that there is a choice between God and their ways, but that the sinner can continue in their ways after this awareness. Because election depends, then, on the sinner responding positively to God’s invitation, grace is, by definition, not irresistible and perseverance is not guaranteed. At the same time, the atonement is unlimited because it is applied to all but effective only for those who do not reject it. From an outward, practical perspective, the lives that both types of Christians live might look identical, but what is affirmed as truth about God is quite different.

While the Reformed theology states that man does not have unconditional free will, because man cannot choose God in his sinful nature, there are Christian theologies who believe that man can choose God as an exercise of will as described above. These branches are sometimes called Arminian, and the Assemblies of God denomination happens to be an Arminian branch. While I believe that the Scripture more strongly affirms the Reformed positions, there are very clearly Scripture passages that affirm both–hence the antinomy.

While I enjoyed my visit, I am a bit nervous about attending a church that would find affirmation of these Reformed positions to be anti-Scriptural. This is besides the other Pentecostal positions some Assemblies affirm. Among these, the most uncomfortable being that speaking in tongues is the initial evidence of authentic conversion. But, I’m interested in waiting and watching to see how things shake out. As you’ll notice, I haven’t listed all of the Scriptures and passages used on both sides. I’m not sure that I wanted to do more than think through some of the concerns I have.

What do you think? Can man choose God, or does God move first?

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Joining the #mondaymiles crowd, and PF Week 4, Day 1 Update

I will be joining all those who use the #mondaymiles hashtag to remind me to journal my running and training exploits. I’ll post my #mondaymiles on Monday evenings after I put my kids to sleep but before I turn in for the night. This should be between 9:30 and 11:00pm most nights.

I’m a bit late for the first one, so let me start with a plantar fasciitis (PF) update. Today I visited the podiatrist’s office for a follow-up and a consultation. It’s not technically a consultation, but my wife now has me in the habit of making sure I bring questions to my doctor’s appointments, so I had a few questions I wanted to ask about my progress.

To cut to the chase, although I haven’t run in four weeks, he wanted me to have another cortisone shot and take at least two more weeks rest. He doesn’t believe I’ll require another cortisone shot, and he believes I’m doing well on the recovery. Since I have an acute case of plantar fasciitis (thank God!), there is some inflammation involved in mine (confirmed since the prior cortisone shot relieved any pain I felt almost immediately), and he was able to feel some differences in the swelling and warmth when comparing both of my heels. And with the reading that I’ve done myself, I’m willing to go along with his judgment (not that I have a choice). So it looks like this plantar fasciitis layoff will be 6 weeks, at a minimum from running. 

There is a lot to be thankful for, though. First off, I’m thankful for all of the runners, athletes, trainers, coaches, and medical professionals who write blogs and layperson resources about this condition. I would almost certainly have done something even more stupid than waiting three months to see a doctor about this. (Something like get the cortisone shot and continue training as planned.) I’m happy that it is an acute case and not a chronic case. The treatment and recovery timelines are totally different between the two types of PF. I’m thankful for my insurance. Even though it doesn’t cover orthotics, it does cover my appointments and so I am able to see the doctor. And I’m thankful that I have a gym membership that I can use to continue training even though I can’t run. For me, physical activity is critical to maintaining my overall health, and I count it as part of my workday because otherwise I’d probably be relying on some other form of medical intervention to maintain. So I am blessed to have the gym membership to LA Fitness. And I am blessed to have health and strength. 

This week,  I’m going to try to balance a desire to push myself in the gym with the reality that I don’t have that much time to devote to training. Besides, it can be a bit redundant to do pull-ups, pushups, and swim laps day in, day out. Also, whenever you do something daily, whatever it is, it can be hard to remember that consistency is the key. Moderating the intensity can be key to being consistent. But I’m starting to get bored, and I want to see how much I can progress my pull-ups, especially. I’m not necessarily doing the Armstrong plan, but I haven’t given up on my 20 pull-ups goal.

Be blessed everyone. See you next week Monday.

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PF Recovery, Week 3, Day 4

I decided I’d give an update on plantar fasciitis recovery. The past couple days, my heel has been a bit temperamental. It has not hurt, of course, since I’ve not run in nearly four weeks, but I expected it to be near 100% by now. LOL, of course that’s the problem with PF. It takes forever. Does anyone really know why? Not sure. For sure, if I’d never gotten the cortisone shot in the first place, I’d already have been back on the roads and who knows what I’d have done to my foot. This experience is frustrating, but I’ve rekindled a love for training I started to lose. I started to say, “Oh, I have kids now. I have a real job now, this extra stuff has to go. I shouldn’t expect to be doing very much, performance-wise, anyways.” Well, I won’t be saying that much now anymore. Time will take care of that very well on it’s own. I’ll let time handle its own business.

I’ve been focusing on increasing the time I can swim for. Last week, I had one 25 minute swim and one 30 minute swim. The rest were all between 15-20 minutes. So the good thing is that I never swim for less than 15 minutes now. The bad thing is that I need to have the short swims up to 25 minutes and the longer ones up to 40 minutes.

Also, even though I feel that weight gain is one of the reasons I may be dealing with heel pain, I cannot convince myself it’s important enough to lose the weight to submit to the discipline required. I won’t complain about this, I’ll just keep trying at it.

I’m starting to miss running, but not so much running per se, but I miss not having any restrictions on my activities. I want to be able to more or less do what I want when I want to do it. Unfortunately, right now, I can’t. I enjoy running probably more than any other activity and I can’t do it. Also, I had been slowly building up heavy squats/deadlifts, and I’ll be more or less starting from scratch when I can add that back in. If you lift weights at all, you know how much fun it is to lift/push/pull heavy stuff. I do a lot of circuit training and the squats/deadlifts are the linchpins of my circuits.

All this notwithstanding, I am still blessed. I can do all of my critical activities without pain whatsoever, and many cannot say that. I can remain physically active at what I think is a high level. I can train 6 days a week. In addition, swimming is becoming an unexpected sanctuary.

One of the things I’ve appreciated about swimming is that there are no speakers in the pool. The only thing you hear when you’re in the water is water. I like the sound that rushing water makes, or the rhythms of others’ arms making strokes while I’m waiting to get into a lane. When I’m in the water, though I know that I’m slower than most others, I don’t have to dwell on it. You don’t see others unless you’re on the side of the pool  or right next to them in the lane. This way, my focus can stay where it should be–on my goals, my technique, and my thoughts. Compared to just about everything else in the gym, and even on the jogging paths, this allows an unmatched level of focus on my thoughts and technique. It is a vivid reminder that I am running my “race” and living my life, not anyone else’s. If you need some time just to exercise without your mind being assaulted from all sides, try swimming (or trail running, which I can’t do right now). I’ve enjoyed my time swimming, and will keep it in my routine even after I start running again.

I’ve taken a break from trying to get 20 pullups, but I may work almost exclusively with weighted pullups. I’ve been doing weighted pullups regularly, but I’m trying to be careful not to over-train my shoulders and back since I’m swimming. I can’t imagine having to rely on the stationary bike. That’d just be too much. Other than that, the only other strength exercises I’ve consistently done are calf raises and bridges.

Let me say something about bridges before I close this entry. I started doing bridges regularly as a way to avoid core imbalances while training squats/deadlifts regularly. I already had no idea why folks do crunches/situps/ab machines or any other common ab work, but now I really don’t know what the point is. First off, your core is not just your front, but your sides and back as well. For athletes, the back and sides of your core are probably much more important to performance, yet much weaker than your front. Most ab exercises you see folks doing don’t even begin to touch these areas. Second, you can hit your core using any bridge variation and keep the area under much, much greater time under tension. Third, your core is meant to be stable in order to transfer force from lower to upper body and vice-versa. Thus, you probably get much better core strength gains from doing any of the hip-dominant compound lifts, pullups, sprints, jumps, pulls, or standing pushes than any of the “ab” exercises. Bridges not only provide functional strength to the core, but make an athlete much better at most of the other foundational movement patterns.

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Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community

It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren.

Let me say that this statement contains a useful summary of what Dietrich Bonhoeffer believes to be the essence of Christian life, lived for the purpose of building up others in Christ. Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes this in the first chapter of his book, Life Together, which crystallizes his theology of Christian community. As time permits, I will try to share a few reflections from this book that I believe are encouraging. I have finished reading the book for some time, but it is difficult to write a review so I will share a few thoughts over the next week or two as I have opportunity. Let us start by discussing the quote above.

We see his emphasis on grace. If you have read more than one paragraph of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s writing–in most cases even only one paragraph–you will know that Bonhoeffer believes that the grace of God in Christ is the reason for living. It is the rationale and motivation of our ethics. It is the breath of life and the substance of what we call death. To Bonhoeffer, grace is everything, and so it is fitting that this quote from his book, Life Together, begins with grace.

We see that his focus on grace yields to his acknowledgment that God allows us to live in community with other Christians. I’ve written recently about how much I am disappointed and dissatisfied by church. I think that Bonhoeffer, even if he saw exactly the same data that I experience, he would conclude that even the church experiences that I have had are a supreme gift of grace that must prompt a response of praise and gratitude and not one of self-righteous complaint. When Bonhoeffer wrote this book–one of his last–he was writing as a pastor who was a leader of a non-sanctioned non-denominational seminary in Germany during the Third Reich. Communities of authentic Christianity were not common. So he wrote this with the understanding that the enjoyment of Christian community for many could be abridged at any moment by the governing authorities. Thus, not only is it grace, but it is a privilege if God calls you to live in Christian community with others. If He calls you to respond to Truth in Christ, He does so without respect for your external circumstances. Many are called to labor alone. That is not my call in Christ, thank God. He allows me to live in community with other Christians.

And this brings us to the third thing we see here: community. If we are in Christ, our lives are not our own. Bonhoeffer understood that our lives are lived in Christ, through Christ, expressly for others and not for ourselves. To me, this truth is tricky because, of course, it is only possible for me to be self-aware, physiologically. I can only be aware of things that are revealed to me, speaking from what I understand of our cognitive processes. However, in Christ, our lives are not our own. Starting in my own household, since I am married my body belongs to my wife and not to myself. The desires of my children often come before my own, discipline notwithstanding. Choices that I can make, even if I do want to satisfy my own desires, are circumscribed by household resources that do not belong to me but to my household as a unit. And this is before I leave my doors. If I read the Scripture, yes I am transformed but my transformation affects my brothers and sisters. And much about my spiritual journey cannot be accomplished if I am isolated from my brothers and sisters. How can I experience grace if I never need to ask for forgiveness? How can I experience kindness if I am never put in a position to rely on the sovereign choices of others? I cannot develop self-control or patience if I am never subject to the will of another. I cannot exercise love or be loved if I am not in any relationships. It quickly becomes clear that what Christians call the fruit of the Spirit cannot be cultivated outside of community. It also becomes clear that these fruit are not produced for our own sustenance, but for the sustenance of the entire body.

How is God calling to you to live for the Body? In what ways can you thank God for the Christian communities around you?

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