Be the Breeze, Not the Hurricane

“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

“Which do you choose? Should I come to you with a rod to punish you, or should I come with love and a gentle spirit?” (1 Corinthians 4:21)

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness—these are seven fruits most of us admittedly need and want in our lives. Who doesn’t need a little more patience? Who doesn’t want perfect peace?

But gentleness? Among the list of the fruits of the spirit, gentleness seems…well, a little less important. It may conjure up ideas of a sweet gentle grandmother or someone who is weak and timid. We sometimes overlook gentleness as a second-string fruit.

That’s because our idea of what gentleness looks like in our lives is often skewed.

The word translated as “gentleness” in Galatians 5:23 is from the original Greek word, “prautes.” It is also translated as meekness or humility. It describes a condition of the heart, an internal attitude of tenderness and concern for the feelings and wellbeing of others. For example, a crying child could be picked up with roughness, and caused further distress, and or with gentleness that soothes and calms them. If a co-worker made a mistake, we could speak to them harshly, and hurt their spirit, or gently, with concern for their feelings and wellbeing.

Gentleness is often translated as “meekness.” In modern English, “meekness” carries a connotation of weakness and cowardliness. It is used to describe someone who is too afraid to stick up for themselves. This couldn’t be farther from the real meaning of gentleness or meekness. Christian gentleness comes from a place of power and strength. Jesus is described as gentle, but he carried within him the greatest power in the universe. Gentleness isn’t weakness. It is a strong hand with a soft touch. It is power that is controlled and used with tenderness.

Gentleness is strength that is harnessed, channeled, and controlled to produce the good that God wants in your life” (www.lifeequip.com). God’s strength is made perfect in our weaknesses. Yes, he makes us strong and gives us power, but he expects us to control our strength and treat others with lavish gentleness. Gentleness is essential to accomplishing God’s purpose in our life. It’s a fruit of the spirit worth seeking.

Unquestionably, the wind has great power. It can be a destructive hurricane, or it can be a gentle, cooling breeze. Strive to be the breeze, not the hurricane.

Dear God, thank you for your Holy Spirit at work in my life to produce fruit that reflects your character. Thank you for loving me enough to transform me into your image. I pray today for your help in being gentle, rather than harsh or rough. Help me treat people with tenderness and care. People are fragile, and I want to be gentle in pointing people toward your love. Show me areas of my life that need changed in order for me to produce the gentleness you want in my life. In Jesus’s name, amen.

Remaining Faithful

“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

“Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.” (1 Corinthians 4:2)

More than likely, someone in your life has disappointed you by not following through on something they promised. People may break their promises, but God always keeps his promises. God shows his faithfulness by doing what he says he will do. Because our lives are based on the promises of a faithful God, we are filled with hope and confidence in every situation.

As the Holy Spirit works in our lives, we develop into people who are faithful, people who do what they say, who keep their promises, and who are worthy of trust.

Those who have been trusted with resources must be faithful with them. Here are three areas of our lives entrusted to us by God that require us to be faithful:

Faithfulness in our relationships. God places people in families and in relationships for a reason. People need other people. God expects us to be there for the people he places in our lives. Are we there for our family when they need us? Are we reliable? Do we consistently provide support, encouragement, and assistance when it’s needed? Do we keep our promises? Being faithful in our relationships is one of the ways we are faithful to God.

Faithfulness in our resources. God gives all of us time, abilities, and financial resources. God expects us to be faithful in using those resources to bring him glory and to build his kingdom. Do we spend time in prayer and reading the Bible? Do we use our abilities to help others? Are we generous with our money? When we give God precedence in how we use our time, money, and talents, we are being faithful.

Faithfulness to our church. Churches are made up of people, and God loves people. The church is God’s plan for reaching people with the gospel and discipling new Christians. Are we faithful in attending church? Do we regularly serve in our church? Ephesians 5:25 tells us that Jesus loves the church and gave himself for it. Just as he was faithful in serving the church, he expects us to be faithful in serving the church.

God is faithful to us. He charges us to be faithful to him, and he promises to reward those who remain faithful until the end: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on the day of his return…” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

God doesn’t expect us to be perfect, but he expects us to strive to be steadfast, loyal, dependable, and faithful. And he promises to help us on the journey of faithfulness.

Dear God, I am so thankful for your faithfulness to me. I know your word is good, and your promises are sure. Lord, I know that sometimes I let people down. I’m not as faithful as I would like to be. I want to be a person who is reliable and trustworthy. I want to show faithfulness to my family and friends, and my church. I want to be able to be trusted with the time, abilities, and financial resources you give me. Strengthen my resolve to be faithful until the end. In Jesus’s name, amen.

Oh, My Goodness!

“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

“‘Why do you call me good,’ Jesus asked. ‘Only God is truly good.’” (Mark 10:18)

The word, “good,” came in fourth on a list of the top ten most overused words. We use it all the time. Good morning. Good night. Have a good day! The mashed potatoes are good. Sounds good. It’s all good. “Good” is a catch-all word for anything we consider remotely positive.

Goodness, on the other hand, transcends what we commonly call good. The fruit of goodness is produced by the Holy Spirit. This goodness mirrors the goodness embodied in the character of God. None of us are good on our own. Even Jesus said in Mark 10 that only God was good. For us, goodness means producing the goodness that exists in God.

Badness comes naturally to humans. Goodness does not. Galatians 5:19 lists the results of following our bad nature instead of following God’s nature of goodness. This list includes sexual immorality, impurity, lust, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, and wild parties. It’s a pretty nasty list.

But the Holy Spirit transforms our depraved, sinful nature into the character of God himself. Instead of producing badness, our lives produce goodness. To bear the fruit of goodness is to do what God says is good, to stay away from what God says is evil, and to fill our lives with good actions, good thoughts, and good words.

God created us to be good, just as he is good. If we are a good wife or husband, a good mechanic, a good fisherman, or a good athlete, that’s a good thing. But if we never become a human being filled with goodness, as God intended us to be, we’ve missed the mark. God created us to show his goodness to the world, to bear his image of goodness wherever we go.

When we seek and produce the goodness of God in our lives, we show the world who God is, and what it means to follow him. In displaying his goodness, we are doing exactly what he created us to do.

Heavenly Father, I know there is no goodness in me apart from you. I want to produce the fruit of goodness in my life. I pray you will lead me to what is good and lead me away from what is evil. Fill my thoughts, my words, and my actions with goodness. Let me be an example of your goodness to everyone I see, wherever I go. In Jesus’s name, amen.

A Story of Kindness

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted…” (Ephesians 4:32)

In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey tells this story:

“I remember…one Sunday morning on a subway in New York. People were sitting quietly—some reading newspapers, some lost in thought, some resting with their eyes closed. It was a calm, peaceful scene. Suddenly, a man and his children entered the subway car. The children were so loud and rambunctious that instantly the whole climate changed.

 “The man sat down next to me and closed his eyes, apparently oblivious to the situation. The children were yelling back and forth, throwing things, even grabbing people’s papers. It was very disturbing. And yet, the man sitting next to me did nothing.

 “It was difficult not to feel irritated. I could not believe he could be so insensitive to let his children run wild like that and do nothing about it, taking no responsibility at all. It was easy to see that everyone else on the subway felt irritated, too. So finally, with what I felt was unusual…restraint, I turned to him and said, “Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little more?

 “The man lifted his gaze as if to come to a consciousness of the situation for the first time and said softly, ‘Oh, you’re right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what to think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.’

 “Can you imagine what I felt at that moment? Suddenly I saw things differently, I felt differently, I behaved differently. My irritation vanished. I didn’t have to worry about controlling my attitude or my behavior; my heart was filled with the man’s pain. Feelings of sympathy and compassion flowed freely. ‘Your wife just died? Oh, I’m so sorry. Can you tell me about it? What can I do to help?’ Everything changed in an instant.

When Covey heard the man on the subway’s story, his focus changed from his own issues (being disturbed by irritating, unruly children) to the man’s issues (the loss of his wife). Because Covey’s focus shifted from “me” to “you,” his response moved from irritation to kindness.

The man on the subway isn’t alone. The truth is, almost everyone is dealing with something. Everyone can use some kindness in their life. There’s plenty of meanness in the world without adding to it. If we can’t do or say something kind, it’s better to do or say nothing. But best of all is to be intentionally kind in our words and our actions.

Dear heavenly Father, I realize that kindness is a fruit of the Holy Spirit and needs to be part of my life. Open my eyes to times when the things I do or say are mean or hurtful to others. Change my focus from looking at my own issues to thinking of others. Help me recognize opportunities to treat others with kindness, and then to take advantage of those opportunities. I know the world is better when it is filled with kind people. Let me be a person who makes the world a kinder place. In Jesus’s name, amen.

Patience, Please

“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

“Love is patient…” (1 Corinthians 13:4)

When the apostle Paul listed the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians, the first fruit he mentioned was love. And when he wrote about love in the famous thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, the first attribute of love he mentioned was patience. That’s because patience and love work together.

We often apply the word patience to our circumstances, such as being stuck in traffic, or waiting in a long line, or waiting for the end of a difficult situation in our lives. But the Greek word translated as patience in Galatians 5:22 (makrothymia) refers to having long-suffering, persevering patience with people, rather than circumstances. This sort of patience extends grace to people instead of becoming impatient or angry with them.

We all are recipients of God’s patience. How often have we deserved punishment, but received mercy? How many times has God given us yet another opportunity to learn a lesson we should already have mastered? God is longsuffering with us. He patiently extends grace.

God doesn’t treat us as an annoyance, an irritant, or a bother. He could swat us away, just as we swat away an annoying mosquito. But he doesn’t. He is tender, loving, and patient with us, in spite of our repeated missteps and mistakes.

But we often become impatient and treat others like an annoying mosquito. We are short with them. We answer with anger. We tell them in great detail why they are annoying. We say words that strike like daggers. People can be hurt and scarred because of our impatience and anger.

God dearly loves those people who drive us crazy and make us mad. Instead of tearing them down, we can choose to build them up and make them better by being patient and loving.

Friend, do not underestimate the power of patience and love. We can completely change an outcome by sowing patience and love instead of anger and criticism. A life can be crippled or healed.  A relationship can be torn or mended. When we’re tempted to respond harshly and impatiently, let’s pause for a moment to remember God’s patience with us, and choose to extend that same patience to others.

Father God, thank you for your patience with me. I know I have made many mistakes and fallen short of the mark many times. Yet every time I’ve messed up, you’ve been there to pick me up. Your love and patience amaze me. With your help, I want to show loving patience to others. When I am tempted to be short or impatient with others, remind me of your patience with me. In Jesus’s name, amen.

Peace Be with You

“The work of righteousness is peace, and the result of righteousness is quietness and confidence forever.” (Isaiah 32:17)

In a Peanuts comic strip, Sally tells Charlie Brown, “I hate everything. I hate everybody. I hate the whole wide world!” Charlie Brown replies, “But I thought you had inner peace.” Sally responds, “I do have inner peace. But I still have outer obnoxiousness.”

Inner peace can be elusive. Ordinary, everyday life is so complicated that we often find ourselves stressed out and feeling anything but peaceful. We may want inner peace–we may even think we have inner peace–but sometimes our outer obnoxiousness proves us wrong.

Let’s look at three components of peace found in Isaiah 32:17.

    • Righteousness. Peace with God is the building block of a peaceful life. There is no real peace without being at peace with God. In the words of C. S. Lewis, “God can’t give us peace and happiness apart from himself, because there is no such thing.” Sin separates man from God. When we repent of our sin, God cleanses us through the blood of Jesus (see 2 Corinthians 5:21). We enter into a right relationship with God. We are made righteous, and righteousness brings peace.
    • Quiet. Before there were cars, televisions, and smart phones, the world was a quieter place. As life became busier and more complex, it became harder to hear and access the peace God offers his people. Psalm 46:10 tells us to be still and recognize that God is God. We need to regularly take a “time-out” in our busy routine to focus on God. In a place of quiet and calm, we find God’s peace.
    • Confidence. Peace becomes real in our lives when we are confident in the God we serve. From a prison cell, Paul wrote these words: “The confidence of my calling enables me to overcome every difficulty without shame, for I have an intimate revelation of this God…” (see 2 Timothy 1:12). Are we really confident in God? Or do we find ourselves easily shaken when we encounter difficulties? We experience peace when we remain confident that our God is more than able to carry us through any situation we may face.

Distractions, challenges, and even ordinary, every-day life wars against peace. Yet, in the midst of the whirling chaos, God still stands ready and able to fill hearts with confidence, stillness, calmness, and his perfect peace.

Father God, I praise you today. You are holy. You are wise. And you are a God of peace. I need your transcendent peace in my life. Lord, forgive me for the times I become too busy or too distracted to walk in your peace. Forgive me for the times when I lose confidence in your faithfulness and choose to focus on my problems. Touch my heart and give me a spirit of peace. In Jesus’s name, amen.

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Filled with Joy

“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.” (James 1:2-3)

Carrying a child and giving birth involves a lot of unpleasantness and pain. Morning sickness and nausea. Back aches and fatigue. Roller-coaster hormone fluctuations. Not to mention the pain involved in labor and giving birth. Yet, despite the pain and discomfort, women often refer to pregnancy and childbirth as a joyous occasion. Why? It’s joyous because the pain is temporary, and they know that in the end, they will greet their newborn, beloved son or daughter.

An expectant mother looks past the negative in the struggle and sees the positive result at the end. In the same way, we don’t experience joy only when everything is going our way. We can be filled with joy through the difficulties, through the pain, and through the struggles, because we anticipate a positive result at the end.  

Biblical joy is choosing to respond to external circumstances with inner contentment and satisfaction because we know God will use these circumstances for our good and for his glory.

That’s why James says that troubles are an opportunity for joy for Christians because troubles strengthen our character and enable us to better serve God. Because we know God works everything for our good, we can be joyful and content in every circumstance of our life, because we are certain of a positive outcome from every difficulty we face.

Biblical joy is not the same as happiness. It’s not the result of success or circumstances—it’s so much more! Joy is a supernatural fruit produced in the lives of those who follow Jesus.

Joy gives us strength. Nehemiah 8:10 says, “…Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!”

Interestingly, negative emotions such as anger, fear, and hopelessness are associated with many health issues, such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, digestive disorders, and infections. On the other side of the spectrum, positive emotions such as gratitude, contentment, and expectation of a good outcome result in longer, healthier lives. The joy of the Lord brings contentment and optimism. Joy strengthens our spirit and our body.

In every situation, we make a choice. Will we choose worry? Will we choose resentment? Will we choose fear? Or will we choose to look beyond our current circumstances and focus on the faithfulness of our heavenly father? Joy is a choice. Choose joy.

Heavenly father, I know you are the source of joy. Thank you for giving me access to a supernatural joy that transcends my circumstances. Fill me to overflowing with joyful, calm contentment, knowing that every moment of my life is covered in your unfailing love and guarded with your unsurpassed wisdom. I know joy is a choice. Help me choose joy. In Jesus’s name, amen.

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The Greatest of These

“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. There is no law against these things!” (Galatians 5:22-23)

The Beatles said all you need is love. Maybe, like Elvis, you can’t help falling in love. Or maybe, like Foreigner, you want to know what love is. According to Pat Benatar, love is a battlefield. And too bad for Johnny Lee—he was looking for love in all the wrong places!

Everybody wants to be loved. Perhaps that’s why so many songs are all about finding that special person and falling in love.

But the love mentioned in Galatians 5:22 is different. It’s from the Greek word, “agape,” and it means to love someone the way God loves us. When the Holy Spirit fills our lives, we are empowered to love others the way God loves us.

How does God love?

He loves sacrificially. He loved us so much that he sent Jesus to die for our sins.

He loves unconditionally. He loves us regardless of our past mistakes or our current jacked-up situation. We don’t have to deserve his love to receive it.

He loves unfailingly. God always loves. He doesn’t stop when he’s tired, or grumpy, or feels slighted. He doesn’t stop when those he loves are unlovable. He just keeps loving.

Jesus told us in Mark 12:30-31 that the two greatest commandments are to love God with all our hearts and to love our neighbors as ourselves. This is the great challenge of our lives—to love God and other people. Steadfastly. With our whole hearts. Even when they don’t deserve it.

Such a lofty challenge requires the Holy Spirit to accomplish. On our own, we can’t love like God. To produce this fruit requires the power and enabling of the Holy Spirit.

Bob Goff said, “We will become in our lives what we do with our love.” Jesus said, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”  (See John 13:33.)

There’s no getting around it. Our lives must produce more than pop-song love. We must produce the fruit of sacrificial, unconditional, unfailing love. Agape love. The kind of love the Holy Spirit will pour into our souls if we ask him.

Dear Father in heaven, I want to love you with my whole heart. Search my heart and cleanse me from anything that interferes with my ability to love you wholeheartedly. Show me how to let your sacrificial, unconditional, unfailing love flow into my heart, and then out into the world. I want the world to see that I am your disciple because of the steadfast love I pour into others. In Jesus’s name, amen.

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Good Tree, Bad Tree

“Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.” (Matt. 15:20)

An orange grove in blossom is a delight for the senses. The delicate white flowers against the deep green leaves are beautiful to see, and the blossoms fill the air with their uniquely intoxicating aroma. But the blossoms are just the first act. The grand finale is the harvest of oranges.

If a person doesn’t know too much about trees, they could mix up an orange tree in blossom with a cherry tree in blossom. But when the fruit is on the tree, it reveals the type of tree with certainty.

An orange tree can’t produce cherries. And a cherry tree can’t produce oranges. Jesus tells us that, just as a tree is identified by its fruit, so a person is identified by the fruit produced in their life. Matthew 3:8 says, “Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God.” Another translation says to bear fruit worthy of a person who has repented.

It begs the question: What fruit are we producing? Is our focus more on our job than on Jesus? Are we more concerned about our neighbors’ annoying habits than about loving our neighbors? Are we more interested in our own comfort than in serving others?

We’ve all heard the old saying, “Actions speak louder than words.” It’s a wise saying. Our actions reveal our character. We can talk a good talk, but if our actions don’t back up our words, we’re not producing fruit.

Stop for a moment and think about your own actions. Do your actions prove your commitment to Jesus? What is one step you can take today to increase the fruit you are producing in your life?

Father in heaven, thank you for your love for me. Thank you for making a way for me to be saved, and for the opportunity to live a fruitful life. Open my eyes to the opportunities I’m missing. Help me take steps to be fruitful, and to take actions that back up my words. In Jesus’s name, Amen

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April 21st: Resurrection Sunday!

On Resurrection Sunday, we reach the culmination of Holy Week. The resurrection  of Jesus Christ is the most important event of the Christian faith. The very foundation of all Christian doctrine hinges on the truth of this account.

Early Sunday morning several women (Mary Magdalene Joanna, Salome, and Mary the mother of James) went to the tomb and discovered that the large stone covering the entrance had been rolled away. An angel announced:

“Don’t be afraid! I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen.”Matthew 28:5-6

On the day of his resurrection, Jesus Christ made at least five appearances. Marks gospel says the first person to see him was Mary Magdalene. Jesus also appeared to Peter, to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and later that day to all of the disciples except Thomas, while they were gathered in a house for prayer.

The eyewitness accounts in the Gospels provide what Christians believe to be undeniable evidence  that the resurrection of Jesus Christ did indeed happen. Two millennia after his death, followers of Christ still flock to Jerusalem to see the empty tomb.

Sunday’s events are recorded in Matthew 28:1-13, Mark 16:1-14, Luke 24:1-49, and John 20:1-23.