The Love of God

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

Jesus loves me, this I know
For the Bible tells me so
Little ones to Him belong
They are weak but He is strong.

Yes, Jesus loves me
The Bible tells me so.

We learned the simple song as kids. We smile as its nostalgia. The years and worries and cares and fears and hurts have changed us. God hasn’t changed.

We sometimes forget that God loves us. We forget that God does what is best for His children. We forget that the God of all Creation is on our side and ready to help at the mention of His name. Yes, we certainly forget about the love of God when we’re in the midst of this thing called life.

Fortunately–fortunately–God doesn’t forget that He loves us.

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De-legislating Fruit

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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.
Galatians 5:22-23

A very popular phrase used by people who do not appreciate moral truth is “you can’t legislate morality.” You’ve heard it but what does it mean? The phrase is used against people who have moral problems with issues of the day: abortion, death penalty, abstinence among teens, right to die, sexual promiscuity, etc. While it is not the space or time to debate the merits of that phrase, it is very clear that you can’t write a law that forces people to love someone or be patient with someone or to be gentle. Laws do not produce those character traits. Instead, the Spirit of God must impress those upon us.

Paul grappled with the Law and the Spirit throughout the book of Romans. He admitted that he doesn’t always do what he wanted because his flesh told him he needed to do something else (chapter 7). But the crowning verse in Chapter 7: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

The bottom line is this: on our own we are weak and helpless. Sin can easily overpower us. But fortunately we have a solution. More than that, we have a Savior, one who knows what temptation is like (Hebrews 4:15). He knows the struggles that we face. He knows our need because, as incredible as it seems, He was one of us – yet was without sin.

Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:16).

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Out of Control Self-Control

But the fruit of the Spirit is self-control. Galatians 5:22-23

Groan. Nobody enjoys self-control. We just like to do what we want, when we want. Whether it’s our out-of-control eating, our wayward tongue, our selfish temper, our destructive lusts, our bad habits, our limitless spending, or how we entertain ourselves, we don’t like self-control. And we know it.

But the beautiful thing about God is that if we want He’ll point out things that we should have more control over and give us the strength and the power to accomplish it. “For the grace of God …teaches us to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright, and Godly lives in this present age.” (Titus 2:12). If we want. He won’t force the issue. He may nudge a bit (until you’ve said, “no” many times) but He won’t force it.

So, what is it? What is the one thing (not 5 or 10 or 20 things, but one) that you need more control over? What is it? Not only does God teach us to live self-controlled lives but He gives us the power: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him…” (2 Peter 1:3).

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Gentleness

But the fruit of the Spirit is gentleness. Galatians 5:22-23

Being gentle does not come easily for me. I struggle against it. I tend to blurt something out because it needs to be said but often it comes across blunt and uncaring. Even as I write this I’m thinking, “yeah, so what? Why is this even an issue? You lay the subjects out on the table and let the chips fall where they may. It’s not as if you’re lying when you tell people.” True. But my gruffness is often misinterpreted as mean and uncaring.

Case in point. This week I was meeting with a high ranking government official for work. She was speaking but I interrupted her (without realizing it at the time) because I had a point I needed to make. It didn’t take me long to realize what I had done (mainly because I happened to glimpse at the horrified looks on the faces of my co-workers in the room).

Part of it, I suppose, is how we were reared and who we hang around with now. (Ask a close friend some time if you come across as gentle and caring in your speech and actions, and you might be surprised at the answer). But it certainly doesn’t mean we can’t change. In fact, if we are this way, we need to change, for if others view us as mean and uncaring, what does that tell them about who we serve?

Here I go again, it’s not about us, is it?

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Faithfulness

But the fruit of the Spirit is faithfulness. Galatians 5:22-23

A number of years ago when we were living in Mongolia, our American pastor prayed for a young gal’s arm to be made whole. It was in a permanently bent position. He prayed with all his might and began to tug lightly on the arm. He continued to pray but nothing seemed to be happening. He opened his eyes, released the arm, and gave the girl a shoulder hug with these words, “I don’t know why God doesn’t heal you. I just don’t know why.” By now there were tears in his eyes.

The girl came back to church the next week and the next, and every week after as far as I can remember. It would have been easy to just give up on this thing called Christianity. After all, it was a foreign religion to the Mongolians and many in her family were calling her back to their religion, Buddhism. It would have been easy to turn away and never come back, to become bitter because God didn’t heal her. But she didn’t.

But she didn’t.

The Spirit of God within her was working and giving her faith despite her ailment. For this girl, it wasn’t about getting healed, as important as that was. It was about continuing to serve the Creator of the Universe even when He doesn’t do what you want.

That’s faithfulness.

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Goodness Gracious

But the fruit of the Spirit is goodness. Galatians 5:22-23

Goodness is a difficult word to define but an easy character quality to spot in others. I think it speaks of motivation. This quality, more than the others in this list, is all about the other person. It has the idea of being helpful, beneficial, and generous. It’s a general quality. Even as I write this, I realize the difficulty in pinning down a coherent definition for it.

Lots of people in this world do good things. We might even call them good people. So, what’s the difference? Motivation. For this discussion it’s not important who or what motivates them. However, ‘who is motivating us’ should be the first question we ask, and it should be very clear who is motivating us (James 1 and 1 Corinthians 13 address this)

God knows that when we do nothing in life, we get stale and rusty. We become complacent. We complain and grumble. We criticize and become skeptical. We’re more tolerant of sin that creeps into our lives.

What does it look like? Think of anything at all that could benefit someone else. A kind word or deed or letter or phone call or gift or service or just about anything you can think of. It doesn’t have to be big or elaborate. Do it without expecting a reward and you’ll do fine.

Each person has a circle of influence of 10-25 people. Care to guess where we should be pouring out our goodness? It’s certainly a good place to start. After that, five billion more people await the goodness of God through you.

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Kindness

But the fruit of the Spirit is kindness. Galatians 5:22-23

The world talks about practicing “random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty.” I like that attitude. We can do this all day, every day. It wouldn’t be difficult. Of course, some are better at being kind than others. So what does “kind” look like:

  • sending a handwritten note to a friend across the country
  • letting that guy butt in front of you even after you’ve waited 20 minutes
  • saying please and thank you often
  • admitting when you’ve been in error
  • helping a neighbor move in
  • complimenting someone on a job well done
  • sending money to the missionary who is struggling
  • buying your pastor books
  • offering to babysit for a day for the single mother
  • mowing your neighbor’s lawn while you’re mowing yours

The list is endless.

They are little things really. They usually don’t cost much. The acts themselves aren’t what people notice. It’s clearly the thought behind them. They don’t have to be random. In fact, it might be a good idea to plan them a little because if you don’t, you may not do them.

Again we come to the crux of the matter: you may get a “warm fuzzy” from doing it, but another person is blessed.

Dare I say it? It’s not about us.

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Patience Now, Please!

But the fruit of the Spirit is patience. Galatians 5:22-23

As the saying goes, “be careful when you pray for patience; God just might answer it.” or how about the prayer, “I want patience and I want it now!”

We’re in so much of a rush nowadays, aren’t we? On the roads. In line at the store. In a restaurant. We get very impatient when we feel like our time is being wasted. And we’re all guilty of it.

Noah built a large boat and warned people for 120 years that it was going to rain. Moses spent 40 years in the desert. Jacob worked for 14 years to take Rachel as his wife. Joseph spent two years in a nasty Egyptian prison. All were patient men of God. They could have clearly done something more “constructive” during that time, but God had other plans for them.

God is patient. We know that. We need to ask Him to show us how to be patient. Then perhaps we won’t get upset if our food is a little slow in arriving, other people can pass us on the highway because their meeting is more important that ours, and we can relax and bring a smile to the painfully slow clerk who might be having the worst day of her life.

Then it might actually dawn on us that it really isn’t about us.

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Peace, Perfect Peace

But the fruit of the Spirit is peace. Galatians 5:22-23

Have you ever watched a baby sleep? No cares in the world, none whatsoever. You look on her face and what do you say, “ah so peaceful.” An hour later that baby’s face could be crying and frowning and laughing with delight. The baby is no longer resting peacefully.

Now, have you ever seen a person who was at peace? You looked at his face and it was justpeaceful. I’ve seen in numerous times with a few Seniors I’ve met, both men and women. You can’t quite put a finger on why they look peaceful but they do. The world may be falling apart but you wouldn’t know it because they are at peace.

Similarly, you can also tell when a person is really struggling. Life is bogging that person down in a big way. You can see the hopelessness, the worry, the anxiety on his face.

I think most of us are in between. We’ve been that baby resting peacefully; we’ve also been that person struggling to understand life. Where are you today? What would it take to launch you into that peaceful category?

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