Friday, February 27, 2009

Are You Good Enough? Goodness, a Fruit of the Spirit

I can't count the number of times I say "Be good" in the course of just one day. With three young boys, there's always some situation prompting me to use those words. In fact, probably most of us can't even remember when we were first introduced to the concept of good and bad. Even though my youngest son is only nine months old, I give my husband the report on whether he's been a good baby or not. It's already started. . .

The older we get, the more we may become entrenched in being good in a different and more complex way. We want to know that we made a good score on a test, performed well in a sport or activity, got a good perfomance appraisal, and even if we did the right thing morally. These often performance-based measures are judged by scores, praise, and pats on the back.

While most of the time there may be nothing wrong with wanting to be good by other people's standards, there is a much different kind of goodness that emanates from relationship with the true and living God. He alone is our yardstick to measure if we are truly good. Likewise, reading and aligning ourselves up the Word is another way that we can measure our sincere goodness. Finally, letting the Holy Spirit be our guide will always lead us in a path destined for what's right, good, and true.

The world's watered down version of goodness is mostly superficial and temporal while God's goodness is abundant, everlasting, and satisfying. Bearing the fruit of goodness always means that you are connected to the true vine of Jesus Christ--you are faithful to God and full of kindness and generosity.

So, are you good enough? Ephesians 5:9 says, "For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth; Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord." So, goodness goes beyond the kind acts and words we may say to one another. Simply put, true goodness radiates God's unconditional love, grace and mercy.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

There's Room at the Table for You (Gentleness, a Fruit of the Spirit)

Gentleness almost seems like a bad word in times like these. Gentleness is almost synonymous with weakness. Not to beat up the media, but we are constantly bombarded with images and situations that call for us to think of ourselves first. Talk shows are especially bad about telling us that if we don't look out for ourselves, no one else will. We can't love anyone unless we love ourselves, and the beat goes on. . .

Putting on this tough exterior certainly has its perks. When we are determined to get ours, what's "due" to us, we often do come out ahead--at least in a worldly sort of way that is. With the publication of my first novel out, it's truly been a journey rubbing shoulders with other authors. Many are great, but some are unbelievable. Book signings are sometimes not the joyous occasions I had imagined. It's especially grueling when someone doesn't want to share the table or jockeys like they're life depends on it to sell their book to potential book buyers. What's been even more alarming is the fierce competition that is rampant with Christian authors.

Sure, I understand some of the business aspects of book selling. Let's face it, if you don't sell the book, your prospects for having another one published can be grim. Also, there's such a financial investment at stake. Yet, I am deeply disturbed when there is no difference between how the world behaves and Christians behave.

When we are confident that the Lord has given us a gift and we are truly operating in our calling, responding with gentleness and kindness isn't a struggle. We're not phony or competitive; we rest in knowing that there is room for all of us at the table--no matter what we're doing. Gentleness (or kindness) is a fruit of the Spirit that calls us to subdue our flesh. Our personal wants can't be momentarily suspended so that we can consider one another. Gentleness causes us to humbly submit instead of rise up in pride.

I have also found that gentleness is a powerful witnessing tool, especially when a situations could be one where anger and harshness would seem to be just. When I was very young, I remember sneaking into my dad's coin jar and stealing change. Caught red-handed with coins in hand, I cried as he asked me why I wanted the money. As I told him, he listened and kindly gave me the money, explaining that all I had to do was ask. This is imprinted in my memory because I deserved punishment, yet my dad had mercy on me and showered me with gentleness. It was illogical in my young mind, but I did think "Wow, my dad must really love me."

The Lord is merciful and gracious to us just like that. He sent his son, an innocent and perfect sacrifice, to die for us and pardon our sons. Remembering this can make it easier for us as we strive to be more like Him every day.

Finally, Proverbs 15:1 says, "A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger." When we want to strike out, let's all try a dose of kindness and gentleness.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Longsuffering (Patience), a Fruit of the Spirit

Ahhh, if we could only just fast forward through the uncomfortable times in life. Really, how wonderful would it be if we would never have to wait for blessings like healing, strengthened finances, renewed relationships, new opportunities, etc.? What would our character be like if everything came to us in an instant? It's actually a little scary to me because when you see those children whose parents indulge their every whim, the children inflict emotional pain on all who are near. I mean, being around these type of children requires a serious degree of patience.

On the flip side though, does the Bible really say "longsuffering" is a fruit of the Spirit? Evidence of abiding in the vine is that we bear the fruit of longsuffering. Galatians 5:522 clearly states that it is a fruit of the Spirit. Longsuffering implies that there is a lengthy period of discomfort, pain, suffering, and/or waiting. So then, patience, another word for longsuffering, is a fruit of the Spirit that requires us to endure whatever the obstacle is and to wait until our change comes.

In the physical world, we know that in order for a vine or tree to produce fruit, it takes nurturing, pruning, and patience. In just the right season, if cared for properly, the vine will produce sweet grapes. Similarly, we must go through the trial (the pruning process) and wait for our season to come to maturity, just like grapes on a vine.

James 1:3-4 says, "Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing." The Lord longs for us to be complete in Him, and this doesn't mean that we won't be touched by problems.

We all have problems and obstacles, but I wonder what would happen if many of us, especially myself, changed our perspective? Instead of complaining about the problem, what if I just recognized the situation as a challenge and an opportunity to mature in Him? Easier said than done, huh?

I've decided to practice daily on the little things that ruffle my feathers. Maybe when my son forgets his homework at school, instead of giving him a piece if my mind, I'll give him my PEACE of mind (lol). When the baby cried every single time I open up my laptop to start working on my story, I'll chuckle. Anyway, through these daily exercises in patience, I'm hoping to build myself up until I'm strong enough to weather those huge trials and situations that do require the patience of Job.

Often, in the midst of waiting and enduring, I had thought God had forgotten about me. Now, as I'm maturing and growing in Him, I've realized that He was right there, maturing me, getting me to the place where I could truly be a vessel for Him.

While we wait, we are busy though. We're still actively seeking His face, meditating on His Word, and glorifying His name. When we remain so busy with these things, waiting patiently is peaceful. We know that He will get us over to the other side.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Peace, a Fruit of the Spirit

Out of all the treasures in life, one I find most desirable is peace. Because I have the inclination to worry about everything, peace is one of those things I find myself striving for on a daily basis.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that if you worry, you're not operating in or exercising faith. Still, like a bad habit, worry grabs a hold of me at times and I'm off and running. Other times, it creeps in subtly when I'm unaware, trying to rob me of my peace and happiness.

Over the years, I've come to realize that peace is obtainable--even for a person that's prone to worry.

I Peter 3:11 says, "Let him eschew evil, and do good days, let him seek peace, and ensue it."

Peace is something that we have to actively pursue; we can't be passive and expect peace. How do we do that though? Well, we have to do the things that believers do. We have to read the Word, surround ourselves with fellow believers, pray without ceasing, fast with purpose, and dedicate ourselves wholly to the Lord.

Our focus must be on Him, not the problem. When I focus on Him only, there is no room for the problem. He is big enough to handle whatever it is. Worry evaporates because I know that God will take care of me.

In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus teaches about worry. These powerful verses always help me when I feel myself getting worried or anxious. Jesus knows what we need, but the key is "seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you"
(Matthew 6:33).

Seeking Him first is the priority. I think a lot of times we try to do everything we can do to fix the situation instead of seeking Him first. We should come to Him first and not as a last resort.

This topic touches me in a very personal way because in spite of the times I have given in to worry, when I come to my senses, trust God and pursue peace, He always provides it. He's never failed me, and He is my peace.

There's a Milton Brunson song that I love called, "I Tried Him and I Know Him." I am a testimony because I have tried Him with my problems and worries. I've gotten to know Him, and He's never failed me--and He won't fail you! Trust Him with whatever might be worrying you today. He is your peace!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Joy, a Fruit of the Spirit

Yesterday my husband and I passed by many abandoned businesses, doors shut down probably as a result of the slowing and near collapse of the economy. It caused me to really think about those who have experienced the crushing blow of losing a job and/or business.

Is it really possible to have joy when we are faced with daunting challenges? After all, you don't have to look far to see the cold reality of war, financial hardships, violence, sickness and death. It's as close as the news, your neighbors, and maybe even a quick glance in the mirror. So, are we really expected to count it all joy in the midst of all the pain, loss, and heartache?

John 15:11 says, "These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full."

This verse is powerful because we cannot experience true joy aside from abiding in the true vine, Jesus Christ. His joy should reside in us so that our joy can be fulfilled, and joy is a destination only obtainable through God's loving grace and mercy. It's not a feeling or state of being that's based on our circumstances or predicted outcome. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit, accessible to those who have received and embraced the gift of faith.

As believers, our union with Christ causes us to bear fruit that is at many times diametrically opposed to how our flesh would respond to a situation. We may feel pain and sorrow, but we have an inexplicable joy because we trust that God is sovereign and in control. We may not understand it all, but we are connected to the One who does.

When we are bearing the fruit of joy, we can see the good in the most adverse circumstances. We can peel back the layers of pain and heartache and recognize God's divine work at hand. We know the problems and pain exist and are real, BUT we are anchored in the rock. No matter what it looks like, He holds us and orchestrates our lives. Nothing is by accident, and for these reasons and others, we can produce joy, an awesome by-product of abiding in the true vine.

Yes, we can--experience joy in the midst of whatever trial comes our way. We won't sink too low when we're down, and on the flip side, we won't get too high and mighty when we're up. We see through different lenses when we are in relationship with him. We are in consistent relationship with the One who clarifies our purpose and gives us joy that cannot be paralleled with any other short term satisfaction the world may offer.

When we love Him, we love one another, and when we love one another, He gives us joy. What could be easier or better than that?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Love, a Fruit of the Spirit

Well, I am pretty inept at technology and have tried numerous times to get in to do another entry, but for whatever reason, I couldn't get to this form (LOL). So, hopefully, this will post. . .

We all know that we should love everybody, and for most of us, we are full of love for family, friends, neighbors, pets and yep, some of us even love our neighbors and just any and everybody. As Christians, we often claim to engage in the love fest, loving all of mankind, but do we really?

Love is a fruit of the spirit, an evidence of a true relationship with Christ and abiding in Him. Without love, I Corinthians 13:1 says, we "become as a sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal." We can speak words of love, yet not love. We can even perform what seem to be loving acts and not truly love. So then, what is it that really lets us know that have love as a fruit of the Spirit?

Most Christians can recite those verses in I Corinthians 13. They're on cards, t-shirts, mugs and plaques. Love is patient, kind, and doesn't boast. It isn't proud, rude, or resentful. It certainly, as the Word explains, isn't easily provoked. The true characteristics of love, according to scripture, are many. Love isn't difficult to identify because it rejoices in truth, bears all things, believes, hopes, and endures all things, and never fails. Love is the engine behind us, making our gifts, service, and actions useful for the Master.

After a long and tiring day, I was spent. The baby had been crying all day with teething pains. After housework, cooking, and homework, I was exhausted. My middle son, who's eight, came in the room for the fourth time after he'd been told to go to bed. I had just shut the bedroom door, ready for a break.

"Mom," he said carefully.

"What now?"

"Can you come tuck me in?"

"I thought Dad just read you a devotion."

"He did--sorry, Mom." With slumped shoulders, he walked away defeated.

All I could think of was that he was trying to find reasons not to go to sleep, which was probably the case. However, I went in his bedroom, briskly tucking him in the bed. With little patience and much irritation, I kissed him on the forehead and said goodnight.

After I got ready for bed myself, I felt guilty but at first I didn't even know why. I had done everything I was supposed to do, right? As I meditated on I Corinthians 13, I realized that while I had done the right actions, they weren't done with love, which made them fruitless. My son hadn't truly received what he wanted, which was my comfort and love. Because I hadn't tucked him in lovingly, with patience and kindness, I had lost that moment to demonstrate the love of Christ. This has made me wonder what other opportunities I may have lost getting caught up in myself and the moment, instead of the bigger picture.

Christ wants us to love one another because this, among other things, is what demonstrates His love towards each of us. We must continually examine ourselves, and when we fall short, we must repent, pray, read the Word, and do better. When we love, it's evident in the words we say and the actions we perform, but only if our motives are selfless and pure, directed by God's love.