Third Time’s the Charm

Today’s Reading: Acts 19-20

Paul did not spend much time in Antioch before he set out on his third missionary trip going back to many of the areas he had visited before. This gave him the chance to check in on those who had come to believe in Jesus on his previous trips. His purpose was to encourage and strengthen them. On this journey, Paul found many believers who had repented of their sins and been baptized with John’s kind of baptism of water, but they had not yet been baptized by or received the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The first thing he said was, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? Did you take God into your mind only, or did you also embrace him with your heart? Did he get inside you?”

“We’ve never even heard of that – a Holy Spirit? God within us?” – Acts 19:2 (The Message)

Paul laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. They began praising God and telling others about the actions of a God who would love them enough to live in them.

Paul traveled through the country we now know as Turkey, stopping in Ephesus on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. He stayed there for two years teaching both Jews and Greeks. It is possible that Paul wrote his first letter to the church in Corinth during this time in Ephesus.

God gave Paul the power to perform unusual miracles. When handkerchiefs or aprons that had merely touched his skin were placed on sick people, they were healed of their diseases, and evil spirits were expelled…Many who became believers confessed their sinful practices. A number of them who had been practicing sorcery brought their incantation books and burned them at a public bonfire. The value of the books was several million dollars. So the message about the Lord spread widely and had a powerful effect. – Acts 19:11-12,18-20

Paul was wrapping up his ministry in Ephesus and making plans to go to Macedonia and Achaia before going to Jerusalem and then Rome. But before he could carry out those plans, trouble began to brew for Paul. Those who made their money from the worship of false gods were losing business and creating accusations against Paul. God rescued Paul from an intense situation, allowing Paul to leave and go to Macedonia and then to Greece, where he wrote the second letter to the Corinthian Church.

Paul made many more stops as he hurried to make his way back to Jerusalem for the Festival of Pentecost. Rather than go into Ephesus, Paul sent for the elders of the church at Ephesus to meet him in Miletus, where he said these words of farewell:

“You know that from the day I set foot in the province of Asia until now, I have done the Lord’s work humbly and with many tears. I have endured the trials that came to me from the plots of the Jews. I never shrank back from telling you what you needed to hear, either publicly or in your homes. I have one message for Jews and Greeks alike – the necessity of repenting from sin and turning to God, and of having faith in our Lord Jesus.

“And now I am bound by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. I don’t know what awaits me, except that the Holy Spirit tells me in city after city that jail and suffering lie ahead. But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it to finish the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus – the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.

“And now I know that none of you to whom I have preached the Kingdom will ever see me again. I declare today that I HAVE BEEN FAITHFUL. If anyone suffers eternal death, it’s not my fault, for I didn’t shrink from declaring all that God wants you to know…

“And I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard. You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” – Acts 20:18-27, 35

What a wonderful testimony – one I hope to have as I feel my time on earth coming towards an end.

– To be able to say I served humbly and opened my heart up to others.

– To be able to say I survived hard times or opposition, not because I shrank back and avoided, but because I stayed true and committed regardless of the situation.

– To have no feelings of regret – regret that I didn’t say enough or that I wasn’t bold enough in my faith, that I loved others enough to have tough conversations.

– I want to work hard in order that those in need can be helped – to live a life that echoes Jesus’ words – “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” – (Acts 20:35)

Paul knew that jail and suffering were in his future, and he was right. Yet Paul said, “My life is worth nothing to me unless I use it to finish the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus – the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.” – (Acts 20:24)

Lord, give us that kind of passion and determination. Help us to keep our eyes focused on you and your calling, knowing in confidence that you will be with us – even when suffering is ahead. And Lord, we pray this morning for all who live in Turkey, Iraq and the surrounding areas. Lord, we pray your protection on the innocent and we pray for those who are daily giving their lives to protect others from terrorists. We pray for all the refugees as they struggle to protect their families. Help them to reach their destinations safely and provide for their needs, we pray. Amen.

The Grip of Our Hope

Today’s Reading: 2 Thessalonians

FAITH, HOPE and LOVE – Paul opens up his letter to the church in Thessalonica praising God and commending the church on their faithful work, their loving deeds and their enduring hope (1 Thessalonians 1:3). So far we have looked at the faithful work and loving deeds. Today, let’s consider the enduring hope we have in Christ.

In the midst of suffering and persecution, believers are to stay strong in their faith and continue living a life characterized by loving deeds. We are to hang on to the hope that keeps us looking forward to the coming of God’s Son – Jesus, whom God raised from the dead (1 Thess. 1:10). Paul’s prayer for the church is that God continues to make their love grow and overflow, making their hearts strong, blameless, and holy as they stand before God when Jesus comes again with all his holy people (3:12-13). Paul is referring to those believers who have already died.

HOPE THAT BELIEVES WE WILL SEE OUR LOVED ONES AGAIN

And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.

We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who died. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. So encourage each other with these words. – 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

For centuries, we have been encouraging each other with these words, finding hope in the midst of our grief and goodbyes when we lose a loved one. We find hope we will see them again, and also hope we will be together with the Lord forever. Spending eternity with Christ Jesus – now that produces hope! Paul goes on to describe to them how this will happen.

HOPE THAT BELIEVES CHRIST WILL RETURN AGAIN

…the day of the Lord’s return will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night. When people are saying, “Everything is peaceful and secure,” then disaster will fall on them as suddenly as a pregnant woman’s labor pains. And there will be no escape.

…So be on your guard, not asleep like the others. Stay alert and clearheaded. Night is the time when people sleep and drinkers get drunk. But let us who live in the light be clearheaded, protected by the armor of faith and love, and wearing as our helmet the confidence of our salvation.

For God chose to save us through our Lord Jesus Christ, not to pour out his anger on us. Christ died for us so that, whether we are dead or alive when he returns, we can live with him forever. So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing. – 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

So what our hope goes back to is love – the love of a God who chose to save us instead of pouring out his anger on us; and the love of our Lord Jesus Christ who died for us. It gets better. His plan is for us to live with Him FOREVER! So…

FAITH, HOPE and LOVE

Remain strong in your FAITH even in the midst of persecution, criticism and suffering. When suffering takes you to the edge of your faith, allow the circumstances to help you grow in grace rather than anger and bitterness.

Take the Master by the hand and allow Him to lead you along the path of His LOVE as He performs loving deeds through you.

Endure with a HOPE that knows what our tomorrow holds and who holds our tomorrow. Let’s choose hope. Being a believer does not mean we are immune to troubles and difficulties in life, to sorrow and grief. But we can choose to hang on tight to the hope we have in Christ – not just hang on, but tightly grip onto this hope that endures.

Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again – my Savior and my God! – Psalm 43:5

“The incredible grace of our Master, Jesus Christ, be with all of you.” – 2 Thessalonians 3:18 (The Message)

The Path of God’s Love

Today’s Reading: 1 Thessalonians 4-5

Faith, hope and love – Paul opens up his letter to the church in Thessalonica praising God and commending the church on their faithful work, their loving deeds and their enduring hope (1 Thessalonians 1:3). Yesterday we focused in on the faithful work the church continued even though they were experiencing persecution and criticism from those around them. We were challenged to choose grace rather than bitterness when suffering takes us right to the edge of our faith. Today, let’s focus in on the loving deeds Paul referred to in his letter.

THE PATH OF LOVE GROWS AND OVERFLOWS

Notice Paul is not just referring to their “love” but to their “loving deeds” – not just an emotion but an expression of the emotion of love in their actions. So is Paul changing his view on works? No, Paul sticks with the same theology we consistently read in the scriptures. Consider these verses:

May God our Father and our Lord Jesus bring us to you very soon. And may the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow, just as our love for you overflows. May he, as a result, make your hearts strong, blameless, and holy as you stand before God our Father when our Lord Jesus comes again with all his holy people. Amen. – 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13

Paul is not referring to a love of human efforts or loving deeds produced of our own strength. He is referring to a love that the Lord grows inside of us for others – not just GROWS but OVERFLOWS if we will open up our hearts and allow Him to produce this kind of love. He, then, makes our hearts strong, blameless and holy. It is not something we can do on our own. We need the righteousness of our Savior and the love He gives us in order to live a holy life and produce the kind of “loving deeds” that Paul is referring to in this letter. Keep this in mind as you read the verses that come next.

THE PATH OF LOVE LEADS TO HOLINESS

Finally, dear brothers and sisters, we urge you in the name of the Lord Jesus to live in a way that pleases God, as we have taught you…

God’s will is for you to be holy, so stay away from sexual sin. Then each of you will control his own body and live in holiness and honor – not in lustful passion like the pagans who do not know God and his ways. Never harm or cheat a Christian brother in this matter by violating his wife, for the Lord avenges all such sins, as we have solemnly warned you before. God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives. Therefore, anyone who refuses to live by these rules is not disobeying human teaching but is rejecting God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

But we don’t need to write to you about the importance of loving each other, for God himself has taught you to love one another. Indeed, you already show your love for all the believers throughout Macedonia. Even so, dear brothers and sisters, we urge you to love them even more. – 1 Thess. 4:1-10

THE PATH OF LOVE CHANGES OUR BEHAVIOR

Paul went on with several more short instructions:
– Honor your leaders; work hard and show respect and wholehearted love them.
– Live peacefully with each other.
– Warn those who are lazy.
– Encourage those who are timid.
– Take tender care of those who are weak.
– Be patient with everyone.
– Try to do good instead of seeking revenge.
– Always be joyful.
– Never stop praying.
– Be thankful in all circumstances.
– Do not stifle the Holy Spirit.
– Test everything that is taught, holding on to what is good.
– Stay away from every kind of evil. – (1 Thess. 5:12-22)

PRAYING FOR GOD’S UNENDING HELP ON THE PATH OF LOVE

Because we know that this extraordinary day is just ahead, we pray for you all the time – pray that our God will make you fit for what he’s called you to be, pray that he’ll fill your good ideas and acts of faith with his own energy so that it all amounts to something. If your life honors the name of Jesus, he will honor you. Grace is behind and through all of this, our God giving himself freely, the Master, Jesus Christ, giving himself freely. – 2 Thess. 1:11-12 (The Message)

So, friends, take a firm stand, feet on the ground and head high. Keep a tight grip on what you were taught, whether in personal conversation or by our letter. May Jesus himself and God our Father, who reached out in love and surprised you with gifts of unending help and confidence, put a fresh heart in you, invigorate your work, enliven your speech. – 2 Thess. 2:16-17 (The Message)

May the Master take you by the hand and lead you along the path of God’s love and Christ’s endurance. – 2 Thess. 3:5 (The Message)

The Edge of Our Faith

Today’s Reading: Acts 17 & 18; 1 Thessalonians 1-3

Around the same time that Paul was writing a letter to the churches in Galatia, he was also writing a letter to the church in Thessalonica – one of the towns he visited during his second missionary trip. It’s not a surprise, then, that he covers a similar topic – FAITH, HOPE and LOVE.

Paul opens up his letter praising God and commending the church on their faithful work, their LOVING deeds and their enduring HOPE (1 Thessalonians 1:3). In both of his letters to this church he goes into detail about their FAITHFUL work in the midst of suffering and persecution. He encourages them to continue to live a lifestyle of LOVE expressed in holy living. He also speaks of the HOPE we have in the day in which Jesus will return for us.

This morning my focus is on the FAITHFUL work God calls us to in spite of the difficulties that lay ahead of us, the persecution we experience from others or the suffering we endure for the cause of Christ. Here are some of the verses that jump out as an encouragement to us when we are going through a hard time.

IN SPITE OF THE DIFFICULTIES THAT LAY AHEAD OF US

So you received the message with joy from the Holy Spirit in spite of the severe suffering it brought you…As a result, you have become an example to all the believers in Greece – throughout Macedonia and Achaia. And now the word of the Lord is ringing out from you to people everywhere, even beyond Macedonia and Achaia, for wherever we go we find people telling us about your faith in God. – 1 Thessalonians 1:6-8

How can we have joy in spite of the suffering we are experiencing? Paul explains that this joy is from the Holy Spirit living within us. It is not something we have to create on our own or pretend to be. It is a gift from God that brings Him glory when others see our joy in spite of our suffering and recognize our joy as a product of our faith in God. Paul had set an example to the church in Thessalonica of how he continued to joyfully praise God in the midst of persecution and now they, too, are examples to others who themselves are going through a hard time.

In addition to this, the faith of the Thessalonians was an encouragement to Paul and the other apostles who had invested in their spiritual growth. They had sent Timothy back to the Church to see if they were being shaken by their troubles or to see if their faith was still strong.

So we have been greatly encouraged in the midst of our troubles and suffering, dear brothers and sisters, because you have remained strong in your faith. It gives us new life to know that you are standing firm in the Lord. How we thank God for you! Because of you we have great joy as we enter God’s presence. Night and day we pray earnestly for you, asking God to let us see you again to fill the gaps in your faith. – 1 Thess. 3:7-10

IN SPITE OF THE PERSECUTION WE EXPERIENCE FROM OTHERS

For we speak as messengers approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News. Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts…As for human praise, we have never sought it from you or from anyone else. – 1 Thess. 2:4,6

How can we endure the persecutions and criticisms of others? Paul makes it very clear that we are to live to please God and not others. Then when other people express their disapproval of us, it falls on deaf ears because we are only listening for the approval of our God. We don’t seek out human praise but the approval of our Heavenly Father, who calls us to follow Him and who knows our hearts.

IN SPITE OF THE SUFFERING WE ENDURE FOR THE CAUSE OF CHRIST

We proudly tell God’s other churches about your endurance and faithfulness in all the persecutions and hardships you are suffering. And God will use this persecution to show his justice and to make you worthy of his Kingdom, for which you are suffering. In his justice he will pay back those who persecute you.

And God will provide rest for you who are being persecuted and also for us when the Lord Jesus appears from heaven. – 2 Thessalonians 1:4-7a

It is not for us to get even or to return suffering back to those who cause us to suffer. We can let go of all of the hurt and bitterness and need for revenge. We can simply have faith in our true and just God, who is the only Judge needed. We can also trust that someday our trials will end. At that time and even now while we are hurting, God will provide comfort and rest for His children.

When I received the news last year that Pastor Ed Heck had died, I read through the weekly blogs he had posted since his cancer diagnosis. His words ministered to my heart. Consider what he wrote on August 15, 2016, just 10 days after finding out he had advanced, aggressive prostate cancer:

“When we ask ‘why’, intentionally or not, we are challenging God’s justice, God’s wisdom, and God’s power. Am I right? I mean, it really doesn’t seem to make any difference whether we are victims or culprits, innocent or guilty; suffering is always seen and felt as being unfair. Whether the cause of our pain is unknown, self-imposed, accidental, or deliberate, most of us conclude that we have been singled out to suffer and that God is picking on us! When the flags of doubt are raised – when the ‘why’ is asked – we are really expressing a deep-seated belief that God doesn’t know what He is doing!

“Here is the key, I think: Suffering, however it is experienced, takes us right to the edge of our faith where contradiction gives us the option of either growing in grace or allowing it to turn into something as toxic as bitterness.” – Rev. Edward H. Heck, https://shardsofgraceblog.wordpress.com

Lord, I know of so many people who are going through a difficult time right now. I pray that you would be a source of strength for them today. I pray that the presence of your Spirit will give them a peace and joy that cannot be explained. Please give them the faith they need to believe, the hope they need to endure, and the love they need to forgive. Amen.

The Impact of Obedience

Today’s Reading: Acts 15 & 16

WHAT IF GOD ASKS YOU TO MAKE A SECOND JOURNEY?

Paul took Silas and Timothy with him on his second missionary journey. Their purpose was to go back and visit each city where they had previously preached the word of the Lord. They wanted to see how the new believers were doing. The result of their trip was that believers were encouraged but also many more found faith in Jesus Christ. Just like the first missionary journey, there were communities where Paul’s message was accepted but also cities in which he faced opposition.

Paul knew before he even began his second tour that he would again face persecution and potentially death. On the first missionary journey, he had been stoned and dragged out of the city. The memories of that pain and rejection would still be vivid in his mind. YET HE RETURNED. Out of faithfulness to the God who had saved him from a life of persecuting others, Paul returned to a city that had brought him pain and suffering. The result of his courage and obedience was that the churches were strengthened in their faith and grew larger every day (Acts 16:5).

In the city of Philippi, Paul and his team experienced both good and bad. Let’s look first at the good:

On the Sabbath we went a little way outside of the city to a riverbank, where we thought people would be meeting for prayer, and we sat down to speak with some women who had gathered there. One of them was Lydia from Thyatira, a merchant of expensive purple cloth, who worshiped God. As she listened to us, the Lord opened her heart, and she accepted what Paul was saying. She was baptized along with other members of her household, and she asked us to be her guests. “If you agree that I am a true believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my home.” And she urged us until we agreed. – Acts 16:13-15

WHAT IF GOD WANTS TO GREATLY AFFECT THE LIFE OF SOMEONE ELSE TODAY THROUGH YOUR OBEDIENCE?

Lydia was one of three people who were forever changed by Paul’s visit to Philippi. Because of this trip, Lydia’s faith in God increased and she and the members of her household were baptized. Lydia extended hospitality to the apostles and God provided them with a place to stay while in the city.

The second person greatly affected by Paul’s time in Philippi was a slave girl possessed by a demon. She was a fortune-teller and her owners made a great deal of money from the abilities the demon living inside of her possessed. Each day she would follow after Paul’s team shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, and they have come to tell you how to be saved” (Acts 16:17).

Out of compassion for the slave girl, Paul cast out the demon. Actually, that’s not what happened. Paul, human like we are, became so exasperated after listening to her shout for days that he turned to the girl and said, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And instantly it left her (16:18). She was now free from the demon that had tortured her for so long. This young girl, a slave with little to no “worth” in the eyes of the community she lived in, was forever changed.

This is where we see the bad that Paul experienced while in Philippi:

Her masters’ hopes of wealth were now shattered, so they grabbed Paul and Silas and dragged them before the authorities at the market place. “The whole city is an uproar because of these Jews!” they shouted to the city officials. “They are teaching customs that are illegal for us Romans to practice.”

A mob quickly formed against Paul and Silas, and the city officials ordered them stripped and beaten with wooden rods. They were severely beaten, and then they were thrown into prison. The jailer was ordered to make sure they didn’t escape. So the jailer put them into the inner dungeon and clamped their feet in the stocks. – Acts 16:19-24

During the good times and the bad, Paul praised God. Because of his spirit of devotion to God instead of self-pity, one more person was greatly affected by Paul’s trip to Philippi.

Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening. Suddenly, there was a massive earthquake, and the prison was shaken to its foundations. All the doors immediately flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off! The jailer woke up to see the prison doors wide open. He assumed the prisoners had escaped, so he drew his sword to kill himself. But Paul shouted to him, “Stop! Don’t kill yourself! We are all here!”

The jailer called for lights and ran to the dungeon and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, along with everyone in your household.” And they shared the word of the Lord with him and with all who lived in his household. Even at that hour of the night, the jailer cared for them and washed their wounds. Then he and everyone in his household were immediately baptized. He brought them into his house and set a meal before them, and he and his entire household rejoiced because they all believed in God. – Acts 16:25-34

It’s possible that God wants to greatly affect the life of someone else today through our obedience. What is God telling us to do? Where is God telling us to go? If we do what He asks us to do, someone’s life will be forever changed, just as ours will be. So, what if God asks us to make a second journey – to do something again, even if we are still a little scarred from the last time? Will we respond in obedience? Someone’s forever may be depending on it.

The Impact of Holiness

Today’s Reading: Galatians 6

Paul ends his letter to the church at Galatia by once again encouraging us on to holy living instead of giving into our sinful nature.

Don’t be misled – you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone – especially to those in the family of faith. – Galatians 6:7-10

Wow, what powerful words Paul uses here. He reminds the Galatians that God is not only loving and the source of this incredible grace, He is also a just God. If we as Christians continue to satisfy our sinful nature instead of responding to the Spirit God has given us, we will harvest what we our sowing – death and decay. God cannot be mocked by someone who says, “I prayed the prayer, my eternity is secure so I can do what feels good to me right now instead of what I know God wants me to do.” That is not the servant’s heart God wants us to respond with. He wants us to listen to the urgings of His Spirit living within us and harvest a blessing instead of a curse. He wants us to live for others because we live for Him, not live for ourselves or to please our own sinful nature.

WHAT IF GOD WANTS TO GREATLY AFFECT THE LIFE OF SOMEONE ELSE TODAY THROUGH YOUR LIFE?

Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important. – Galatians 6:1-3

Humbly and gently – let’s not miss these very important adjectives. The heart of what Paul is getting to here is that we should not be so concerned about ourselves that we don’t care about our fallen brother or sister enough to lovingly help them back onto the right path. We know that God’s plan for them is to live to please the Spirit and not their own sinful nature. Perhaps our loving and kind words can help them see that they are missing God’s perfect plan for their life.

But first, Paul warns that we are to be sure we ourselves are on the right path, living to please the Spirit and not ourselves. We cannot point out the speck of dust in someone else’s eye if we have a plank in our own, right?

Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else. For we are each responsible for our own conduct. – Galatians 6:4-5

Paul warns us not to become too proud or boastful about our walk. Then we will begin seeing our conduct, our job well done, as a result of our own strength and ability instead of a gift of the Spirit to help us live a godly life. We become drenched in self-righteousness instead of beautifully clothed in God’s righteousness.

As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died. It doesn’t matter whether we have been circumcised or not. What counts is whether we have been transformed into a new creation. May God’s peace and mercy be upon all who live by this principle; they are the new people of God. – Galatians 6:14-16

Remember how we started out the book of Galatians? We are saved by grace through faith and not by works. It is not our observance of religious laws or our faithful attendance at church that matters – it is the transformation that God does in our lives through His Spirit when we truly empty ourselves of all of our own desires and allow Him to fill us with His. Then we receive God’s peace and His mercy; then we are a new person of God and no longer a slave to our sinful nature. Then our life begins to positively impact the lives of those around us.

WHAT IF GOD WANTS TO GREATLY AFFECT THE LIFE OF SOMEONE ELSE TODAY THROUGH YOUR LIFE?

Faithful & Gentle

Today’s Reading: Psalm 80 & 117

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…

FAITHFULNESS

It seems to me that the word FAITHFULNESS is reserved for God Himself. If God is the definition of faithfulness, then is it even possible for man to be defined as faithful? This was the question I asked myself when I went to study the fruit of faithfulness. I found that out of the 68 times the word “faithfulness” appears in the Bible, almost every time it is referring to God and His faithfulness. How then can we be faithful? Then I found this Scripture in Isaiah that seems to explain it all:

A voice says, “Cry out.”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
“All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.
The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them.
Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”
– Isaiah 40:6-8

In Texas, I had plants growing in my backyard with these big, beautiful leaves. I watered them “faithfully” but I was losing the battle against the sun, which browned the edges and caused them to quickly lose their beauty. One day, the plants starting producing these beautiful tropical flowers – flowers that would be beautiful for a day and then would start wilting. Only one bloom sustained its beauty for more than a day.

We are like grass and our faithfulness is like the flowers – the potential for beauty is there but it cannot sustain itself. Without nourishment, it will wither and fall. No matter how hard I try of my own strength to be faithful, it will not be sustained. It will wilt and the petals will drop. It is the faithfulness of God that endures forever. But here is the good news – although we cannot truly be faithful, the Spirit living within us can produce faithfulness. Therefore, if our lives can be described as faithful, it is not to our glory but to the glory of the God who gave us the Spirit whose fruit is faithfulness.

Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. – Proverbs 3:3

GENTLENESS

Oh that the Holy Spirit would use my heart as a tapestry! And as long as the Spirit is producing the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and faithfulness, it would be great if He could soften up this heart of mine and tame this tongue so that GENTLENESS would be the fruit of my walk with Christ.

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. – Proverbs 15:1

Oh, the power of a gentle response – so powerful that it can break a bone (Prov. 25:15)! Gentleness is not weakness. Remember when God responded gently?

The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” – 1 Kings 19:11-13

Jesus describes himself as gentle and is described by others as gentle.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. – Matthew 11:28-30

Say to Daughter Zion, “See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” – Matthew 21:5 and Zechariah 9:9

So if God is found in a gentle whisper and Jesus is gentle and humble in heart, it is no surprise that the fruit of the Spirit living within us is gentleness – that God’s plan for our life is to produce gentleness.

Let your gentleness be evident to all. – Philippians 4:5

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. – Colossians 3:12

Thank you, God, for these truths this morning. I woke up still soaking in yesterday’s truths – that you are good and that you are kind. And now I praise you for being a faithful God and a gentle God of grace, mercy and compassion. Lord, fill me with your Spirit and make me into the child of God you want me to be. I love you. Amen.

The Outcome of the Spirit

Today’s Reading: Galatians 5

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! Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, LET US FOLLOW THE SPIRIT’S LEADING in every part of our lives. – Galatians 5:22-25

We talk a lot about outcomes at the Pregnancy Resource Center – end results or consequences of our actions or services. We know who we are and what we have been called by God to do, but we also know what the result of our ministry could or should look like. We take measurements and ask the question – Are we accomplishing what God is calling us to do?

In Galatians, we learn that the fruit of the Spirit is the outcome of the Spirit dwelling within us. This fruit (singular) has nine different characteristics, the first of which is LOVE. God is not speaking here of “eros” love (longings or desires, most often associated with the love between a man and a woman) or “philos” love (the love of a friend for a friend). The fruit of the Spirit is characterized by “agape” love, which is divine.

1 Corinthians 13 is a great description of agape love – love that seems impossible of our own strength. Agape love is patient, kind, it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, self-seeking, or easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs, not delighting in evil but rejoicing in the truth; always protecting, always trusting, always hoping, always persevering. And here’s the big one – Love never fails.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t fool myself into believing that I can reproduce that kind of love. Only God is capable of agape. Agape is not a feeling but a response regardless of the feeling, fueled by the needs of others and not by my own desires. When I completely surrender to the Spirit, he will express agape love through me – for agape love demands to be shown and lived out.

So, as I draw close to God and spend time in His presence, He fills me with the Holy Spirit and the result of this indwelling is fruit. My roots grow deeper and wider, and the result of that growth is increased fruit. Another fruit of the Spirit living within me is JOY.

While recently studying James’ letter, he encouraged us to consider it pure joy whenever we face trials of many kinds (1:2). This is the kind of joy he was referring to – not a false joy we have to create on our own or a happy face we need to paint on to fool people, but joy that is fruit from the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives. Then, not only will we experience joy in the midst of trials, we will also experience PEACE.

The fruit of the Holy Spirit that helps us persevere and not give into our circumstances is PATIENCE – to focus on the hope that is before us so that we can endure the moment we are living in today. We live in expectation or hope of what we will receive, confidence that persevering through difficult times is worth it. Hope is not a focus on what might happen but what must happen. Patience based on hope helps us to bear difficult circumstances because we are inspired by an expectation of what is to come. This kind of hope is inspired by our Lord Jesus and this kind of patience is a gift from the Spirit.

Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness… What better example of KINDNESS than to look at the grace of God that Paul spoke about in his letter to the Galatians. That we are called children of God; that we are forgiven for our sins; that we have been “grafted in” and given life through a relationship with the God who created us – these are all signs that we serve a KIND God. And if we, by grace, have been shown kindness by God, and if we are truly grafted into the one true Vine, kindness should be a natural outflow of the Spirit living within us.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. – Colossians 3:12-13

Not only is God kind, He is good – all the time! We serve a good God. In the midst of the most difficult of circumstances, it is good to be reminded that God is loving, that He is kind and that He is good. One of my favorite references to the GOODNESS of God can be found in a conversation with Moses:

Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”
And the LORD said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”
– Exodus 33:18-20

The glory of God is defined by God as goodness, mercy and compassion. So as God desires to be glorified through our lives, He places His Spirit in us to produce the kind of fruit that brings God glory – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. And He adds to that list: grace, compassion, humility, forgiveness, mercy and deeds prompted by faith – All of this by His power and for His glory!

Oh Lord, you are SO good. You are a kind and merciful God and I am humbled in your presence. Thank you for your grace – for your mercy and compassion towards us. Father, I give you permission to make me worthy of your calling. I cannot be consistently good and kind on my own. By your power, bring to fruition the desire of my heart to be kind and to live a good life. Fill me with your Spirit so that every good thing coming out of my life is a result of the work of the Spirit, my time in your presence and my faith in you. May the name of the Lord Jesus be glorified in me, and me in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Set Free By Grace

Today’s Reading: Galatians 4

But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir. – Galatians 4:4-7

GOD SENT HIS SON TO BUY OUR FREEDOM.

We are no longer slaves…so why do we so often let our own sinful nature control our actions and our words? God sent His Son so that we could be free from sin and He gave us His Spirit to live in our hearts. This freedom that comes from a Spirit-filled life should look like love and not harsh words or bitter attitudes. The presence of the Holy Spirit should be evidenced by the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and SELF-CONTROL.

For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another. – Galatians 5:13-15

DON’T USE YOUR FREEDOM TO SATISFY YOUR SINFUL NATURE.

This is where Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia sounds so much like James’ letter to the Christians scattered across the region. When do I need self-control? Pretty much every time I open my mouth. Here’s the tricky part: Self-control is really not about SELF-control but about allowing the SPIRIT to be in control. If I put myself in charge of controlling the words I say and the tone with which I say them, I cannot sustain holiness. But when I give in to the urgings of God’s Spirit and allow “self-control” to simply be a fruit of His presence in my life, my tongue is put under HIS control.

This is scary: You can tame a tiger, but you can’t tame a tongue—it’s never been done. The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer. With our tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women he made in his image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth!

My friends, this can’t go on. A spring doesn’t gush fresh water one day and brackish the next, does it? Apple trees don’t bear strawberries, do they? Raspberry bushes don’t bear apples, do they? You’re not going to dip into a polluted mud hole and get a cup of clear, cool water, are you?

Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here’s what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts. Mean-spirited ambition isn’t wisdom. Boasting that you are wise isn’t wisdom. Twisting the truth to make yourselves sound wise isn’t wisdom. It’s the furthest thing from wisdom—it’s animal cunning, devilish conniving. Whenever you’re trying to look better than others or get the better of others, things fall apart and everyone ends up at the others’ throats.

Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor. – James 3:7-18 (The Message)

LET THE HOLY SPIRIT GUIDE YOUR WORDS AND YOUR ACTIONS.

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under the obligation to the law of Moses.

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

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 5:16-23

Abba Father, thank you for your gift of the Spirit living within me. I am so thankful that is not up to me to produce holiness but to simply submit to your Spirit and let your fruit be evident in my life: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Because I belong to Christ Jesus, the passions and desires of my sinful nature have been nailed to his cross and crucified there.

It is my desire to live by the Spirit’s leading in every area of my life – never conceited or jealous of others, never provoking or injuring someone with my words (Gal. 5:24-26). I want my walk with you to be characterized by getting along with others, loving others because I love you. Fill me anew this morning with your Spirit and may you be glorified in my life today. Amen.

Made Right by Grace

Today’s Reading: Galatians 3

How fitting that we study the book of Galatians during the week of our Labor Day celebrations! Yesterday we celebrated workers and how their contribution makes a difference to our world and our economy. We are a strong and prosperous country because of the culture of work that has formed over the last two centuries. Working hard is a good thing. Making a contribution to your family, to your church and to your community has a positive ripple effect. Our faith in God can be expressed in our actions but it does not earn us our salvation.

My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die. – Galatians 2:20-21

I DO NOT WANT TO TREAT THE GRACE OF GOD AS MEANINGLESS.

Christ died on a cross so that I could experience salvation. I did not earn it. I do not deserve it. I can never be good enough on my own. This salvation is a gift from God – a gift by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. This gift is available because of God’s unmerited favor on us – His grace. To begin working hard to earn my salvation is pointless and it ignores God’s grace, treating it as if it has no meaning.

Grace – what a wonderful blessing in our lives! But, just because I could never be good enough on my own to deserve God’s grace does not mean I now have an excuse to sin. Another gift from God was the Holy Spirit. He gave us the gift of His Spirit in order that our faith could be expressed in our actions. With the power of the Spirit living within us, we are able to follow the urgings of the Holy Spirit and not the urgings of our old sinful nature.

Don’t be misled – you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. – Galatians 6:7-9

It is that time of year when we see the farmers out in their fields preparing for the harvest. Imagine if one of them planted soybeans in a field but went out expecting to harvest wheat. That would be crazy. The farmer will get what he planted. What he planted will have grown as long as he continued to connect it to a source of water and protect it from bugs.

Jesus gave his life for our sins, just as God our Father planned, in order to rescue us from this evil world in which we live. – Galatians 1:4

I DON’T HAVE TO CREATE A RIGHTEOUSNESS OF MY OWN.

God gave us His Son, and Jesus willingly died for us, in order that we could be rescued from evil – in order that we could overcome the sinful nature. He promised to give us the gift of HIS righteousness, a gift that is ours when we live by the Spirit. That’s wonderful! We don’t have to create a righteousness of our own, just as we cannot earn our salvation by good works. Instead, His gift of grace gives us the gift of His righteousness and the gift of the Spirit living within us.

But we who live by the Spirit eagerly wait to receive by faith the righteousness God has promised to us…What is important is faith expressing itself in love. – Galatians 5:5-6

For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another. – Galatians 5:13-15

LET US FOLLOW THE SPIRIT’S LEADING IN EVERY PART OF OUR LIVES.

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. – Galatians 5:16-17a

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

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!

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, LET US FOLLOW THE SPIRIT’S LEADING in every part of our lives. Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another. – Galatians 5:19-26

Heavenly Father, thank you so much for your grace – for loving us enough to send your Son to die for our sins. Thank you for the gift of the Spirit and for the gift of your righteousness. Holy Spirit, guide my life and give me desires that are the opposite of what my sinful nature desires. Produce in me this kind of fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I nail the passions and desires of my old self, my sinful nature, to your cross and crucify them there. I long to follow the Spirit’s leading in every area of my life. Amen.