THE POWERFUL FRUIT OF FAITHFULNESS

In one of his many books, Billy Graham speaks of times when he struggled with doubt, times when his faith was lacking.  I read this, but can’t imagine that idea.  However, it shouldn’t surprise me that even the most committed Christians and godly leaders have doubted and struggled with their faith at times.

Much of what I know and deal with is within the physical realm.  That’s true for all of us.  Most of what we experience is through the five senses that God has blessed us with.  The spiritual ideas, including faith, is something that you and I must deal with outside of the physical.

Spiritual realities aren’t measurable in the same way our physical world is.  They are not tangible.  When life throws us a curve ball (a difficult life situation) it’s very real, it is measurable.  So, pressing into the intangible, the spiritual things of God with our hearts firmly planted in faith is sometimes a chosen act that becomes radically challenged.

All faith claims are not equal.  Some announcements of faith are based on someone or something that is not true.  So, before any of us can find any confidence in our faith we must answer a very real question:  What have I placed my faith in?

I know that there are many, many people who fall prey to the claims of miracle working, TV evangelist that say,  “If you will just send me $25, I want to send you this prayer cloth.”  They say,  “I have personally prayed over this cloth and if you want to receive your miracle order this holy prayer cloth today!”   Sadly, there are many waiting for their miracle to arrive via the USPS.

There are also many people that hold to the idea of putting their faith in faith.  They adhere to the notion that, “you just need to have more faith.”  Faith itself is seen as the object.  Get more of it, conjure up enough, believe hard enough and “it” will happen or come true.  The focus is purely in the belief of self-generated faith instead of placing one’s faith in God alone.

 God is to be the object of our faith

6 And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).  The Biblical purpose of faith is to bring you and I into the presence of a holy God.

I recall a time in my life when a situation brought me overwhelming grief and sorrow.  The emotional pain was so great that I literally became immobilized and was unable to make it to my bed that evening.  My faith was deeply challenged.  I laid on the couch crying out to God in my pain, lamenting the situation, but at the same time recognizing His sovereignty over this and all of life’s difficult times.

Many will doubt what I am about to describe, but I know the validity of the event.   During my prayers and brokenness that evening God spoke.   In perfect and audible English His voice simply said, “It’s okay.”   At that moment His peace ran completely through me and my emotional pain was healed.  I sat up looking for where the voice had come.  It came from nowhere and at the same time everywhere.  His presence filled the room.  While the loss was still very real, the power that situation had exhibited over me was completely and permanently put in check.

Jeremiah 29:13 says, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” I had come to the end of myself and could only cry out “Abba, Father.”  That night my faith was in God alone.  He was all that I had.  All my self-generated ways to ‘fix’ had abandoned me.  My sole passion was for Him.

The greatest power in overcoming doubt comes from the Holy Spirit of God that teaches, guides and strengthens us to live by His Holy Word.  It’s not enough to just know what God’s Word says, we must be obedient to its teaching as well.  Mercy demands obedience.  How much pain, how many difficulties could we avoid if we were just faithfully obedient to what the Bible teaches?

I don’t know what causes doubt in your life, but I do know how to overcome that doubt.

God loves you more than you can imagine.  If you will commit yourself to trust Him and obey His Word, God will fill you with His Spirit and begin the wonderful process of refining you to become more like Christ.  This commitment is not a one and done thing.  You must commit yourself daily to following God.  Ask God to help you live for Him each and every day.

The purpose of this blog is not to debate or dissect God’s Word, but rather to encourage you to personally know what His Word says and then faithfully live it out.  The Nike tag line says it best:  “Just do it!”  Do what His Word calls you to do.

Everyone struggles with doubt at times.  However, by believing and placing your faith in God alone, asking the Lord to increase your faith by helping you in your unbelief, He will lovingly respond to your cry.  As you grow in your relationship with God by the “renewing of your mind” (Romans 12: 2) and learn how much He loves you, you will then discover how faithful He is to bring confidence to you during those times of doubt.  The Holy Spirit’s powerful fruit of faithfulness is the path to security because faith is love’s confidence.

GOODNESS IS LOVE’S CHARACTER

The other day someone told me, “I have so much difficulty believing in the goodness of God because of all the evil and confusion that I see in the world.”  Wow!  Here was a person that seemed open to the idea of God, but was struggling to reconcile personal life experiences with how they had defined God should be and how God should behave.

As I was considering how to respond to this comment challenging the goodness of God, it seemed too empty to simply state that the evil, the confusion in the world is not from God.  It was important for me to take a positive approach.  I knew I didn’t need to be defensive and God certainly didn’t need me defending Him.

After establishing that this person believed Jesus had in fact died for their sins, I decided to wonder out loud with them.  Let me explain.  It was easy for us to agree that life isn’t fair.  We both admitted that we longed for justice when wronged, but also wanted to receive grace when we were the wrongdoer.  Funny how that works?

As we continued to talk I asked them to, “…try and picture the Sinless One, the epitome of innocence, willfully hanging on a cross, shedding His blood for the sins that we have and will commit.  On the day of His crucifixion no one could bring a charge against Him.  Yet, He was sentenced to death.  Jesus gave up His life.  But, for what?  Talk about injustice!  What’s fair about that picture?”

Believing in the goodness of God can be difficult, especially when one is faced with unfair circumstances.  However, God’s goodness is in His plan and purpose to redeem fallen mankind.  The salvation that His Son, Christ Jesus provides is testimony to His goodness and love.  Romans 5:8 says:  “8But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

Because one sinned, all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.  The consequence of Adam’s original sin is indeed universal.  Every person that has ever lived on this Earth has contracted that dreaded disease from Adam.  The heart of mankind is evil.   Just like Crabby Appleton, in the old cartoon Tom Terrific, the heart of man is ‘rotten to the core.’

God’s Offer of Divine Grace Is Also Universal

I bet whether you find yourself attending church gatherings or not you are familiar with John3:16.  The guy with the multi-colored hair at all the NFL and NCAA football games has made sure of that by holding his simple sign that says, “John 3:16…”  “ 16For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”  Verse 17 goes on to say, “17For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:16, 17).

God’s goodness is in His plan to end the schemes of the evil one once and for all.  We can rest in His goodness because of His promise to make all things right, all things new (Revelation 21:5).

Upholding all things by His wisdom and power, God gives us the gift of life because He is good.  God loves you and wants to spend all of eternity with you.  His goodness has provided a way for you to receive the most precious gift of all.  A gift that releases you from the penalty of sin and gives life everlasting in His presence.

The Greek word translated “goodness,” is agathosune.  This Greek word can more specifically be defined as an upright heart and life.  Godly goodness is a goodness for the benefit of others.

The “Fruit of the Spirit” called goodness can best be described as holiness in action.  It can only exist in a life that is motivated by righteousness and deeply desires to be a blessing to others.  Goodness cannot be generated or manufactured on our own.  Expressions of goodness can come in all shapes and sizes.  Creative goodness is as vast as the Holy Spirit of God.

James 1:17 says, 17Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.”  As you and I seek God in obedience and allow the Holy Spirit to control us, we are blessed with the fruit of goodness.

There is indeed evil in this world.  Many of the things that occur in our lives seem unfair, unjust and we will never fully understand it all.  However, God’s good plan is redemption and restoration.  As His child we have been set apart for His purpose.  This act of being set apart is called sanctification.  Because we have been sanctified we can walk in His goodness.  By the power of His Spirit, we too, can be a person of holiness in action.  The fruit of goodness can be real in your life!  I once read that, “I need Jesus Christ for my eternal life, I need the Holy Spirit for my internal life.”

Salvation is God’s good and perfect gift to anyone that will place their faith in the person of Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour.  Our goodness is in a holy and pleasing life lived to the glory God, driven by a heart filled with gratitude for the perfect love that God shares with His children.  For you see goodness is love’s character.

PUT ON KINDNESS

Several years ago, my son and daughter-in-law were pregnant with who was to be my first grandson.  Both my wife and I were excited about taking on our new roles as ‘Nana’ and ‘Pop Pop’.   As her condition became more obvious, I began noticing that young pregnant women seemed to be everywhere.  I don’t believe I had ever really paid attention to this before.

When I purchased a certain pickup truck, I began to notice how many of these trucks were on the highway.  They seemed to be around every curve and at every intersection.  My thoughts and eyes had become sensitive to this just as they had to the pending arrival of my grandchild.

It’s funny, but as I began praying about how God would lead me to write about ‘kindness,’ I began noticing t-shirts being worn by people that said, “Just Be Kind.”

“Just Be Kind,” a wonderful sentiment.  I suspect this slogan is a response to a world that is moving away from compassion and empathy at a break-neck speed.  Perhaps in an effort to apply the brakes and slow down this global shift, someone has printed a t-shirt that encourages a positive behavior that appears to be losing its steam rapidly.

The message on the shirt caused me to question, instead of just putting on a t-shirt how could someone “put on kindness?  How does pure kindness manifest itself in one’s life?  Perhaps an even better question might be:  Can a person just decide to be kind one day and this decision result in continual acts of kindness?

One of the most beautiful expressions of kindness is found in a familiar Psalm.  The 23rd Psalm paints our God as a shepherd that lovingly provides for us, His sheep.  In kindness our shepherd walks us to green pastures where the sustenance is sweet and filling.  He takes us to the quiet waters that are safe and calming so that our thirst will be quenched.  When we become weary and turn to Him, the Shepherd faithfully restores our soul.

Through tender benevolence towards His sheep, the Good Shepherd is showing kindness.  God provides us for because He is kind.  Ultimately, God’s kindness is revealed by the provision of our salvation through the loving gift of His Son and our Saviour, Christ Jesus.

If acts of kindness are to be gentle or tender, benevolent and useful to others, is that something that can just happen if we set our minds to behaving well?  If being kind mandates that every action, every word uttered will be seasoned with grace can you and I, by the mere act of self-determination, bring about such a feat?

Perhaps that’s possible in the short-term.  However, to be kind even with those we love, is extremely difficult. It usually results in many failures. Showing kindness to others that are actively attacking us or standing against us in some way is impossible in our own strength.

The ultimate expression of kindness is grace.  Many years ago, I heard Adrian Rogers (then Pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church, Memphis, TN) say of grace, it is God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.  I don’t know if this clever explanation of grace was original with Dr. Rogers, but it matters not.  It’s true enough.

Through grace, God has revealed to us His compassion, His tenderness, and His benevolence.  God’s perfect love is shown through this wonderful, even unexplainable act of kindness called grace.

Kindness, as it is used in the New Testament, means uprightness or benevolence and describes the ability to act for the welfare of others.  Kindness by that definition can, at times, be quite unnatural.

Being kind can only come through humble submission to God.  It is Godly love that makes a person kinder.  It won’t come by a determined effort to act better.  The t-shirt message finds its reality in the love of God alone.

Kindness is no small thing.  It yields marvelous fruit both in our lives and the lives of those around us. “Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness will find life, righteousness, and honor” (Proverbs 21:21)

Kindness belongs to God.  It is a fruit of His indwelling Spirit in our lives.  Our lives can yield the fruit of kindness toward others as we abandon ourselves fully to the agapé love of God.

The Apostle John wrote:  Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7).

Today, ask God to fill you with His perfect love.  God is faithful to bring about His will to those who seek Him.  He will lead you to a life that is kinder, more forgiving and gracious towards others.  As kindness begins to take hold in your life, thank God for His grace and infinite love.

It’s true that kindness is love’s conduct.

THEY WILL WALK AND NOT BECOME WEARY

Isaiah 40:31 – Yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary.

Patience, many people pray to have more of it in their lives.  When God answers it is usually by allowing circumstances to arise that require growth [becoming broken] in the area where patience is absent or lacking.  It is only in our brokenness that we are then able to successfully honor God with our responses to difficult times in our lives.

Initially my ideas were to merely reflect on patience as related to hassles of everyday life.  Most all of us have experienced the slowest line at the grocery store or stand still traffic on the interstate.  If you’ve spent any time in the military you know the true meaning of “hurry up, and wait.”

However, as I prayed the Lord opened my eyes to the true value of learning to wait on Him with a spirit of brokenness.  He has also caused me to realize the danger that comes from not being broken, humble and willing to wait on the Lord in obedience.

The value of patience is so much more than just waiting in a long line or tolerating a difficult person.  Not waiting on the Lord can lead each of us down the path of self-centeredness that yields a demanding spirit of entitlement.

Here in the States our culture is packed with avenues providing immediate gratification.  Our inclination to wait, seeking the Lord’s wisdom has become all but extinct in our society.  The result is attitudes of me-ism, massive debt and making life choices that take us far from what and who God has designed us to be.  This is true even within the Christian community.

Because of the ease of immediate accessibility, value for nearly all things, including life itself, has fallen into the abyss.  Let me show you how self-centeredness, a failure to seek God’s wisdom and not waiting on His guidance has yielded a tragic result.

The legal choice of an abortion has devalued human life to the point of overlooking the murder of the innocent.  The choice to abort is usually initiated to gain immediate freedom from a very natural and even predictable consequence of another choice for immediate gratification.  Would being patient, broken in our spirit and waiting on the Lord truly make a difference?

Over 98 percent of the abortions performed today involve women who simply do not want to have the baby.  Less than two percent of abortions are for the reasons of rape, incest, or the mother’s life being at risk.

Of the remaining less than 2 percent of abortions performed, only 1/10 of 1 percent are done “to save the life of the mother.”  In many of those cases inducement or C-sections can be performed.  Early inducement may result in the death of the baby, but it’s extremely rare that a baby must be actively aborted in order to save the life of the mother.  In fact, many physicians say that abortions are rarely necessary to save the life of the mother.

For the small number of remaining pregnancies that are the result of rape or incest, one must ask the question:  Is it possible that in this case alone, two wrongs will result in a right?  Is the murder of the innocent baby the path to follow to correct the evil acts of the criminal father?  Perhaps seeking God’s wisdom and waiting on His direction would bring viable, meaningful alternatives.

Psalm 139:13-16 speaks of God’s active role in our creation and formation in the womb.  One could easily conclude that God considers a baby in the womb to be just as much of a human being as a full-grown adult.

Unplanned or even unwanted pregnancy is certainly a difficult challenge.  While in the moment, the individual finding themselves in this predicament can easily become overwhelmed with floods of fear and emotions, that pregnancy is not beyond God’s ability to bring about His plan for our good.

Becoming broken as we wait upon the Lord is difficult

Patience requires us to lay aside our agendas, our schedules and simply trust God.  As the Spirit produces patience in us He is making us more Christlike.  2 Thessalonians 3:5 speaks of the “patience of Christ” (ASV).  Christ is even now patiently awaiting the completion of the Father’s plan: after Jesus “had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God.  Since that time, He waits for His enemies to be made His footstool”  (Hebrews 10:12-13).   We should be patient, even as our Lord and Saviour, Christ Jesus, is patient.

God doesn’t give us a free pass around difficult circumstance or annoying people.  Nor, does He prevent us from making self-centered choices.  However, in our brokenness He does give us the strength to overcome the circumstance, to show compassion toward the difficult person and to endure as we patiently wait on Him.  God longs to refine us for His glory and works in all things for our good (Romans 8:28 – 29).

So, would being patient, broken in our spirit and waiting on the Lord truly make a difference?  Patience, after all is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, produced by God’s work in us.  In brokenness, as we yield to His call, the fruit of patience comes alive within us.  God’s patience is love’s endurance.

PEACE IS LOVE’S SECURITY

The other day the news reported a two-year-old child had fallen into a deep well while on a picnic with his parents.  Against all odds the community was frantically working to rescue this little boy.  Bliss turns to sorrow.

Friendships once close, now covered with ugly bitterness and sharp words spewed by unbridled tongues.  Disease, war, famine, divorce, drugs, terrorists’ attacks and what could only be described as pure evil fill news reports daily.  God’s Eden has become a glorious ruin because sin has entered the world.  Since that event mankind has been plagued with pain and suffering of all kinds.

As we move through our personal journey, life often finds us lonely in a community of restless others.  Each one constantly searching for security and peace.  This lonely search is the result of sin.  It is the disease of sin that yields the fruit of our sins.

For many, the search for peace in this fallen world has a wrong focus.  The world preaches that wholeness comes with fame, wealth and/or controlling power.  These avenues, according to the world will quench the thirst for peace and satisfy our hunger for security.  They will not.

You and I were not given the gift of life so we could become absorbed and preoccupied with self.  It is also not our role to be “good deed doers” like the Tin-man in Oz.’  Doing good things is not bad but, if that’s all there is then one must agree with Solomon when he said:  “If this is all there is to life, then it truly is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”  (Ecclesiastes 1:14).

Returning to the place of, ‘In the beginning,’ one sees that God in His masterful plan made man unique within all of Creation.  While He spoke all other life into existence, with man He lovingly formed us with His hands and with His breath breathed life into our lungs.  We were created in their image.  Only mankind has been given the supreme gift of life that is designed to be in a full and intimate relationship with God.

Without living our lives rightly aligned with God we are incomplete and destined to an endless search.  We spend countless hours filling the void with more things, other people and new events, but these never fully satisfy.  The hunger and thirst of our longings are present within us.  Our stomachs remain empty and our throats are still dry.  Where is peace and security to be found?

It is a true statement that the further we separate ourselves from God the harder we must work to hide our insecurities.  Insecurity wears so many different masks and takes on so many different forms.

Some of our masks hide insecurity by appearing compliant and submissive.  Other masks that we wear take on the appearance of being strong and in charge, even bossy.  There are those that are controlled by the opinions of others, working diligently to gain the approval of every man.  Some of the imposter’s masks are unable to admit fault and see everyone else as committing all the wrongs.

These various roles often lead to addictive behaviors in an attempt to either make things work perfectly or escape the realty of failure.

The Prince of the Lies offers the false hope that peace and security have their roots in this harsh world.   Those that listen, remain on the path of sin living as a slave to insecurity, self-focus and pride.

Working to find peace and security in our own strength leads to a meaningless life.  Moving further from God leads to emptiness.  This is nothing new.  To the people of his day, the prophet Jeremiah declared, “Ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, we will not walk in it” (Jeremiah 6:16).

Centuries ago St. Augustine wrote, “You have made us for Yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.”  God has given you and I a precious gift.  The gift is an eternal relationship with Him and a deep understanding that beyond this life there is indeed more.

God created you and I for His good pleasure.   With His breath He sustains us so that we may enjoy intimacy with Him.  It is because He loves that we can love.  With each new day comes the wonderful opportunity to draw near to God and to walk with Him in His peace.  It is in this reality where we find hope.  It is only with God that we can find peace and live securly in the midst of the world’s uncertainties.

In His perfect love we find peace

28Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29“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. 30“For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

When the darkness of this world causes you to lose your bearings, remember that Jesus is always with you.  It is my prayer that you will press into Him and draw close.  Jesus has promised:  “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.  Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (John 14:27).  Peace is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, produced by God’s work in us.  To have peace in Him is His will for us.  God’s peace is love’s security.