CONTROLLED OR OUT OF CONTROL ?

At least I’m not as bad as they are!”  “I would never do what they did!”  “How could he do such a thing?”  “What in the world did she think would happen when she did that?”

We’ve all heard these statements.  Perhaps some of us might even be guilty of having made a statement similar to one of these.  We are all so capable of accurately pointing out the faults in others.  All the while failing to recognize our own short-comings. There is plenty of self-righteousness to go around.  What’s generally lacking is self-control.

The unbeliever often speaks of the hypocrisy within the Church.  That statement is true enough, but it is not the argument to be used to reject Christ.  Every one of us has fallen short of God’s glory.  Jesus alone brings to us His righteousness.  Jesus is the standard, not His followers.

Another truth about Christianity is that many Christians allow some sins to go completely unchecked, perhaps even finding excuses for the wrong act, while other behaviors that go against God’s will are loudly condemned.

In our minds there are certain ‘obvious sins.’  However, in God’s Word sin is not categorized.  Any sin, all sins separate us from God.

Living honestly with God and others is vital.  God’s Word states that in the last days His servants will be honored because “no lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless” (Revelation 14:5).   A complementary statement found in the Old Testament commands, “Do not lie.  Do not deceive one another” (Leviticus 19:11).

Honestly, (pun strongly intended) I can’t think of many things that will harm or challenge one’s reputation faster than behaving in a dishonest way.  Once a person is known ‘as not being trustworthy,’ it becomes difficult to reverse this opinion.  Dishonest behavior is divisive.  Of course, Satan loves this.  As the “father of lies” (John 8:44), Satan spends a lot of energy trying to convince us that it really doesn’t matter whether or not we are honest.

Moral purity is part of being self-controlled.  You might believe that we are in the last days because of all the sexual deviance in our society today.  However, “…there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).  One needs only to move through the pages of both the Old and New Testament to find horrific examples of sexual impurity that gained stamps of approval from the pagan beliefs of the day.  This is still true today.

In today’s world, taking a stand against sexual immorality can result in being labeled as a hater or intolerant.  However, God’s standards remain the same.  You and I are expected to live lives of purity.  The beauty is that God in His mercy and grace provides a way out.  Paul told the Christians in Corinth, a city noted for its blatant immorality, to “flee from sexual immorality.  All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18).  In other words, put on your tennis shoes, lace them tightly and run as hard as you can away from that which tempts you to behave immorally.

There is a well-known story about two dogs that had been bred to fight.  At each fight, the owner would always bet on the winning dog.  When asked how he always knew which dog would win he simply answered, “The one I feed.”

What we feed will become stronger.  If we feed our desire to serve God and live in His righteousness, we will find freedom.  However, choosing to feed a life outside of His authority will inevitably return us to the bondage our sins produce.

“If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36)

I want you to consider the truth that freedom is found in Christ.  In Christ you can find freedom from slavery to sin.  You can experience freedom from sin’s guilt, from the fear it produces.  You can be free from the penalty of sin and by the power of His Spirit we find freedom we have  freedom over the power that sin wields. 

Do you live in that freedom?

This freedom isn’t a license to behave as we wish.  What Christ’s freedom provides is the power to live a life worthy of the gospel.  It is here where we find victory.

The Bible speaks of a day when even “… Creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).

Oh, glorious day when “… at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in Heaven and on Earth, and under the Earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10, 11).  It is true that self-control is love’s victory.

GENTLE STRENGTH

The Belgian and the Clydesdale horses are both huge beautiful animals that are bred for heavy work.  Of course, the Clydesdale horse was made world famous by the Anheuser-Busch Brewing Company.  The Budweiser Clydesdale horses effortlessly pulling their heavy load through snow and down city streets is a familiar scene on American television.

These teams of beautiful animals are housed in many places throughout the States at the Bush Gardens amusement parks.  I recall one Saturday morning visiting Grant’s Farm in St. Louis, Missouri, the home quarters of Anheuser-Busch Brewery.  It was there I met Milton.

Sitting alongside his trusty Dalmatian companion, Milton steered the team of raw horsepower as he willed from the wagon’s driver’s seat.  Milton’s life-long dream was that of a horse jockey.  But alas, he always weighed in just over the allowable limit.  Too small for most other sports he was relegated to the seat behind these wonderful creatures.

With two leather straps in his hands, a mere pull to the left and all 16,000 pounds of power turned to the left.  His right hand yielded the same powerful influence.  But how could this be?  Anyone knows that the power of these magnificent horses could override that of Milton’s at any moment.  You see, they had been harnessed in such a way as to do the will of Milton.

While this is far from a perfect example of what it means to have the character quality of meekness, it does give some visual imagery to what it means to have your will harnessed to do the will of God.  This story does example living in such a way where a mere, light tug from His Spirit would drive you in the direction of the Cross and God’s perfect and holy will.  The attitude of meekness is synonymous with gentleness and what it means to walk humbly with your God.

Jesus asks us to learn from Him.  Specifically, He asked that we become like Him in meekness and to be humble in heart.  Jesus describes Himself this way:  “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.”  (Matthew 11:29)

The Greek word “praus” translated means gentleness. However, it is difficult to translate this word exactly.  Generally, when used in the Scriptures it is not referring to weakness but rather to exercising God’s strength under His control.  It is demonstrating His power and authority without exhibiting undue harshness.

The “fruit of the Spirit” called gentleness is much more than an outward show of humility.  The proof of possessing this fruit is in a heart attitude.  A person can put on a show of humility but still have a heart that is full of pride and arrogance.  Jesus said that “…those who are “poor in spirit” would have the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).

It is the truth of God’s word that ‘prescribes’ our behavior, that gives meaning and purpose to who we are.  God’s Word points to “…the way, the truth, and the life.”  It is the gentle, the spiritually poor person that finds self-awareness on the humble path of following the person of Jesus Christ.

Jesus is not only gentle and humble but, aggressive and brave as well.  Gentleness doesn’t eliminate strength or power. Neither does humility cause one to lose their courage.  Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords.  He rules and leads His church with gentleness and humility.

Being gentle and humble in heart secures relationships without controlling them. Gentleness can only come to the one that is willing to be led by the Holy Spirit of God.  That person is able to walk with confidence in their relationship to God through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Jesus asks us to learn from Him.  But, what are we to learn?  We will know who we are, we will have the fullness of self, when we know who God is.

Man’s wisdom cannot give a clue as to what is meaningful.  Only “the wisdom that comes from heaven” can bring to life a lasting purpose.

There is purpose and balance to all things, even in this present life.  Just as there is a time to die, there is a time to live.  Just as there is a time for sorrow, there is a time for joy.  Life takes on significance in the enjoyment of living for God.  You can find eternal joy and happiness by acknowledging the Creator’s purpose for you and obeying His will.

To be gentle, to walk humbly with God requires that we take His yoke upon us and harness our wills to His.  We must pray for His guidance rejecting harmony as the cheap imitation of true intimacy with our Saviour.  We find self in that orbit of intimacy with Jesus as we collide with His majesty in gentleness.  For you see, gentleness is love’s humility.

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.