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Archive for June, 2013

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

~ Galatians 5:22-23

If you’ve been following along for the past few months, you’ll see we’ve come to the final trait listed in Galatians 5, self-control. Like just about everything else these days, there’s an App for that. No, seriously, there really is! But what does self-control really mean? The dictionary defines it as “control of one’s emotions, desires, or actions by one’s own will.” The Bible calls it a fruit of the Spirit, one of the nine visible attributes of a true Christian life, each given to believers and developed by the power of the Holy Spirit.

So, how do we live out self-control? I can only speak for myself, but I’m sure many of you will agree that it’s not easy. When I first agreed to write about this topic, I had just begun a new exercise and diet regime. Now there’s a real test of self-control! Do I wake up early to fit my workout in before the busyness of my day takes over, or do I enjoy a few more minutes in the comfort of my bed? Do I make a good snack choice, eating a piece of fruit or small handful of almonds, or do I eat the chips calling my name from the pantry? These and many more choices seem to bombard me daily, and I’ll admit, the choices I make are not always the best.

I’ve spent several months praying about and looking at my life and the role self-control plays in my daily habits. What I found is that the more I prayed, the more opportunities God gave me to try again. Each day brings new opportunities, new choices, and fresh perspective on where I stand in the battle. Fortunately, God is right there every moment, just waiting for me to allow Him the chance to grow my self-control.

This week, we’ll look at some of the aspects of developing self-control and what our role is in the process. Please join me each day and I pray you’ll be comforted and encouraged as we wrap up our journey with the fruit of the Spirit.

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Reading this title today, you may be thinking, “Ha, ha! Yeah, right. Like those traits could ever go together!” Well, I’m here to tell you, they can, but not on our own will. And definitely not by following the beauty advice in today’s fashion magazines! Like any of the other aspects of the spiritual fruit we are trying to grow, the Master Gardener must be involved, and sorry, no one on earth is qualified for that title other than our masterful Creator.

In 1 Peter, chapter 3, we can read one of the most thorough stand-alone accounts in the New Testament on the description of how to achieve beauty that is “of great worth in God’s sight” (1 Peter 3:4). But brace yourself; you may not like what you read at first. Its principle rests firmly on the notorious “S” word that no “modern” woman in today’s American culture would want associated with her character. You guessed it—submissive. And why not?—because recent generations of women have fought against the “stereotypical roles” of women being submissive to their male counterparts. Today’s media images and Hollywood entertainment portray to us that women should make decisions independently; be self-supportive, stylish, thin, beautiful and have it all together.

But is that really who we should be? We may not like the word “submissive” at first glance, but just how and why did Peter tell women to be submissive? Let’s preface Peter’s words with another verse from Paul—“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21).  Now, let’s take a look at Peter’s verses:

Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight (vv. 1-4).

The type of submission written here is not one of inferiority, but the role required for orderliness in the home, an environment which generally breeds positive impact. To be clear, it is not a permission note for abusiveness. Nor is it prohibiting women from thinking independently, expressing themselves, or being a part of decisions which affect the couple and the family.

Confidence and submissiveness go together like bread and butter. You can have one without the other, but typically, they taste better together. The same can be said of all the traits within gentleness. When just the right amount of each is added to our “daily plates,” we can enjoy a much more memorable meal. Flavor your life with all the tastes of gentleness and savor it!

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“Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.”

~ Titus 3:1-2

The past two days we studied verses and reflected on the use of gentleness in times of instruction and correction. Now, let us think about today’s introductory verses, again written by Paul. From my Bible’s introduction of this book, I learned Paul was writing to Titus, a close friend and protégé of his, who helped Paul organize and lead churches in the eastern half of the Roman Empire. Paul wrote these instructions to help Titus lead the troubled church on the island of Crete.

Growing up, my mom would occasionally use the warning, “Don’t be a Cretan” to inform me of my wrongdoing. I didn’t know until many years later that this expression actually could be related to Paul’s warning to Titus, who quoted and affirmed a 6th century Cretan poet, Epimenides, who wrote, “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons” (Titus 1:12). Putting this verse together with those above, we can conclude that though Paul knew the Cretans to be “unfit for doing anything good” (1:16) he certainly believed they could be instructed, corrected and learned in the gospel and cause a reversal in character.

No one asks to be scornfully criticized. When we rebuke someone and spew degrading, destructive words about their character, we are essentially destroying that person’s psyche. We may consider the negative things we say toward or about another to be “just words” or light enough that “she’ll get over it.” But actually, the words we cast off our tongues can come down on someone like a crushing blow. What if that person in subject doesn’t hear the words, what if we just share them with someone else, or say them under our breath, or just think them? God hears us. The other person hears us. It is just as if we blindfolded the unfortunate person of whom we are speaking, put them in a boxing ring and went off on them punching and beating. This may seem a harsh analogy, but consider how you felt the last time someone spoke slanderously and you were the blindsided one in the ring?

The next time you find yourself readying to put on the “boxing gloves” or already standing over your downed opponent before you even realized what happened, consider the gift of grace, the forgiveness extended to us all. Help your brother or sister back up, or take a break to step away before any damage is done. What can we do in these moments? Apologize, ask for forgiveness, offer a hug, and ask for prayer to be more considerate of others. Show them the gentleness Christ had toward both sides—those who slandered Him and those with whom it may have been difficult to show considerate peacefulness.

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“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.”

~ Galatians 6:1

Wow, this is serious. How can we, who are sinful, correct another in his or her sin? What about the verse that tells us not to judge, that we too will be judged by the same measure? Or the one which poignantly questions, who do we think we are to call out the speck of sawdust in our neighbor’s eye when we have a plank in our own? Of course, these biblical admonitions are true (see Matthew 7:1-5). However, it is our interpretation of them which can become skewed and cause us to stumble rather than serve their intended purpose as firm stepping stones.

There are two separate platforms on which we can stand in taking action toward the sins of others. One is judgment and the other is discernment. Judging leads to the destruction of another person’s value, while discerning forges a detecting mechanism for self-protection. Both judging and discerning are thoughts which lead to decisions in our response options. Judging will destroy the value of another’s worth; discerning will pave the way for precaution and wisdom. Discernment comes from the Spirit, the advocating counselor God sent to be among us. Judgment belongs to Jesus. In Acts 10:42, “He is the one whom God appointed judge of the living and the dead.”  So, let the judging belong to Jesus and ask the Spirit to give you discernment.

When we attempt to claim our stance on the platform of discernment, yet hold onto our judgments in the way we think about and treat other people, we are fools. Integrity is at stake. Maybe in some circles, integrity doesn’t amount for much and the people within them are willing to overlook faults of character, but God calls us to a higher standard.

Would any of us be willing to allow a child playing in a pile of filth to continue to do so simply because he’s enjoying himself so much and why bother?…Why should we stop the fun of anyone? Let them go on in their poor choices, because I’ve got my own pile of filth I want to enjoy too?…Or maybe it’s that we don’t want to risk getting ourselves dirty or smelly?  Certainly, there’s someone else better for that job to correct the individual who’s stuck in the muck of sin he’s put himself into? I would rather die than get myself involved in that mess!…Well, it’s time we realize that Jesus already died, and not just to make clean the one who stands before you in the mirror, but also those who are still flagrantly or secretly playing in the poo of sin. And let’s face it, everyone is still standing in proximity to it and daily dirt is an aspect we will never quite be rid of while still living in the flesh. We all have at least some kind of dirt on us.

But thanks be to God, for the gift of forgiveness. He will give it to anyone who asks, despite that they are completely covered in the filth of their sins. Let us have the grace to offer it to those around us. Let God’s grace make them clean. Let us request the Spirit’s discernment to guide us when we look upon others and see them heading for the filth, or already dabbling in the dirt, or even in the course of a full-on mud bath. Pray that we may correct them and admonish them to remember the One who made them clean; to give honor to the One who died so that someday we will be welcomed into heaven, clean and pure.

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In one way or another, each of us is in a role where instruction and/or correction of others is needed. Parents, caregivers, employers, co-workers, family members, friends…these and more will be in a position where moments heed instruction or correction, maybe both. For a number of people, this can be an uncomfortable position in which to be. Some are people-pleasers and don’t want to rock the boat; some are uncertain of their place and cower at speaking up in their own or others’ defense. For others, situations that warrant correction might be misconstrued as justification for abusive reactions. Another possible response used by some is apathy or indifference. All of these choices are not the ones that God calls us to implement; Jesus modeled respectful authority as a teacher and admonisher.

Not once did Jesus abuse that authority such that those in His presence were condoned, victimized or ignored. Before you condemn yourself in the memory of times where you’ve mistreated another in this kind of situation, remember that Jesus never sins; He is perfect. He calls us to perfection, but this kind of perfection is a process, not an event. As we follow God’s commands and pray for the Spirit to strengthen us in our ways so that we can be more readily obedient, the fruits develop, mature, and are evident to all. While we are on this earth, we are in the growing and maturing process. The end result is perfection. So, in the meantime, we are to strive toward perfection as our goal.

Having established where we are in the process, let us look to the Word for help on growing perfect in gentleness, and today, in particular, in the area of instruction. Consider this: “Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:25-26).

Where are you being battled? In what relationship are you fighting? Even if you do not think of a particular situation, all of us are at one time or another encountering spiritual warfare. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). One need not look long to find evidence of evil, and though it be all around us, protection in the full armor of God is available to those who choose to stand against it (read Ephesians 6:10-18).

So, as fierce as the battle may become, we are still called to give our opponents instruction gently. Even when we want to hit them over the head with it! Tomorrow, we will look into gentle correction. It goes hand in hand with gentle instruction.

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As a fruit of the Spirit, what does gentleness look like? This week, we will explore various Bible passages that refer to gentleness. I pray that through this study we will learn together ways to bring this fruit to life in our daily lives.

When most babies are born, animals and humans alike, the mother tenderly nuzzles, feeds, cradles or washes her baby. Some babies know instinctively where to find their comfort and their source of nourishment. Others must be lifted or directed to the breast or have food brought to them. In each of these moments, the delicate nature of handling a newborn is permeated with gentleness.

In his first letter to the Thessalonians, an early church founded during his second missionary journey, Paul writes, “But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children” (2:7, NASB). Paul explains the loving care he and those who ministered with him had for the people in Thessalonica as similar to the gentleness a mother gives her babies.

Have you considered that God desires to handle you as a mother or father does their newborn?  In Psalm 91, we read a description of God caring for us the way a mother hen dotes on her chicks. “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty…He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge…” (v. 1, 4). But we are not without responsibility in the reception of this care. “‘Because he loves me,’ says the Lord, ‘I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him’” (v. 14-15).

God is gentle in His care to us. When we express our desire and openness to be loved by our Creator, God is eager to fulfill our needs. More than just our physical needs, God provides for our spiritual and emotional needs. But how does He do it? Some may question His ability to do so, because perhaps they’ve been hurt by someone in the church or by those who profess faith in God yet handle us harshly. Others may not feel fully gratified by God, so they go elsewhere and develop an unhealthy dependence on someone or something. It is up to all of us to give God the chance to truly show us His love. Allow yourself to be gathered up under His wings and depend solely on Him for your security, support and spiritual sustenance. He longs to gently hold you, so that you may rest in His warmth. Delight in His embrace while you develop and mature as the one who He has made you to be—a unique, cherished child of God.

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“Remain in Me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me.”

~ John 15:4

I am a lover of nature. The sensory feast that thrives within the creation all around us is a gift from our Creator. Aspects of His character are found among His creations. We are created in God’s image. When we have faith and obedience in our lives, the Spirit works in us, and our development in Christ is more clearly seen by the fruit produced. We are given the seeds for the fruit when we accept Christ as our Savior, and as we live in obedience to God’s commands, the fruit grows and develops in our lives.

This week, we will consider the fruit of gentleness. So, let’s go back to nature. Within the wonders of God’s creation, much can be found that expresses the splendor of God’s magnificence. Let’s consider traits among the natural world that display gentleness. Our senses perceive the warming sunlight which dissipates the morning dew, the light caress of a soothing breeze, the relaxing patter of a rain shower, the delicate flutter of butterfly wings…you could probably add many examples onto this list. While most examples of gentleness are actions, as a fruit of the Spirit, it is primarily an attitude which is then conveyed through action.

The attitude of gentleness is best explained by the definition of a word that has lost favor in our culture: meekness. While erroneously linked with weakness, meekness is actually one’s ability to be humbly patient and docile. In turn, docile means readily trained or taught. A meek person puts aside pride, determined to protect their honor of God and their honor of others. This calls for patience and self-control. Logically, the fruits of the Spirit will overlap each other. Consider how Jesus tells us to remain in Him as branches of the vine. What grows from the vine is fed by the same source. Where are you receiving your nourishment?

Dear Father in Heaven, thank You for Your beautiful creation and for giving us life to be among it. May the beauty of nature all around us serve as continuous reminders of Your character.  In particular, Lord, we ask that You work in each of us to develop a robust fruit of gentleness within us all. In Your name, we pray. Amen.

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