The Danger in Comparing

 

Our girls have always sung: all over the house, at church, in the store… it shouldn’t have surprised me.  I was the child who clogged through every store my mother took me.

I remember our oldest 3 girls singing VBS songs in a grocery store and getting a bit loud, I thought, to serenade a woman standing nearby.  I tried to hush them a little, but as the woman passed me to leave she leaned in close and in a low tone she said, “Just think, they might be the next Point of Grace.”

It took my breath away, the way you know God just used someone to speak important truth to you.  The truth was that they were made to sing out loud, and it wasn’t my place to muffle them. I felt a little panicked, suddenly wondering if I was equipped to teach them what they would need to know.  I started praying right then and there that God would provide by enabling me or sending whatever teachers He will, and He has done both over the years.

My husband started them singing at the camp Annual Banquet each year, and I don’t remember how they began singing at church, but nowadays they sing at no less than 20 churches or events a year.  Their harmony is beautiful.  I don’t turn on the radio at home very often because who needs that when you have live music most of the day?

IMG_6938

It is a joy to watch and see how each one of the children develop in their gift each year, and even the older kids notice and appreciate as their younger siblings reach new levels. Lilly is 14 now, and has been coming into her own.  She is developing her own style and writing her own music.  I’ve seen our oldest listening, shake her head in wonderment, and I’ve known that she was comparing.

“My voice isn’t anything special,” she began to believe.

She forgot about the man who said that whichever sister is singing alto is “Amazing”.

She didn’t think about the woman at church who said she knew my Angel Girl would be able to pick out the elusive harmony.

She never considered how she has been becoming the teacher her sisters all go to when they need help understanding music theory.

I encourage her, but sometimes you need to hear it from someone who isn’t ‘just Mom’.

The comparing… it chokes dreams.  It kills confidence.  Instead of trail blazing, you fall to the rear because that is where you feel more comfortable. You might even talk yourself right out of the plans God has for you, but you and I, we’ve been chosen to be the bearer of the blessing others need.

In the Old Testament, God chose Esther.  He used Esther’s humility to save an entire nation.  He used her position: as the king’s favorite she had potential sway. He used her wisdom: a young woman who respected and listened to the uncle who told her that if she refused, God would use another way and she would forfeit the plan for her life.  He used her Jewish influence–the nation of Israel fasted and prayed with her in preparation for a risk that was greater than any you and I are likely to encounter: to go to the king without an invitation, and it could have cost her life.  She gave what she had to God as an offering.  She said, “If I perish, I perish.”  She didn’t say someone else was better equipped.  She risked everything and history documents how she blazed that trail.

While my Angel Girl was counseling at camp this summer, they put her on worship team. Every chapel, she had the opportunity to lead the singing with her peers while playing the keyboard and/or singing for worship.  I was glad.  I knew it would be a good experience, and I just kept praying God would use it as He weaves together his will for her life.

Angel on Worship Team

She said she played so often that the nervousness which normally paralyzes her concentration and her hands when she plays in public had disappeared by the end of summer camps. And then there was that voice she kept hearing over the monitor… the one she didn’t recognize as belonging to any of the other singers, and then one day she realized it was her own.  “In a good way,” she smiled.

Angel at bleachers

My daughter has been given a song to sing out loud.  So have you, whether literally or figuratively.

Your abilities? They don’t belong to you, as much as society will tell you that they do and that it’s your right to do with them as you please.  No, they were given to you by God and for God.  Don’t think about what other people think. Don’t belittle your gifts.  Don’t allow your song, whatever it is, to be muffled by comparing it to the abilities He has given to others.

Don’t fall back.

Don’t forfeit the plan.

Keep your gaze on the King.  He is your compass.  Orientate your thoughts, your feelings and your feet toward Him, and Keep. Moving. Forward.

You may never know all the lives you touch, but someday you’ll catch a glimpse of yourself the way God sees you.  You’ll hear your own voice in the so called monitor and be surprised {in a good way 🙂 } and you’ll be glad you chose to sing.

 

 

 

One of the Most Valuable Lessons You’ll Ever Learn About Ministry

this treasure

I will never forget the first Ladies’ Retreat that Camp JIM hosted after our family joined the staff.  It was the first time I had ever helped plan a retreat, and to say I learned a lot would be an understatement!

Our theme that year was “Beauty for All Seasons,” and our speaker, a pastor’s wife, was sharing about how God works in the different seasons of our lives. Little did I know she was in a very difficult season herself, and it was because of this that she unintentionally shared one of the most valuable lessons I’ve ever learned about ministry.

That year was one of the biggest retreats we’ve ever had, and to be honest, I think quite a few of the women were there to check out the new director and size up the direction the ministry might take.  Many seemed guarded, and the mood was pretty serious, though I noticed some “reunions” taking place as old campers were seeing each other for the first time in years. We had a hilarious group of older women sing as a special Saturday event, and their comedic music was the bright spot in the afternoon.  All in all, it was pretty standard, for a ladies’ retreat.

And then, something happened that changed everything.  During our Saturday evening session our speaker got real.  As she talked about the autumn of our lives, the season she was living, she began to share the struggles her family was going through.  They were the kind of struggles that no one wishes to experience.  The kind you don’t get through without faith.  The kind you can’t talk about without sobbing.  The kind that showcases God’s glory because He is right there in the middle of the mess, rolling up His sleeves and working side by side with you–pruning your life and polishing all your rough places.

As she struggled to speak through gutteral tears, every protective wall in the room came down that night,  like Jericho, truth spilling and stories tumbling out as the pretense and fear of being “less than” fell away.  Those women stayed up all night sharing their stories; every woman had one.

Every woman HAS one.

You have a story.

Your story has been instrumental in shaping you, but it doesn’t define you;

it changes you, but it doesn’t make you.

Your story is God’s glory.

 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.  We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair;  persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;  always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.”  2 Corinthians 4:7-10

You are an overcomer through Christ.  And the thing is that your story, God’s glory, isn’t meant to be hidden away, but shared because someone else is right now walking a similar path to the one you have already grown familiar.

Have you overcome depression?  Someone else is experiencing despair.

Are you experiencing the freedom of forgiveness?  Someone else is living in shame.

Have you recovered from a financial disaster?  Someone else has lost everything.

Have you survived miscarriage?  Someone else has empty arms.

Was your daughter among the 1 in 3 who is sexually assaulted, and you have walked that path with her?  Someone else’s world just caved in.

Have you forgiven the unforgivable?  Someone else is embittered.

Have you lost a loved one to cancer?  Someone else’s beloved is still in the battle.

Been abandoned?  Broken?

Isn’t it out of our brokenness that God does a new thing?  He said to comfort others with the comfort you have received.  2 Corinthians 1:4

What is your story?

Sharing your story, comforting someone else with the comfort Christ has given you, it reaffirms your victory in Christ.

It softens hearts.

It breaks down walls.

It establishes safe zones.

It declares hope.

It precedes victory.

It cleanses wounds.

Treasure in Jars of Clay.  One of the most valuable lessons you’ll ever learn about ministry?  Be REAL.  TRANSPARENT.  Your story becomes your testimony.  You are not “less than” because of what has happened to you; you are “more than” because of the Christ treasure in you.  Instead of pretense that showcases how great you are, your brokenness allows others see HIM.  And that is what ministry is all about.

 

Photo credit goes to Pixabay.

 

Growing in Gentleness

gentleness

Gentleness is not weakness.  Gentleness is strength under control.

In our books, Chapter 11, titled “Growing Strong Through Gentleness,” teaches us that Gentleness:

  • Trusts the Lord
  • Submits to God
  • Follows Christ’s example
  • Bows the soul–worshiping God in humility
  • Makes the decision to put on Gentleness–we’re faced with this decision every day
  • Gentleness “takes it”–endures ill treatment

—————————————————————————————————————————————

Gentleness looks like humility, but from where does humility come?  James 3:13 says that humility comes from wisdom.

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.”

How do we get wisdom?  Proverbs 9:10 tells us.

 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” ESV

The Amplified Version puts it this way: “The [reverent] fear of the Lord [that is, worshiping Him and regarding Him as truly awesome] is the beginning and the preeminent part of wisdom [its starting point and its essence],
And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding and spiritual insight.”

Wisdom is merely seeing life from God’s perspective and responding accordingly.   In humility or gentleness, respond accordingly.

James tells us there are different kinds of wisdom.  There is worldly wisdom:

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.

And there is wisdom from above… Godly wisdom:

17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

Stop and think about the type of circumstances you find yourself when you are NOT being gentle… What is the sin nature that is showing itself in these circumstances?

  • I tend not to be gentle when I’m not being patient. (too tired, too hungry, stressed out, when I’m offended)
  • When I’m disappointed.  (That just ruined my whole day!) (You ruined my life! {My small children like to use this one}) Maybe I’m feeling crabby over having to change my plans.  Perhaps I’m lacking faith in these circumstances?  And the result is that I do not respond to life in a spirit of gentleness.
  • When I’m inconvenienced…
  • When I’ frustrated with people or difficult circumstances (not getting my own way)

Getting REAL, what is the sin issue in these examples?  PRIDE, self-centered-ness (is that a word?), selfishness!   In these examples I’m forgetting to trust God has things under control, lacking the faith that He’s going to work things out in my best interest despite my disappointments, or not stopping to make the intentional decision to have an attitude of gentleness.

Jesus is our perfect example of gentleness.  In John 12 he was preparing his disciples for his crucifixion.  He knew that in order to bear many into the kingdom of God, he first had to die.  This is what he told them:

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also.  If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.”  verses 24-26

Jesus gave up self, and submitted to the Father, dying in order to bear fruit–in order to bear souls into the kingdom of God.  He birthed every believer into the kingdom.  Every mother knows what a sacrifice it is to give birth to another and put their child’s welfare first.

Philippians 2 calls us to follow Christ’s example of humility.

Lets put Gentleness into 2 categories.

1.) Gentleness with GOD: Obedience to God

This TRUSTS His plans for me are good!

This has FAITH in Christ’s sacrifice, BELIEVING I am truly free–he has broken my chains, so I should not keep walking like I wear them!

This dies to self DAILY.

2.)  Gentleness Toward Others

Philippians 2:3 tells us, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”

When the kids are being difficult, I am to count them as more significant than myself.

When people in my job situation are demanding and hard to get along with, or persecuting me because of my beliefs, I am to count them as more significant than myself.

When someone cuts me off in traffic,

fails to follow through on a promise,

says something hurtful to me,

wrongly judges my intentions,

YOU NAME IT—Whoever they are, and no matter what they’ve done, I am to count them as more significant than myself, and respond (NOT react) in gentleness, remembering it is my responsibility to point them to Christ.

Hard, hard stuff!  That is why it’s a Fruit of the SPIRIT who is living in me… I can’t do it on my own.  I can do it only when I submit to Him.

1 Corinthians 10:24 says, “Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others. ” (Concerning not offending others or causing them to sin)

When I have difficult people in my life I am to call on that fruit of LOVE,

Convinced that it is not about me (part of that Fruit of Peace),

remembering that God is working in their lives and is concerned for their sanctification (or salvation) as much as mine.  I need to do well and put on a spirit of Gentleness instead of being offended so that I don’t get in the way of what God wants to do in them, regardless of whether they are being cooperative.

I am not talking about being a door mat.  I am not saying we should deliberately place ourselves in a position to be hurt over and over, or that we should stay in abusive relationships.  I am saying that when we find ourselves in difficult circumstances or have no choice about the people who are around us, we are to conduct ourselves in a Christ-like manner.  In the event that it is prudent to remove ourselves from a relationship, we may do so humbly, and with grace.

Remember, James 3:17 gives us a check list based on the wisdom from above to help us evaluate our responses before we respond:

  • Is my response coming from a pure heart?
  • Is my response peace loving?
  • gentle?
  • willing to yield to others?
  • Is my response full of mercy?
  • Is my response full of the fruit of good deeds? (yikes!)
  • Is my response free of favoritism?
  • Is it sincere?

“And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.” verse 18

I can wisely do this when I lose my life in Christ; I can ask for God’s exchange–HIS character for mine.

 

This devotional was written to use in conjunction with  A Woman’s Walk with God, Growing in the Fruit of the Spirit  by Elizabeth George.  The other devotionals in this series on the Fruit of the Spirit can be found on THIS PAGE.

awomanswalk_large

 

 

How to Minister to the Lord

Several years ago, a women’s pastor who sometimes spoke at our camp Ladies’ Retreats was in the area and stopped by my home for a brief visit.  When I asked her how she was doing she glowed, explaining that she had just returned from a quiet retreat where she had fasted and prayed, “and,” she said, “just really ministered to the Lord.”

Ministered to the Lord…

I got stuck right there.  I had never heard anyone say that before.  Of course, God ministers to us and we minister to others on His behalf, but to minister to a God who already has everything and doesn’t need anything captured my attention…

earnestly I seek you photo

This week Ella came to me asking, “Mom, was Lazarus good?”

I knew she had just finished her devotions but, not knowing what she was searching out, I let her question settle while saying a prayer for His guidance.

“He was a sinner, just like us,” I ventured.

She was quiet a moment.  “But,” she continued, “he was Jesus’s friend.  Jesus cried when Lazarus died.”

“Yes, he was Jesus’ friend.  When Jesus traveled to his town, he and his sisters gave Him a place to stay.  They provided His meals… I’m sure they laughed together.  They sat at His feet and He taught them.”

I smiled.  There it was, on the tip of my tongue.  “They ministered to the Lord.”

None of us are good.  The Bible tells us that the heart of man is desperately wicked. (Jeremiah 17:9)  Yet, Jesus took our punishment for our sin and gave us His righteousness in order to make us friends of God.  This is the gift of God (Ephesians 2), not a result of anything we can ever do, but God’s grace extended to us.  His Holy Spirit lives with those who are saved.  He our counselor, our comforter, our Friend.  When we choose to sin~to live like we’re still spiritually dead~he is grieved like Jesus was when Lazarus died, but we bless Him when we choose to walk by His Spirit, seeking His will for our lives, and ABIDING in Him (John 15).

John tells us we love God because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19)  He is our friend and, like Lazarus, we can minister to Him!

We minister to Him when we remember His greatness,

“Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.”  Psalm 103

when we seek Him,

“O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”  Psalm 63:1     

when we sing to Him,

“Oh sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth!”  Psalm 96:1

when we praise Him,

“Praise the LORD, for the LORD is good; sing to his name, for it is pleasant!”  Psalm 135:3

when we talk with Him,

“Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.” Jeremiah 29:12 (Read here for context.)

when we obey Him,

“Jesus replied, ‘Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.'” John 14:23

when we follow His example,
“For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.” John 13:15

 

when we serve others…

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”  Matthew 25:40

We can minister to the Lord.  Today, many of you will be meeting with your local church assembly.  You will hear God’s Word, have opportunity to encourage and help your brothers and sisters, praise God through song… let it not just be an act of going through the motions and checking it off of your to-do list.  Be aware of the attitude you put on. Make it your goal to minister to the Lord!  You also will be blessed when you do.

Our Body of Christ, Wearing the Mark of True Christians

Love one another with brotherly affection.  Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord…  Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. ” Romans 12:9-11, 13

I love our church body.  We began attending Pointway Church in Baxter almost 4 years ago.  The first Sunday we attended I felt like I had come home.  There was never any question… this is the church assembly God was drawing us to serve alongside.  The messages are Biblically solid, the worship is heart felt, and the leadership is diligent in seeking God’s direction for our congregation, but what is it that keeps a family together?

Pointway worship.jpg

Love… when the heart strings are wrapped around one another with genuine commitment, when they strive to “outdo one another in showing honor” (not just that fuzzy feeling you get for someone you like, but the kind of concern that gets involved to meet another person’s needs), people are tied to one another.

Our family has been serving in camp ministry for 18 years.  Our oldest daughter Angel was 10 months old when we pulled in to our camp internship at Camp Forest Springs in Westboro, Wisconsin.  Camp ministry is a service oriented career.  Who gets to serve God and others while earning a living?  This is a great gig, but the hours are long.  The summers are not your own.  You work when other people are off and you’re off when other people are busy.  Families sacrifice for the camp professional to serve.  Camp wives are referred to as Camp “Widows” in the summer.  Not many people can relate.  Sometimes it’s lonely, but it is also very rewarding.

We’ve served at 3 camps and attended several churches over the past 18 years.  Our family travels a lot of Sundays, February through June, sharing camp’s ministry with supporting churches.  It’s great to have the privilege of connecting with so many church families and sharing in their joys and triumphs from year to year.  But when we’re on the road, we’re not at our home church.  We miss out on the common experiences.  And summers, Sundays are the first day of camps.  Staff leave church as soon as it ends, hopefully getting a good meal and getting to work to welcome campers to what we hope will be a life changing week of spiritual growth… and for many it is their introduction to a God who loves them and wants to have a relationship with them.  This is our calling. This is our resolve.

You know the saying, “Out of sight, out of mind”?  This has always been the way our relationship with our home church has felt.  When we’re there every week, we start to feel like we belong, and the rest of the time it’s, “See ya when we see ya.”

But this church body is different.  Our young adult summer staff have joined us at Pointway Sunday morning services for several years now.  Some of the teens in the congregation attend camp as campers and participate many weeks in our DIT Program (Disciples in Training).  We actually met our pastor because he stayed at camp when he first moved to our area and needed a landing pad while finding housing.  His wife was our cook the next summer.  A lot of these people get camp life.  And the heart strings?  They are tightening.

camp staff dishing up

This year our church is doing something amazing.  Instead of all the staff racing out directly after services, one of our ladies has organized members to provide a meal after church.  No dashing.  No disconnect.  The church body breaks bread together… or eats taco bar together (as in these pictures ), and fellowships.

breaking bread

There is hospitality.

There is goodness.

There is brotherly love.

I can’t tell you how full this makes my heart.  I so deeply appreciate the way this Body is showing zeal in contributing to the needs of the saints.  Our summer staff’s needs.  Our family’s needs.  My need… for fellowship, and for the need to be connected to my church family during the most demanding season of the year.  In Romans 9, Paul says these are marks of true Christians.

Pointway Church Family, thank you!!

Growing in Goodness

goodness

In her book, “A Woman’s Walk with God,” Elizabeth George teaches that Kindness notices people’s needs and makes plans to meet those needs.  Goodness, then, actually follows through on those plans.

I am reminded of Mordechai’s admonition to Esther, in Esther 4:14, “And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

God has placed you here and now with a purpose.  As children of God, we are to be walking in Goodness.  “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10

Part of God’s purpose for each of us is for us to be doing good works, which He planned in advance.  He has equipped each of us, individually, so that we are prepared, and he has placed us here and now.

Those who are within your sphere of influence have been entrusted to you,

yours to point to Christ,

yours to love,

 yours to disciple,

yours– to recognize needs and do your best, with God’s empowerment,

to care for them the way He cares for you.

We are not all equipped the same way.  The needs you notice, and the way you go about meeting those needs, will look different than Goodness in my life.

My teenage girls will notice a young mom with a crying baby, and know that mother will need a respite.  They would think of that because we’ve had so many Littles in our house. They know the joy of babies, and they also know sometimes mom gets tired.  A teenager who has not grown up with a house full of Littles may not notice a mother’s need for a break–not because they are unobservant, but because their experience has not trained them to recognize that need.  They will notice something different, in an arena they have talent or experience.

Your walk and your gifts may be different than mine, but where our journeys intersect we can learn from one another, partner with each other, and compliment each other.

So who and what has God entrusted to you for such a time as this?

Who is within your sphere of influence?

How have you been equipped to do good to those God has placed in your path?  We will talk about that next time…

 

This devotional was written to use in conjunction with  A Woman’s Walk with God, Growing in the Fruit of the Spirit  by Elizabeth George.  The other devotionals in this series on the Fruit of the Spirit can be found on THIS PAGE.

awomanswalk_large

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Growing in Kindness

kindness-1

Our ladies’ group has read the chapter on Kindness in Elizabeth George’s book, “A Woman’s Walk with God, Growing in the Fruit of the Spirit.”  We learned that Kindness:

  •  genuinely cares about others and pays attention to the circumstances of their lives.
  •  thinks–consider other peoples’circumstances, wonder what we can do to help them… what do they need?
  •  notices–sometimes we don’t need to wonder about people’s circumstances; if we’re observant we will notice people’s needs and know what we can do to help them.  She gives examples of the Shunammite woman’s kindness to Elisha (and then he showed kindness toward her when he asked God to give her a son), Dorcas in the New Testament, and of course, Jesus.
  • touches–she says it helps to cultivate kindness when we think of it as a touch of concern and kindness.  We instinctively touch those we care about.  She gives examples of how Jesus touched people all the time.

What else can we learn about Kindness?

Kindness Defined:

If we look in the Greek Lexicon at the meaning of the word Kindness (chrēstotēs), we see that it means:

  1. Moral goodness, integrity
  2.  Benignity (tolerance), kindness

There are times that the word is also translated as gentleness and goodness, which is interesting since these are also fruit of the Spirit; one fruit with characteristics that are interdependent.

Have you ever done a word study?  A word study takes a particular word or subject and looks up all the scriptures that reference that word.  Read everything you can find in the Bible about that word, and make observations to grow your understanding of it’s meaning.

In this case I was looking up all the verses I could find that used the word Kind or Kindness.  Don’t forget to ask God what He wants to teach you on the subject!  You will be amazed by the verses you will trip over, and how the relevance will stand out for you.

How We Learn Kindness

In Titus 2:3-5 we learn that while kindness is a fruit of the Spirit, it is also something that we learn by example.  The older women are to be:

“teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible (self controlled), pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.” Emphasis is mine.

And in Proverbs 31:26, in the famous passage about the “Worthy Woman,” we learn that, “She opens her mouth in wisdom, And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.”

As Christian women, we have a responsibility to not only model kindness in our daily lives, but also to intentionally teach kindness with our words, and to grasp opportunities to give those we influence the opportunity to participate in kindness.  We see Jesus teaching in these ways when he lived among his disciples.  Many learning styles are engaged!

When my family was younger, I remember taking our little troop of 4 or 5 to and from town.  One occasion in particular I remember standing in the doorway of our home, with all these little girls trying to shuffle inside.  The youngest toddler was struggling to get up the step and inside, and my hands were full.  I watched one of the older girls standing behind her and she was just watching.  It was a trend I had been noticing a lot, and I told her, “Honey, don’t just stand there and watch your sister struggle.  Help her!”  It didn’t come naturally to her at that time, and she needed the suggestion to reach out and help.

Teach kindness.

Titus says that one of the reasons for us to walk in kindness is to protect the honor and integrity of the Word of God. The world will not believe in the kindness of God that the Bible teaches if they do not see us living what we proclaim.  Our lives are to be the proof of God’s love.

What Kindness Does

In order to live this out, we have to invite God to empty our hearts of what is not Godly in order to make room for the characteristics God wants us to have.  Paul, in Ephesians 4:32, tells us to Be kind and helpful to one another, tender-hearted [compassionate, understanding], forgiving one another [readily and freely], just as God in Christ also forgave you.”  Amplified Version

Kindness is forgiving.  Laying aside personal hurts and instead desiring what is most beneficial for another person.

Kindness is compassionate, not selfish.  Philippians 2:4 says, “do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”

John Piper says, “The idea behind “tenderhearted” is that our insides are easily touched. When your skin is tender, it doesn’t take a very hard touch to make it feel pain. When your heart is tender, it is easily affected. It feels easily and quickly.

When you stop and think about it, it is remarkable that this is commanded by the apostle. You can’t just decide to be tenderhearted and turn it on like a faucet. It is a deep character quality.”

Kindness isn’t just something you do. It’s who you are: a woman after God’s own heart.

When I began teaching my daughter to help her younger siblings instead of watching them struggle, I also began to pray for her that God would give her a tender and compassionate heart, and that he would help her notice the opportunities to help others.

Today this is the child who teaches her younger siblings to ride bike.  She dresses them to brave the winter weather and takes them sledding, patiently helping them even when it slows her down.  She brushes their teeth when mom is helping someone else, reads them books, and she is enjoyed by her younger siblings.  By faith the Holy Spirit has softened her heart toward others, and she has learned to be gracious and kind.

lilly-helping-ella-with-homework-3by5

Helping Sister with Math

Kindness to Who?

We are to show kindness to other believers.  “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” Galations 6:9, 10

The world is watching us, Beloved.  God is raising up a standard!

We are to care for those who cannot care for themselves.  In Proverbs 31, King Lemuel’s mother taught him to, “Open your mouth for the mute, For the rights of all the unfortunate.  Open your mouth, judge righteously, And defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.” And the worthy woman “extends her hand to the poor, And she stretches out her hands to the needy.” (verse 20)

Isn’t this the crux of the gospel?  We were afflicted with sin, and helpless, unable to save ourselves!  God, in His mercy, took action in His loving kindness and did for us what we could not do for ourselves.  Jesus took our burden of sin upon himself, suffering the consequences for us, and imparted his righteousness upon us so that we can stand blameless before a Holy Father.  We were the helpless and the needy.  Now we are the redeemed and reconciled.

We are to extend kindness to our enemies.  In Luke 6:35-36, Jesus said, “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

Do our enemies deserve our kindness?  No, but God is gracious toward me despite my undeservedness, and He expects me to love others as He loves me.  Sometimes all we can do for our enemies is to pray for them, and that is a lot.  We have assurance that the heartfelt and persistent prayer of the righteous accomplishes much. (James 5:16)

Kindness is Merciful.  However, it isn’t always nice.  Really.

Kindness isn’t always pleasant and agreeable.  Kindness proactively looks out for the best interests of others.  It meets needs, which isn’t necessarily always what a body wants.

Romans 2:4 tells us that God’s kindness leads us to repentance.  This change of heart involves humility and conviction, and all too often the road to recognizing our wrong and what our soul is hungering for involves discipline.  In this case kindness has to be tough.  It has to be tenacious.  Oh, yes, it must be self sacrificing.

When my nephew, Joshua,  was little he was infatuated with trains.  Our house was situated just off the highway.  The road laid between us and the train tracks.  On one occasion Joshua heard the train whistle, and captivated, he darted away from his father-my brother–and ran across our yard and straight into the highway.  I’ve never seen my brother run so fast in his life.  Hot in pursuit, he caught his son up into his arms in time to pull him out from in front of an oncoming car. He later told me that they were so close to the car that he had made eye contact with the driver.  It scared him to death, but his son was still blissfully pointing and straining for the train.  In kindness, his parents saw to it that he knew better than to ever leave the safety of the yard again, train or no train.

Isaiah 54:7,8 God said, “For a brief moment I forsook you, But with great compassion I will gather you.  In an outburst of anger I hid My face from you for a moment, But with everlasting lovingkindness I will have compassion on you, says the Lord your Redeemer.”

In this passage, Israel’s disobedience had resulted in her captivity and dispersion.  God allowed her to experience pain to bring her back into relationship with Himself.  Better a “brief” time of suffering to lead them repentance so that they could enjoy an eternity of lovingkindess in paradise with God.

15123355_559588480906748_1823365873505802588_o

As Christ followers we are commissioned to share the truth of the gospel with boldness, even if it causes others or ourselves discomfort.  We all know John 3:16   “For God so loved the world” that he gave his only Son to die in our place.  What Jesus endured for our sakes was severe, so that we would not have to experience the severity of God ourselves (Romans 11:22), but can continue in God’s kindness.

Scripture lays out guidelines for discipline in the church, to bring us to repentance and fruitfulness if we abide in Christ.  Parents are instructed in Proverbs 23 not to withhold correction from their children. God himself says that He disciplines those whom He loves.

Kindness isn’t always “nice,” but it is always loving, and It is God’s will for you.

“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone;  just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.” Colossians 3:12-14

 

This devotional was written to use in conjunction with  A Woman’s Walk with God, Growing in the Fruit of the Spirit  by Elizabeth George.  The other devotionals in this series on the Fruit of the Spirit can be found on THIS PAGE.

awomanswalk_large

He Had Me at “So”

It never ceases to amaze me how I can read a passage of scripture over and over and still learn something new.

I’m going through the book of Acts in my personal study, and something unexpected happened when I got to chapter 17.  Paul was waiting for Timothy and Silas to meet him in Athens.  It was a cultural and religious center of Greece, full of philosophers, and my study notes say that one could go there to worship every “deity” known to man.

Verse 16 says, “Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols.”  As I turned the page, I was met with this, “So,” (verse 17), and I had to stop.

So is a therefore.  Because.

acts-17-17

 

Because his soul was provoked, then . . .

“he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present.”

Philosophers were having conversations with him.  He proclaimed the living God and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. There were some who did not believe, but some were saved.

Paul was there to wait; it was a rendezvous.  But when he saw the idols everywhere his spirit was provoked.  He was provoked to kindness–seeing their need, he was provoked to goodness–knowing that he had what they needed, and he acted for their welfare.  He was compelled to share the gospel, and he didn’t share with just one person.  This passage says he was out there talking with the people every day while he waited for his friends.

This hit me so hard that it took my breath away.

I read that a local man has been arrested for “throwing his 5 week old daughter like a basketball.”  She died from severe head injuries.  I thought I was going to throw up at the realization that someone would actual behave in this manner.  I felt loss even though I’ve never met this precious baby.  Righteous anger rose up in me.

“What’s wrong with people?” I cried to my husband!  It used to be a rare and shocking thing to read about murder and desperate violence in the local news.  It happened other places, but not in my town.  Not here… but in these times it is becoming more common.

It should never be common.  What’s wrong with people?  Just like the people of Athens, many of my neighbors don’t know Jesus.  They have never experienced unconditional love. Their compass is broken.  They are the helpless and the needy;  they hurt, but they don’t know why.

A sob swelled up in me as I realized the significance of verse 17.  It is compassion that should provoke me.

The Holy Spirit nudges me.  What’s your “so”?  What will you therefore be?

I can plant seeds.  My responsibility is to share the gospel.  It’s  God’s job to send the rain and provide the harvest.  He says he will.

 Let us not grow weary or become discouraged in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap, if we do not give in.”  Galatians 6:9

 

 

 

Abiding in Christ, the Secret to a Fruitful Life

To Use the Index of the Other Posts in this series, please scroll to the bottom of the page.

 

The theme that our Women’s Ministry adopted for this year is “Abide.”  We’re  learning what scripture has to say about the Fruit of the Spirit, reading Elizabeth George’s book, “A Woman’s Walk With God, Growing in the Fruit of the Spirit.”

abide-grapes-photo

Why We Need to Abide

Jesus explains the importance of Abiding in John chapter 15:4,5.  “Abide in me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in me.  I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

Jesus has just washed his disciples’ feet.  They have observed Passover together in the upper room, and Judas has gone on his errand of betrayal.  Jesus has been telling them that He is going to be leaving to go to His Father. Can you imagine that they may have felt frightened and confused?   Jesus comforts them, telling them that He will not leave them as orphans.  He is sending them a Helper, the Holy Spirit, and they can continue to have fellowship with Him, and so can we, if we abide in Him.

When we are saved into a relationship with Jesus, the secret to living a fruitful life is Abiding.

Abiding: What is it?

I am assuming that if you are still reading, that you have some idea about the choices we can make to continue growing in that relationship: spending time reading God’s Word in order to learn more about His heart and what He wants for us, talking to Him in prayer, taking time to listen for His voice in our lives, and obeying Him.

The Greek word for abide, in its various forms, means to remain; it’s where you put down roots and make your home; it’s to be held, continually; it endures; remains as one and doesn’t leave; abide tarries for… it waits.  Does your heart wait upon the Lord?

There’s a difference between going through the motions of reading, praying and obeying because it’s the right thing to do and getting up in the morning with anticipation, looking forward to spending time with Him and seeing what the Lord has for you today.

I can’t tell you what truly abiding should look like for you because everyone has to come to that place of audacious love in their own way.  I think the secret lies in recognizing the magnitude of what Christ has done for you.  The cry of my heart this past year has been, “Jesus, help me love you more!”  I want to be like the woman in Luke 7 who annointed Jesus with sweet smelling oil and washed His feet with her tears.  When the Pharisee who owned the house where they were meeting criticized her, Jesus told him that it was obvious that her many sins were forgiven because of the great love she showed him. “He who is forgiven little, loves little.” (verse 47)

Don’t let the joy of your salvation diminish as time passes.  Keep your awe over what Christ has done for you.  Pour your time and effort into this relationship you have with God, and watch how He pours more into you than what you have given.  The more you give to Him, the more fruit you will see in your life.

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control… these will be rich hallmarks of your character and will saturate your interactions with others.

A Misnomer explained

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away;” (verses 1,2a)

Several years ago I watched a video series by Focus on the Family which featured Ray Vander Laan.  It was a tour of the Holy Lands, and in one tour he elaborated on these verses in John 15.  He explained that grape vines were planted where they flourished best: in harsh soil.  He also explained that the translations we read are not the best explanation of what the original language meant to imply.

country-1209094_640

The vine is established and the branches are cultivated by the vine dresser, the gardener, for one purpose only–to bear fruit.  “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, he takes away;” (vs 2)  It’s a common teaching that this is referring to “dead wood” or those who are not living Christ-like lives because they were never really saved.  We often read this and think it means that they will be removed and carried away.  Only this verse says, “Every branch in Me,”  If we are saved we are in Christ, and if we are in Christ as this verse says, we know that the will of God is that Jesus will never lose those who the Father has given Him (John 6:39).  They are not removed.

The more accurate translation would say that He will lift them up.  If the plants are allowed to lay on the ground they can become too moist and dirty and can mildew.  If they become sick, they do not produce.  The vine dressers in the old country lifted the vines up by placing large stones at the base of the plant.  The branches have to be washed and tied up–lifted up– so that they can begin bearing.  Notice what the next verse says,

“You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.”

When we put our trust in Jesus as our Savior, our sin is forgiven. We are in Christ and belong to Him, but we are human and we still sin, even when we don’t want to.  Paul put it like this:  “For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.” Romans 7:15

The sin that persists in our lives is like the dirt and mildew on the branches… God must lift us up and clean us so that “we may share in His holiness.” Hebrews 12:10  This looks like discipline.   “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”( verse 11)  It is in our best interest to cooperate with his discipline.  The results are worth it!

And what about the branches that are already producing fruit?

“He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.”  (verse 2b)

When we bought our house it had an old apple tree in the front yard.  A very large aspen tree had grown up behind it, shading it, and so the branches of the fruit tree had grown up and over, all to one side.  My husband took out the aspen tree last spring to allow light to get to the tree, but, unfortunately a good pruning wasn’t on the docket until fall.  I have never seen a tree with so many blossoms, and the bees did their job!  Oh, the apples that grew!  Many dropped off when they were still tiny because the tree simply could not sustain so much, but what continued to grow had us so excited.  Fall could not come soon enough!

13173634_10209809922272723_5263650730431669044_n

Then a wind storm came.  Need I say more?  Those big branches that were growing the wrong direction?  Snap.  They were still hanging, but not by much.  We propped them up and prayed for them a lot.  The apples on those branches never reached their full potential.  They were smaller than the fruit on the other branches, and did not ripen completely, so they were more sour and not sweet.  They were good for sauce, but not much else.

Sisters, we don’t want to be like those broken branches.  We want to be pruned so that we grow straight and strong.  We want light to get where it needs to go and put our energy into the things that are worthy of our calling.

Grape vines are heavily pruned, much more than apple trees.  My understanding is that the vine dresser cuts them back so far that they can look quite pitiful, but the more that is cut away, the bigger, sweeter, and more plentiful the harvest.  This is what we want. This is what identifies us as belonging to Him.

I have gone through seasons of pruning.  It’s not pleasant.  God cut away relationships. He cut away pride.  He hacked away at my sin of worry–one by one, as the circumstances I had always feared came to pass and as I was forced to let go of self, I learned I would live and, I learned to lean into Him more. After awhile, like Job, sometimes God will restore what He has removed from our hands, but He reminds us to remain in His love. When the season of pruning has ended, don’t go back.  Don’t forget.

Jesus said that he shared these things so that “My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” (verse 11)

Our piano teacher is going to be 95 this month.  She is the most wonderful lady.  She saw me reading one day and asked me what I was learning.  I told her I was studying John 15 and pruning and she sat down across from me, smiling, and said, “Well now, that’s the thing,” her eyes twinkled, “I’m not the person I used to be.”

Isn’t that the glorious thing?  I’m not the person I used to be, and I am so very thankful!

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them–yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.”   1 Corinthians 15:10

 

 

You can find the other devotionals in this series on the Fruit of the Spirit on  THIS PAGE.

This devotional was written to use in conjunction with  A Woman’s Walk with God, Growing in the Fruit of the Spirit by Elizabeth George.

awomanswalk_large

 

Thanks to Pixabay for the photos of the grape vines.

Growing in Patience

 

patience

 

Patience.  I chose this picture because the cup in the cold window reminds me so much of me and my own need for more patience.  I love a big cup of herbal tea, but I leave some good head space when I pour my cup so that when it has brewed I can add some cold water to cool it down and get to enjoying it.

I’ve been asking God what He wants to teach me, and here it is: Four. Little. Words.

“It’s not about you.”  

When I was young my mom used to do this thing when I wanted something and she was stressed.  She would say, “Linda, the world doesn’t revolve around you.”  I hated that.  So much so that it was on my list of “Things I will never say to my children.” (And I haven’t.) It made me feel selfish and despicable inside, even when there wasn’t anything wrong with what I was asking.

When I sensed the Lord whispering this to me, “It’s not about you,” in response to my searching, it really brought up that dreadful feeling I used to get as a child.

“Lord, I know that.”  I responded.  “I know it’s not about me.”

Right?  I waited.

I felt as though I was being held under a microscope, and the discomfort of being wrung out so that my mess was on display.

And then a new understanding overtook me while my mind was suddenly flooded with thoughts of the times I tend to be impatient. (Psalm 139:23,24) I know it’s not all about me, but my reaction to my circumstances prove that my heart and my head are not always in sync.

Beloved, you and I are not our own (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

We were made by God, not for ourselves, but for Him.

Luke 1:74-75that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.”

We are here for His Purpose.

Put another way, 2 Corinthians 5:15  “and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

We are His agents, on His Mission, with His Perspective.

The gospel is meant for you and for me, but it does not stop with us.  We are to be about His business of reconciliation.  Our mission is to serve people by loving them and leading them to Jesus.

2 Corinthians 5:18-19 “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”

This reconciliation is possible because of the cross.

Jesus loved us, served us, reconciled us, indwells us, and works through us!

2 Corinthians 5:20-21 “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

The King James version, when listing the Fruit of the Spirit, does not say “patience.”  It says “longsuffering.”  That sounds pleasant, doesn’t it?  The Greek word means patience, endurance, constancy, steadfastness, perseverance, forbearance, slowness in avenging wrongs . . . .

I am reminded that I, like Paul, am running a race that I want to finish well,  (2 Timothy 4:7). God is so gracious to give us gifts to help us in this race.  The fruit of the Spirit go hand in hand.  They are dependent upon one another and work together.

Love helps me extend patience toward other people who I find challenging along the way. Seeing people the way Jesus does, and remembering that “it’s not about me” lets me love them the way He loves me.  This is forbearance.  This is steadfastness.  Sometimes, as Elizabeth George put it, it is “waiting for the judge.”

I feel the need to point out that sometimes the one we need to love and forgive is ourselves.  When we get stuck, we surely are making “it” about us and we aren’t able to move on to the good works God has planned for us to do.  Also,

“To the extent that we resist reconciliation and forgiveness, we (the church) lessen the visibility of God’s grace to the community.” ~Jake Anderson

We need to see ourselves the way Jesus sees us if we want others to be able to embrace God’s grace for them.  If you’re holding a grudge against yourself, repent.  Forgive yourself because God does, and move on.  Go forth!

Joy helps me have patience to keep running when I am experiencing less than ideal circumstances.  On days when it feels like I’m being rained out of the race, it’s not about me.  Giving thanks brings me back to God’s perspective.  This is endurance.  This is also forbearance.  This is longsuffering.

Peace helps me experience patience during seasons when I wonder, “How can what’s happening to me right now really be part of God’s plan for me to carry out His purpose?” When life doesn’t make sense. When my heart breaks. It’s not about me.  I can trust God.  I am reminded of the lyrics to the song, “Trust in You,” by Lauren Daigle:

“When You don’t move the mountains I’m needing You to move
When You don’t part the waters I wish I could walk through
When You don’t give the answers as I cry out to You
I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You!”

This is constancy; This is steadfastness!  This is abiding.

Patience isn’t always what you feel.  Sometimes it’s what you do.  It can be obedience. Obedience is not always what you want to do. It’s just that–obedience . . . you choose it, and God changes your heart along the way.

So, when you take time to consider, when is it that you are not patient?

  • When I am under physical stress: hungry (low blood sugar), sick, tired, or in pain.
  • When I am in emotional distress: some kind of emotional pain, when I am offended (can you say PRIDE?) or when someone/something has pushed my buttons.
  • When I am experiencing spiritual or mental stress.  I feel that these two are closely intertwined: experiencing a need for spiritual renewal (not spending enough time with God), experiencing worry (a sin), and when I am caught off guard (sidelined by something difficult without having time to prepare myself).

I realize that these are situations which tend to initiate a turning inward to focus on myself.  What are some practical ways I can help myself to walk in patience?

  • Prayer.  This is the most important place to start.   Daily, I need to ask God to change my heart, give me a “longer fuse,” and give me the attitudes He wants me to have.  And then I need to ask him to give me wisdom and open my eyes to the practical ways I can be more patient.
  •  Taking care of myself!  Intentionally getting enough sleep, planning ahead for meals, eating right, and drinking water through the day will help me avoid the physical stress that can make patience more challenging for me, and help me be more present for my family.
  •  On the emotional front, spending time with God every day keeps me healthier. Giving Him my hurts instead of dwelling on them, obeying scripture that tells me to pray for my enemies, and remembering to dwell on all things lovely (Phil. 4:8) are all part of my heart care.
  • Removing opportunities to sin.  Ah.  This is challenging!  I need to constantly evaluate myself. One example is that if I notice that I suffer with impatience when the whole family is going out, people are running late, gloves are missing, etc… I can help myself avoid this scenario by having everyone pack “to-go bags” the evening before.  I can lay out gloves in pairs and put the “little people’s” shoes in order.  I need to develop more systems to help myself avoid stress and chaos.  It will be better for the whole family.  I sometimes get sidetracked by the urgent, feeling discouraged when it feels like my children are slow to learn the practical skills I am responsible to teach them (like cleaning up after themselves!)  When I stop to remember that the greater responsibility is for my attitudes and actions to point them to Jesus, the every day messes fall into their proper places.
  • Following  Jesus’ example.  Jesus kept the main thing the main thing.  He came to do the will of His Father.  He was God, yet he had a flourishing prayer life.  He said he did only what he saw his Father doing (John 5:19).  He didn’t veer from the plan.  He wasn’t side tracked by his enemies who abused him or by his disciples who sometimes loved ignorantly.  For the joy set before him, he was steadfast.  Our joy is in Him.  If we remember this we can keep the main thing the main thing.  We can remember that our purpose is to bring Him glory by carrying the gospel beyond ourselves “because of the tender mercy of our God . . . to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,” (Luke 1:78, 79),  and we can do it with patience.

 

This devotional was written to use in conjunction with  A Woman’s Walk with God, Growing in the Fruit of the Spirit  by Elizabeth George.  The other devotionals in this series on the Fruit of the Spirit can be found on THIS PAGE.