Why? Why? Why?

Guest Post by James N. Watkins

If you have children, nieces and nephews, or younger siblings, you know that a three-year-old’s favorite word is “why.”

“Johnny, hold my hand while we cross the street.”

“Why?”

“Because I don’t want you to run out in front of a car.”

“Why?”

“Because if a car hits you, you’ll be hurt or killed.”

“Why?”

“Because if it’s a contest between a thirty-five-pound boy and a three-ton SUV, the truck is going to win every time.”

“Why?”

“Because the laws of physics state that mass plus momentum equals . . . Just take my hand!”

And on it goes—right into adulthood!

“Why didn’t God heal my friend?”

“Why do bad things happen to good people?”

“Why do I still have acne at 50?”

I’ve worked up way too much spiritual perspiration trying to answer why my second-grade Sunday school teacher committed suicide, why I was laid off from the perfect job in publishing—twice—or why bad things happen to such good people as you and me.

I have learned that while why is often a futile question, God is more than willing to answer other questions. But, like the popular game show, Jeopardy, the answers are in the form of a question.

What can I know?

“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:5-8).

So, while I’ve struggled with hundreds—probably thousands—of questions about God’s workings, I have grown in my knowledge of who he is. While agonizing about an estranged relationship, I burst into tears—for God. I had described to a friend my pain: “It feels like my heart has been cut out with a chainsaw, run over by a logging truck, and then fed through a wood chipper.” If I was feeling this excruciating pain for one broken relationship, how was God feeling about billions of heartaches? It was one of the few times I actually felt I understood God.

I can also find the answer to . . .

How can I grow?

I’ve always leaned into Romans 8:28:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (NIV).

But what is that “purpose”? The very next verse answers: “To be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29). So do other verses:

“And the Lord—who is the Spirit——makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image” (2 Corinthians 3:18b).

“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1).

That’s our purpose! So ask, how can I grow more like Christ through this difficult time.

Who can I show?

Second Corinthians 1:3-6 has become one of my favorite passages in encouraging me while I’m going through terrible times:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer” (NLT).

The Greek word translated comfort isparaklesis. It is a calling near, summons for help; a prayer, a plea; exhortation, admonition, encouragement; consolation, comfort, solace, refreshment; or a persuasive speech, motivational talk, instruction. And it’s feminine case. No one comforts like a mother.

We offer our best comfort to those experiencing what we have personally gone through.

So, sorry, we can’t always answer the “why” questions, but we can answer these three.

Condensed from The Psalms of Asaph: Struggling with Unanswered Prayer, Unfulfilled Promises, and Unpunished Evil by James N. Watkins.

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Follow Your Heart?

Often, I hear the phrase “Follow your heart” as an encouragement to people to do whatever they think is best based on ‘gut feelings.’ They might also say “Follow your gut.” I believe we all have a conscience given by God and our conscience along with leadings from the Holy Spirit will help us to make decisions based on right and wrong.

And I admit the idea of following my heart used to be something I didn’t think too much about. I know I’ve let even major decisions be based on emotions. Then I became familiar with the Bible and what it had to say about just how poorly my heart acts as a leader in such cases.

Here’s some biblical wisdom I’ve picked up over the years

Jesus speaking in a short sermon: “For each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs aren’t gathered from thornbushes, or grapes picked from a bramble bush. A good man produces good out of the good storeroom of his heart. An evil man produces evil out of the evil storeroom, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.” Luke 6:44,45

“The heart is more deceitful than anything else and desperately sick–who can understand it? I, the LORD, examine the mind, I test the heart to give to each according to his way, according to what his actions deserve.” Jeremiah 17:9,10

“All a man’s ways seem right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the motives.” Proverbs 16:2

In addition to heeding what God says in his Word about our actions, words, thoughts and attitudes, I like this advice from Oswald Chambers.

“The only test as to whether we ought to allow an emotion to have its way is to see what the outcome of the emotion will be. Push it to its logical conclusion, and if the outcome is something God would condemn, allow it no more way.” From “My Utmost For His Highest”

Most of the time, I know exactly what God would like me to do. I know his heart. Since a person’s heart is the seat of emotions, following God’s heart is always the best decision.

Father, I know my selfish tendencies. I ask you to constantly remind me that when I give over to my emotions, I often fail to make right decisions. I want to please you. Guide me with your Truth. Test my heart and lead me in the way everlasting.

Six Steps for Studying the Epistles

Reading the Bible through in a year as I had done before, I came once again to the epistles. Though I’d read them previously, this time it occurred to me: These are letters from an actual person to actual people. There’s more than just information here; there’s emotion.

I realize that sounds pretty obvious to some people, but now I knew that, in the future, I’d read them differently. The emotion couldn’t have been only on the writer’s part, I thought, because those receiving them must have felt excited to get them.

We’re blessed to have Bibles we can pick up daily and read affirming, convicting and truth-filled messages. The original letters to the churches were often circulated and an individual may have heard the letter only once before it was on its way to be shared with another church. How precious they were. How empowered the readers must have been on receiving those letters.

Letter writing is becoming a lost art. What a joy to savor words on paper from someone who loves us and hopes the best for us. My realizations led me to read the epistles like I’d never read before, as if they’d been sent directly to me. Identifying with the people for whom they were intended, it was exciting. I received fresh insight, higher understanding, and a new appreciation for the first century Church.

These are some practices I discovered for knowing the power of the God’s word.

  1. Pray before reading. Thank God for the person who wrote the letter and that it made it safely to you. Pray that the Spirit will provide power to guide you and encourage you.
  2. Read from a different translation than you normally use. The wording may be just different enough that you get a better understanding of the scripture.
  3. If you underline or write notes in the margins of your Bible, read from one that has no margin notes or underlining so these don’t distract you. If you have none, perhaps you can borrow for this part of your study. If you must write, take notes in a separate journal.
  4. Read slowly and deliberately. Because many of us have read the epistles several times, we can be tempted to read through them quickly. However, familiarity with the text can get in the way. If you were reading a letter received in the mail, it wouldn’t be familiar. You couldn’t anticipate the next phrase and you would have to listen with your heart and mind all the way through. Also, since these letters were originally read to groups, try reading aloud.
  5. Pay attention to the greetings at the beginnings and ends of the letters. The early believers would have been overjoyed to hear these heartfelt words. Some of those mentioned are people the writer traveled with. The inclusion of their names offers hints into co-workers in ministry. Paul quite often did this. Sometimes the writer also included blessings and prayers. These have power to bless and encourage you as they did the original readers.
  6. Pray again when you’ve finished. If God has spoken to you through the writer’s words, thank Him and ask Him to keep revealing truth to you. Confess any sin the Holy Spirit has revealed in your life as a result of reading. Claim God’s promise of abundant life in Christ and share what you’ve learned with someone else.

After reading through the epistles this way, try using some of these ideas for reading other passages of scripture.

Be a blessing to someone today.

What is Jesus Doing?

Sometimes we wonder what God must be up to. Life is getting weird and we seem to be floundering.  Ever feel that way?

If I keep my eyes open to what’s happening and keep trusting that God is doing what I cannot do for myself, the answer is usually simple.

What is Jesus doing? He’s helping me to grow in grace.

Be a blessing to someone today.

Living the Fruit of the Spirit: Goodness

A definition from Easton’s Bible Dictionary states that

Goodnessin man is not a mere passive quality, but the deliberate preference of right to wrong, the firm and persistent resistance of all moral evil, and the choosing and following of all moral good.”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone” (Luke 18:19)

When I read what Jesus had to say to a rich young man, the idea of calling myself  ‘good’ seems prideful. Can I call myself “good?” Or is it up to others to call me “good?”

If agathosune is “uprightness of heart and life,” perhaps I’m better off letting others make the judgement call. After all, Jesus, in his deity, gave all goodness to God alone. He could have claimed it, but in his humility, he glorified his Father.

As I continue to learn about how the Holy Spirit works in me to produce fruit, definitions from several sources help me to understand. I’m glad that Easton’s dictionary uses verbs like choosing and following because it implies that I must be aware of what’s going on around me.

I also appreciate that, to be considered “good,” I must be deliberate, firm, and persistent. Indeed, Mr. Easton, being “good” is not a mere passive quality. The Spirit leads; I listen; I obey.

Ultimately, the fruit of the Spirit called “goodness,” like each other fruit, is defined by the Holy Spirit himself as he works in us to make us “good.” With the Spirit working in us, we’re able to live a fruitful life. We Love, we exhibit Joy and Peace, we act with Kindness, and we can be Good.

So far, so good.

Be a blessing to someone today.

 

Living the Fruit of the Spirit: Kindness

When someone says the word ‘kindness,’ what we think of can be a mixture of other words as we consider how to define it. We think about how people are nice; that they act in a loving way; or that people who are kind must be generous.

All of these simple descriptions are a part of what it means to be kind. I suppose we can also consider how another person perceives what we think is a kindness on our part. However, it’s a pretty sure thing that when we act out of love and humility and when we are kind in an obviously selfless way, people are more open to us and will name ‘kindness’ for what it is. Sometimes kindness can be shown by just using good manners.

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12

In relationships, we can show kindness by treating friends graciously even during challenging times. We are kind to someone whom we call ‘friend’ when we accept them for who they are, not expecting them to fulfill our definition of what they should be. Having a friend means being honest, firm and gentle when we’re challenged by discord.

“Anyone who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty.” Job 6:14

Often, we fail to be kind because we just don’t think of it. Our lives are so full of busyness, we don’t make acts of kindness a habit. We’re rushing right past people who need kindness. We can find comfort in knowing that it’s only through God’s Spirit that kindness can be a consistent part of a believer’s experience. Quite simply, we surrender to the Holy Spirit and listen for the prompts to act kindly.

Most people are familiar with the term Random Acts of Kindness. And people are familiar with a variety of popular ways to show kindness in an ordinary day. Like holding a door open for someone or buying their purchase while we go through a drive-through. Here are some other ideas: offering someone your pen and letting them keep it; giving your umbrella to a stranger; writing someone an encouraging note; taping a microwave popcorn packet to a movie rental kiosk (leave a short note telling them you hope they enjoy the movie); picking up litter on the beach; donating your cut hair to a charity that makes wigs from it and distributes them for free; sending care packages to military personnel overseas.

On the website Positive Outlooks, stories about how folks are being kind are the norm. In fact, these bloggers go looking for them. Truly, kindness is a way of showing people by how you treat them that they have value.

Regardless of how you define ‘kindness,’ God rewards you when you choose to selflessly help others. Make it a point to perform random acts of kindness today and to top it off, don’t let anyone else find out.

Be a blessing to someone today.

 

Fruit of the Spirit 3: Peace

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

 

“And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

“Great peace have those who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble.” Psalm 119:165

In the list of fruit which will be evident in our lives as we submit to the Holy Spirit, “peace” is mentioned third in line. But that doesn’t mean a person must tackle and be mature in “love” and “joy” before he can obtain peace. The Spirit begins working every single fruit in us as soon as we give our lives to Christ and decide to follow Him.

And if you’ve read my thoughts on Love and Joy, you understand that we don’t “tackle” them as if we need to strive to exhibit the fruit. Jesus says these are for the taking when we are surrendered to His will.

Think about this: If Jesus told us that it’s His peace He gives, and not the kind of peace the world gives, wouldn’t you want that? The peace the world offers is fleeting and, more often than not, based on emotions. At its most basic, that peace is a lie from Satan.

With the peace of God, our condition can be calm, not anxious, regardless of what’s happening around us. Do you know someone who seems to always be at peace? How do you respond when your circumstances challenge your inner life?

Jesus, we offer ourselves to you and trust you. Thank you for sending your Holy Spirit to grow us and mature us in the grace you give; a never ending grace. Your peace is what we want and we ask you to protect our hearts from the peace the world offers. We come to you for rest and worship you as our Prince of Peace. Amen

Living the Fruit of the Spirit 2: Joy

 

Joy is a gift. Like the other fruit of the Spirit, it’s not something we conjure up. It’s present in our lives because it’s the joy of our Lord. What a gift to receive. Why would anyone not want the joy of our God?

Joy is a permanent possession while happiness is fleeting. Our happiness quite often is expressed as something we have or we don’t . “I’m not very happy today.” or “Oh, I’m so happy right now!”

Joy can be described as exhilaration, delight, sheer gladness, and can result from a great success or a very beautiful or wonderful experience like a wedding or graduation but the definition of joy that the world holds is not nearly as amazing as biblical joy.

The joy we experience as we follow Jesus can be overwhelming and it’s often associated with gratitude, lack of worry, a simple life, a full life. Not to mention being in constant contact with God and availing ourselves of His love. When we know our identity in Christ, joy must naturally follow. That’s a joy we want everyone to experience, so we take the story of Jesus to everyone as often as possible.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

“At that time, Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.” Luke 10:21

“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.” John 17:`3 (Jesus’ high priestly prayer)

“The joy of the Lord is your strength.”Nehemiah 8:10

Dear Father in Heaven, remember your promise as Jesus said that His joy would be in us and that our joy would be complete. We praise you in our joy for your faithfulness to complete the work you’ve begun. Help us to walk in the Spirit and show the evidence of you which your Holy Spirit provides. Amen

 

Living the Fruit of the Spirit 1: “Love”

We don’t need to work at creating the fruit of the Holy Spirit. God has given His Spirit so that we’ll be filled with the fruit and exhibit the fruit by grace. As we follow Jesus and are obedient to Him, we naturally bear fruit just as a tree blossoms, then produces fruit. The tree doesn’t strive. It does what it was created to do. When we become the new creation, the Spirit works in us. So then, we don’t have to work.

“His divine grace has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” 2 Peter 1:3 (NIV)

If by God’s grace we are given these things, it’s a comfort to know that He is growing us up in Love. The “fruit of the Spirit” means just that. Living the fruit produced in us is contrary to living the “fruit of man.” Yes, that should actually be a comfort to us.

But be alert. Keep your eyes on Jesus and your heart tuned to the Spirit. Then Love will come more naturally than if you were to go it alone.

“For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself.” Galatians 5:14

“Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.” John 13:34-35

“I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. John 15: 11-15

“Now that you’ve cleaned up your lives by following the truth, love one another as if your lives depended on it” 1 Peter 1:22

Be a blessing to someone today.

(Unless otherwise noted, scripture references are from The Message)

 

God Uses Ordinary People

“When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled , ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” Acts 4:13

“Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things o the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world…” 1 Corinthians 1:26-28

We all can be used by God if we belong to Him. Young, old, man, woman, child, educated, without education. No matter who we are (or what we have done), we’re the people who fulfill God’s purpose.

Be glad He chose you and be a blessing to someone today.