With Graciousness and Kindness Toward All

Slowly, my mind is changing about judgement calls on people based on their looks, their words and actions, or their attitudes. For a long time I’ve believed it was okay to take notice and immediately place someone in a category. The categories were, of course, arbitrary, based on personal preferences, what I’d been taught was ‘correct,’ and a solid belief that I was probably always right.

What Changed? The Lord has shown me more of Himself. I see him interact with a variety of people in Bible stories and He never seems to judge the way I do. His judgements are true. Whether it’s a Samaritan woman sitting alone at a well, a group of Pharisees verbally abusing Him, a man sitting in a booth cheating his fellow Jews on their taxes, or a Centurion asking Jesus to heal his servant––the Lord sees what’s in their hearts.

I can’t see into hearts.

The best I can do, when I watch someone ‘acting out,’ as I usually describe it, is to pray for that person to find a better way of expressing themselves. Perhaps I will pray for them to find the Light of Jesus. Perhaps the person is already someone who claims to have a relationship with Him; yet they ‘act out.’

That could be me on any given day.

God’s word gives instructions for when we discover what we name as their wrongdoing.

“Don’t criticize, and then you won’t be criticized. For others will treat you as you treat them. And why worry about a speck in the eye of a brother when you have a board in your own?  Should you say, ‘Friend, let me help you get that speck out of your eye,’ when you can’t even see because of the board in your own?  Hypocrite! First get rid of the board. Then you can see to help your brother” (Matthew 7:1-5)

The Apostle Paul makes another distinction.

“What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside” (1 Corinthians 5:12).

In other words, how can we expect anyone who has not seen the Light, to behave as if they have.

Again…That could be me on any given day.

Nevertheless, as disciples of Jesus, we are given warnings and instructions about heeding the teachings and the fruit of those inside the Church.

“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit” (Matthew 12:33).

Ultimately, I can never know the motives of one’s heart. Only Jesus knows that. Since life experiences, ill health, daily stress, and any number of things can make me ‘act out’ even when I know it’s inappropriate, I long for the grace of Jesus.

And with the help of the Holy Spirit, I could offer that grace to others as well. To extend graciousness and kindness toward all. To pray for them as I would hope they would pray for me.

Acting on Affirmations

next-life-chapter-cropRead this quote all day until you have it memorized. Repeat it to your friends any chance you get. Type “amen” in the comments because you believe it’s true. Print it out and post it on your fridge. Do all those things if you want. But…

I’ve discovered if we don’t first deal with whatever is in the former chapters of our lives and get over what’s hurting us (resentment, regrets, open wounds, and unforgiveness for example), real and meaningful progress in life doesn’t occur.

Affirmations are okay. But an affirmation is only something positive we tell ourselves which doesn’t become real in our lives until we’ve acted on it. Take for example one I found on a list for Christians:

“I see others as God’s gift to me.”

Sounds nice, doesn’t it? I believe this so-called affirmation is true. But if, in my daily walk-about, I don’t treat everyone as the gift I believe they are, my words are hollow.

God’s promises are the same. He offers so much to us that we don’t have to work for. However, even though many of those promises are a faith matter, even the most recognizable work in our lives may be accompanied by His “Now, go.”

Read about a man blind from birth in John 9:1-34. He wasn’t healed simply because Jesus put mud on his eyes. Jesus put the mud there; He did His part. Then Jesus told the man to go wash his eyes in a pool and he’d be healed. When the man acted on Jesus’s instructions, he went home with the gift of eyesight.

A friend of mine used to say, “God feeds the birds, but He doesn’t throw the worms into their nests.” Quite often, we mustn’t be content to sit and wait for God to simply come through with our need. On the contrary, we’ll discover that there’s work for us to do which coincides with the work He’s already doing for us.

Go ahead and read your “last chapter.” Then ask God how He’d like you to deal with it. I’m guessing that for you, as it was for me, He’s expecting you to do something. Listen with humility to what He’s saying to you.

Then, “Go.”

And be a blessing to someone today.

Hope, Anger, and Courage

augustine-on-hopes-daughters

The world is full of trouble. We shouldn’t be surprised by this. Jesus knew we’d experience trouble.

“In this world you will have trouble.” John 16:33

Jesus doesn’t leave us without hope, however, because in the same breath he says he’s giving us his peace. He says he’s already overcome the world. The Amplified Bible version adds the words “I have deprived it of power to harm you.”

Knowing his peace and the fact that troubles have no power over us doesn’t mean we hide our heads in the sand and not looking at the world’s troubles. That isn’t the message Jesus means to convey. He certainly said a lot about acting to help those in need. To be a good neighbor. Pray for our enemies. Forgive from our hearts.

Jesus got angry. But it wasn’t selfish anger; it was anger that was justified. The things that made him angry needed to be made right because innocent people were suffering. The call to be like Jesus means we follow his lead. Are you measuring your anger about a situation or against a person based on Jesus’s example?

Are you bold like Jesus? Do you take risks to make the world a better place, even if it’s just the little space of world where you live? What is he calling you to be courageous about today?

Pray for the ability to make change and bring justice to a situation as Jesus would. Then, you’re offering hope to the world that is full of trouble.

24/7 Thanksgiving

The Secrets in the Box

Scraps of paper with scribbling on them populated a lidded box which was a gift from a friend. Periodically, I would add another scrap of paper to the collection. Occasionally, I took the scraps out to read them. I should have been scribbling more often and reading even more often.

My scribblings were praises to God for answering prayer, for meeting a need just in time when I hadn’t even prayed for it, and for giving me the strength to get through a difficult time. I called it my God Box.

Last week, after submitting another scrap to the box, I realized it should be full and even overflowing. I was paying attention to God’s faithfulness, but not recording it as a visual reminder. That may not matter to some people, but since I’m someone who journals and likes a written record of what matters to me, it mattered to me.

A Solution in a Jar

I begin most days–or end the evening–by creating a list of things to do. Years ago I began the practice of writing in colored marker at the top of the list “Be Grateful.” The practice of constant praise also matters to me, but I’m weak and often selfish so I need a reminder.flower-wreath-thanks

Another way of reminder, which is solving the problem of too few scraps of paper, was to place the scribblings in a place where I was more apt to notice them. Now, on the windowsill near my desk sits a canning jar full of papers folded up with my scribblings on them. I can’t help but see that container. The open blinds let the sun in and the sun shines through the glass. I see the folded slips of colored paper and, voila, my gratitude and God’s faithfulness are in clear view.

Since placing the jar in the window, gratitude doesn’t seem to be so secret. For sure, no one else needs to know, but like I said, I’m weak. I need all the help I can get.

From the Little to the Large

Gratitude for what God gives and what he does in my life has slowly become a way of life. As I drive around town, I often say, “Thank you, Lord,” just for the joy of seeing wild turkeys or a deer standing in a patch of grass. Little things can make me smile and I thank God for the pleasure of seeing critters in the city. (You should have heard my squeal of delight the day I left church and saw a red-tailed hawk swoop over the parking lot grasping prey in its talons.)

I’m also convinced he’s at work behind the scene and aware of my needs. How else to explain the woman at the thrift store drop-off station asking me if I need a twin mattress? I’m not sure what the look on my face said when she asked me. I was simply watching her wrestle it to the door. But, yeah, I was long overdue for a new mattress. I answered in the affirmative and she and her son loaded a name brand mattress––one-year-old and in pristine condition––into the back of my van. Then a couple guys from my church wrangled it into my apartment and took the old one to the dumpster. I would never have been able to afford that mattress, nor do the lifting myself.

That was a big thing. I know I shouldn’t be amazed at this. But I suppose keeping a sense of wonder at God’s works reminds me that, yes, I’m weak. I can’t do it all myself and he’s taking care of me.

Any Time is a Good Time

The jar sits on the windowsill for me to see every day. God’s goodness and blessings stand for me to see daily as well. I just need to keep my eyes open. When I can’t see something tangible, all I need to do is remember his mercy, new every morning. I pray to not take for granted that every good and perfect gift comes from him. Not only the things I can touch and see but the abundant life that faith allows me to know exists even when I may not “feel” like I have it.

I strive for a practice of constant praise. To “Be Grateful” 24/7, and not just because it’s on my To Do List. After all, Thanksgiving time is coming here.

 

God Asks Questions

Occasionally, I ask God a question. It’s not a case of questioning God, which is entirely different. Sometimes I just feel the need to have a conversation in which he makes things clearer. I don’t always understand.

For instance, I sometimes ask, “What’s going on here, Lord?” Hoping he’ll give me insight to a situation or how another person is responding, I check in with him first. Another one I ask is “Will you please direct me here, Lord? I’m not sure which way to go.”

These, obviously, aren’t hard questions for God. He can answer any question. When he wants to. The thing I’ve learned about asking God a question is sometimes he answers in a way I wasn’t expecting. God’s answer to my question might be that I get another situation. When asking for direction, he more often than not leads me to some place I never even considered. Or someplace I thought of but didn’t want to go.man in woods praying

God is in the habit of asking me questions as well. In fact, I get more questions from God than he gets from me.  To inspire me toward further spiritual maturity and to being conformed to the image of his Son, the questions are much harder for me than my questions are for him.

Obviously.

Some time ago, God asked me about my motivations and wanted me to be clear on something. Turnabout is fair play with him, for sure. This is what he asked me:

“What is the difference between your devotion to Jesus and devotion to your idea of what Jesus wants?”

This question is one I return to repeatedly. Because I tend to think I know what God wants, my actions will reflect that. If I don’t stop and consider first my relationship with Jesus and remember what his mission is, I create my own mission.

Heavenly Father, I’m so grateful that you’re always working and that your Son is as well. The questions you ask are sometimes difficult for me because I so often think I know the way you work and how you want to work in the world. Please keep reminding me that you are the one in charge, even when I don’t understand what’s going on. You’re the perfect parent and I trust you to raise me as a good Father would. For your glory, Amen.

And the Survey Said…(2015 Top Five Posts)

We celebrated the beginning of a new calendar year more than two weeks ago, but I’m playing catch-up.

Life happens.

WordPress sent my statistics for the year with the following posts coming up as the favorites for 2015. The number of hits isn’t important to me so much, but an interesting stat was just where the readers were coming from. Folks from a total of 52 countries logged in.

living the fruit treeThe Fruitful Life is still finding its way around the blogosphere and still trying to define itself. I’m happy if you’ve found anything enjoyable, encouraging or educational. Stay tuned. This coming year will see more faith-based posts, Foodie Friday fun and some posts related to books and movies.

If you had a favorite not listed here, let me know. Your comments are always welcome.

Top Five Posts of 2015

“Why I Don’t Go To Church”

“Choosing My Battles”

“Why I Go To Church”

“I Can Hear it Now”

“The Intruders”

From Prayer to Popcorn, you chose the favorites. Thanks for reading.

Digging Into The Bible

Over the years I’ve sat in many small groups of people studying the Bible in some fashion. Every group included at least one person who was unfamiliar with scripture and had no regular Bible reading plan.

I’ve always been passionate about helping people read and understand the Bible better. The reason for my passion is because I know if they keep reading, they’ll get to know God better. They’ll get to know Jesus, his Son. Over time, they’ll even begin to appreciate the Holy Spirit’s role in their lives.

We all enjoy forming relationships in a small group and that’s important. But I believe the small group experience will be enriched when people also form a growing relationship with God. To someone new to it all, even talking about a relationship with God can be confusing.

I understand that because I had questions too. I was too proud to ask them so for a long time I stayed ignorant about a lot of things God wanted me to know and do. Pretty much like I did everything, I relied on myself. I thank God for some good people who gently taught me that I didn’t know it all.  Often, I didn’t even know what I thought I knew.

If you know what I mean.

Today, I love to hear people speak up and ask questions referring to things they don’t understand about God or the Bible. It inspires me, knowing that they want the enlightenment scripture can bring. More than just trying to answer questions, however, I like to point them to Christ by encouraging them to dig into the Bible themselves.

In these cases “Where do I start?” is a common question.

Not a list of Ten Ways to Get to Know Your Bibleman-reading-bible

Rather than being clever and offering a quick fix and a list, here’s a Bible reading plan that doesn’t take much time. It’s pretty comprehensive, covering some significant stories and points in scripture. Even better, it just may give a person with lots of questions enough of a taste to want more. The result of completing the forty days might be that an individual–maybe you–begins a daily Bible reading routine.

Seasoned readers of the Bible might also give the forty-day plan a try. If how you’re doing it now has become a little stale (and it can; don’t feel guilty about that), go ahead and stop how you’re doing it. Reading passages which are seemingly unrelated might put some kick in your relationship with Christ as well. You can always return to the method you were previously engaged in.

God comes near when we draw near to him. Reading the Bible, meditating on what we read and praying for understanding open us up to hear his voice. And that’s something all of us often ask about.

“How do I hear God speak to me personally?”

A Suggested Forty-Day Bible Reading Plan

Day 1: Genesis chapters 1-2 (The Creation Account)
Day 2: Genesis chapter 3 (The Beginning of Sin)
Day 3: Genesis chapters 15, 17:15-27 (God’s covenant with Abraham)
Day 4: Genesis chapter 21:1-7; chapter 22 (God’s faithfulness and Abrahams faith)
Day 5: Exodus chapters 3-4 (God Calls Moses to deliver His people)
Day 6: Exodus 6 (The Ten Commandments)
Day 7 Joshua 1 (Conquering the Promised Land)
Day 8 1 Samuel 16-17 (David and Goliath)
Day 9: 1 Kings chapters 3; 8:1-9; 9 (King Solomon’s wisdom and the Temple)
Day 10 1 Kings 18 (The prophet Elijah and the prophets of Baal)
Day 11: 2 Kings 25 (The Siege of Jerusalem and the Exile of Judah)
Day 12: Daniel 2-3 (Daniel in Babylon: The fiery furnace)
Day 13: Ezra 3 (Rebuilding the temple)
Day 14: Isaiah chapters 9, 53, 61 (Isaiah’s prophecy of the coming Messiah)
Day 15: Luke chapters 1-2 (The birth of Jesus)
Day 16: John 1:1-18 (Who Jesus Is)
Day 17: Luke 4:14-44 (Jesus begins his ministry)
Day 18: Matthew 5-6 (The core of Jesus’ teaching)
day 19: John 3 (God’s Love for the world)
Day 20: John 5 (Jesus’ Miracles and Authority)
Day 21: John 11 (Jesus’ Power Over Death)
Day 22: John 15 (The Christian Life Defined)
Day 23: John 17 (Jesus’ High Priestly prayer)
Day 24: Matthew 26-27 (The arrest and crucifixion of Jesus)
Day 25: John 20 (The resurrection of Jesus)
Day 26: Luke 24 (The ascension of Jesus )
Day 27: Acts 2 (The coming of The Holy Spirit)
Day 28 Acts 9 (The conversion of Saul)
Day 29 Acts 16 (The Gospel spreads to Europe)
Day 30 Acts 26 (Paul’s defense of the Christian Faith)
Day 31: Romans 3 (Justification by faith alone)
Day 32: Romans 7-8 (The battle with sin; Life in the Spirit)
Day 33: 1 Corinthians 13 (The way of Love)
Day 34: 1 Corinthians 15 (The power of the resurrection)
Day 35: Galatians 5 (Freedom in Christ)
Day 36: Ephesians 6 (The whole armor of God)
Day 37: Philippians 1:18-2:18 (Christ’s example for us)
Day 38: Colossians 3:1-17 (Putting on the new self)
Day 39: James 1 (Pure religion)
Day 40: Revelation 21-22 (The New Heaven and the New Earth)

Bible reading plan copyright 2005, Crossway; Value Compact Edition, English Standard Version (ESV)

Ten Things I Believe

In 1990, just for fun, I came up with a list of “Things I Like.” Not surprisingly, ‘a nice cup of tea’ and ‘telling a joke well’ made the list.

Before the year was over, I’d considered that list and decided I needed to write another list of “Things I Need” (relationally). What I learned about writing and reviewing that list over time was that I was the one mostly responsible for making sure my relational needs were met. If I looked at it any other way, I felt like a victim.

Now, somewhat belatedly, I’m convinced another list is in order. A more important list, and probably not complete, I name “Things I Believe.” After all, I’m a Believer.

For what’s it’s worth, here it is. And the only items on the list I could say are in order of importance are perhaps #1 and #2.

1. I believe everything God said about Himself in scripture.Jesus Is ---

2. I believe everything Jesus said about Himself and that I am, because of my belief, now crucified with Him, reconciled to God, filled with the Holy Spirit, and will spend eternity with Him when He returns.

3. I believe there is a purpose in my life and that this purpose is to please God, however He defines His pleasure.

4. I believe the various experiences of my life–trials and joys, no matter when they happened–God is even now using to further His kingdom.

5. I believe in the intrinsic value of every human being.

6. I believe in the power of prayer.

7. I believe God speaks to people in a variety of ways and His purpose for speaking is for His glory to be shown in the world.

8. I believe there is an enemy in the world named Satan and that it is possible to be deceived by him as well as it is possible to stand against him with the power of God’s word and prayer.

9. I believe that there is a cost in loving as God commanded, but as we risk according to God’s definition of love, our relationships with Him become deeper. We are healed and our relationships with others become healthier.

10. I believe that my beliefs can and will affect my behavior.

Bonus belief: I believe that Numbers 1 and 2 are the basic foundation for the rest of the beliefs listed.

Why I Go To Church

In a recent post, I talked about Why I Don’t Go To Church. Today is a good day to tell you Why I Do Go To Church.

To Worship God
During the week, I have my private times of meeting with the Lord. But on the day I go to church, it’s a different venue. The atmosphere creates in me a desire to worship God for who he is and to praise his works in a corporate setting.

As An Act of Obedience
Jesus showed us that he meant for us to be a body of believers when he welcomed everyone to come to him. Certainly, he had a few people who were in his inner circle, as I do, but he also ministered to and taught multitudes at one time.GodCallHisChildrenToUnity

To Fellowship With Believers
Besides being able to meet one on one with my best Christian friends, at church I’m able to greet those who don’t live close by. The ones whom I wouldn’t see unless we both made a point of going to church. I don’t know everyone who attends, but I’m meeting more of them all the time. We often discuss things we might not get a chance to talk about if we didn’t see each other weekly. They help me; I help them. I know that in the midst of this congregation, we’re loved, prayed for and supported. Many times, we know each other’s messes and successes.

To Serve
The ways in which I serve are not up-front like some. But what I do is a service to someone. I never know when what I’ve done will help plant a seed for an individual who’s looking to go deeper in his or her relationship with God.

To Hear Spirit-Filled Teaching
I need to hear the full counsel of God taught to me. Aside from my own Bible study and small group study, my pastor can open scripture to me in supernatural ways when he allows God to use him. Then, if I take that home and apply the wisdom to my life, my desire to worship, to obey, to be in community, and to serve have also served a purpose.

Most of the reasons I go to church should be, first of all, outward focused. I do get a lot from going to church. But in the body where I attend, faith, love and acceptance are flourishing. I believe it’s for the benefit of everyone who walks through the doors.

Why would I not want to go to church?