Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Week 1, Day 3 - Focus On God

Psalm 77

As a mother, there are times when I need to help my children to refocus their thoughts. Sometimes it may be that they are up against a task for school that seems daunting and I help them look at the task one small step at a time to see that it is not as difficult as it looks. Sometimes it may be helping them to focus on something good when they are dealing with pain from an injury. I remember when I was a child having a third degree burn on my hand when it caught on fire. This was a painful injury, but if I could keep from focusing on it I wouldn’t be bothered by it too much. The minute someone drew my attention to it, I could feel it throbbing and burning. Sometimes, spiritually we fight similar battles. We can face tasks that seem beyond our capabilities or we are racked with an emotional pain that we can’t seem to place out of our focus. Prayer can help us focus on God and how powerful He is so that what we can remember that what we are dealing with is within God’s wonderful capabilities. Please look up Psalm 77 and see how the Psalmist refocused his thoughts during a difficult time.

The first nine verses show the Psalmist feeling no hope, almost feeling abandoned. We have all been there! There have been times where we just cannot understand why we are dealing with a difficult situation and having a hard time feeling God through it all. But look at what the Psalmist says in verses 10-12, “Then I thought, ‘To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High.’ I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember Your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all Your works and consider all Your mighty deeds.” The Psalmist made a conscious decision to refocus his thoughts on the mighty hand of God. We are reminded of that by Paul; please look up Philippians 4:8. Paul reminds us the importance to focus on all that is good. How does that turn our focus to God? Please look up James 1:17. We know that good things come from God.

Sometimes our stress can keep us from that focus on God and that is where prayer can shift our thoughts. We can begin to pray and if even while praying we are still having difficulty focusing on God, we can ask God to help our focus to be on Him. Please look up John 16:22-24 and see the promise that Jesus left with us when we ask in His name. God will give us what we ask when our hearts are seeking His (John 15:16-17). Jesus tells us why He gave us this promise in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” We can focus on the promise that Jesus has overcome and there is nothing that is overwhelming to Him. Our prayers for focus will bring us peace and a heart of praise to our heavenly Father who loves us more than we can ever comprehend.

Do you need a new focus? Have you prayed to God to shift your focus on Him and His awesome power?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Week 1, Day 2 - Prayer Brings Assurance

Psalm 3

Have you ever been in a situation that was difficult and seemed hopeless? Perhaps you were in a situation at work that had you in a place where you seemed like you were in over your head. Sometimes the stress in those situations can be overwhelming! I have been there, and I also have had a boss that would learn of the situation and would take care of it. It wasn't my responsibility to worry about the outcome. I soon learned that there were things in that job that I was taking ownership of and worrying about that wasn't mine to own. As soon as I expressed my concern about the situation, my boss would tackle the problem and I experienced relief. Prayer can be very similar for us on a spiritual level; please look at Psalm 3 and see how David turned to God in a situation that would require divine intervention.

When David wrote this Psalm, he was fleeing from his son Absalom who was trying to overthrow the kingdom with military force. David even wrote in verse two, "Many are saying of me, 'God will not deliver him.'" David knew his situation seemed hopeless by human standard, but he turned to God anyway. Verse 5 shows us how David experienced peace as a result of turning to God: "I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me." Focus on the fact that David was fleeing for his life and he was able to sleep! David trusted God and knew that God had His hand on David. Things may not have made sense, but because David turned to God he had peace. Look at why David had peace in Psalm 4:3, "Know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself; the LORD will hear when I call to Him." David had an assurance that God will listen.

Proverbs 15:29 says, "The LORD is far from the wicked but He hears the prayer of the righteous." We know that God hears our prayers because the Bible tells us that He does. When we bring our concerns to Him, we have an assurance that He is listening. He may not answer us in the way we expect, but we can also have the assurance of knowing that God knows what is best for us. When we bring our concerns to Him, we can have peace because He will be there with us and listen to our problems and provide the help that we need. Sometimes my boss would solve the issue in a way that I wouldn't have done, but because he had different perspective and new other things about the situation he could make a better decision. We can trust that God can and will do the same for us.

Do you use prayer to give your concerns to God? Do you have an assurance that God will help you through the difficulty with what is best for everyone?

Monday, June 28, 2010

Week 1, Day 1 - Prayer Brings Us Closer To God

Psalm 32:6

As I began to think and pray about what I should study next, I felt that studying prayer was something that would help me grow closer to God. I received confirmation when my nine year old daughter blurted out “Mom, you should write your blog about prayer!” I had to chuckle because I hadn’t mentioned to my family that I was leaning in that direction. Since then, God has brought more confirmation by orchestrating circumstances to line up in my life that would help me along in my study on prayer. As I begin this study, I must admit that I am starting with enormous anticipation and wonder about what God is going to do. I have learned that when I feel led so strongly to do something and then I begin to see things fall in place, God has something bigger planned for me than I can imagine. If it means that I am strengthening a weakness in my life and in that journey I will grow closer to God, then that is enough for me. I just want to start first by looking at a verse that calls us all to a life of prayer; please turn to Psalm 32:6.

Everyone who follows Christ should be in prayer. Please look up 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 and see how often we should be praying. Verse 17 tells us to, “pray continually.” As I study deeper into prayer, I will look at what that means, but we can read that and know that we are to being living a life grounded in prayer. This week as I begin looking at prayer, I want to study some of the many reasons why we should be living a life of prayer. Today I want to look at how prayer brings us closer to God; please look up Psalm 5:1-3. David wrote about how he prayed to God every morning and laid his requests before Him. This post is not going to be about the perfect time to pray, but I will say that it truly is a great way to start out the day by spending some time with God. It does seem to set our hearts toward Him rather than our stresses and business.

The point I want to focus on is David’s devotion to spending time each day with God. This is important because we will not grow deeper in our relationship with God unless we spend time with Him. I think about any relationship with any other human here on earth; in order to get to know our friends, spouse, or children better is to spend time with them. If we didn’t spend much time with them and talking with them, we wouldn’t get to know them deeper. We see that happen with friendships or marriages that grow apart. Usually that happens when the people are not spending a lot of time together. They are not growing and changing together, so eventually they drift apart. Prayer is the same way. When we spend time with God every day, we grow closer to Him, but if we do not spend time with Him we will eventually see our relationship with Him drift. The more time we spend with God, the more we find that we need God. The more we realize we need God, the more time we want to spend with God. When we pray and listen, our hunger and need for that time grows. The more time I spend with my family, the more I want to be with my family because we are growing closer together; the more time I spend with my husband, the more I miss him when he is away. Then end result of time spent together is becoming closer to the one you are spending time with.

Have you been spending time with God in prayer? How can you find the time to grow closer to God? Do you have a friend that will keep you accountable in your prayer life?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Day 56 - A Final Note

Wow! Thank you for sticking with me through this look at the Fruit of the Spirit. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I have! I just pray that as we continue to grow and walk with Christ that every day we will show more of the Fruit of the Spirit to the word so that we can truely be ambassadors of Christ.

Next week I am looking forward to starting a study on prayer; I hope you join me!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Day 55 - In Step With the Spirit

Galatians 5:22-26

Have you ever been in the military or a marching band? I was in marching band in high school and I remember the summer just before my freshman year learning how to march. It seems very basic and easy, but you always need to be aware of which foot you are on compared with everyone else and you had to be sure that your lines were straight. Being aware of everything and everyone around you was crucial! I remember spending a lot of time drilling marching basics before we even picked up our instruments. The basics of marching needed to be mastered before we could play. I didn’t fully understand why until we were finally able to play our instruments while we marched; however, we didn’t use our music because the band instructor wanted us to try marching while we played a scale first. I remember how difficult that first march with my instrument seemed! It would have been nearly impossible to march in step if I hadn’t mastered the basics of marching first. That is what it is like in our spiritual walk as well. Please enjoy reading Galatians 5:22-26 one more time with new insight.

After studying each fruit a week at a time, do these verses have a new meaning for you? We also learned in our journey how intertwined these virtues are with one another. After looking at them a little more closely over the last eleven weeks, I still feel that love is the virtue that binds them all together. Until we experience God’s love for us are we able to fully share love with others. It is very difficult to truly share and demonstrate any of the other virtues without loving first. As I finished up studying self control, I realized how important self control is with all these virtues. Love first gives us new insight, and self control takes the next step to help us demonstrate all the other virtues. Without self control, we will not practice the spiritual disciplines necessary to grow all the other fruit. Just like I had to learn the basics of marching before I could play and march, we need to be disciplined to grow in our walk every day before we are going to keep growing more fruit for God.

Finally, please look at verse 25, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Have you ever watched a marching band in a parade and found someone out of step? They stick out like a sore thumb! When we say we follow Christ, but we do not show Christ-like behavior, we stick out just like the person in the parade that is out of step. We need to keep in step with the Spirit. In a marching band, the drum major determines the tempo and when and where the band will march; in our spiritual walk the Spirit gives us our tempo and leads us where we are to go. Remember what we learned at the beginning of this study? The Spirit will always lead us the correct way; He will never lead us into sin and destruction. We need to follow His lead and keep in step with Him. The Spirit wants us to be aware of our environment and bear fruit for God. If you are unsure if you are out of step, pray for understanding so you can get in step.

Are you in step with the Spirit? After looking at what fruit God wants us to bear do you see where you may be out of step?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Day 54 - A Look Back

Galatians 5:16-20

After spending eleven weeks studying the Fruit of the Spirit closely, it seems strange to be looking so closely to the end. There are so many facets to what I studied that I feel like I’m back in school near the end of the year reviewing material from the beginning of the year. Because there is so much that I studied during these eleven weeks, I don’t feel like I could wrap it all up in one blog post, so I am going wrap it up over the next few days. Today, I specifically want to re-read Galatians 5:16-20 and look at some of the points that came out in the first few days of this study. Please turn to Galatians 5:16-20 and read it if you haven’t already.

As I began this study I really felt God leading me to look at what it means to be living in the Spirit verses being stuck in a legalistic trap. I had talked about how living in the Spirit could possibly mean a change of focus such as looking and living in a way that God wants us to live rather than looking at what we shouldn’t do. The Law is good because it does give us boundaries of what God says is sin; however, when we are following the Spirit’s lead we also learned that the Spirit will not lead us into sin. Please turn to Romans 7:4-6; I looked at this verse at the beginning of this study, and it means so much more to me now! According to verse 4, we died to the law…"in order that we might bear fruit to God.” Look at verse 6! “But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” If I understand this correctly, we cannot effectively bear the fruit of the Spirit as long as we are bound by legalism. It is amazing how different my perspective is and how much deeper I understand this thought after studying each fruit deeper. As I looked at each fruit, I sorted through the idea that the motivation for bearing the fruit was just as important as the fruit we bear. If our motivation is legalistic and we are “acting out” each fruit, are we truly bearing each fruit in our hearts?

I also looked at the inner battle that we have raging inside us. The sinful nature verses the Spirit nature. The desires that each hold are in conflict with each other. Paul strongly urges us to live lives that are led by the Spirit. In Romans 8:5, we see what Paul says, “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.” It is literally a mindset! We need to set our minds on what the Spirit desires and live accordingly. How do we do that? By reading the Bible and seeing what it says about the life we are to lead. This whole eleven week study has been doing just that. We have been looking at the fruit that the Spirit nature wants to bear for God. Does all this seem to have a deeper meaning for you after looking at what the Spirit nature desires?

What is your motivation to bear fruit? Are you living according to what the Spirit desires?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Day 53 - Broken Walls

Proverbs 25:28

Last November, I started this blog by fasting and studying the book of Nehemiah. I felt lead by God to fast while studying Nehemiah which was confirmed when a good friend told me that she was feeling lead to fast. I began writing this blog so she and two other friends that were praying for me could follow along with me in Nehemiah. At that time, I had no idea that I would continue blogging through my personal Bible study; however, what I found was that my study deepened because I wanted to make sure what I was putting out on the internet was biblically sound and so I would research further than I would have if I just read through the Bible. I believe that whole process was a result of a prayer where I asked God to stretch me and make me hungry for His Word in a whole new way. Nehemiah was significant because I was praying for my broken family of my childhood, but what I found was that I was rebuilding and repairing some spiritual walls that I had let go into disrepair as a result of poor self control with spiritual disciplines. Please look up Proverbs 25:28.

In our society, walls have been given a bad name because we talk of putting up walls that keep us from interacting with others. We put up high privacy fences around our yards which would be a literal wall, or we can build up figurative walls that keep us from emotionally getting hurt. However, when you look at the use of city walls in biblical times, they were a form of protection from attack. The bigger and stronger the wall around a city was, the less likely the city would fall into the control of an outside force. God views self control so important, He tells us that we are like a city with broken walls if we do not exercise self control. The consequences of a lack of self control can be obvious such as gaining weight from eating foods that are not healthy; they can also be harder to see on the surface such as having a weak spiritual walk as a result of not reading the Bible. Either way, we are weakening our defenses when we lack self control. Please look up Ephesians 6:10-18 and see where we need to be exercising self control to build up our defenses.

Without going into every piece of the Armor of God in this post, you can read through this section of scripture and see that each and every piece that we put on requires an act of self control. Just like soldiers practice drills every day so when there is an attack they are ready; we are to practice every day (even in peaceful times) so we are ready for attacks. It is only through self control that we learn to lean on God’s strength and wisdom and it is only through self control that we will experience consistent growth in our walk with God. What helped me exercise self control was having a spiritual friendship that pushed me and challenged me to remain consistent. My friend prays with me and for me as I do for her which Paul points out is so important in verse 18. If you read on in verse 19, you can see a personal request for prayer that Paul has; he knew that he needed God’s help for the task that was given to him.

Are your spiritual walls torn down? Where do you need to exercise more self control to build up your defenses? Do you have someone praying for you?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Day 52 – Self Control In Prayer

1 Peter 4:7

When I am at work I and I have a lot to do, I can zero in and focus on that job so intently that people can walk up to me and scare me because I don’t see them coming. When I have less to do, I can still get the job done; however, I have difficulty focusing and become easily distracted. I think that may be because the urgency to get the job done isn’t as strong because I have less to do with more time to do it. It is all in my mind because I feel relaxed when I have less to do and focused when I have more to do. I have found my prayer life to be the same. About a month ago, I had an opportunity to spend a day alone with God. It was a wonderful and refreshing time and it was great to spend that much time with God. But I also came to that moment prepared so I would not lose focus on what my purpose for the day. I had asked a friend to pray with me before my day so I would stay focused and I brought my prayer journal with me that listed the prayer needs for myself and others that I had been praying about. I wanted to keep my mind focused on listening and talking with God during that precious day. Please turn to 1 Peter 4:7.

When we are focused on growing spiritually, we do certain things like going to church, reading the Bible, perhaps joining a Bible study, and prayer. Those things are called spiritual disciplines and there is a reason that discipline is used to describe those practices; they require self control or discipline to carry out those principals on a regular basis. I have a friend who leads a beautiful example of one who practices spiritual disciplines. At first, she may have started because she knew that it was good to do, but now it is her life source. If she did not spend time in prayer and reading the Bible and having spiritual friendships she would be lost. She knows that her strength comes from God and she cherishes the time she spends with Him. I love spending time in the Bible and I talk to God throughout the day; however, I struggle with spending a set time with Him each day because I lose focus. I asked my friend how she does it and as I suspected, she told me she has a plan. She starts her day with about 15 minutes of prayer on her knees, but her deeper prayer life is spent in the evening when she goes through her prayer journal. She told me that she can get caught up in the day’s distractions but she writes out her prayers to keep her focus. This keeps her “clear minded and self controlled” so she can pray.

Everyone is different. Perhaps you hate writing, so writing out you would be more distracted if you wrote them out; you need to find what will help you keep clear minded during your prayer time. John Ortberg wrote the book, The Life You’ve Always Wanted where he talks about spiritual disciplines. If you struggle with finding a way to spend time with God in prayer, I would highly recommend this book. He shows many different ways to spend time with God and talks about how there is not one way to pray. Don’t forget that God was creative when He made us and we all are going to relate to God in different ways. Our job is to find how we enjoy being with God. Building a strong prayer life is important because that is the time we can grow more intimate with God.

Are you showing self control with your prayer life? What are you doing to stay clear minded during your time with God?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Day 51 - Children of the Day

1 Thessalonians 5:5-11

When I was a child growing up in a suburb of Detroit there was a terrible tradition on the night before Halloween. The night was dubbed, “Devil’s Night,” and this was a night when people would go out as soon as it was dark and vandalized property. In the suburbs, this meant that homes would get toilet-papered or egged, and cars would get written on with lipstick. In the city of Detroit, this meant that people would torch abandoned homes which would cost the city a lot of money in both police monitoring and putting out fires. The people who engaged in such activities didn’t think or care what their actions cost other people so they could have their fun at night. They would get extra sleep in the day so they could be up at night and have fun with their destruction. Spiritually, we face a similar situation. We are children of the day which means we do need to consider what our actions may cost to another person; we need to have self control before we act. In the day, we can see the results of our destructive behavior while at night it is too dark to see our destructive paths. Please look up 1 Thessalonians 5:5-11.

I find the phrase in verse 6, “alert and self controlled,” very interesting. I think sometimes to be self controlled we need to be alert to what is happening around us. We need to be looking at other factors that might not be immediately noticeable before we react to a situation. For example, when I worked as a school secretary, sometimes a parent would come into the office behaving rudely toward me. Initially, I would want to react; however, if I exercised self control I might hear a little more of their story and find out why that person was behaving that way. Perhaps they had a tough morning getting their child ready for school or maybe they had a meeting with a teacher that they were stressed about. Exercising the self control to dig a little deeper would then allow me demonstrate love and patience. In the same way, when we exercise self control, we can see how our behavior may hurt or offend those around us. Self control will keep us from doing something hurtful and will allow us to put on “love as a breastplate.”

Showing love sometimes requires a great amount of self control. Let us remind ourselves why exercising self control would show love by looking at 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. There is a whole list here of what love does and what love is that requires self control. First, look at what love isn’t: rude, self-seeking, easily angered, keep records of wrong, delight in evil. Now, look at what love is: rejoices with the truth, always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres. I don’t know about you, but when I look at those lists I see self control written all over them! Love belongs to the light and we belong to the light, so let us live like children of the light and use self control.

Are you using self control and staying alert so you can show love?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Day 50 - Hope Brings Self Control

Titus 2:11-14

If you have ever had to diet, you know that one of the big motivators to exercise self control was knowing that you will eventually weigh less and fit into a smaller size of clothing. Perhaps that motivation not only caused you to pay attention to how many calories you put into your body, but as you began to feel better through the weight loss eating healthier became important. You knew that if you made better choices with what you ate, your overall health would probably improve. After a while of feeling even better and having more energy, maybe you found yourself wanting to take it a step further and begin finding ways to fit regular exercise into your diet. The hope of being healthier and feeling better in the end was what helped motivate you to have the self control and perseverance to continue on with the diet until you reached your goal. Likewise, we have a spiritual hope that helps us have the self control it takes to live godly lives. Please look up Titus 2:11-14.

These verses were written by Paul; however, they compliment the verses we looked at yesterday written by Peter. I love when there are two different authors that say the same thing in the Bible! When I see that, it also stresses to me that God had a reason to put the same thought in the Bible by different authors more than once; He wants to make sure we understand its importance. The parallel idea that I see with these two scriptures is the fact that the hope of our salvation powers our self control. Yesterday, I wrote how self control starts in the mind and then our actions will follow; today we see where the empowerment comes from to show the fruit of self control. Please look back at 1 Peter 1:13. “…set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.” That instruction is given right after being told to demonstrate self control. Now look back at our verses in Titus 2:11-14. We see a few points that show us that: 1. the grace of God that brings salvation teaches us to say, “No,” to ungodliness; 2. we live self controlled lives while we wait for the hope of the return of Christ. Just like the person who is dieting because of the hope to feel better and fit in smaller clothes; we have a hope that is given to us through our beautiful Savior. We know that there is so much more to live for than success.

Yesterday I wrote how Paul gave us a prescription for the battlefield of the mind in Philippians 4:8 when he told us to think on the good things of God. What could possibly be a better thought than the hope of our salvation? When we remember the sacrifice that Christ made for us, we can be motivated to make wise choices rather than give into desires that are really no longer a part of who we are. Those desires are a lingering memory of who we were before Christ, kind of like a victim who still lives like a victim many years later. God tells us that we are no longer victims to our sinful selves and that we are His children with an inheritance that is far better than anything this world could ever offer us. That hope gives us the ability to live like His children. We are children of the King of Kings! Do you believe that enough to live the lives God says we can and should live?

Are you letting the hope you have in Christ to empower you with the self control it takes to live a godly life?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Day 49 - Self Control

1 Peter 1:13-16

Often times, self control is thought of when someone is trying to diet or quit smoking; however, even if you do not struggle with an obvious vice, everyone needs to exercise self control. We each have a struggle that takes self control to overcome. I find it interesting that defines self control as, “control or restraint of oneself or one’s actions, feelings, etc.” It doesn’t just talk of controlling actions; it includes feelings in the definitions and I would even like to include thoughts. Feelings and thoughts are things that we like to think are involuntary actions; however, I believe that our feelings and thoughts are things that can be controlled and need to be controlled if we are to live godly lives. I would like to look at how the mind is actually the first battle field in the war for self control. Please turn to 1 Peter 1:13-16.

“Prepare your minds for action…,” is the first idea that is expressed in these verses. We are then told to be self controlled and to set our hope on the grace that God gave us through Christ. Peter then expresses the importance of not giving to the evil desires that we lived out before we had Christ in our lives, we are called to live lives that are holy just as God is holy. I have been attending churches since my husband and I were dating that stress holiness. There is a danger; however, in living an outward expression of holiness but not having a changed heart. That is called legalism and we are not living obedient lives because we desire to please God, we are living obedient lives so we can follow a set of rules and regulations. Peter is showing us that in order to live a life of holiness our obedience needs to start in the mind. We are to control the thoughts and desires that enter the mind. Paul gave us prescription of what we should do to control the battlefield of the mind in Philippians 4:8; please look it up.

I am definitely convicted as I read this verse! For me, self control includes not thinking with a critical mind of myself or others. I tend to be a perfectionist and hold myself to a standard that is simply not human. While I do not expect perfection from those around me and do not hold them to the high standard that I place on myself, I still have an eye that sees how things were not done well. When I find myself thinking of critical thoughts, I need to focus on what is good. Even if something was not done completely perfect, I need to focus on what was done well and how that can be brought out even more to help correct the weaknesses. And I need to see God’s work in that process. For someone else, it may mean that as an ungodly thought enters the mind they need to focus on something that is worthy of praise to our Father. Whatever the issue is, self control can happen in the mind when we think on things that represent God.

Are you starting the battle with self control in the mind? Are you looking to the good things from God as your first line of defense?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Day 48 - Gentle Obedience

1 Peter 3:3-5

If you have ever watched a child willfully resisting instruction or directions given to them, the scene can be disturbing and make a person uncomfortable to watch. In the same way, it can be uncomfortable when we witness an adult resisting the authority that was placed above them. It does not look good, and it also does not reflect how God wants us to be living. As I was looking up more scripture on gentleness, I saw how submission is a part of a gentle spirit. The word submission has a bad rap because I feel it is a word that has been abused in the past. Submission is willingly following someone’s instruction. I think that our society has made it appear that a person is a doormat if they submit to another person; however, it has been my experience that sometimes it takes great strength to submit especially if the person in authority may be making a poor decision. The first scripture I want to look at is one that can be controversial because of the context, but please stick with me through it! Please turn to 1 Peter 3:3-5.

I find this an interesting way to approach inner beauty: “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment…Instead it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.” A “gentle spirit” is part of the inner beauty that God is looking for and reading on in verse 5 says that submission is a part of a gentle spirit. Please look over to 1 Peter 2:13. Everyone is expected to submit to authority no matter who they are: young, old, male, female, rich, or poor. Please look at why we are to submit according to Ephesians 5:21. We submit out of reverence for Christ. After all, Christ submitted to God’s will when He died on the cross; how could we not submit to His authority and submit to those He put in authority over us?

James 4:7 says, “Submit yourselves, then, to God…” Earlier, we read that gentleness includes submission and James 4:7 shows us that submission includes following God’s will. If we are to be living a life that bears the fruit of gentleness, we are to submit to God. Sometimes, God’s Will is not easy to submit to, but remembering that He knows what is best will help us submit. It is during those times that we willingly obey when it is difficult that we learn and grow so much! God will not harm us; God will grow us when we have a gentle spirit of obedience.

Are you bearing the fruit of gentleness through submission?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Day 47 - A Gentle Hope

1 Peter 3:15-16

When I was in high school I was a waitress at a family restaurant. That type of restaurant would attract “regulars” and we were usually very happy to accommodate our regular customers because they were usually pleasant and we appreciated their patronage. There was one regular customer; however, that we all dreaded to have seated in our sections. He was a man that went to my church and openly proclaimed his faith; however, he treated all the waitresses in the restaurant like second class citizens. For some reason, he felt it was acceptable to treat each waitress as if she were unintelligent and would degrade the waitresses loudly in front of other customers. After shaming the waitresses, he would walk out of the restaurant without leaving a tip, yet tell everyone that they were going to Hell and how much they needed God. I remember what the waitresses would say after he left, and they had an impression that if that is what it means to follow God, they would have nothing to do with it. 1 Peter 3:15-16 talks of the importance of sharing our faith; however, please read how we are to share it.

Our witness is important not only in what we say, but also in how we say it and how we live it. These verses make it very clear that being harsh in our approach is not the way God wants us to do it. Even if what we say is true, if it is said in a way that is disrespectful to the person we are talking to we have not done it right. As I mentioned in a previous post, it is important to listen to the other person's story; we could learn a lot about them and understand the underlying hurt that will not heal without Christ. When we can remember that we are delivering a message of hope to someone who is hurting and has no hope, we can be gentle in our approach with them and show them respect. Just because their viewpoint is different than ours and they have not learned the truth and life that God can give does not mean they are worth less in God's eyes. Please remember that no matter how much their lifestyle may be contrary to what God would like for them, God loves them just as much as He loves you and desperately desires to have them come to know His love.

"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect..." We are to be prepared to share our story just as we are to be prepared to listen to other people's stories, but let's be gentle in what we say. "For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God," 1 Peter 3:18. This is not an exclusive club that only a few of us get to participate in; this is for all! Think of how you would like to be invited to the best banquet ever; would you like to hear how horrible you are and how you will be punished or would you like to hear that the host cares so much about you that nothing would make Him happier than to see you at the feast. I know for my part I would rather hear about how much God wants me there! Since we know how the Bible lays out what is going to happen, we should be motivated all the more to let people know in a loving gentle way how much God loves them.

Are your actions and speech sharing the message of Christ in a gentle manner?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Day 46 - A Gentle Answer

Proverbs 15:1

When I was a child, I remember my mom saying that when people are arguing the person who needs to have the last word actually loses. As a result, we siblings would taunt each other if we were arguing by saying, “Oh! You got the last word. You lose!” The wisdom that my mom was trying to instill in us was lost in the competitive nature that we threw into the mix. While I understand the message she was trying to give us (it takes two to argue, just don’t say anything), sometimes an argument can be ended with humility and a gentle word. I have even found that if I am offended by something, giving myself time to step back and calm down immediately changes the potential outcome. If I can approach the person calmly and gently to tell them of the problem rather than reacting immediately the conversation goes much smoother. Sometimes a person may have an excellent point to bring to the table, but the tone in which it is said can change how the information is received. I have witnessed meetings in which some people expressed their views angrily; however, the meeting ended calmly because the leader of the meeting never answered harshly. Even when the leader’s answers were going to make some people unhappy, because his approach was gentle while saying difficult things people walked away calmer than when they came in. Please turn to Proverbs 15:1 to see what the Bible says about a gentle answer.

Sometimes it is not easy to give a gentle answer if we feel like we are being attacked; however, if our goal is to calm things down we can remember to be gentle in our words. If it is especially difficult, it also helps to ask God to remind us how much He loves the other person. When we can remember that this person is dearly loved by God and we are to love them as well, that will help motivate us to have gentle words in reply. I have also found that perspective helps and remembering that maybe the person isn’t necessarily responding to me but is responding to a bad day will also help me to be gentle. I think anyone who works in some kind of customer service would tells us that situations can be diffused if they remain calm and gentle with the customer who is upset. I think of the example Jesus gave us as He was being arrested. Please turn to Luke 22:47-51.

Jesus was being arrested with no guilt, and when one of His disciples attacked a servant of the high priest Jesus stopped him. Jesus touched the man and healed him and went with His accusers calmly. I think the scene in the garden that night would have been horrific if Jesus would have chose not to be gentle; instead, His gentleness only demonstrates to the world of His greatness. As a result of His gentleness not another person was hurt. Jesus’ gentleness that night made it so that He would be the only one to die and He has the power to conquer even death. As I think on that, it makes me realize that is one way we are asked to die to ourselves. It is so much easier initially to respond and attack in defense, but when we die to our pride and can respond gently things turn out so much better for everyone involved.

Are you praying and asking for the strength it takes to be gentle? Are you willing to die to your pride to create a calm environment?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Day 45 - Worthy of the Call

Ephesians 4:1-2

I am going to risk causing offence for some of my wonderful brothers and sisters in Christ, and please understand that is not my intention. I just feel very strongly that when we are told to be humble and gentle, I struggle with why some yell at people who live a life-style that could be perceived as “sinful.” I once lived near an abortion clinic and would see angry and loud protestors in front of the clinic at least once a week. I do not feel that holding up signs that have pictures of an aborted baby and yelling at hurting women when they enter and exit the building is being gentle. If anyone needs a gentle touch in their life it is the woman who felt so hopeless that she saw abortion as the only way out. My heart breaks for them, because it is a decision that will haunt them. I do not see where Christ showed us in the Bible that he was harsh to the hurting and “sinful.” After that experience, I moved to another city where I saw a perfect example of gentleness. An alternative clinic was opened across the street from the abortion clinic that reached out to the hurting women and helped them heal emotionally and gave them other options ranging from adoption to keeping the baby. These women were loved and counseled and given more counseling if they chose to go with adoption and gave them parenting classes if they chose to keep their baby. After the baby was born, the mothers that chose to keep a baby were referred to a Bible study that a local church ran which was specifically designed for them where they and their children would hear how much God loves them. That is gentleness! Please turn to Ephesians 4:1-2.

In order to live a life worthy of the calling that God has placed on us, we are to be humble, gentle, patient, and loving. I think sometimes Christians can get so focused on some people’s “sinful” lifestyles that we forget to hear their story. Every one of us has a story and some stories are racked with a lot more pain than others. If we have been a follower of Christ for a long time, we forget that without Christ doing His work in our lives we are in pain. The human response to pain without Christ is not going to be appropriate; people turn to alcohol, drugs, food, and many other addictions and vices. We are not called to judge, only God is the judge; our call is to love. The call to love and be gentle is not easy; it requires us to get involved with people and listen to their stories. There is a saying that says, “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” Unless we show a gentle love to people, they are not going to care about God’s love for them. After all, how is yelling at someone and making them feel like an awful person showing them the love that Jesus showed to the hurting people He touched? I think of the Samaritan women at the well that Jesus met. Please turn to John 4:4-42.

Jesus was very gentle and kind to this woman; He showed her love rather than condemnation. Then result was that an entire town came to hear Jesus’ message. When you think about yourself, at one time Christ showed you an undeserved love in your sin and drew you to Him. We are ambassadors of Christ and are to live a life that represents Him (2 Corinthians 5:20). The only times Jesus spoke harshly with anyone was when He was speaking to a “religious” person that was not living the life that God wanted them to live. If you are not convinced, please read through all the gospels and see how Jesus was gentle with the “sinners” and bolder with the “religious” people who felt they could burden people with a lot of rules but not love God or others.

When you see someone living a life that you think is “sinful,” are you listening to their story and showing them gentleness?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Day 44 - Gentleness

Matthew 11:28-30

When I was in school studying music therapy, I had to take some classes about child development. During those classes, it was stressed that discipline was more effective if it was gentle and not harsh; a child would respond better to praise and specific instruction rather than yelling. There are a lot of studies that show that when a child is given specific instructions worded in appositive manner, they will respond more positively. For example, according to research a child will more likely respond positively to a calm instruction such as, “Please walk,” which tells the child what they should do rather than yelling, “Don’t run!” For the most part, I would agree that giving instructions in a positive manner is effective; however, there are times when a child is in danger (such as running in a street) and yelling, “Stop!” is necessary. While He was here on earth, Jesus modeled a gentle manner of teaching and guiding that we could learn from. Please turn to Matthew 11:28-30.

A yoke is an instrument that is used with oxen, which are known to be strong a bit stubborn. It is a wooden plank that is shaped to fit over the shoulders of an ox and brings two oxen together. The oxen then are forced to work together and follow the will of the driver. When we take up Jesus’ yoke, we are bound to Him and His instruction and follow His lead. Jesus promises that when we take up His yoke, His lead is gentle. There are times in the gospels when Jesus doesn’t appear very gentle, specifically when He is talking with the religious leaders. Then we can see other times when Jesus’ style is very gentle and patient. As I thought about the difference, it is kind of like the child development class. When Jesus is giving instruction, it is like He is telling us what we should do and to follow Him; He is very gentle in His manner. If we take up His yoke, we are willingly following His gentle lead. At the times when He seemed to be yelling or harsh with the religious leaders, it is almost like the parent who yells, “Stop!” when they see their child heading into danger. God would much rather we follow His gentle lead.

I know in my life, as I am in the Word and spending time listening to God, He is very gentle with me when He is letting me know that I need to change something. He doesn’t guide us with shame or guilt; He guides us with a patient hand. His yoke truly is easy! When Jesus was talking about His yoke, He was talking to a people who were living in a legalistic society; their walk with God was burdened with heavy laws and regulations. Jesus was letting us know that it didn’t have to be that way. When we take up His yoke, we are not burdened with what we shouldn’t do; rather, He guides us in what we should do. Jesus’ lead is gentle and not harsh.

Have you been following Jesus’ gentle lead?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Day 43 - Faithful Even When Others Are Faithless

2 Timothy 2:1-13

I had an opportunity to witness God’s work in my 9 year old daughter’s life the other day and I asked her if it would be alright for me to share it in my blog. She asked me to come into her room and she read to me out of her journal. In her journal she had written about the pain she just experienced when she learned of some things that two neighborhood children said about her behind her back. It really wounded her deeply; this was her first experience with a betrayal. She continued reading to me and I listened to how she wrote out the inner battle she struggled with. She wrote how she wanted to yell at them and slam the door in their face the next time they came over to play, but then she wrote something amazing. She wrote how she knew that was not what God wanted her to do and wrote out this scripture, “A hot-tempered man stirs up dissention, but a patient man calms a quarrel,” Proverbs 15:18. My little 9 year old was learning that adding fuel to the fire was not the way to handle the situation. Instead she made a conscious choice that she would remain faithful even when those two friends had not been faithful. God does that with us as well! Please turn to 2 Timothy 2:1-13.

I especially would like to focus on verse 13, “If we are faithless, He will remain faithful, for He cannot disown Himself.” That really struck me. Because God is faithful, He cannot be anything other than faithful otherwise He wouldn’t be Himself. So, even when we are not faithful, He will always remain faithful. There are times when we are struggling with such difficult things that we find it hard to remain faithful on our own. It is when we can look back at those times when even we have given up that God continued to be faithful and was with us all along. Just as my daughter knew that while she may not be able to fully trust the two children that had hurt her, she could still remain faithful to them and treat them with respect; God knows that we fail but He chose that faithful was who He is. We can read farther on in 2 Timothy 2 to see how we are to live as followers of Christ which will help us be faithful both to God and the people we are with.

I want to stress that faithfulness is a conscious choice that we as humans make. When I began studying and looking up scripture about faithfulness, I noticed there were far more scriptures about God’s faithfulness than human faithfulness. God has led the example of faithfulness for us as He has kept every promise He has given. God’s love is faithful in that it never fails. We too, can choose to be faithful even when we know that the faithfulness will not be returned. After all, returning faithlessness for faithlessness only stirs up dissention. Forgiveness and love even when unreturned will promote peace and will bear witness to the work of God in your life.

How can you show faithfulness even through your pain?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Day 42 - When Faithfulness Feels Lonely

1 Kings 19:9-18

My church supports some missionaries that are in an area that can be dangerous and lonely. Because they are in an area where their lives are in danger for distributing Bibles, they are spread out and do not get to have a lot of Christian fellowship. One of the prayer requests that we have been given for them is to pray that they would feel encouraged as they work in an area with little Christian fellowship. Yet, even though they do not get to have fellowship with other Christians regularly, they are still faithful to the call and are distributing Bibles at an amazing rate. They are seeing people very hungry for the Word and are seeing lives changed as a result. There are so many missionaries in the world doing exactly the same thing as them, but I’m sure at times it feels as if they are the only ones. Elijah felt that way once; please turn to 1 Kings 19:9-18.

“I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too,” (verse 14b). Elijah found himself in a dangerous situation because he was faithful and obedient to God. Because his life was in danger, he felt isolated. So many prophets had been slain by Queen Jezebel and Elijah seemed to be the only one left. He was scared, tired, and lonely and had recently asked God to take his life. This was right after an incredible victory, but his life was threatened and he felt alone. God gave him a job and encouragement; God told him to anoint two future kings and Elisha who would partner with Elijah and succeed him as a prophet. God then told Elijah in verse 18, “Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel – all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him.” God reminded Elijah that he was not the only person left that honored God and he also supplied another prophet to work alongside him.

Sometimes it can feel that way for us. Maybe you work in a tough environment and you feel as if you are the only person that follows God. Perhaps your neighbors have isolated you because of your faith. Maybe you lost friends because you chose to obey God. Faithfulness is not always easy and it can cause us to feel isolated and alone. We are not alone! We have a loving Father that is always with us, and we are part of a large family world-wide. Romans 8:15 says, “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship(or adoption). And by him we cry, ‘Abba Father.’” Calling God "Abba Father" is like we are calling Him "Daddy." We are adopted into the family and we are not alone. In fact, you are not the only person to ever go through things you have experienced.

Do you feel alone in your faithfulness? Where can you go to find fellowship and hope?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Day 41 - Faithful With Little

Matthew 25:14-30

I once knew someone who attended the same church as I did and she volunteered with the nursery and preschool. She was one of the team leaders and got to walk around with a clipboard and I would tease her because she looked important. She shared her story with me that she got the clipboard because she was asked by the preschool director if she would volunteer. The reason she was asked to volunteer was because the director knew her and knew that she was a dependable person; however, my friend wasn’t very interested in being in the room with the kids. She told the director jokingly, “I will help as long as I get to be one of the people carrying a clipboard.” Because the job of a team leader is a job that requires dependability the director offered her that position; she knew that this person would be faithful in that position and would show up whenever she was on the schedule. Jesus told a parable about faithfulness; please turn to Matthew 25:14-30.

In this parable, Jesus tells of three servants who were entrusted with some of their master’s money while he was away. He gave each servant different amounts to keep and when he came back he saw that two of the three servants had invested the money and doubled it. The third hid the money and did nothing with it. The master’s response to the two servants who did well with the money was, “Well done good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things,” (verse 23). Jesus was teaching the importance of good stewardship; not just about handling money appropriately, but of anything that is in our charge. When we are faithful in our use of whatever God has given us, God will give us more responsibility. This can be anything ranging from money or talents/skills to varying level of responsibility.

The world even reflects this idea. A good manager usually will give higher positions at work to people who have shown faithfulness and dependability with smaller jobs. The manager knows that they can trust the person to get the job done. Likewise, a good manager will not entrust a lot of responsibility to the person that is inconsistent with their attendance and given responsibility. They cannot trust that the person will do what has been given to them. It is important that remember this lesson on a spiritual level; God is looking for people that will be faithful in the call He placed on their lives. It is good to want to be used by God; however, we need to show God that we are usable. He knows our hearts better than we know our own hearts. If you struggle with faithfulness, ask God to help you. Maybe it is finding a friend that will hold you accountable or being a part of a small group that will challenge you to be faithful.

Have you been faithful in small things? Are you asking God to provide help to make you learn to be faithful?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Day 40 - Love and Faithfulness

Proverbs 16:6

I have seen marriages and families torn apart because a person chose to be unfaithful to their spouse. I have also seen the spouse that was unfaithful regret their terrible choice and still declare their love for their spouse. The problem that happened is that the faithful spouse is now horribly hurt and has a difficult time trusting the spouse that was unfaithful. Love without faithfulness can hurt deeply. Yesterday, I mentioned that I was surprised to see several references to verses that had the phrase, “love and faithfulness.” I wanted to look into it a little more to see why I easily found several verses containing that phrase with a small concordance. I think the reason may be because we are assured that not only does God love us, we also know that He will be faithful. We know from studying love that God is love, and we also know that God is faithful. In fact, in yesterday’s post I found it difficult to narrow down which verses to highlight that spoke of God’s faithfulness. It occurred to me that love and faithfulness is a perfect combination because we can have a limited love which will allow us to be unfaithful, but God’s unconditional love drives Him to be perfectly faithful. Let’s start by reading about the ultimate gift we are given through love and faithfulness. Please turn to Proverbs 16:6.

Through God’s love and faithfulness, our sin is atoned for! We certainly do not deserve to have atonement (reconciliation) with God because we are the unfaithful spouse; however, God loves us and is faithful to keep His promises so we know that we are forgiven through Jesus’ sacrifice. Psalm 57:3 says, “He sends from heaven and saves me, rebuking those who hotly pursue me. God sends His love and His faithfulness.” David wrote of a promise that God spoke to him in Psalm 89:24a, “My faithful love will be with Him…” God extends His love and faithfulness to us. As I think on that, it seems that faithfulness isn’t just something God is; faithfulness is something that God gives. Just as God gives us His love, He also gives us His faithfulness. His love is unfailing! Through His gift of love and faithfulness we are reconciled with Him! What a beautiful and precious gift He has given us.

God wants us to give love and faithfulness as well; please turn to Proverbs 3:3. Love and faithfulness are to guide our actions and behavior and the writer of this proverb says that they are never to leave us. Our word should mean something, and our word should be guided by love. In a sense, faithfulness is following through on the actions that are required by love. I think of how many ideas that I have that are guided by love but then I don’t follow through with those loving ideas. God wants my love to be consistent and faithful in my follow through; good thoughts and ideas are not enough. When I am not faithful with my follow through of love, my love doesn’t do anything! Love requires faithfulness just as faithfulness is driven by love.

Are you showing faithfulness in your love?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Day 39 - Faithfulness

Deuteronomy 7:9

Every one of us has most likely experienced the pain from an unfaithful friend. I think if we were perfectly honest with ourselves we could probably see a time when we slipped in our faithfulness to a friend. Faithfulness is a loyalty that requires integrity and love. When I first started to look up scripture on faithfulness, I found several verses that paired faithfulness and love together. Even though I have said on several occasions that I feel love is the fruit that is necessary for all other fruits to be shown, I was still surprised to see the phrase “love and faithfulness” so many times in my concordance. We will look at that connection more in a later blog post; however, today I would like to focus on God’s faithfulness. Since we know that our measurement on how we should be living is to be compared to God, I felt it would be good to take a look at God’s faithfulness. There are so many scriptures that declare the faithfulness of God that I cannot look at all of them in one blog post, so please keep in mind that this is just an overview. Please look at Deuteronomy 7:9.

The name given of God in this section of scripture is “The Faithful God.” This name is mentioned when the Israelites were reminded of the covenant that God made with them. The reminder was that God would always keep up His part of the covenant with the Israelites if they would remain faithful to Him. Psalm 33:4 says, “For the Word of the LORD is right and true; He is faithful in all He does.” We know that what God speaks to us in His word is true and will happen. Who He says we are is true and we don’t need to doubt it. Psalm 117:2 says, “For great is His love toward us, and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever.” He is so faithful that His love for us will never end! That can be difficult to comprehend because so often human love is conditional. Please look up Psalm 145:13. God will always keep His promises, so when he promises eternal life to those who believe we know that He will not change His mind.

Please look up Lamentations 3:22-23. God is so faithful because He loves us so deeply. His compassions for us never fail and are new every morning. He also promises us protection that will never fail. 2 Thessalonians 3:3 says, “But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.” He doesn’t promise that we will not have pain in this life, but we know that He will not allow us to be consumed by Satan. There are so many more verses that declare God’s faithfulness, and I will be looking at more as I study faithfulness. Sometimes I think that God put so many reminders of His faithfulness in His Word because He knew that life can be hard and we would need many reminders. We can believe God because He has always been faithful and He will always be faithful; we serve and worship a faithful God!

Are you trusting in God’s faithfulness?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Day 38 - A Good Sacrifice

Romans 12:1-2

When I first looked up this scripture, I originally thought that I would be writing about God’s “good, pleasing and perfect will.” However, I felt that I was to include the verse before it in my study today. The more I let that soak in, I see what God may be wanting me to learn and focus on today. As I began to look up scripture on this topic, I’ve become overwhelmed with how much scripture there is on sacrifice and I pray that God keeps me focused as I write and not lose track of what He wants to teach me. Please understand that this is a topic much bigger than one blog post, and may make a good study at some time; however, I am going to brush on it lightly to show that God requires sacrifice and while it is no longer an animal sacrifice even in the Old Testament we will read how God wants a different sacrifice from us. As we look at sacrifice, let’s remember what David wrote in Psalm 4:5, “Offer right sacrifices and trust in the LORD.” Let’s start with Romans 12:1-2.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship,” Romans 12:1. As I looked up information on sacrifice, I was reminded of how many different types of sacrifice there are and they were given for many different reasons: praise, worship, thanksgiving, forgiveness, and fellowship. We can see that if we offer ourselves as living sacrifices, it is a sacrifice of worship. If we read on, we see what that may look like: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” One way that God wants us to sacrifice is to let go of our worldly patterns and allow God to renew our minds and hearts so we can bear good fruit (if you didn’t read yesterday’s blog post, please do). Please look up Hebrews 13:15-16 and see another way we sacrifice to God. Praising God through everything is one way we sacrifice – this can be difficult when we are facing difficult times; however, when we remember how amazing our God is, we can always find a reason to praise Him. This section of scripture also speaks of doing good and sharing with others is a sacrifice that is pleasing to Him.

Psalm 51:17 says, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God you will not despise.” God asks us to sacrifice of ourselves in the form of brokenness; not a brokenness that brings oppression but brokenness that brings us to a realization that we are not perfect and we need God. This requires a sacrifice of our self-centeredness and pride and we die to our will and follow God’s will as we see in Romans 12:2b, “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Please look up Ephesians 5:1-2. Christ’s sacrifice wasn’t just a physical sacrifice; it was a sacrifice of love. He loved us so much that He was willing to give everything up so we could be with Him. We are asked to live a life of love which often requires a sacrifice of ourselves. Sometimes it isn’t easy to love others and we are giving of ourselves when we love. We Americans always speak of our “rights,” but sometimes love requires us to give up our rights. Sometimes love requires us to not just consider what our rights are but to consider what the other persons rights are as well.

In what ways are you offering yourself as a good sacrifice to God?