Motto

Colossians 3: 12 – 14

So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.

As you may have noticed, I am reading Colossians, the third chapter, and if you look at the digital Bible I am reading from, you will see that almost every verse is highlighted and the only reason it isn’t all highlighted is because I restrained myself. This chapter is a primer for the what the Christian life is to be. Today’s passage really spoke to me and I want to suggest that it is the seminal passage for this time in our history. However, we are so far from this paradigm right now, that I hesitate to speak what alit on my heart as I read it. Then again, many writers of truth have been shouted down throughout history and berated for speaking the truth. Just look at Paul, John and Peter for starters.

In trying times, and these certainly are, the kindness of God and His love are needed above all things. The language of love is what will resonate and it will resound above all else. Love is a hard thing, though, because it does not, under any circumstances, lie. Sometimes the truth is the hardest thing you will ever have to tell someone.

In trying to navigate the stress and to come to grips with a changing world, this advice from Paul resonates loudly. We must approach the changing dynamics from God’s perspective of compassion and love. Life is a challenged right now, I know, and that is why I want to offer this passage. I know some people feel trapped by the rhetoric. The political left has its message but on a different subject we are assailed by the right. Most people in the country can identify with some “ism”. Blacks, Asians, Hispanics, Native Americans, and every other identifiable race, excluding whites, has felt the sting of racism. Women have been abused, neglected, marginalized and discriminated against the world over. Even white males get old and are no longer viewed as valuable. It seems most are either the wrong race, gender or age. Then there is the gay and transgendered community. Many people would not think twice about making derogatory comments about this group. Not long ago people were saying that God created AIDS to eliminate them. Wow!

The only real answer for any of this is the love and compassion of God. If we don’t take our stressors to God in prayer and wield the love and patience of God, I fear we will never make any meaningful change. God changes hearts. I want to bring this discussion to a broad market. In response to the corona virus challenge, we all need to apply the love, patience, compassion and gentleness of God. I am not advocating passivity or a lack in your conviction. In fact, I advocate just the opposite. I want people of passion. I just wonder if we are taking our troubles to the Lord or just ranting on Facebook. We are the answer to the problem. If the Christians will adopt today’s passage and marry it with a strong dose, and a continuing practice of prayer, we can effect real change. God can soften hearts and change the course of human history. Whether right or left, the answer is the same – God! Faith only works by love which is why today’s passage is so important.

Paul had to deal with a changing environment too. He lived in very tumultuous times. For goodness sake, the Messiah had just been crucified. Followers of Jesus were facing the same fate. Those are dire circumstances. Yet, he understood that the real power in the community was love, compassion and prayer. Love moves mountains.

There are lots of stressors in our lives right now. Some of you are on furlough and worried about feeding your families. The number of cases of Covid 19 is still rising in some areas. The economy is fragile. People want the economy open; others see that as a risk. We have racial tension, police brutality and in some cases, lawlessness. It is a fine balancing act at this time. And in the wings is a Presidential election with all the turmoil that interjects. We need help.

Please hear me clearly, I am not criticizing anyone’s reactions to the situations or stress in their lives. I am recognizing that people are under enormous stress. The purpose of this writing is to suggest that God is the way and that we need Him like never before. Regardless of our beliefs, there is one constant and one ultimate truth: our God. This, then, is an appeal to adopt this language from Paul as our refrain and further, to passionately and resolutely take our problems to God. As we meditate upon these ideals, what will God speak to our hearts?

There is no one on the planet who has not been affected by the circumstances of 2020. God cares what is going on in your heart. He cares about your pains and worries. He cares that you feel stressed to the point of breaking or that you have been isolated from friends and family for months. He knows of your anxiety and is compassionate. He wants to aid you.

Let’s just look at this one more time – “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.” Though I have not written, specifically, on them, let us not overlook the words kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness and unity.

No matter where we stand politically or on any given issue, we are all those “who have been chosen of God.” We are the people God has in the earth. We have an awesome ability to take everything to Him in compassioned prayer. Let us not miss our calling oh chosen ones of God. Let us recommit ourselves to prayer and remember, that person across the aisle may not think like you, but they are, none the less, a child of God and valued in His sight.

Good Treasure

Luke 6: 45

The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good: and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.

I didn’t know what to write on today so as I looked through my Bible, this verse jumped out at me. We’ve all read it before and heard the sermons. Still, we are often fooled by people so maybe it is worth looking at again.

I noticed that the way we can often tell what is in a person’s heart is by what comes out of their mouths. If they are sold out to God and trying to be like Him, then they will speak kindness and their speech will be gentle for those are the characteristics of God.

What about the silver-tongued devil – you know the one, he talks a good game. When you first meet him he is charismatic and charming. He even talks about God and the Bible as if is heart is with God. Do you know that the anti-Christ will be the same way? He will say soothing things that will lead many people astray. Keep listening though and these people always reveal themselves. As you get to know them better, you begin to see harshness in their character. They aren’t kind and generous. In fact, my experience is that they are completely self-serving. If you have something they need or want they will ooze charm. The minute the advantage wanes, however, they begin to show you another side. You have been used. Their hearts are not filled with the love of God no matter how pretty a yarn they weave. Godly thoughts are not self-absorbed. Godly thoughts are always focused on other people.

What should you do? First, you must penetrate the veil. You may have been fooled for a while but once you look at the fruit of their life and the words of their mouth you will see the truth. Look at their relationships. Are they always in confrontation with someone? Do they constantly have new stories about some jerk at the store or at work? It is always someone else’s fault, they will tell you, but this is a good indication that the source of the problem is really them. Look at their relationships with their spouse and children. What do you see? Go beyond the immediate family. Are they kind to their parents and siblings. Do they do nice things for their nieces and nephews? As you check the fruit on their tree, look for generosity. Our Father is foremost a giver. God is extremely generous, even with people who don’t deserve it. Do they give easily and frequently? Are they good tippers. Do they give gifts to their pastor or do they just suck off other that person’s fruit and never restore them?

And here is a big thing – do they tell the truth even if it will cost them something. Do they do what they say they are going to do. If they say they will call you back, do they? If they say they will meet you, do they continually find excuses to change the schedule? If a person can’t even return your phone call or do what they have told you they are going to do then I can tell you without meeting them that the fruit on their tree is bad.

One thing I have noticed is that people usually tell on themselves. Eventually they let you know where they are. Your job is to go get a new friend. There is a reason Jesus told us to check the fruit on people’s trees. We are supposed to exercise wisdom and seek better and more edifying relationships. We are not to be found in the company of fools. Some people are hard to get away from, I understand that. Bosses, co-workers and family are examples of people we are forced into relationship with. My advice is to limit your exposure, and to tell these people the truth in kindness if they confront you. Don’t let them drag you down and learn to say “No” to them. Take control of your life and don’t let them bully you. Just say, “No.” I know it is hard but we must grow up in wisdom and stop letting these people suck the life out of us. Their heart is not where it needs to be so pray for them but don’t hang out with them. Pray daily but do not continue to be a victim to their manipulations. That is your responsibility and God has better for you than people with evil in their hearts.  Look again at the series on love from First Corinthians and let that be your guide in relationships.

Putting on the Ritz

Colossians 3: 12 – 13

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

We are the chosen of God. We have been adopted into the family of God by the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus and we are now joint heirs with Abraham. We are holy and beloved. Therefore, God wants us to walk in a manner worthy of our high calling. We are to put on the character of Jesus and walk in Him and in the manner of his calling on us. Our lives should be typified by compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and forgiveness. For these are the characteristics of Christ himself and the life we now live we live in Him. If anyone is lacking in any of these attributes, he should ask of the Lord Jesus and he who gives all freely will anoint you with all you need so that you might also walk in all the grace which he has poured out on mankind. It is a high calling to walk in this kind of grace and fellowship. It is the high calling of Jesus on our lives. So put on Christ and be transformed.

The Character of God

Galatians 5: 22

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

We saw yesterday from 1 John 4: 8 and 1 Corinthians 13: 4 – 8 that God’s essential nature is love. Today’s verse reveals the characteristics of God’s personality. As you look at them you can see that first is love but moreover that all the rest flow from love. The best way to get the full revelation of this verse is to put “God is” in front of each word i.e. God is love, God is joy….

These characteristics determine how God behaves and how He interacts with others just the same way as our personality traits predict how we will behave. So, God is always patient with us, always loving, kind and gentle. He exercises great self-control. Most of us can testify to the latter one.

Conversely, we can know what God is not by acknowledging His qualities. For example, we can deduce that God is not unkind or unfaithful. Can we not deduce a great deal more though? He is not cruel, vengeful, harsh, intolerant, hateful, spiteful or mean-spirited. He is all things which are good and none of those traits which are painful to us. He is ultimate goodness and kindness. He is neither over-bearing nor a punitive spirit. His intent, therefore, is not to punish us but rather to guide us with loving hands. And He is not scary. He is beautiful. He is warmth and sunshine.

We can know the Father of all personally, intimately and as we do we perceive greater and greater levels of His great kindness and affection. He is completely predictable in His goodness towards all creation. He loves us.

Overseeing in Christ

Titus 1: 7

Since an overseer is entrusted with God’s work, he must be blameless – not overbearing, not quick tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain.

This is Paul’s message to Titus regarding the selection of elders for the church. We should all be pursuing spiritual maturity and this is a good measure of what it looks like. One might expect a spiritually mature person to have overcome any tendency toward drunkenness and we would expect that person not to attempt gain by deceitful or dishonest means. Certainly a spiritually mature person should not be a person of violence. Would we, though, have thought to include a quick temper and an overbearing manner to the list of characteristics that a spiritually mature person is not? 

Webster’s defines overbear as: to dominate, domineer over, overrule, or subdue; and overbearing as: acting in a dictatorial manner; arrogant; domineering, overriding. When we think we have the answers or God has shown us something that has helped us to mature we sometimes begin to shove those answers down other people’s throats. We sometimes try to overrule or subdue others thoughts or feelings. I doubt any of us wishes to be described using any of the terms above.

That is not God’s way. He was patient with us; let us, then be patient with others. Besides, our answers are not always their answers. If we are truly mature in Christ, then we can fully trust the Lord, even to helping others find their way.  

Grace is Gentle

Proverb 15: 1

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

One of the fruits of the Spirit is gentleness (Gal. 5: 22). In all our ways we are called to be gentle, even in our speech and our communication with others. I was reading a book this week wherein the author said that one of the biggest problems we suffer in the church is that we tell people the truth but we do it in a harsh manner. The truth ends up offending. People need to hear the truth because only then can they be free but if we deliver it in a manner that they cannot hear it then what is the point? In telling a person the truth we are usually trying to lead them into growth and self-improvement so that they will experience greater victory in their life. However, when we deliver it in a harsh manner they spend all of their energy defending themselves that they miss the truth. They will fight ‘til the death for a lie because their personalities must defend themselves. So, we have just lost the battle.

How can we reconcile a brother to the way if he cannot hear us? How can we stimulate growth in a person if their personality forces them into rationalization? The answer is that we cannot. I confess that I am most guilty of this error. I have always preferred that a person tell me the plain truth rather than the candy coated version because I didn’t want to miss the message. So I was geared for hearing the hard truth and much preferred that to living a life of ignorance or stagnation. Then I mistakenly assumed that everyone else was the same way so I have tended to shoot from the hip. I tell you the truth because I love you and I want the best for you but it does no good if it causes you offense. When a person has received a perceived punch, even if it is verbal, their nature is to defend themselves. It is an automatic reflex meaning that most of us cannot stop this response even if our mind realizes what is happening. Truthfully, though, at those times the mind tends to disengage except to the degree that is serves the personality as it tries to defend and repair itself.

My theory on leadership and parenting is to catch your employee or your child doing something right and praise them. I can’t say I perform perfectly according to this theory but I have seen how powerful this approach is. Too many times we as ministers see what is wrong and spend our breath and effort trying to correct it and perhaps parents and bosses fall prey to the same dynamic. We must recognize, however, that there are times we must correct others. In that time above all others we should embrace the principle from today’s verse. Speak gently with folks. This even applies to your spouse and children. If you are raising your voice and yelling at your spouse, child or employee you are only doing harm. You are damaging the person, your reputation and your relationship with them. There can still be consequences for people’s actions without demeaning their character by speaking to them harshly. A gentle response will turn away wrath while a harsh response will only provoke anger and their self-preservation mechanism. Once that mechanism is triggered then they will, even unwittingly, spend all of their energy justifying their action. So even if they were wrong in their act and even if in their heart of hearts they know they are wrong, that self-preservation instinct is so strong that they will end up reinforcing their position. This is not going to help people grow as Christians, grow into healthy adults, nor help them become model employees. And the damage you do to your spouse with harsh language is incalculable.

So, let us all try to hear the truth without becoming offended but also let us deliver the truth in the love that Christ has for each of us. We must love people into truth and change and inspire them to be all that God created them to be.