The Test

Matthew 7: 16

You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor figs from thistles, are they?

Jesus gave us the method by which we can know whom we can trust. We can know people by their fruit. We saw last week Paul’s elucidation of this principle. Colossians 3 shows the fruit of the chosen of God and also the habits and traits of those not reformed by Christ. Some of the traits Paul identified for Christians are: “a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other,” (Colossians 3: 12 – 13). In this list he also included the pursuit of unity (See the Word of the Day for 11/13/20).

Jesus’ teachings give us the principles. Paul’s teachings explain Jesus’ principles. He expounded on them to give further understanding. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul further described what the life of a Christian looks like. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus crucified the flesh with its passions and desires,” (Galatians 5: 22 – 24).

When I was practicing law I came to despise when a client offered that they were Christian. Why? Ask many business owners and you will get the same response. It is code language for, “I’m not going to pay you.” It is as though they offered that bit of information in order to cover a defect in their character. As I said last week, pretend I am from the Show Me state. Let your actions identify you as a Christian. As my friend, Robin, said yesterday, “Actions speak louder than words.” Anyone can say, “I am a Christian.” It is an entirely different matter to walk it out. Most people who wish to deceive and take advantage of others will not identify their motives. Instead, they will use some covering ploy and claiming to be a Christian is one of the best. So, how are we to know who is the real deal?

That is the purpose of this series of devotionals which began last week. I know who you are and how you strive to live in the light of Christ. I also know that you are the most vulnerable because you are attracted to people who self-identify as Christian. Now, you don’t have to take their word for it. Look at their lives. Are they givers? If no, then you needn’t ask any more questions. They are done because Yahweh and Jesus are mega-givers. You can’t be in them and be stingy. Beyond that run the test of Galatians 5 and Colossians 3. Here it is synthesized for you.

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, a heart of compassion, humility, bearing with one another, and forgiving each other.

You might want to cut and paste this bit into your own document or print it. We are not asking people to be perfect, but we are looking for a pattern of behavior. I hope you identify with people who are patient and kind, gentle of speech and generous. We can encourage and expect these traits of people. We should, in fact, expect these kinds of behaviors. More than ever, we need to be considerate. We need to concern ourselves with the best interests of all people. We need to think of others instead of ourselves. That is the Christian mandate. It’s the Word. Let the Word prevail over the lives of us all.

Paul’s Mission Statement

1 Timothy 1: 5

But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

Did you every wonder how the Apostle Paul perceived his mission? In order to complete the race the Lord has set before us, we must understand and accept our personal mission. Paul, in writing to Timothy, tells us wat his was. It is twofold. First is love, second is faith.

The first of Paul’s goals and the purpose of his instruction is to teach and lead us into pure love from both a pure heart and a good conscience. We are invited, in this little phrase, to check our hearts and our conscience. Does your conscience accuse you? Give that burden to Jesus. Ask for and receive his forgiveness. Ask him to work in your heart so that you are no longer vulnerable to whatever it was which tripped you up. How is your heart? Do you feel anger or compassion? Are you sensitive to the needs of others? Can you love others, or do you find yourself thinking mostly of your desires and needs? Check your heart and ask the Father for that which you feel you need in order to love from a pure heart. You can ask Him what your heart needs and He will help you.

Secondly, do you have a sincere faith. We have just read that Paul’s declared purpose in his writings and teachings were to lead us to a place in which we reside in a sincere faith. That means that reasoning does not take first place in our lives. Faith rises to fore. It also means that doubt meets its foe whenever it raises its head. Are you living in faith? Is faith your constant companion? Faith is a shield, and you need it in good shape.

Give attention to your heart and your faith today. Perform some First Aid on these two vital areas, if need be, or simply nurture them if that is what is called for. Don’t ignore them. Perform a check-up to make sure you are fortified and living the faithful life of a loving believer.

Our Time

Psalm 111: 4

The Lord is gracious and compassionate.

My favorite verse in this psalm is actually verse 10, “The fear (reverence) of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” That is the verse I intended to use for today’s Word of the Day. I didn’t use it because when I read verse 4 this idea of God’s compassion overtook my mind and heart. I was immediately given to understand that being in the Lord is how we are able to express compassion and to be gracious. Those two traits might not be intrinsic to humans, but we have the ability to express them expansively because He is in us giving life to our mortal bodies. His life within us is filling us with His goodness so that we have His love to share with others. This, the love and compassion of our dear Father, is what the world needs now, most of all.

I had an interesting conversation, this week, with someone who shared with me the sense that Christians are not showing their love at this time. Where we ought to be the voice of love and grace, she hears judgment and hate. I am chagrined down to my bones. My spirit has not been so aggrieved in many years. How is it that in the midst of a worldwide calamity, Christian compassion is not the talk of the town. As I listened, I had to admit that I have turned off Facebook for the very same reason. I don’t hear love, compassion or Christ like zeal either. I hear judgement and division. I decided that my time was better spent in prayer and meditation.

This is a challenging time for us all and as a political science major and law graduate, I was initially drawn in by political analysis. This is a historical time and I wondered how history would record our reactions. I began watching how different political systems dealt with the crisis. It was fascinating and I wanted to be back with my political science buddies, hearing their thoughts. But then something happened. I was called upon to be the pastor that God has called me to be. It forced me into a paradigm shift where I had less luxury for contemplating political science kinds of questions. The world was hurting and that called upon the Spirit within me to respond with God’s comfort. I was blessed to see the immediate sense of community and camaraderie. That spirit of cooperation and teamwork waned though. I had a project in mind that would require the assistance of others. Before I could get it off the ground, compassion and caring were supplanted by politics, division and judgment. No longer was it all for one and one for all.

I am moved, however, in knowing that Christians are still praying. We are God’s hands and voice in the earth to bring comfort and peace. We have an important job to do and that is to spread the love, compassion and graciousness of our Father to all people without regard to race, country of origin, ethnicity, political party or jurisdictional borders. Only we have the power and authority of God for such an important mission and I don’t think we should be taking our role lightly. We shouldn’t forget that every single Christian is an important part in the body of Christ and, as such, is called upon in this time of need. Let others argue about face masks and politics. We have more important things to do. We have the real answers. Why should we burden ourselves with worldly thoughts and arguments? We must decide for whom we stand in this hour of great need. Is it a political party, candidate, position or our Father? Let’s not be argumentative, but rather understanding, compassionate and caring. Let’s reach out to each other and those who may not yet know the love of the Father and give them a taste of His unfailing love. Remember, if we do not show God’s acceptance and understanding, no one will.

You have been called to this day and don’t believe you haven’t, but not to political debate. No, we are called in this time to prayer and the expression of His love. This is the time when you must stand up for love and show your true colors. Turn off the TV and spend some extra time in meditation and conversation with your Father. Open your heart honestly and let Him give you direction and ideas. You are a powerful force for good and this could be the greatest evangelical time of our lives. Let’s not waste it being judgmental and divisive. You are the blessing God has put in the earth and though you may feel like you are not important, I can assure you that you are. Don’t waste your power and authority in Christ Jesus. Be the blessing and voice you were born to be. Be the voice of compassion and grace. Don’t miss your time. Don’t underestimate your value.

Civility

1 Timothy 3: 7

And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he may not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

Paul, in writing to Timothy, gave direction regarding the qualifications for church leaders. This verse points out one of the requirements, i.e. that he must have a good reputation outside of the church. I don’t know that we discuss these requirements often, in the general church but perhaps we should. Even if you have been privy to the discussions, is a person’s reputation outside the church something often considered?

When we contemplate this requirement for church leaders we must certainly pause. I know it has given me pause today. I think we are preferring the exact opposite result. We are listening to, choosing and following people who not only do not enjoy a good reputation outside the church but who, instead, alienate those outside the church.

This requirement makes a strong demand upon each one of us. It means that we are not given license to discriminate, and certainly not disparage, any group of people. This is an absolute and it is high time the church adopted love and its central theme. Love means we do not get to disclaim any group of people. One, especially, cannot be a church leader if he or she creates animosity or harm in any segment of the “outside the church” population.

I recall some of the men I have heard speak over the years, whose diatribe is an accusation, conviction and condemnation against a segment of the population. NO MORE, I say. Today is the day we must end this practice. No longer should you tolerate a leader whose rhetoric condemns those outside the church. You, my beloved, are called, this day, to stand up for those outside the church. You are responsible for only allowing leaders who are respected by those outside the church. This is the litmus test. It always was but we have neglected it out of laziness and our own comfort and prejudices. No longer is it acceptable for the church to stand against God’s kids, and I mean any of God’s children, not just the favored and blessed few who have been fortunate enough to come to know Jesus.

Furthermore, we, by our acceptance of abrasive, hate filled leaders are pushing people away from the invitation to Christ. We make grand gestures of missionary trips to remote parts of the world while we allow our leaders to advance positions of judgment and condemnation in our own backyards. Do not misunderstand me. I completely support free speech. I will defend your right to say what you think. However, if you cannot express your opinion in a way which allows you to retain the respect of others, I will not support you for a leadership position in the church. If your rhetoric smells of racism, bigotry, sexism, ageism, or any other intolerant ism, I will defend your right to spew that garbage but I will not allow you to speak for me and I will challenge your right to speak for God.

My God is love. He so loves “the world”, people, that he condemned His own precious son to die a horrific death. It is high time we listened to Paul’s admonition to Timothy and only support those as leaders who can preach a gospel of love and acceptance. We do not have to agree with one another. We don’t even have to adopt the party line. We do have to treat each other with human civility and kindness. It doesn’t matter which side of any debate you choose, that is not the point. The point is that Jesus died for each and every one of us and that includes those people outside the church, especially those outside the church. It is time we took the responsibility of social leadership which means embracing people of differing customs and opinions with grace and humility. Therefore, you and I have the responsibility to elect leaders in our churches, and even of other social and governmental organizations who can respect others and listen to them. If they cannot love the world, as God did, then Paul would have us reject them as leaders.

We can remodel our churches and make them a viable force for good in society if we will make this one requirement mandatory. If we will do this, the church can again become an important player in society instead of the institution of last resort.

And last, whatever your scars, blemishes, spots and wrinkles; despite your sins, beliefs and shortcomings; without regard to whether or not you are saved, you are a child of the living God. He loves you and so do I. Do not feel alone and unaccepted. Do not allow yourself to be isolated by judgment and condemnation. Of all the voices out there, only one of those gave his life for you. Listen to that voice and damn the others. Reach out to the Father who gave all for you. Let him bathe you in His continual love and mercy.

Obligated by Love

Romans 1: 14

I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish.

Of course these words were written by Paul who was a preacher, like me. He encountered what we all do, the ministry to the saints juxtaposed to the ministry to the non-saved. There is more to this than simply preaching to saved and unsaved. Of course, the message is different when addressed to those who are already saved. Beyond that, though, there is a requirement in this verse of our obligation to the unsaved. The obligation is to the educated or learned as well as to the uneducated. In other words, don’t you hear Paul calling out that the anointing of ministry obligates us to all people?

This is such an interesting discussion. Some ministers are called as evangelists to the unsaved. Others, like myself, are called to minister to the church. This verse teaches us, though, that we are all obligated on both fronts. Further, the ringing truth that I hear is that we owe the “barbarians” more than an evangelical, “sinner be saved” message. We are to love and honor them as we would our Christian siblings.

Frankly, sometimes it is easier to work with the unsaved than the Christians because they tend to be less judgmental. I have figured out that my part is to preach life to everyone and let Jesus take care of salvation. In truth, wherever I see light, I recognize the spark of Jesus because he is the light. So, that makes it easy for me to just see the person and not have to categorize them as saved, unsaved, we, them or any of those other burdensome labels.

My favorite yoga teacher calls herself an agnostic. She isn’t really but self-identity is important. None the less, there is more light, life, kindness and love flowing out of her than out of whole groups of Christians. I have no problem accepting her because she emits love overflowing. Love only comes from God because He is love. There is no other source of love. Satan certainly didn’t give her this overflowing kindness and caring. She may not know Jesus personally, right now, but she most definitely recognizes when he shows up in the room. And, she is drawn to the light in me because she recognizes that spirit of love.

So I, like Paul, have learned that our Father will not allow us to draw that line in the sand which segregates His children into the haves and have nots. Some “non-saved” people have more light in a certain area than those who have received the revelation of Jesus as the Christ. We are all on this journey to light and love and have excelled in some areas while lagging in others. What a delight it is to be allowed, and expected, to connect to the light in others while we each travel towards the ultimate revelation of Jesus as Lord. For my yoga instructor, I think when she meets Jesus face to face, she will say, “Oh, it’s you. I have known you all along. Now I am happy to get to put a face and name together with you.”

We will all shout a resounding “Glory!” when we see Jesus in person. No one will deny the truth, will be able to deny the truth of who he is. Whether one yields to his lordship or not is their choice but they will all see with their own eyes that Jesus is Lord and many who don’t currently call him “Lord” will bow their knee and joyfully worship his name. In the meantime, we are called to love and accept them all. That is the obligation of the “One Commandment,” the one thing Jesus commanded of us. Love them all. Speak life to everyone: the rich, the poor, educated, uneducated, Asians, Europeans, adults, children, saved and unsaved. This is the obligation of love.

Lovingkindness

Exodus 34: 6 – 7

Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin.”

I wrote yesterday of my changing attitudes and if I failed to communicate this, I want to make clear that the only reason there is even a drop of compassion in my body is because our Father is full of loving compassion. He has given me the ability to feel His love and compassion for His children.

Do you love this passage? I hope it is rich and meaningful to you. Pick a word, any word and just let it speak to you and show you Father’s nature. I am a little stuck on the word “lovingkindness.” Other translations just say “love” and that is all that is necessary but it is almost like the translators of the NASB and earlier versions just couldn’t wrap enough sentiment around the word love so they had to reach into the richer meaning of the original language. It is not enough to be loving because it has to express the manifestation of love. God’s love does something. It is not a feeling; it is an action. It shows itself in His kindness, His graciousness, and His patience. He is abounding with love and compassion such that it is overflowing from Him. It is Him. He is love and compassion. He is not a wrathful God but instead a Father of infinite patience who is slow to anger. He is kind and forgiving at all times and each day He has a new supply of tender mercy for each of us.

We may overlook the word gracious but perhaps it is the word which will most bless your heart today. God’s grace means that He is thoughtful, affectionate, kind, caring and courteous. He purposes not to hurt or even embarrass you. He is gentle. A gracious person attempts not to hurt your feelings. They are tender and that is God.

He is the loving embrace you need today. He is accepting and understanding. You don’t have to pretend with Him because He accepts you just as you are. He loves you and wants to wrap His arms around you today and keep you safe. He cares infinitely about what you are thinking and feeling. His love for you knows no bounds which is what abounding communicates. Every morning His love for you is renewed so that there is a never-ending supply. He is a deep well of understanding.

Your God is love and loves you. He is pouring out His heart to you today so that you can rest in His compassionate embrace. You don’t need to bring anything to the meeting. Just let Him soothe you. He is non-judgmental so you can take whatever you think and whatever you feel and cast it at His feet. Every day, He only wants to protect and love you. Whatever you need today is in Him. Praise the Lord for His love is all encompassing and poured out onto the children of earth.

What Price

Psalm 101: 1 – 4            NIV

I will sing of your love and justice; to you, LORD, I will sing praise. I will be careful to lead a blameless life – when will you come to me? I will conduct the affairs of my house with a blameless heart. I will not look with approval on anything that is vile. I hate what faithless people do; I will have no part in it. The perverse of heart shall be far from me; I will have nothing to do with what is evil.

Most of us have at one time or another made a deal with God. If you will do this God, I will do that. At first glance, it looks like David might be doing the same thing in this psalm. However, throughout this psalm, he never makes a request of God. The whole psalm is a declaration of David’s intent on how he will conduct the affairs of his life. His motivation seems to be his adoration and love for God rather than anything he will get out of it. Because he loved God, he wanted to live an exemplary life. That is certainly a laudable goal.

It is also interesting to see what characteristics David chose with which to honor God. It is not surprising that he would choose praise and song since he was a musician. The rest of it is about living what he deemed a clean life, part of which is about the condition of his own heart. He decided he did not want anything foul to corrupt his heart. In truth, I think David’s concerns were more about a defiled heart than specific acts. I imagine modern believers proclaiming, “I won’t drink, I won’t smoke, . . .,” but David seems more concerned about negative associations and letting his eyes linger on that which is not wholesome. I think if David lived here and now, he would sound like a Jesus freak and pretty weird. Of course, he wasn’t always popular in his time either.

What price love? What is the cost of an extreme relationship with God? I find myself admiring David, but I wonder if I am willing to do what he did in order to develop that relationship. What of you? What do you want out of your relationship with God? Do you just want Him to take care of your needs and save you a place in heaven? Good enough. Or do you want Him waiting for you when you awake in the morning, wanting to spend time with you? And at some level isn’t that idea even a bit out there? That was David’s way with the Lord. They were friends and even though that is a bit mind blowing, we can have that too. Whatever you want, you can have. Some day you may choose to give up some negative friends or not even want to momentarily set your eyes on that which is corrupt because of the influence those things eventually have on you.

Give to the Lord what is in your heart as David did here. Your declaration will likely be different from his but make yours out of love and a desire to bless the Lord. As your relationship continues to change, the gifts of your heart will likely change too. Sometimes meditating on the Lord allows those things to bubble up. Whatever you choose to say to the Lord, whatever devotion feels right to you, will bless Him. Don’t worry about another person’s pronouncement of affection or that they pray an hour a day. What you and Father have is unique and awesome. Allow it to have its own expression. Let it out of you. Release your love and affection to the Father and bless His heart. That is a really cool thing to do.