Grace

Colossians 1: 11          NLT

We also pray that you will be strengthened with his glorious power so that you will have all the patience and endurance you need. May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father.

If I could say this better than Paul did, I would. However, he so wonderfully hit upon exactly what we all need. This struck me as something he could have written yesterday as he was thinking about the Corona Virus crisis and all its attendant problems from supply shortages to economic fluctuations and the rest. I suppose, each generation has its challenges, and we are all in need of the same grace, comfort and divine strength as the previous generation.

Has there ever been a season when your patience was stretched further than it has been in the last two years? Endurance?! You bet we are in need of endurance. We certainly need strengthening. I’ve seen so many who are run down to the last ounce of their endurance, but God picks them up and off they go again. We have all been tried in what seems every possible way these last two years which is why we need a prayer like this, and I do pray this prayer over you all today.

There is a word which encompasses all the blessings Paul prays for. It is grace. Grace is hard to define but you sure know it when you see it. One definition for it is courteous goodwill. I like that. It shows the poise and kindness of a Father who could deal out punishment but chooses not to. Goodwill represents the Fathers consistent best intention for you. I think of courteous as well mannered, elegant and classy. It is that kind of goodwill his grace shows us. He empowers and sustains us with the gentleness of a Victorian gentleman. His words are kind and gentle, a balm for a troubled spirit. His grace isn’t demanding but it is uncompromising. Father’s grace picks us up when we stumble. It treats the wound and restores us. Grace is a beautiful thing.

One might also be intrigued that Paul would preach joy and thanksgiving considering he wrote this letter from prison. He had a personal revelation of God’s grace coming on the scene to meet needs. Paul experienced God’s power strengthening him, giving him the patience and endurance he needed. We, too, are in need of the sustaining power of grace. May it overwhelm your problems and refill your tank today.

Keep the Faith

Genesis 21: 4

Now Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.

One of the observations that stood out to me in writing this week’s devotionals, was the faith and patience of the people we know as our Biblical ancestors. In yesterday’s passage from Genesis 12 we learned that Abraham was seventy-five years old when the Lord told him He was going to make a great nation of him and bless him. Then He told Abraham to pack up and go to Canaan. Twenty-five years later, God gave Abraham and Sarah the child of promise. How hard was it for them to stay in faith for twenty-five years awaiting a son when Sarah was barren anyway and they were already old? Moses waited forty years for his ministry to come to fruition.

In the book of Jeremiah, God told us that He has a good plan for us. Yea! But here is the rub, sometimes there is a gap between the revelation of the plan and its fulfillment. I wish it wasn’t so, but it sometimes is. When God gives us a vision or His plan for us, we expect the world to shake right now. When it doesn’t, there are two likely repercussions. The first if obvious – we lose our faith. We stop believing God spoke to us. Maybe we were deceived. Maybe we made it up with our own minds. That is dangerous thinking and leads to failure. We stop believing in God’s plan and make up reasons why it has not come to pass.

The other likely outcome when we do not see God’s plan unfolding right away is that we begin to help God. Abraham, Sarah and Moses all fell into that trap. They attempted to fulfill God’s plan through their own strength. This always leads to trouble. When we try to do God’s part through our own wisdom and strength, we end up with an Ishmael.

The good news is that although each of these Biblical heroes faltered, they hung in there with God and believed Him. Ultimately, they all changed the course of human history. You don’t have to be perfect. Just stick with it. Find out God’s good plan and then stay in faith praying that goal into being. Keep on praying and seeking God until you receive the promise. It may take longer than you think, but don’t give up on God because He most certainly is not giving up on you.

Super Love

1 Corinthians 13: 6-7

(Love) does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; it keeps every confidence, it believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Speaking of love . . .. Last week I wrote on verses four and five. They set a very high standard for what love is and what love does. These two verses are no less challenging. This is precisely why we must live intertwined with God. I cannot walk this standard of a love walk in my own strength. I am too weak, too petty and too self-interested. I don’t know how I can live this passage but by the grace, and the power of our Lord. He has to be alive and vibrant within me. I have to live such that his life and mine are stitched together. It is his life within me that allows me to endure anything, much less all things. How can hope prevail in any of our lives but by the glorious grace and benevolent affection of our Lord.

Those without his life within are without hope and without the strength to endure. We must show them the love of God which includes patient tolerance. Those of us with God know these past 12 months have proved a challenge but those who don’t have His love intermeshed through every tendril of their lives didn’t stand a chance. Their hearts and spirits have been stretched beyond their limits and they don’t know what to do. We all try to adapt but let’s be honest, this has not been an adaptive situation. It has been a time of wrenching change and we shall never again fit back into the same form from which we came. People have thought they were rolling with the punches only to find out they were more like a rubber band which has finally been stretched beyond its capacity and has snapped.

It is incumbent upon us to be the ambassadors of love in a very troubled world. I know that sounds like a hokey oversimplification or trite maxim, but I believe it not to be. And, as I have tried to encourage before, we are the people who must be the leaders. You there, sitting at home, still in your pajamas, you really are the leader the world is starving for. No one else is going to see your grocery store clerk or hair stylist. No one else is going to talk to your friends and neighbors. No one else can reach them with the love of God.

We must follow after righteousness and truth. That is an absolute. We are not given the liberty to favor a position which suits our needs unless it comports with absolute truth and righteousness. We must be beacons of truth because our Lord is the truth. This beginning point must be the standard which we, not only carry proudly, but which we resolutely hammer into the ground marking our terrain. It is the flag standard under which we stand. From this position we forge on, loving the unlovely. Not only do we provide an example to hurting people, but we give them that which is God’s very essence, love. It is love which we and they need. We can do without food for a bit, water for a little but the lack of those can only kill the flesh. The spirit needs love and what we are seeing is people dying for lack of sustenance for their inner man.

Each one of us, yes us, must keep enduring and hoping. We must keep standing for truth and waving our banner. We cannot be spreaders of anything less than the love of God. Dissention, negativity, gossip must be arrested as we are called to spread the Good News which is that God loves each and every one of us. Love is a high requirement of the life of Christ. It is our duty, though, to let that love wash over us and through us. Christ is what love gave the world so that love could live in this earth through His beloved. That is you, the beloved of God, His prized ones, His chosen. Let His love transform your life and buoy you during these turbulent times and may that love that He shines on you be a sign to all who see you that, God is love!

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.

Missouri

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 must you do also. In addition to all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.

We can keep this simple today. Earlier in the week we saw what Paul said we should not do as children of the King. We are being called to put off the old dead self and to take up the garment of a new life in Christ Jesus. That new life, well, it looks like this. We are going to loop back around to this idea next week, but I think it is obvious. Don’t tell me you are a Christian. Just pretend I am from Missouri, the “Show me” state. Show me.

These are the characteristics or behavior traits of a child of God. Do we show and act out of a heart of compassion? Are we kind? Where is humility in our words and actions? Am I gentle? Patient? Can I show tolerance to another and forgive anyone? It all boils down to love. If we are not those who act in accordance with and motivated by love, then we ought not be so bold in declaring ourselves Christians because this is how Christians behave. Unity isn’t just a cool idea. It is a mandate. We do not have a choice. But then, unity is simply a byproduct of love. If love is our motivator, then all of the traits in today’s verses are ours and increasing.

Require this of others. Require it of the church! Without love, we are not the beautiful church. Without laying down the old man and picking up the new life in Christ, we cannot follow in Christ’s footsteps. It is time we looked to ourselves and strengthened ourselves as a body in Christ. This is the path that Paul laid out for us. This is the way.

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.

Peace, Patience, Tolerance

Proverbs 19:11

A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook a transgression.

I am studying “glory” which is how I found this verse. I wrote it down and came back to it today. Apparently, it is to our glory to overlook offense. That’s not something I have heard often. You will be very blessed by reading this verse in several other translations but let me share one more with you. This is the God’s Word version, “A person with good sense is patient, and it is to his credit that he overlooks an offense.” Did Solomon, the author of the proverbs, just accuse me of not having good sense? I believe he did! I wish I could argue with him, but I must admit that I sometimes lack patience.

This version reminded me of an expression I used to hear people use to describe someone they find lacking in some way. They would say, “He hasn’t got any sense,” or the country version, for those of you speak it, “He ain’t got good sense.” Often this described a person with no common sense. It could be used to describe someone with intelligence but who lacks common life skills. At first, thinking of that old country expression made me giggle but you know what, this proverb, and that old saying, describe me and a couple of million other folks.

If there is any generality you can confidently express about modern society it is that we are easily offended, easily angered. Slow to anger? What a joke! Accidentally cut in on someone on the road or worst still, let someone cut you off. I can’t say I am slow to anger. Just this morning I was getting aggravated trying to blow dry my hair. The blow dryer cord was getting tangled up and snagged on the bottom of the cabinet and I dropped one of my hairbrushes and couldn’t get the other one out of the drawer. How can such a simple thing cause me to begin to lose my peace? Societal norms have shifted so that it is okay to act like an idiot if someone intentional or even unintentionally offended you. Watch a reality show and tell me if this is a society that honors gentility and patience.

Around the world there is increasing pressure to restrict gun purchases because people are so angry and don’t have sufficient coping skills to deal with their frustrations. As an aside, that is another reason to exercise. It helps to alleviate stress. A good game of racquetball can certainly help.

Of course, if you read yesterday’s Word of the Day, you know the best treatment for anger issues, Psalm 85: 8, listen to what the Lord will say to you for He will speak peace to your heart. Isn’t that right? We need better coping skills and we are not going to get them from the world. It is not okay to lash out in anger. It is not acceptable to cuss and fuss and create a disturbance. And it is certainly not the sign of mature Christianity. I know for myself, when I show lack of patience and tolerance it is a clear sign that I have not been spending enough time with my Father. He gives me peace when I hang out with Him and I am sure He has the same effect on you.