Archive for Spiritual Growth

Do Unto Others: Part 2–Mercy

If you love only the people who love you, what praise should you get?  Even sinners love the people who love them.  If you do good only to those who do good to you, what praise should you get?  Even sinners do that!  If you lend things to people, always hoping to get something back, what praise should you get?  Even sinners lend to other sinners so that they can get back the same amount!  But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without hoping to get anything back.  Then you will have a great reward, and you will be children of the Most High God, because he is kind even to people who are ungrateful and full of sin.  Show mercy, just as your Father shows mercy.  (Luke 6:32-36 NCV)

 

Many people believe in the Golden Rule—Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  Yet, it seems that many folks are waiting to be done unto before they do any doing.

 

In the passage above, Jesus is advocating a totally different strategy—mercy.  Mercy is not concerned with everyone behaving properly or with showing favoritism toward those who do.

 

As Christians, we are called to set ourselves apart by being merciful as our Father is merciful.  So what does that look like?

 

Romans 5:8 says, “…while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  He didn’t wait for us to get in line to meet His standard (which is impossible anyway).  He didn’t ask, or even consider, what we could do for Him.  He went first.

 

This is probably the easiest way to define mercy—mercy goes first.  Mercy looks to the needs of others, and sets about meeting them before considering anything else.

 

This doesn’t come naturally to most of us.  In our culture, we’re used to “getting what we paid for.”  If we are going to exchange our money, time or talent, we generally expect to get something in return.  For this reason, it seems natural for us to think about how we’re going to be paid back before we make an investment.

 

The thing is the people who are the most in need of mercy tend to be the ones who CAN’T pay you back.  But they CAN pay your mercy forward.

 

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you relied on someone else’s mercy, knowing you wouldn’t be able to reciprocate?  You might have felt gratitude at first, but later, the sense of indebtedness might have made you feel guilty.

 

Don’t go there.  There’s a better way.  Instead of focusing on what you can’t do for the person who helped you out, think instead of what you ARE able to do for someone else who is in a more desperate situation than you are.  There’s always someone.

 

Here’s the catch, though.  The person most in need of your mercy might be someone you don’t like.

 

This is where the “love your enemies” bit comes in.  Jesus never asked us to LIKE our enemies.  Remember though that agape love is not a feeling; it is an action.  As such, it is perfectly possible to show mercy toward someone who has been adversarial to us, even if there’s still a part of us that wants to push them down the stairs.

 

But here’s the part we all need to remember.  We were just as adversarial to God when He chased us down.  He continues to bless us, even when we don’t thank Him.  So if we are endeavoring to be “sons of the Most High,” we shouldn’t be standing around waiting for thanks either.  It feels nice to be appreciated, but remember, this is not the goal of mercy.

 

This is mercy–to listen with compassion to the people who annoy you the most in order to learn what their greatest burden is, then to speak only that which will help relieve them of that burden, and if that is not possible, to remain silent and allow God to do His work in them, rather than burden them further with opinions and judgment.

 

And that is what God offers to us all day, every day.  Think about that for a second.  How does it make you feel to know that you don’t ever have to put on a fake face for God to receive His mercy?

 

Now how does it make you feel to know that you have the power to make somebody else feel a little bit of that?  So go do it.  And focus more on the “you’re welcome” than the “thank you.

 

Do Unto Others: Part 1–Justice

 

The Lord always does right and wants justice done.  Everyone who does right will see his face.  (Psalm 11:7 CEV)

 

 

 

Way back in 2012, we defined justice as “getting what you deserve.”

 

However, from the quote above, we can see that the Bible has more than one definition of justice, depending on the translation.  It wouldn’t make sense to interpret that God wants to see everyone get what they deserve, when His Word clearly states that, “He doesn’t want to destroy anyone but wants all people to have an opportunity to turn to him and change the way they think and act (2 Peter 3:9b GW).”

 

Instead, what the verse is saying is that the Lord does right, so that everyone who does what He does, having been created in His own image, will get to be with Him.  With this context, we can see that “justice” is referring to righteous deeds.

 

Now we also have established that salvation is by grace alone, and that through faith.  Our righteous deeds do not save us; rather, they are the evidence of our salvation.  Our making the decision to follow God and join Him in His work is what leads us to a state of righteousness.

 

Taking that into consideration, we can see that there is no separation between “being saved” and acting justly.  Doing justice (acting righteously) is the evidence of our salvation, because we are reflecting the image of the One who created us, the One who always does what is just.

 

Justice and Righteousness

 

 

Abraham is a perfect example of how this plays out.  Back when Abraham was still “Abram,” God made him a promise regarding his abundance of descendants, which Abram believed, even though he had no logical reason to do so.  Genesis 15:6 says, “Abram believed, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

 

This example is frequently cited when people explain salvation by faith, but there is more going on here.  Abram’s act of faith entered him into a covenant with God.  God bound Himself with a promise because Abram fulfilled his part of the covenant, which was to believe and conform to God’s plan.  Therefore, the “righteousness” with which he was “credited” is something like a legal standing.  Abram isn’t just a good guy; he has a distinct position because of his act of faith.

 

In other words, he did the right thing, and it had a good result.  His salvation was through God’s grace, but it was also an act of justice.  Abram got what he deserved, because he did what God expected him to do.

 

The prophet Micah, in chapter 6 of the book bearing his name, asks rhetorically what must be done to get God’s attention and earn His forgiveness.  Then he answers his own question, saying:

 

The Lord has shown you what is good.  He has told you what he requires of you.  You must act with justice.  You must love to show mercy.  And you must be humble as you live in the sight of your God.  Micah 6:8 NIRV

 

The key word in that quote is “act.”  God wants us to do justice, not just think happy thoughts about it.  And how do we do that?

 

The simplest way is to stop thinking of ourselves first.  God wants us to think of Him first, because of who He is.  Next, as written in Philippians 2:4, He wants us to “look out for each other’s interests and not just for your own.”

 

Doing this can be temporarily inconvenient, but it will yield great rewards.

 

(For more on the “show mercy” bit, come back for part 2.)

 

The Kids Aren’t All Right: Part 4–Integrity

I am hurt and lonely.  Turn to me, and show me mercy.  Free me from my troubles.  Help me solve my problems.  Look at my trials and troubles.  Forgive me for all the sins I have done.  Look at all the enemies I have.  They hate me and want to hurt me.  Protect me!  Save me from them!  I come to you for protection, so don’t let me be disappointed.  You are good and do what is right.  I trust you to protect me.  (Psalm 25:16-21 ERV)

 

 

The words of King David ring true for many today, especially teenagers.  It is so easy to feel isolated and alone at that age.  In many cases, these kids actually ARE isolated and alone.  Sometimes it’s in their own heads, and sometimes it’s external, as a result of normal social inclusion/exclusion rites, or worse, as a product of bullying.

 

I notice this especially with girls.  Gossip and rumor-mongering are bad enough, but today’s technological advances have made hateful talk accelerate to light speed.  Couple that with this generation’s reliance upon/addiction to their mobile devices and it becomes nearly impossible to get a positive thought in edgewise between all of the notifications.

 

So what’s a parent to do?

 

I believe that it all starts with integrity.  Integrity and uprightness, or honesty, is all we have left when everything else is taken away.  This is true for adults as well as teens.  If we lose everything–our jobs, our loved ones, our material possessions–then what is left behind?

 

Only our character.  Who we are really behind all the masks, the social constructs, the rumors and the legends.

 

So who are we really?  If you lost everything except your life today, what would you have left to rebuild your life upon?

 

If you are a person of integrity, that is, you say what you mean, mean what you say, do what you say you are going to do and finish what you start, then you have all you need.  Because you are a person that others can trust and rely upon, then trusting people will do that.  If these are the kind of kids we want to have, then these are the kind of parents we need to be.

 

So our primary goal is to be the kind of parents whose children look to us as David looked to God in the above passage.  Obviously, we are not perfect like God, but we are created in His image, which means that we have aspects of His character woven into our DNA.

 

When my children are up against it, I want them to know that they can look to me for help.  I want them to know that I will forgive their mistakes and give them room to grow.  I want them to know that they have somewhere to turn when it seems like the world is crashing down on them.  I don’t ever want to let them down.  I want them to trust me to take care of them, even when they are older and don’t really need me to do that anymore.

 

But the only way I can be that kind of a father is to remember that I have a Father who does all of these things for me.  And so do my kids.  So it’s not really me I want them to trust, but God.  His integrity is flawless and will go on forever.  If I can point my kids to that, directly or through my own rudimentary example, then I will be giving them what they need to survive and overcome whatever comes their way.

 

Overcoming the World: Part 10–Be Still and Know

God is our protection and our strength.  He always helps in times of trouble.  So we will not be afraid even if the earth shakes, or the mountains fall into the sea.  God says, “Be still and know that I am God.  I will be praised in all the nations;
I will be praised throughout the earth.
  The Lord All-Powerful is with us; the God of Jacob is our defender.  (Psalm 46: 1-2, 10-11 NCV)

 

Been an interesting few months, hasn’t it?  Our nation is as divided as it has been in a century and a half, and this is taking a toll on our families too.  Truth is nowhere to be found in our government, our media or our culture.  This has created an atmosphere of distrust so thick and noxious that even if this country were to somehow raise up a Truthseeker as a leader, who would even believe him or her?

 

Good news—God is still God.  It’s hard to find evidence in these troubled times that He is still on His throne, but where else would He be?  He does not change, no matter what happens down here.  When we say that the world is “out of control,” we mean that it’s out of our control.  It is never out of His.

 

However difficult this truth can be to hold onto when our lives are in turmoil, we must persevere in doing so.  Whenever our way of life is threatened because of what’s going on in the world around us, we have to remember that this way of life was never meant to last anyway.  We are looking forward to life eternal that will not pass away.  For this reason, we fix our eyes and our faith on the things that don’t move.

 

Bad days are going to happen.  Sometimes we will have seasons of life that could last months or years when we don’t feel God’s presence.  We may doubt His goodness, or even His existence.  However, whenever I find myself in such a spiritual funk, I always come back to what Peter said to Jesus in John 6:68, after Jesus asked the Twelve if they were going to desert Him, as many other disciples were doing:

 

“Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”

 

I couldn’t go back to my old life if I wanted to, and there have been days where I wanted to.  There are days when it just doesn’t seem worth the effort or the sacrifice that it takes to live the Christian life, because I can’t see the reward from here.  When my fear outweighs my faith, I forget what God has already done, throughout history, and in my life personally.  Some days I just want to chuck it all, but then I always find myself face to face with the question, “OK, then what?”

 

One thing that I have done for myself, and that I highly recommend for others, is to keep a journal of some sort listing every answer to prayer, every unexpected blessing, any time you have seen scripture fulfilled, any change in your life that can only be attributed to the power of the Holy Spirit.  Keep this in an easily accessible place.  I have mine as a document on the desktop of my computer.

 

When times get difficult, or if you’re just in a dry season of doubt, open that up and read it.  Satan can’t get a foothold in your mind if you keep your memories fresh of what God has done for you.  Staying in scripture every day is a good weapon, but it can be even more effective to regularly make the personal connection of where you’ve seen God at work in your life and the lives of those close to you.

 

If you do this, expect there to be some gaps in this journal.  It is not likely that you are going to experience a bona fide miracle every day of your life.  This doesn’t mean that God’s ignoring you.  Learning to trust His timing.  A day always comes when things fall neatly into place, and you can look back and see the progress that led to that point.  You very rarely notice that progress while it’s happening, though.  So when it does, put that in your journal with a note of thanksgiving and praise that God was in control of the situation from the very beginning.  Remember, He can see the end of things long before you get there.

 

It is also critical to remember that God doesn’t always ride in and “save us” whenever we think we need saving.  Sometimes, He lets us go through things for reasons that we aren’t aware of yet.  Sometimes we never learn why in this life.  If we have faith that all of our questions will be answered in heaven, that can help our outlook somewhat.  Remember, God doesn’t come around to our way of thinking; therefore, we must do our best to learn His.

 

The only way to conquer fear is to practice faith.  It has to be exercised just like our bodies.  If you are one of the many who has bought a health club membership, but not lost any weight or inches off your midsection, then you already know that your situation might improve if you actually went to the health club.  Owning the membership doesn’t create actual change.  Owning a Bible without reading it has the same effect.  Knowing about the power of prayer without actually praying—ditto.

 

In the same way, we must keep renewing our minds by reminding ourselves constantly that God does not change.  He does not move.  He is with us and He is for us.  And He always will be.

 

Be still, and know that.

 

Overcoming the World: Part 9–The Armor of God

 

Therefore, put on the complete armor of God, so that you will be able to [successfully] resist and stand your ground in the evil day [of danger], and having done everything [that the crisis demands], to stand firm [in your place, fully prepared, immovable, victorious].  Ephesians 6:13 (AMP)

 

 

First and foremost, remember that the devil is a created being.  Though he would much like to tell you that he is equal with God, or even superior to Him, he isn’t.  Nevertheless, being spirit, he is more powerful than we are in our flesh by ourselves.  This is why we need to call on the power of the Lord to defend us.

 

In Ephesians 6: 14-17,  Paul uses the imagery of a Roman soldier by telling us to “put on the full armor of God,” meaning that we need to make use of every resource that God makes available to us to win this struggle.  These are the examples that he lists:

 

  1. The Belt of Truth. If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know this is my biggie.  The first four tenets of the Truth Mission Statement lay this out.  Acknowledge Truth, recognize it for what it is, give credit to the Source of Truth, and never stop seeking it.
  2. The Breastplate of Righteousness. True righteousness is a right standing with God that is given by His grace, not earned through our efforts.  Knowledge of this righteousness that is imputed to us helps us to do the right thing and to keep our word, among other things.
  3. Feet fitted with the Gospel of Peace. A good pair of running shoes provides you with stability and speed.  So it is with the Gospel.  It is the foundation upon which you stand to face the enemy, and the Good News you take out into the world to foil his plans.
  4. Shield of Faith. Faith is more than just belief.  Even Satan believes in God; he has seen Him face to face!  It is only when you firmly rely on God and His strength that you are able to deflect the devil’s attacks.
  5. Helmet of Salvation. It’s your head the devil tries to get into.  Cover it with the knowledge that God has already accepted you and has no intention of giving you back.
  6. Sword of the Spirit. This is referring to scripture itself.  Hebrews 4:12 says: “For the word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”  This is the double-edged sword that Revelation depicts coming from the mouth of Jesus at the Second Coming, when Satan is defeated forever.  Guess what?  You have access to that very same Word.  It is the most powerful offensive weapon you have in fighting against the devil.

 

With all of these items in place, now you’re ready to pray like you mean it.  That is what vanquishes Satan.  A person who prays while knowing the One being prayed to, knowing that He’s listening and most of all, knowing that He will honor that prayer with His protection—such a person is unstoppable in spiritual warfare.

 

So what is it that actually goes on in the spiritual realm when we pray?  Hard to say, as most of us can’t see it.  Some people do have that gift, but I am not one of them.

 

Author Frank Peretti burst onto the Christian Fiction scene in 1986 with his book This Present Darkness, which vividly addressed this very issue.  In the book, angels are constantly engaged in battles with demons over the souls of people.  Prayer is like a caffeine rush to the angels.  When people put on the armor of God and pray, the angels drive back the demons.  But when prayer falters, the demons have the upper hand.

 

Now I don’t know if that’s how it actually goes down (many theologians argue that it isn’t), but it’s a neat picture (and a highly entertaining read as well).

 

The important thing to remember is, like the soldier, we must always be on our guard.  Satan and his minions do not sleep.  Ever.  They’ll keep coming back, no matter how many times you pray them away.  This doesn’t mean your prayers aren’t effective or that God isn’t listening.  This is just what demons do.  It’s their nature.

 

(For some final words of encouragement, come back for the conclusion in Part 10—Be Still and Know.)

 

Overcoming the World: Part 7–Up There

Stay focused on what’s above, not on earthly things, because your old life is dead and gone.  (Colossians 3:2-3a VOICE)

 

Why is it that we dwell on things that we know aren’t good for us?

 

How many times have you caught yourself starting a sentence with “I really need to” or “I really ought to,” but then you don’t actually do what it is you really need to do?  It’s as though we think we’ll at least get partial credit for simply acknowledging that we have fallen short of what is necessary.  I really need to eat a salad, but I’m going to have pizza instead.  I really need to go to the gym, but I seem to have grown butt roots here on the couch.

 

Or how about these.  I really ought to pray more.  I really ought to read my Bible more.  I really ought to get off the Internet and pay attention to my kids.  I really ought to put my phone down and talk to my wife.  Can you relate to any of this?

 

You could say that acknowledging the problem is the first step to solving it, and it is, but one step does not a journey make.  You have to take the next one.

 

The thing is, the next step is usually not anything difficult.  We just. . .don’t. . .do it.  How hard is it to make simple choices like ordering something different at the restaurant, standing from a seated position, or simply TALKING to someone?  So why do we make it so much harder than it is?

 

I would chalk it up to a combination of habit and fear of change.  We do what we do because we have always done it, or if not always, at least for long enough that it has become automatic.  Habits are comfort zones; therefore, breaking them makes us uncomfortable.  And we will always gravitate toward comfort if left to ourselves, no matter how obvious it is to us that a change would do us good.

 

Christians do not have this luxury though.  When we turned our eyes toward Christ, we also turned them toward heaven, where He is.  Once you have seen a glimpse of the eternal, the things down here lose their luster a bit.

 

The problem is that the things down here are the things we are used to and that we continue to be surrounded with every day of our lives.  We love our stuff.  We love being in control of our own schedules.  We love our dreams and ambitions.  Even if they no longer satisfy us as they once did, we have claimed them as our own, and we defend them.

 

We can not forget this simple truth though.  When we made Jesus the Lord of our lives, we signed a spiritual quit claim deed for all of that stuff.  Our possessions are not ours, because the earth and everything in it belong to the Lord.  We are not in control of our lives, because we have no idea what the next day, or even the next hour, may bring.  And all of our dreams and ambitions die with us when we die.  From a spiritual standpoint, they have already died, because we surrendered them when we surrendered to Christ.

 

When we talk about “overcoming the world,” we are usually focused on all the evil bad things that we wish we didn’t have to deal with down here, and that we know won’t exist up there.  However, if we are serious about overcoming the world, then we also must focus on overcoming the pleasures down here along with the pains.  This is much more difficult, because while pain usually catches us by surprise, pleasure is something we continuously seek.  We want to do what we want to do when we want to do it.

 

Now is it bad to do things that feel good?  Not necessarily.  The point of this is that we need to realize that eternal life with Christ will feel, and indeed be, better than anything we have going on down here.

 

The thing we have to learn then is to be patient for the reward that is coming for us up there instead of being consumed with rewarding ourselves down here.

 

Overcoming the World: Part 6–Internal to Eternal

 

 

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us…  Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.  (2 Corinthians 4:7, 16-18 NIV)

 

Life can really wear you out sometimes, can’t it?  We work so hard to try to better ourselves and to make the world a better place for our families, but some days, it just looks like we aren’t making a difference at all.  It’s enough to make you wonder if it’s really worth the effort.

 

What is it that wears us out when the problems of the world overwhelm us?  Everyone’s situation is different, of course.  It seems to me, though, that the things that often trouble us the most usually aren’t even happening to us directly.  The problems that are too much for us to bear weren’t even supposed to be our own personal burdens.  We barely have enough strength to get through the trials that life hands us, but we can’t seem to keep from taking on extra baggage as well.  Why do we do this?

 

Can we just call this what it is?  It’s fear.

 

It’s fear that gives birth to worry.  You worry when you seeing angry mobs rioting on the news, but is there an angry mob outside your house right now?  (Of course, if there actually IS one outside your house, you have an actual problem, and should stop reading this blog and go take care of yourself.)

 

My point is that we worry ourselves into exhaustion and despondency about things that aren’t even happening where we are.  Yes, they are happening in the world, and they are real, but if we’re not in a position to directly solve the problem, it’s not our problem.

 

Now please don’t misunderstand what I mean by “not our problem.”  I am not saying that we shouldn’t be concerned about things in the world that are wrong and need fixing.  What I am saying is that 99.99% of the time, it’s not up to us to fix it, either because we lack the resources, the ability, or we are simply too far away to have a direct and immediate impact on the situation.

 

So what can we do?  We can give the situation over to the One who can do something about it.  And while we’re at it, we can give Him our anxieties as well.

 

Yes, the world is a mess.  It’s a mess because it has people in it, and people are a mess.  And yes, you and I are people, so guess what?  We’re a mess too!  But we can be less messy.

 

A good way to start that process is to examine what you expose your mind to.  How do you start your day?  If you’re turning on the TV or rushing to social media, that’s what’s going to set your tone for the rest of the day.  Is that the tone you want?  In the same amount of time, you could meditate on a Bible verse or an inspirational quote of some sort.  You can’t control what happens out in the world, but you can control what goes into your head, which is what feeds your attitude.

 

Once you have developed the habit of being intentional about this, it will become easier for you to shift your perspective from the now to the not yet.  When things are going badly, it is easy for fear to rob us of hope, but remember this.  EVERYTHING we fear, or could possibly fear, has an ending.  We may not be able to see it from where we’re sitting, but all the troublesome things of this world will pass.

 

Instead, what we can learn to do in ALL situations is to focus on the things that won’t pass away.  Truth.  Love.  The Word of God.  Best of all, the eternal life that is given as a free gift to all those who put aside their fears, worries and the troubles of this world and trust in Jesus, who by His death and resurrection, has overcome all of them.

 

Now of course, we can’t see any of this.  We can’t see our fear, the Lord’s Spirit, the actual physical Kingdom of Heaven.  We only see this world, its problems, and our own aging faces in the mirror.

 

But as the risen Christ told Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

 

 

 

 

Overcoming the World: Part 4–Keeping in Step

Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives.  That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse.  We have far more interesting things to do with our lives.  Each of us is an original.  Galatians 5:25-26 (MSG)

 

The Christian walk is not concerned with how good we feel about ourselves for being Christians.  While we don’t need to do things for God to get His attention, we do still have a part to play.  Even a simple game of follow the leader requires effort.

 

Grace is the free gift of God, but it did not come cheaply.  If we had no role to play in working out our own salvation, then what would be the point of getting saved in the first place?

 

The work that God does within us by the power of the Holy Spirit ought to be evident externally.  We have been changed from within so that we may bring change to the world without.  So what does that look like?

 

In Part 3, we began by listing the nine “fruits” of the Holy Spirit, that is to say, the characteristics that are produced by Him in us, which are the evidence of His existence in our lives.

 

  1. Love. As we have discussed previously, love is an action word, not an emotion.  Love involves sacrifice, or always putting the needs of others before your own.
  2. Joy. Like love, joy is more substantial than just a feeling of superficial happinessIt is a powerful force that is God’s response to our praise and thanksgiving. This strength renews and refuels us, giving us the proper attitude to carry on with whatever comes our way next.
  3. Peace. More than just an absence of discord, a spirit of peace involves trusting that God is strong enough to bring us through whatever trials await us, no matter how dire they may seem at first.
  4. Patience. I KNOW this one’s coming from the Lord, because it sure didn’t originate with me!  This is the supernatural ability to stay chilled and let things roll off your back.  In many people, this is the first fruit of the Spirit that others notice when they detect a change in a new believer.  Short fuses get a lot longer.
  5. Kindness. Kindness is love in motion.  This is the act of lifting up another who needs it.  Before the Spirit’s work in your life, there were people you might not have even noticed.  Afterward, though, you might find yourself helping these folks out without giving it a second thought.
  6. Goodness. I’ve always wondered why this one was listed after “kindness,” because goodness is the attitude from which kindness flows.  For us to be able to do good for others, we have to first have the general mindset of doing good for good’s sake.
  7. Faithfulness. A person under the influence of the Spirit will live a life of integrity.  He will say what he means, mean what he says, finish what he starts, and always, ALWAYS keep his word.  Lack of faithfulness is one of the quickest ways to spot a fake Christian.  Someone who is timid, wishy-washy, unreliable or just plain dishonest is not living by the Spirit, regardless of how long he or she has been going to church.
  8. Gentleness. Along with patience, this is another very obvious sign that God is working in someone’s life.  If a person has a history of anger issues (as I have), and you see that person holding his tongue, not raising his voice, being less competitive, etc., it’s a good bet that person didn’t learn those techniques from a self-help book.
  9. Self-Control. Along with gentleness, people under the control of the Spirit are able to keep themselves together, hold themselves back, and keep themselves from going to pieces in stressful situations.  Again, when you see someone with a reactive nature not taking the bait and going for the throat anymore when someone tries to start an argument, you know that something’s up that didn’t start with that person.

 

I can not stress enough that this list is not intended to be a to-do list for you to check off.

 

The goal here is not to get these things done.  It’s to keep in step with the Holy Spirit by letting His influence in our lives rule our conduct.  If our goal is to live lives of strong moral character and integrity, then the characteristics in the list above will shine through naturally, sometimes without our even being aware of them.

 

Other people will notice, however, just as they notice when we claim to be filled with the Spirit, but fail to display these characteristics.

 

Again, the characteristics are not the goal.  The character is.

 

(For more on living this out, come back for Part 5—As Far as it Depends on You)

 

 

 

Overcoming the World: Part 3–Living by the Spirit

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  There is no law against these things!  Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)

 

I am a very task-oriented person.  I am all about the to-do lists.  I get pleasure when I check something off, and I get stressed when I get to the end of the day, and there’s still 12 more things on my list that I didn’t get to.

 

Because of this, I have a tendency to turn almost every facet of my life into a sort of mental to-do list.  Everything feels like a competition or a performance to me, in which I will emerge as either a winner or a loser.

 

Most of life really isn’t supposed to be that way, though.  I am learning that it’s actually OK to simply live life as it comes and to appreciate moments as they’re happening.  I am learning that it’s more important to start each day with gratitude than to finish it with a gold medal.

 

So what is it about us that we keep wanting to go back to the things that we know didn’t work the first time?  Are we just addicted to futility?  Or is this just part of the natural state of being human?

 

I think that the problem lies in our tendency to define ourselves by what we do or by what we fail to do.  If I win, then I am a winner, but if I lose, then I am a loser.  Nobody wants to be a loser though, so we do everything we can to win at life.  And if we find we can not win, then we start doing things that are truly ridiculous.

 

Some people try to downplay life’s natural consequences by attempting to eliminate the concept of winning and losing, a concept that I call the “participation trophy” mentality.  You’re a winner just for showing up!  And if you didn’t even show up, we’ll try to find an excuse for you, so that you won’t lose.  After all, you deserve to win!

 

Then there are the “glory days” people (I tend to fall into this category).  These are the people who used to be the best at something, but then they either went somewhere else where there were other people that were better, or maybe they just got old and weren’t as good as they used to be.  If a person like this is focused on the winning, and he isn’t winning anymore, bitterness takes over in a hurry.

 

A person in this kind of a rut can’t let go of the past, can’t be happy for anyone else who wins in the present, and is bleak about the future that he sees for himself filled with nothing but losing.  Because if you lose, then you’re a loser.  But you can’t be a loser, because you used to win.  But now other people are winning, and keeping you from the victory that is rightfully yours.  So if you can’t beat them, then you have to tear them down, so that you can be on top again.

 

Both of these misguided worldviews lead to the same error—trying to put everybody else on earth at the same level so that we can feel good about ourselves, either by having no distinction of greatness, or by declaring ourselves great by attrition.  Both of these philosophies fail, because they are both built on the foundation of defining our worth by what we do, rather than who we are.

 

God gave us a better way to live.  In the Bible, Paul calls it “living by the Spirit.”  This is a churchy way of saying “getting out of your own way and letting God do His work through you.”  Living by the Spirit isn’t about checking things off of a religious checklist.  It is more about being aware of God’s influence in our lives, and allowing ourselves to be led away from our own plans and deeper into His.

 

Notice in the verse at the beginning that it is the Holy Spirit that produces the fruit in our lives, not us.  We don’t overcome the world by accomplishing all nine of those things on our own.  Rather, when we yield to God’s leading in our lives, these fruits are the natural result of the change that He works within us.

 

 

(So what does that look like?  Come back for Part 4—Keeping in Step.)

 

 

 

 

 

Overcoming the World: Part 2–Calling for Backup

 

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him.  Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.  (Romans 15:13 NLT)

Everyone has up days and down days.  Christians are no exception.  When we are in a desert faith-wise, as I have been for a while, it is so important to have people around us that can build us back up.  Also, we should remember the example that these people set for us, so that when we’re back on the mountaintop, we can lift somebody else up who needs it.

 

Unfortunately, the tendency in these dry seasons of the soul (especially for a cave-dwelling introvert like me) is to pull away from people.  We get used to our misery, and it seems that we would rather prolong it than to have someone tell us what we need to hear.

 

The problem with that is that when we pull away from people, we pull even further away from God than we were already feeling.  That’s when the old bad habits start rearing their ugly heads again.  One of my biggest fears since accepting Christ is that someone is going to encounter me during one of these bad times and associate what they see in me with Christianity in general.  What if I’m standing at the throne at the End of Days giving an account of my life, and I find out that someone missed out on the Kingdom because of something I said or did that turned him or her away?

 

But fears like this can actually accelerate the downward spiral.  We might figure, “If I avoid people entirely, then I won’t run the risk of blowing my witness and staining the name of Jesus.”  So we pull even further away, not just from society, but even from the hand that feeds us.

 

 

Another manifestation of getting into a spiritual funk like this is that we stop reading the Bible.  Everything we need to adjust our attitudes is right there, and the Holy Spirit is only too willing to illuminate the verses that we need to hear, but again, we are too comfortable in our misery to put forth the effort of opening a book.  I am so grateful to have a wife that will put scriptures in front of me when I am not going to them myself.

 

Do you have someone in your life that cares enough about you to give you a lift like this whether you want it or not?  If you don’t, then find one.  The best place that I have found for this type of community is in a small group (sometimes called “life groups” or “cell groups”) in a church.  If you are not familiar with this concept, it’s a group usually of 8-15 people that meet regularly to go deeper together in their faith than they would get by only going to church on Sunday morning.

 

What we need to remember is that we were set apart from the world to be WITH God and His people, not to be hermits in a cabin in the mountains (not that there’s anything wrong with mountains!).

 

As I mentioned in Part 1, a normal life involves difficulties.  For a Christian, those difficulties include enduring people who mock the Name of Jesus and those who adhere to it.  Sometimes it seems that life would be easier if we didn’t have to endure that, but we have to remember that this life is not all there is.  The next one is a lot longer.

 

God’s joy and peace are there for the having.  You just have to want it.  But sometimes, you need somebody to remind you that you want it.  So don’t ever be afraid to call for backup.