Friday, July 30, 2010

In God's Native Tongue

An Egyptian princess bathed at a river where she encountered a tiny babe in a tar-pitched basket. She furnished a home for the infant and named him Moses. There, in the royal palace halls, Moses most likely learned the skills of writing and reading. He would later write the history and laws of a nation, the first five books of the Old Testament. Some of our current laws are based upon those civil laws from so long ago.

The Bible reveals many such instances where the goodness of God is revealed as he moves ahead of a single life or nation to steer them in a specific direction. This week, we’ll finish up the series on the fruit of the Spirit. From the Galatians 5:22 list, we’ll consider the term “goodness” and how God’s goodness works in us and through us.

First, reflect on a list of synonyms which help to define the abstract word “goodness”: integrity (right thinking), righteous, moral, blameless, virtuous, and honest.

The picture of God’s goodness is like a set of parentheses – and that set of parentheses surrounds us. His daily provisions and goodness encompasses each person on earth. And through those God speaks every man’s language. Every time a bean plant sprouts and produces one hundred beans, God’s goodness speaks. Every time, microbes eat spilled oil in a gulf of water, God’s goodness speaks.

“The heavens declare the glory [wonder] of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands….there is no speech or language where their voice is not heard” (Psalm 19:1-4). General blessings drench the entire earth such as God’s rain falling on the just and the unjust, but God’s goodness also falls upon individuals. The beauty and order of the earth are spoken in God's native tongue. He creates. We enjoy. He also provides individualized care.

A wealthy Shunammite woman, a contemporary of Elisha the prophet, lived in the town of Shunem. When the prophet traveled through Shunem, he took his meals with her and her husband. Eventually, the couple built a room and furnished it for the prophet.

Elisha wanted to repay her and asked what he could do? Her contentment caused her not to make a suggestion, but Elisha’s servant Gehazi observed that her husband was old and she had no son.

Through God, Elisha promised an heir. The son was born, but when still a young lad, he died. The scene where Elisha appealed to God and the young lad’s life was restored is certainly a memorable Bible text.

Later, the Shunammite’s story continues in 2 Kings 8. God’s goodness, arranging, and timing are stamped on this event. Elisha had warned this Shunammite’s family to flee to Philistine because a severe famine was coming to her native land. So, her family lived in another country for seven years, and then returned to their homeland.

Back in her country, she and her son were on their way to see the king. Meanwhile, the king said to Gehazi, Elisha’s servant, “Tell me about all the great things Elisha has done.”

Gehazi had plenty of stories about God’s mighty arm of rescue, especially the time Elisha raised the dead. “Just as Gehazi was telling the king how Elisha had restored the dead to life,” in walked the woman and her son to “beg the king for her house and land” (2 Kings 8:5). The “just as” moment so inspired the king that he returned her home, land, and seven-years of earnings.

When you take your next breath, recall the goodness of God who orchestrated it. The next time you notice a pinkish sky, and the sun arising or bowing to nightfall, praise God who created the scene. The next time you experience the happy parentheses where God has cocooned you, bless his name. The next time you see the fruit of his Spirit in your life, give thanks.

He alone is worthy for his genuine love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control remain evident in our lives as God travels before us, behind us, and with us.

(Photo borrowed from )

Friday, July 23, 2010

When Love Branches Out

Our yard fence separates our home and lawn from the farmland surrounding it. A huge live oak inside our yard leans toward the front fence, and its afternoon branch-shade spreads at least 30 feet into the pasture. The cool spot that the shade creates has become a favorite gathering place for our small herd of cows and their little ones. And wherever the cows go, the egrets follow. Out of my office window, I have a view of both bovine and bird. This week, that scene gave me a visual about love.

Most of us have an understanding of love, but if asked to explain love then we have a more difficult time using concrete words in a description. I know it’s difficult because that’s what I’ve been brain storming about this week. But that’s when I paid attention to the cows resting in the shade, with white egret perched around. I said to myself, “That’s it -- when we can nap safely in someone’s shade that’s love.”

In the last few columns, we’ve worked our way through the list of the fruit of the Spirit -- “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22). Today, let’s consider love. It’s a broad term used to describe our passions for many things. We love chocolate and chocolate labs. We love mini poodles and mini bagels. We love movies and movie popcorn.

We word-sling love around as if its usage carries no obligation. John said, “My dear children, let us not love in words or tongue, but in actions in truth” (I John 3:18). Let’s look at one more familiar Bible text about love.

A listing of love-actions occurs in Paul’s letter to the Corinthian Christians. He describes this as never-fail love. He said that love is patient, kind, and that it doesn’t envy or boast. Love is also not proud, rude, self-seeking, or easily angered. And my favorite is that love keeps no record of wrongs. But there are more descriptions of what love does and the traits are coupled with that absolute word “always”: love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres (1 Corinthians 13:1-13).

You probably noticed the similarities in the description of the love-actions and fruit of the Spirit. As said before in this column the stellar qualities of the Spirit are innate and shared among the Godhead (Trinity). When God adopted us into his family through Jesus, we received the Spirit and can now bestow an active love upon others.

Some of the most beautiful scriptures in biblical poetry describe God as shading those within his care. When David fled from his enemies and sought refuge in a cave, he called to God to have mercy on him and said, “I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings” (Psalm 55:1). Another psalm says that God is the shade at your right hand, a picture of God near-at-hand.

Watching our small herd seek shade-shelter gave me an additional description of love. Shade represents protection, safety, rest, and times of refreshing. And so I must ask, who shades your life? Who among your family and friends provides shelter from blistering, energy-draining circumstances? Who comes along side of you when you can no longer help yourself? With certainty, I can tell you it’s not inanimate things that we “love” – like our chocolate, bagels, or popcorn. No. Real people provide our shade, the ones dedicated to love-lived-out, a Spirit trait.

As God-followers we also provide shady rest for family and friends. We simply surprise someone with a blessing because God’s generous spirit gave to us and we in turn give to others. When we witness the wilting of a friend, we know they must have shade to survive. They need a nap away from pressures and that’s when we cast a goodly shadow over them.

God has the ultimate loving wingspread, but he gifts his followers with like capabilities.

Who shades you?

Whom do you shade?

(Photo is of our home and shade tree last spring. Romemary and Lantana is now growing around house)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Everyday Faithfulness

A new preacher moved to town and took a bus ride to familiarize himself with the territory. He handed the driver his money, and as he sat down, he noticed the driver had given him a dime too much in change.

He pondered whether to return it or just accept it as a gift from God. The driver was busy greeting and letting passengers disembark, and the preacher argued with his conscience that the driver might not even want to be bothered for the amount of ten cents. But as the preacher exited, he handed the dime back to driver, “You gave me too much change.”

“Thank you, sir,” said the driver. “I recognized you from your picture in the paper when the church announced your arrival here. I’ve been looking for a church home, and I wondered what you would do if I overpaid you a dime.”

When the bus left and the preacher stood on the sidewalk, he trembled and thought in his heart, “Lord, I almost sold you out for a dime.”

Today, let’s consider faithfulness. If you’ve followed this column for the past few weeks, then you know we’ve been working our way through the list of attributes described as the fruit of the Spirit, found in Galatians 5:22. Consider the list once more as we get closer to the end of this study: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

I’ve heard from a few of you, and I thank you for your stories of how the practice of these godly attributes in everyday life has strengthened your character and witness for God.

Webster's New World Dictionary defines “faithful” as "maintaining allegiance; constant; loyal; marked by or showing a strong sense of duty or responsibility; conscientious; accurate; reliable; exact."

If one remains loyal then we could describe them as trustworthy, reliable, devoted, dependable, steadfast or dedicated. We practice faithfulness in areas of our passions. When a husband remains devoted to God and family, his faithfulness reveals itself over a lifetime of honoring God and his wife and children.

When someone regards good health as a way of honoring God, they remain careful to eat healthy foods, to exercise, and to care for the body that houses the soul God gave them.

When someone has a passion or drive for feeding the hungry, helping the poor, or visiting those in prison, they find ways to be faithful in the giving of their time to ease the suffering of others.

In ancient Israel’s customs, when a price was settled for a tract of land or a pair of oxen, one party would remove his sandal and hand it to the other signifying a solid pact or promise (Ruth 4:1-12). That’s all it took, a man’s word and a “sandal seal.”

Not too many years ago, our grandfathers shook hands on deals – called “a gentleman’s agreement.” These agreements depended upon the honor of the two parties, and were usually made when a price for something was set.

But a “gentlemen’s agreement” could also act as a disguise for wrong secretive acts. It is reported that in the 1930s the National Football League banned black players with a handshake, making sure that no agreement was on paper. And, African Americans were similarly banned from organized baseball with a handshake until 1946, when the Brooklyn Dodgers hired Jackie Robinson.

I love how Jesus furthered the explanation of “faithfulness” when he said to his followers, “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ be ‘No’ (Matthew 5:37). Parents, this guidance can help your parenting.

As we move through the next few days, let’s keep the word “faithfulness” in our minds. Our culture demands that we, in good faith, sign our names to credit card purchases, marriage certificates, leases, or other agreements. But many smaller promises we make to family and friends aren’t recorded on paper at the courthouse. Be faithful even in the least of these small-promise-categories.

After all, bus drivers and others are watching. They want to see faithfulness lived out.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Kindness Arrives in Many Ways-July 9

In any home, when a kind woman buys the groceries, cooks them up, stores the leftovers, that home becomes blessed because she extends benevolence and care towards those living under the same roof. Most women don’t expect a constant “thank you.” They are pleased with a little help now and then. I’ve never heard of a husband being shot while doing the dishes. It’s the little things that count.

Within the framework of kindness, let’s consider those little things that count in everyday life. Those generous unexpected acts that other people do for us, when we’re least expecting a favor. Kindness is among the list of intrinsic values of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22.

Almost everyone has granted kindnesses and received many. Three things stand out in my memory as unexpected acts of loving kindness. One time when I had flower beds, my mother showed up and sat on the St. Augustine grass and weeded three gardening areas. I don’t even have flower beds anymore because of rascally weeds, but back then -- before I knew about blooming perennials and Texas native plants -- I had too many flower beds for a working woman and mother of children. My mother’s sacrifice of time lingers with a sweet fragrance.

On another occasion with Thanksgiving nearing, I was in the process of striping wallpaper from three huge rooms. If you’ve ever scored wall covering with a utility knife, sprayed it with warm water, and then scraped from the floor to the ceiling you know how much energy that takes. My gauge was low to near empty. My friend knew what I was trying to accomplish in a short timeframe before we hosted the holiday dinner. She phoned one day to tell me that she’d just made her mother’s famous cornbread dressing for me. It’ll feed 25 people and can be made weeks ahead and frozen until Turkey Day. Oh my! I still remember Doris’ kindness.

On another day, my husband, Dave, had left for work, but soon I heard his truck rumbling into the driveway again. He walked in the back door, took my hand and led me outside, never saying a word. Then he pointed skyward. There draped across the storm-strewn sky stretched a vivid double rainbow.

I could name so many more acts of kindness—sweet notes from friends, crayoned pictures from children; surprise cookies, cakes, and pies; and my son-in-law, who now shows up to mow and trim around those perennials. But there are even other more subtle courtesies—a tip of the hat from an older Texas gentleman; a driver who waves me through a busy intersection; a store clerk handles a return happily; my friend Pat, who on a rainy day blesses it by saying, “Enjoy the moisture.”

Has your mind just exploded remembering the kindnesses you receive every day? If you want to make up your own list, include anything that fits these descriptions: considerate, thoughtful, compassionate, sympathetic, generous, or extends good will.

Of course the best name to put at the top of your list is God. All of the descriptions fit his openhandedness and bigheartedness toward us. Through dawn of day and an infant’s birth, all the way through sunsets and last breaths on earth, we “live and move and have our being” in God (Acts 17:28).

And the best kindness of God flows through Jesus to us in reconciliation. We are taken back and forgiven even after our sins have separated us from God (Isaiah 59:1-2).

Being kind isn’t all that difficult -- really. We have a heavenly Father who daily supplies us with the initiative to be mindful of others, and in addition he still lives out extreme examples of kindness. Want to be more kind to others, just think of all the acts of generosity toward you and present the same favors to your family, friends, and strangers.

From God’s hand, to yours, to someone else -- you can put a double rainbow in someone’s day.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Self Control over Petulance-July 4

I learned something about deepening self-control through a narrative presented in Luke where Martha invited Jesus and his disciples into her home for a meal. Martha hoped to have her sister Mary’s help, but instead Mary sat and learned at the feet of Jesus. Martha complained, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself. Tell her to help me!” Although the New Testament reveals other good attributes, from the above meal incident, Martha’s been labeled a whiner.

One scholar deemed Martha’s state of mind as a “temporary petulance.” I think that defines a lot of what Christian’s struggle with in the area of self control. The word petulance describes one who is crabby, peevish, grumpy, irritable, or has a bad temper.

The Christian who has mastered “self control” has acquired both power and skills from the Holy Spirit to limit their thoughts, actions, and reactions. If we curb harmful thoughts then we keep negativism from increasing in our own mind or elsewhere. Let’s review the fruit of the Spirit and the privileged gifts: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control” (Galatians 5:22).

A follower of Christ under the control of the Holy Spirit has help in exercising authority over self. The fruit of the Holy Spirit remains opposite of the mean spirited spewings and actions that often make headline news. Merciful God grants his followers power to overcome bad habits and sin, and we no longer have to rely on human-spirit will power to overcome sins that easily get us off track.

I’ve mulled over that phrase “temporary petulance,” and I think it fits so many of the snits we humans have. When things go our way, we go through a day in relative calm. Why not? Life’s good. No one crosses, insults, or toys with our emotions. Then spouses, coworkers, or even strangers rub us the wrong way, and we get irritated.

Here’s an example of an aggravation that could plunge us into a “temporary petulance.” I had walked through a bank door, when I noticed an older man right behind me, so I held the door open for him. He marched past me and stood closest to the tellers. I stood back in wonder.

The teller asked, “Who’s next?” He never looked back, but moved up to the counter. Right then, I had a choice to make – to stew over having to wait or to ask a blessing on his day. I reasoned, how could I possibly know what was going on his life that made him neglect common courtesy? I didn’t know anything about him, so I excused him and backed it up with a prayer for his day.

I’m not telling you that to pat myself on the back. I’m telling you that to give God’s Holy Spirit a great big pat on the back. Blessing and praying for someone causing me a lengthy wait is not what I used to do. I used to fume a bit. Maybe tell someone else about his lack of manners. And the incident might have spoiled – because I allowed it to – half of my day.

You’ve had a thousand incidents of intended or unintended rudeness happen to you, too. Minor irritants can work us up into a small squall. You’ve seen how those dirt devils pop up on the landscape. They twirl in a dither, pick up bits of debris, and sling them everywhere.

Of course when everything goes our way, it’s easy to not get ruffled. But when trouble crimps the day, even then, that’s when we can ably control our thoughts, actions and reactions because we have the fruit of the Holy Spirit, faithfully remaking us.

This weekend, we celebrate Independence Day. We’ll salute our flag, and acknowledge the freedoms our country affords each of us. Why not take a few minutes to also re-pledge allegiance to Holy God, asking him to take away any rebellious spirit that wants to live independent of him. And ask for the determination to yield to his pure Spirit, who can teach and mold us to be better citizens in this beautiful land of the free and home of the brave.