Thursday, January 28, 2021

Good News: You May Be Rich and Not Know It!

Have you gotten a promotional mailing recently that said you might have won millions of dollars? Woo-hoo! Or maybe you’ve received one of those emails, supposedly from a foreign official, advising you’ve been chosen to receive some hefty sum of money? Recently I saw an ad declaring that millions of dollars are waiting for people to rightfully claim them. Maybe we’re rich, and we don’t know it! 


Years ago I did receive a phone call from the representative of a restaurant, informing me that I’d won a contest that I had registered for during a visit a couple months earlier. At first I was skeptical, suspecting some kind of scam. I even replied to the caller something like, “Yeah, right!” However, it proved to be legitimate; a few weeks later I received a check in the mail.

 That was the only time that’s happened to me. Usually when we hear about unclaimed riches there just for the picking, it’s a gimmick. But did you know there indeed are unclaimed riches, available to every one of us, with no tricks, gimmickry or deception involved?


Actually, there are two different classifications. One, according to the Scriptures, is the priceless gift of redemption and eternal life. As John 1:12-13 declares, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” 


Romans 6:23 explains, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” And Ephesians 2:8 affirms this, stating, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”


Sadly, and in my view, amazingly, many choose not to receive this gift. Similar to the millions of unclaimed dollars, God’s gift of eternal life doesn’t benefit anyone unless it’s received.


There’s a second category of eternal riches available – except these are reserved only for those who already belong to God’s family. It’s the power to live a new, transformed life. The Lord offers it to all of His children, and it’s readily available, but too many of us fail to take advantage of it.

 In John 15:5, Jesus cautioned His followers, “apart from Me you can do nothing.” The uninitiated might be inclined to ask, “What’s that supposed to mean? I can do lots of things.” But I like the clarification the apostle Paul offered: “I can do everything through [Christ] who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).


We can think, like the skeptic, that we can do many things without relying on Jesus Christ. But the point is that apart from Him, we cannot do anything of eternal value. But with Him, even the simple acts we do throughout a given day – speaking a kind word to someone, deciding to give some of our time to another person when we didn’t think we had any spare moments, approaching our work responsibilities, even offering a friendly smile to someone (when a facemask doesn’t hide it) – can be transformed into sacred moments through the power of Christ.


Thinking back, I ruefully recall the years I spent trying to serve the Lord and live the so-called “Christian life” in my own strength. And wondering why it wasn’t working as I expected. Then someone introduced me to the eternal riches available to me that I wasn’t utilizing.


One of my favorite verses, 2 Corinthians 5:17, declares, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” Unfortunately, it took me a long time to understand that. I would still awaken each morning as if I were still the old guy I was before Christ, only trying to live up to a new set of standards. That’s not difficult – it’s impossible!


Romans 6:4 says, “We were therefore baptized with [Christ] through baptism in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” Another translation says, "walk in newness of life." Just a few verses later we’re told, “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11). We’re instructed to let loose of our old, unproductive lives – but that’s only possible by embracing the new, resurrection life of Christ that resides in us.


This seems straight-forward, and some reading this might think, “What’s the big deal about this?” Well, it is a big deal. 


If you were to visit one of those unclaimed riches sites and discover to your astonishment half a million dollars that has been sitting there with your name on it, waiting for you to claim it, how would you feel? Excited? Amazed? Overwhelmed? That’s essentially how I felt after discovering how, after trying to live the Christian life in my own strength for years, I could appropriate the power and unspeakable riches of Jesus Christ for successfully living the life I’d been failing at so miserably. It had been there all the time – I just didn’t know it. 


Let me ask you: Are there any unclaimed spiritual and eternal riches waiting for you, if only you fully understood they were there, if you were just willing for the Lord to give them to you? 

Monday, January 25, 2021

The Challenge of Shining the Light of Kindness in an Unkind World

For nearly a year now, we’ve heard more than we ever wanted to hear about the pandemic – the coronavirus, COVID-19, whatever you want to call it. We all wish it would just go away, never to return. But there’s another “pandemic” that's besieging our society, one that in some ways is even more virulent and destructive than the virus that has changed our lives in so many ways.


What I’m referring to is the pandemic of unkindness.


We see it virtually everywhere. Social media, which began as a useful tool for communicating with friends and rekindling old relationships, now often serves as a weapon of verbal abuse. TV talk and news shows, instead of being forums for information, turn into platforms for arguing, bickering and demeaning, people hurling words both rude and crude at each another in shameless animosity.


Throughout the political campaigning season which has mercifully ended – for now – messages consisted of vicious attacks on opponents, turning upside-down the adage, “If you can’t find something nice to say about someone, don’t say anything at all.” A President has just left office who, despite underestimated accomplishments during his term, will forever be remembered for disparaging and insulting any and all who dared disagree with him.

Cities across our land have suffered from destructive rioting. People have hurled abusive language and sometimes assaulted persons they perceived as defying guidelines for stemming the spread of the virus. This lamentable list could go on and on, but I suspect we all in one way or another have experienced the brunt of the unkindness pandemic.


What can we do? One approach that won’t work – I know, because I’ve tried – is to reason with unreasonable people, whether on social media, the phone, or in person. There is another approach, however, that could do wonders to stem this tide of negativity. Many of us probably haven’t even thought of it, much less try it. Here it is: Counter unkindness with kindness.


During His “sermon on the mount,” Jesus Christ addressed this in a revolutionary way. He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?” (Matthew 5:43-48).


We want to argue, “But I don’t like those people! Why should I be kind to them?” Jesus would respond, “That’s exactly the point!” Anyone can express love and show kindness toward the folks we care for; to be kind to those we feel don’t deserve our kindnesses demonstrates Christlikeness, indeed the life and power of Christ within us.


Kindness, however, shouldn’t be limited to any particular grouping of people, whether it’s those we like or those we don’t. It should simply be part of our lifestyle, how we conduct our lives on a day-to-day, minute-by-minute basis. As we see in Galatians 5:22-23, kindness is one manifestation of “the fruit of the Spirit…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”


Given the state of our society, the sooner we make this shift, committing to communicate and display kindness in an unkind world, the better. Philosopher and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, who never heard of COVID-19 or experienced social media bullying, wisely observed, “You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.”


Scriptures repeatedly affirm that kindness is one of God’s attributes, and as followers of Christ, it should be part of our makeup as well. In describing the hardships and many forms of adversity he and his companions endured, the apostle Paul wrote, “we commend ourselves in every way…in purity, understanding, patience and kindness…” (2 Corinthians 6:6). 


Another apostle, Peter, spoke about this when he wrote, “make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge…to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.” Then he explained why: “For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:5-8).


One other passage stands out as the Lord admonishes us through His Word to demonstrate kindness, especially since it has become so counter-cultural. Writing to believers of the church in Ephesus, Paul said, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).


Imagine going into a large room without any form of illumination. You, however, have a flashlight. In bright sunlight, your flashlight might have little effect, but in that darkened room, its light could have an incredible impact. If we have any goals or resolutions yet to make this year, may one of them be to shine the beacon of kindness in an increasingly dark world. 

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Have You Considered Divine Mathematics?

If we believe the Creation account, we would have to conclude that along with the physical things God created, He also created the laws and principles by which our world and the entire universe operate. This would include mathematics, in its simplest forms as well as its most complex. When Albert Einstein was working out his elaborate formulas, including E = mc2, he was using calculations based on what the Lord originally configured eons ago.


But here’s a question: If you were to imagine which of the mathematical functions God favors the most, what would you guess it is? Perhaps I’m going out on a bit of a theological limb, but I think it would be multiplication.


Why do I say that? For starters, in the Bible’s first book, the Lord introduces the concept of multiplication. In the opening chapter, after imagining and forming the creatures that inhabit the seas and other waters, along with the birds, “And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth’” (Genesis 1:21-22).


Then, after creating living creatures that would move on the ground, including humankind,“God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it…” (Genesis 1:24-28). Sadly, this didn't proceed without problems, prompting the Lord to take a "do over."


Following the global flood, in which God spared only Noah, his wife, his sons and their wives, along with representatives of every living creature, the waters subsided and Noah and his family prepared to leave the ark. Among the Lord’s instructions during the “exit interview,” He told them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth…. As for you, be fruitful and multiply; populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it”(Genesis 9:1,7).


God wasn’t talking about learning multiplication tables, like 3 times 3, or 5 times 9. He wanted them to exponentially repopulate the earth, in particular with humans created in His image.


This theme continues throughout the Scriptures. In Jeremiah 23:3, speaking about restoring the people of Israel who had been exiled into other lands, God told the prophet, “Then I Myself will gather the remnant of My flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and bring them back to their pasture, and they will be fruitful and multiply.”


Underscoring the Lord’s faithfulness, never failing to keep His promises with His chosen people, Hebrews 6:14 recalled, “For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying, ‘I will surely bless you and I will surely multiply you.’”


Perhaps the most important passage of all on God’s emphasis on multiplication concerns Jesus Christ’s final instructions, which we know as His Great Commission. Just prior to His ascension to heaven, He directed His followers, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…teaching to observe all the things I have commanded you…” (Matthew 28:19-20).


No, this passage does not include the specific word “multiply,” but clearly refers to spiritual multiplication, the making of disciples – followers, learners, reproducers – who will make other disciples, who in turn will make other disciples.


In today’s Church culture, particularly in America, the focus seems primarily directed toward addition – seeing people convert to Christian belief, encouraging them to turn from their former ways of living apart from God. However, to convert – to turn – doesn’t necessarily mean an individual will immediately start moving forward in a new direction. Much like newly born human babies, spiritual babes need to be nurtured, fed, loved, cared for, taught, and eventually, disciplined.


Once a “disciplemaker” has helped a new believer toward spiritual maturity, assisting him or her to become a true follower of Jesus, then both the disciplemaker and disciple can start investing in others. The two of them become four, and the process of spiritual multiplication is underway. Four can become eight, then 16, then 32, and so on.


Long term, what does this look like? We find a good description in Isaiah 60:22, which declares, “A little one shall become a thousand, and a small one a strong nation. I, the Lord, will hasten it in its time.” Imagine, one person, completely sold out to Jesus Christ, whose life is devoted to helping others along in their journey with the Lord. Incredibly, over time, that one can become a thousand, and even more!


God’s desire and goal, not just in the United States but also around the world, is to greatly multiply genuine, devoted, strong and unwavering followers of Christ who will have an eternal impact on family members, friends, their communities, their cities, and their nations.

Many believe the solutions to our world’s problems are through politics, or ideology, or even education. There is value in each of those, but God is affirming that the ultimate answers are found only in Jesus Christ, helping more and more people to know Him, follow Him, and serve as His ambassadors by demonstrating His love, mercy and grace. And the way to bring that about is through a simple mathematical process: multiplication. 

Monday, January 18, 2021

Build a New Habit: Developing Better, Healthier Habits

When I used to bowl regularly years ago, I would occasionally roll a high score – in the low 200s – but couldn’t do that on a consistent basis. I was stuck with averages between 130 and 140. The reason was simple: I kept doing the same thing the same way, expecting different results. To become a better bowler, I needed to change my form and technique.

It's much the same for just about every area of life. In our most honest moments, we admit there are things in our lives we would like to change, but we fail to take steps necessary to bring about those changes. As has often been said in a similar way, if you keep doin’ what you’ve been doin’, you’re gonna keep gettin’ what you’ve been gettin’. 


So how do we bring about the changes we would like to experience? I like what consultant Tim Kight has to say: “Your habits are perfectly designed to get the results they’re getting. If you want different results, you must build new habits.”


He’s right. For instance, if someone is overweight and out of shape due to not eating properly and not exercising, just reading books about getting healthy and sitting in a recliner watching exercise videos won’t help. The best of intentions are worthless if not followed by appropriate action. 


Like many of us, my own physical health has suffered a bit due to the COVID restrictions. My regimen of exercising at least three times a week virtually disappeared over the past year, and I have to admit it’s been too easy to indulge on good-tasting snacks. So one of my goals this year is to form new habits – actually, to return to some old, better habits. As I write this, I’m preparing to head back to the Y (taking the prescribed precautions) and cut back on the pound-packing snack foods.


As it says in 1 Corinthians 6:19, “do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?” This doesn’t mean the Lord wants us to build bigger temples!


There are some other habits in my life I need to either change, or revisit. These include my spiritual life. Over the past year, despite what I had intended, my daily time with the Lord wasn’t as consistent as it should have been. I allowed too many distractions to get in the way. So I’m resuming a good, old habit: Reading through the Bible over the course of this year, using a daily schedule I’ve found very helpful in the past.


Two passages immediately come to mind as I think about this. Writing to his protégé, Timothy, the apostle Paul wrote, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).


Another is Psalm 119:9, 11, which says, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to Your word…. I have hidden Your word in my heart that I might sin against you.” I’m not a young man anymore, but the principle has no age limitations. The only way to live as God intended is for us to know and apply His Word in everything we do.


It goes back to recognizing when we’ve developed bad or unproductive habits, and determining to replace them with good, more fruitful ones. But habits aren’t established in a day or even a week. You know the old saying, “Practice makes perfect”? Well, that’s not exactly true. Because if we keep practicing by doing things the wrong way, we won’t become “perfect.” We’ll only become adept at doing things wrong – like my old bowling habits. 


We need to understand that, Perfect practice makes perfect. Whether in trying to get better at a sport, playing a musical instrument, building stronger relationships, or establishing a more fruitful, growing walk with the Lord, we need to learn how to do things the right way – and then keep doing them, every day.


As Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to follow me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Being a faithful follower of Jesus Christ is not something we can do once a week or whenever the mood strikes us. It’s got to be a daily commitment, a determination to deny self and everyday distractions; in effect, dying to ourselves. That’s a habit well worth cultivating through perfect practice.

Thursday, January 14, 2021


Have you ever seen any of those optical illusion illustrations that show two very different images, depending on how you look at them? There’s the one that, from one angle, looks like an attractive young lady in a feathered, flowing hat. From another angle, however, it appears to be an aged woman.

There’s another that at first glance looks like a chalice or goblet, but after a second look appears to be two people facing each other, their noses nearly touching.


Yet another, in color, at first appears to be an old woman and an old man looking at each other, but another look shows a man with a guitar, wearing a sombrero and serenading a lady nearby. You can find many more of these visual illusions. The brain can perceive things in amazingly different ways.


The title of this post is a similar illusion, only in verbal form. When reading the first word in the title, what did you see? Did it seem to say, “God Is Nowhere”? Or did you read, “God Is Now Here”? 

How you respond is interesting, because in this little visual exercise we see a metaphor for much of what’s going on in our world today. Indeed, for many people, God is nowhere. Atheists and agnostics claim to see no evidence of Him. Or at least they deny it. But one doesn’t need to be an ardent non-believer to puzzle over the existence of God. Whether it’s a global health crisis, or seemingly insurmountable personal challenges, there are times when we want to cry out, “God, where are you?” 


I’ve learned people generally see only what they’re looking for. If you’re not looking for shirts in a department store, for example, you probably won’t see any. If you’re not looking for a Tesla on the highway, you likely won’t see one of those either. (I have a grandson, however, who spots them all the time.) But just because you don’t see something, that doesn’t mean it’s not there.


Many people, if they’re willing, need only to look within to recognize God’s presence. Ecclesiastes 3:11, “He has also set eternity in their hearts,” so by the Lord’s design, we all have an inner awareness of His existence.


We also find evidence everywhere of God through the world and universe that He has created. As Romans 1:19-20 says about those who choose to rebel against Him, “since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”


And yet, even for those with the deepest faith, there are moments when God seems to be nowhere. What are we to do then? How can we, despite challenges that threaten to overwhelm us, continue to embrace the assurance that God is now here?


Thinking about this, a song by Babbie Mason comes to mind. It contains the refrain, “When you don’t understand, when you don’t see His plan, when you can’t trace His hand…trust His heart.” Often I’ve wondered, “Lord, what’s going on? What are You doing?” He might not have given an immediate answer – often, He doesn’t – but in retrospect I realized God truly did know what He was doing. His plan, as it unfolded, was far better than anything I could have come up with.


What we can see, at any moment, is what the Lord has revealed about Himself through His Word. In response to the claim that God is nowhere, we find the psalmist’s declaration that says, ”Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast” (Psalm 139:7-10).


Many people I know, during their darkest times, have clung to the promise of Isaiah 41:10, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”


We can find similar assurances throughout both the Old and New testaments, affirmations of the Lord’s omnipresence, no matter what. In fact, the very last recorded words of Jesus Christ, spoken just before His ascension to heaven, were, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). When God says “always,” I’ve learned He means ALWAYS.


We need to remember this, so that when circumstances scream out to us, “God is nowhere!” we can hold firm to the ubiquitous promise of the Scriptures that “God is now here!”

Monday, January 11, 2021

Focusing On the Things That Really Matter in Life

Whenever possible, I give credit where it’s due, whether borrowing an insight from a friend, quoting from a book, or even using something I’ve read on social media. However, recently I came across a list called “Things That Really Matter in Life” and although I would like to give proper attribution, I have to admit I don’t know the originator.


Nevertheless, it’s too good not to discuss. So I’ll cite and comment on parts of it, with appreciation to Mr. or Ms. Anonymous. Each item on the list starts with, “3 things in life that….” Here they are, for your consideration:


3 things in life that never come back when gone: Time. Words. Opportunity.

3 things in life that should never be lost: Peace. Hope. Honesty.

3 things in life that are most valuable: Love. Faith. Prayer.

3 things in life that make a person: Hard work. Sincerity. Commitment.

3 things in life that are constant: Change. Death. God.


Reading through this thoughtful list, I’ve noticed one common theme: Not one of these can be purchased with money. They are, in fact, priceless. Which is interesting, because of the things we spend the most money on – cars and houses and clothes and gadgets, education, travel, power, career advancement, status – none of them appear on the list above.

We can spend money on “time management” systems and devices, but in reality, time passes at the same pace, no matter what we try to do. We can’t stop its passage. All we can do is decide how to use the time we have – when we have it.


The saying, “Talk is cheap,” is true to an extent. But talk can also be costly, when we say the wrong things to the wrong people at the wrong time. When we miss out on an opportunity, we usually can’t buy it back no matter how hard we try.


With the chaos and turmoil of the past year – which threatens to continue into this new year – what we wouldn’t pay for peace and hope, right? And honesty? These days that seems in shorter supply than toilet paper!


Most of us received gifts for Christmas; some got lots of them. But you can’t buy genuine love. Faith is another priceless intangible. I’ve learned it’s worth more than the combined net worth of Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Jeff Bezos, Oprah Winfrey, Elon Musk and as many other multi-billionaires you can think of. And you can’t put a price tag on prayer, the sacred privilege of communing and communicating with the Creator of the universe.


In today’s world, so many people seem determined to get “free stuff,” things they have not earned and, probably, don’t deserve. But what employer wouldn’t want to hire people dedicated to working hard, are sincere in everything they do, and committed to doing their very best, regardless of the circumstances?


Many of us like change only when it’s on our terms, but things still change whether we like them to or not. And often, the changes are not of our preference. Death was much in the news over the past 12 months, but it’s the destination for us all, pandemic or no pandemic. Which leads us to the last, but most important of the three constants listed: God.


In his grand, but often cynical Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon essentially affirms the theme of the above list. He opens by declaring, “’Meaningless! Meaningless,’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless!’” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). Tell us exactly how you feel, Solomon! Don’t beat around the bush, okay?


He proceeds to explain, “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work…. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11). 


Wow! Clearly, the great king of Israel didn’t have the spiritual gift of encouragement. But after elaborating about how futile are many of the things we pursue so earnestly, he arrives at a reasonable conclusion: “So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 8:15).


What Solomon meant by this becomes clearer as we read the book of Proverbs, most of which he wrote. He speaks extensively about such things as discipline, hard work, wisdom, prudence, faithfulness, relationships, generosity, humility, honesty, integrity and right living. Maybe this wise man served as the inspiration for the list above.


As Solomon observed, “[God] has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men…” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Another wise man, C.T. Studd, famously wrote, “Only one life, ‘twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.” We could do worse than make these things the focus of our lives.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Growing Fruit That Has No Season

People have often talked about the “dog days of summer,” but if there’s a real dog-days section of the calendar, I’d vote for the period between January and mid-March. The holidays and all the anticipation leading up to them is over; temperatures are typically cold, forcing us indoors; daylight is in short supply, and most plants have paused in their life cycles.


During my college days, I found the winter quarter to be the gloomiest time of year. Many days seemed dark and dismal, and if you were disposed to feelings of depression, that was when they would appear.


Even though I never worked on a farm, I suspect this is a relative down time for most people in the agricultural realm. For those that grow peaches, oranges, apples, or other types of fruit, their greatest concern is whether an extended period of frigid weather will arrive to damage or ruin the crops they’ll harvest later in the year. The growing season is still months away.

But have you ever considered there’s one type of fruit that has no growing season, that if cultivated properly, can flourish all year long?


We read about this in Galatians 5:22-23. It says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Again such things there is no law.” Some people wrongly refer to these as the “fruits” of the Spirit, but the original Greek expresses this in the singular, as “fruit.” As a footnote in one of my Bibles explains, “The Spirit produces fruit which consists of nine characteristics or attitudes that are inextricably linked with each and are commanded of believers throughout the New Testament.”


In other words, we’re not to exhibit love but be impoverished in terms of patience. Kindness we display should be accompanied by traits such as gentleness and self-control. But you might say (as I often do), “I’m just not a patient person.” That might be true, in our natural life. However, the so-called Christian life is not to be lived out through our own effort; it’s truly a work of God’s Spirit within us.


My friend, Oswald Chambers, whom I look forward to meeting one day on the other side of eternity, writes in his devotional, My Utmost For His Highest, “we should continue to turn to God as children, being continuously converted every day of our lives. If we trust in our own abilities, instead of God’s, we produce consequences for which God will hold us responsible.”


A lack of innate patience, I suppose, might be my equivalent to the apostle Paul’s “thorn in the flesh.” I prayed for patience once, but was upset when God didn’t give it to me immediately. I continue to learn that the only path to patience is by going through circumstances that demand that I be patient.


But I do believe I’ve grown more patient than I used to be. Hopefully the other aspects of the fruit of the Spirit also manifest themselves more abundantly in my life than they once did. If that’s true, it’s not because of my own sweat and straining. It’s because God’s presence and power are becoming more evident in my life. As John the Baptist said of Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).


But why is our spiritual fruit-bearing important? Isn’t it enough that we demonstrate it from time to time, like when we go to church, attend a Bible study, or take part in some other kind of spiritual activity? 


Nope. Because bearing fruit is one of the evidences that we are true followers of Jesus Christ. If elements of the fruit of the Spirit, as listed above, are absent from our lives, it shows that we either are not truly His disciples, or that He still has a lot of work to do in our hearts.


Speaking to His disciples, Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit…. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples” (John 15:1-8).


So as we look out our windows and notice the trees have not yet begun to bud, and find our favorite spring and summer fruits can’t be found at the grocery store yet, we recognize we’re in a season of earthly dormancy. However, if someone were to visit your spiritual “fruit stand” and inspect your produce, would they find rich, ripe fruit?


As we’re still in the early stages of another year, this might be a good question to ask ourselves. If the answer is no, then we should rightly follow up that question with, “Why not?” 

Monday, January 4, 2021

Pondering Impossibilities, Possibilities, and Probabilities

Well, we’ve finally made the leap to 2021. Glad 2020 is over! How could a year with that name have been so out of focus? As they say, time marches on; sometimes it limps.


So here we are with a new year. Its potential and possibilities seem endless. Of course, some things aren’t possible. Unless you’re a card-carrying member of the PGA, you don’t have a shot at winning The Masters this spring. Even if it’s run on schedule this year, we won’t be riding the victorious horse in the Kentucky Derby. And we probably won’t win the lottery. (Since I don’t buy lottery tickets, that definitely reduces my chances!)


Odds are only slightly better for starring in a reality TV show. For most people, their reality is as thrilling as watching paint dry anyway. It’s also very unlikely Elon Musk will call, inviting us to board his next SpaceX flight, or to test-drive a Tesla. Do you really think the coach of your favorite football team will ask you to draw up some new plays?


But what about those things that are real possibilities – even probabilities? The things we can definitely accomplish, if only we have a mind to do so? Presuming virus restrictions are reduced or eliminated (they will, someday, won’t they?), we actually might be able to make that out-of-town, out-of-state, or even out-of-country trip we’ve looked forward to for so long. And we could finally undertake that hobby or project we’ve thought about so often. How about attempting to read through the Bible in a year?


Last year I was able to reconnect with several old friends and relatives, folks I hadn’t talked with literally for decades. I’d like to do more of that this year. When “auld acquaintances are forgot,” that’s not good. It’s fun rekindling relationships from the past. There are a number of other things I would like to finally get around to doing, things that could benefit myself and others.


A friend of mine used to show men he was mentoring an accountability chart, helping them to rate different areas in their lives, such as physical, mental, spiritual, financial, vocational and social. By evaluating themselves in each area, they could determine where improvements or changes were needed and consider how to go about doing that. How about you?


Physical. With the turmoil of the past year, many of us slacked off in caring for ourselves physically, not exercising as we should and not eating properly. Do you need to do something in this area? The Scriptures say, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).


Mental. In a very real sense, we’re engaged in a battle for our minds. How will we keep our thinking properly focused? “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…. Do not think of yourselves more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you” (Romans 12:2-3).


Spiritual. In addition to our physical, mental and emotional makeup, we’re also spiritual beings. Who – or what – truly holds our spiritual allegiance, our worship? “And He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind'” (Matthew 22:37). Jesus also said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).


Financial. The Bible teaches that rather than being owners, we are managers or stewards of what the Lord has provided. That should make a difference in how we handle our money and possessions. “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours…. Wealth and honor come from you…” (1 Chronicles 29:11-12).


Vocational. The work we do, whether full-time or part-time, in the home or outside of it, is an expression of service to God and others. How we approach it is a reflection of what we believe. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23-24).


Social. The Bible says much, not only about how we interact with others, but also about how we treat them. For instance, we’re told we need one another: 

“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts, and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ…. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:12-27).


The passages above have great depth of meaning, but as I look ahead to this new year, two phrases seem to stand out: “you are not your own,” and “it is the Lord Christ you are serving.” If we could keep those truths in the forefront of our minds, what a difference that would make.