Sunday, October 25, 2009

Tending the Garden for a Good Harvest: Faithfulness

Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

We’ve been studying the Fruit of the Spirit for seven weeks, and we’ve journeyed through love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and goodness. Every week I remind you that the Fruit of the Spirit is not nine separate “fruits” but indeed nine aspects of the same Fruit, and that it only comes from the Holy Spirit. We are privileged to have the God of the Universe live within us, and when we talk about the Fruit of the Spirit, it’s really all about His character showing through our lives.

This morning we’re going to start with a contest. Would all of the married people in the congregation please stand. [marriage longevity contest: ask for one thing that has kept them together this long]

The Greek word we are looking at this morning is pistis. This can cause some confusion, because this word carries different meanings throughout scripture. We understand that faith is necessary for salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.).

Faith is also set aside as a spiritual gift (Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by the means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit…)

But the kind of faith that Paul is talking about here is better described as fidelity, loyalty, and trustworthiness in one’s dealings with others. Pistis is the quality which describes “the man on whose faithful service we can rely on, on whose loyalty we may depend, whose word we can unreservedly accept. It describes the man in whom there is the unswerving and inflexible fidelity of Jesus Christ and the utter dependability of God”.

There is a reason we ask the marriage question when it comes to faithfulness; the Bible compares our relationship with Christ to a marriage relationship. In biblical Jewish culture, before a bride and groom were married, the groom would go to his father’s home and build on a room for the couple to share. Once the room was finished, he would go back and get his bride. So in John 14, when Jesus comforting his disciples, he tells them, In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. This is marriage language! A healthy, long marriage is the best example of faithfulness we can see.

In years past, we could look to our sports heroes and see a faithfulness – players to teams and teams to players. If I mention my favorite running back of all time, Walter Payton, you’d think “Chicago Bears.” If I mentioned Mickey Mantle, you’d know he played for the New York Yankees. But more recently, finances and egos have made team loyalty (from the standpoint of teams/organizations as well as players) a thing of the past. Like Brett Farve – I used to be a rather grudging fan of his; but now what team does he play for anyway? So anyway, I thank all of you whose marriages have stood the test of time to allow me to use you as examples!

It’s clear that faithfulness is an aspect of the Fruit of the Spirit, but what does faithfulness look like? After all, many of us never witnessed much faithfulness. I remember doing premarital counseling for a couple and I asked them about their families of origin. She told me that her parents had divorced when she was young, and they had both remarried. Her mom had subsequently divorced and married again. And again. She was on her fourth husband. Then the groom told me that his parents were divorced. But they had remarried. Each other. And they’d done this multiple times.

We often derive our view of God from our own parents, and this couple had been given a skewed view. His example showed him that faithfulness was only available when it was convenient. Her example, well, faithfulness was out of the question.

I think a lot of us have a similar view of God. When things are going well, when the sun is shining, when you’ve got a good job, when everyone is healthy, when your family is getting along, we consider ourselves “blessed” by God. Then when it’s cold and raining, when unemployment has run out, when the doctor gives you the bad news, when every night you cry over your wayward child, we wonder where God went, why He is absent.

Honestly, don’t we do this? I’ve never seen someone get a bonus at work and shake their fist at God asking, “Where are you?!”

I’ve referenced Exodus 34:5-7 frequently during this message series; it’s when Moses has gone up on Mount Sinai to get the Ten Commandments. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.”

This isn’t just God’s name; it’s His character. Abounding in faithfulness. King David certainly knew this aspect of God. In Psalm 36:5, he writes Your love, O LORD, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. In Psalm 57:10 For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. In Psalm 108:4 For great is your love, higher than the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies.

Do you think he was trying to say something significant? In Psalm 100:5 the Psalmist says For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. God’s faithfulness extends forever. “All generations” includes us.

Unfortunately, the people of God too often behave like the parents of the groom I mentioned earlier. In the history of Israel, we can see this clearly. In Genesis 12, God calls Abram and tells him to Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you. (Genesis 12:1-3)

In Genesis 15, God confirms his covenant with Abram. God tells Abram to “Look up at the heavens and count the stars – if indeed you can count them.” Then He said to him, “So shall your offspring be” (Genesis 15:5). Then there is this weird scene where the Lord tells Abram to bring him a heifer, a ram, and a goat. Abram cuts them in half and arranges them across from each other. That night, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. The meaning of this ritual was the confirming of a covenant; God was saying, in effect, “May it be done to me as was done to these animals if I forsake my end of this covenant.” I guess the way people make this kind of promise now is by saying “Cross my heart, hope to die.” And actually meaning it.

But we don’t mean it. We make promises lightly; it’s hard to talk about faithfulness because we don’t understand it. Throughout the Old Testament we see the history of God’s people. We see high points in their faithfulness, such as the Exodus, where God led Israel out of Egypt and they were faithful to Him and praised and thanked him. Exodus 15 records a song that Moses and the Israelites sang to the LORD. The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him. (Exodus 15:2).

On Mount Sinai, God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, and the people all responded together, “Everything the Lord has said, we will do.” (Exodus 24:3). Then the people confirmed the covenant with sacrifices.

But a few chapters later, we read that since Moses took so long up on the mountain with God, his brother Aaron led the people in building a golden calf to worship. Certainly a low point in Israel’s history, God’s people breaking covenant already. Then in Numbers 20, Moses, too, breaks covenant. He is provoked by the Israelites’ grumbling in the wilderness. God tells him to speak to the rock; it will pour out water. But Moses lashes out, “Listen you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Then Moses strikes the rock. God’s response to Moses: “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” (Numbers 20:12). Indeed, immediately before Moses dies, he is on Mount Nebo, looking over the Promised Land, and the Lord says to him, “I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.” (Deuteronomy 34:4b).

When Joshua takes over as leader of Israel, he makes this famous charge to the people. He tells the people: Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:14-15). They follow for a while, but then comes the book of Judges, one of the most tragic books ever, and 1 & 2 Samuel, 1& 2 Kings, 1& 2 Chronicles… God saves his people, they enjoy prosperity and peace, then they turn away and disobey, then disaster strikes, then they finally turn back to him and he saves them again. We see again and again that God is faithful, even when we are not.

In Luke 15:11-31, Jesus tells a story about a man with two sons. The younger son tells the father, “I wish you were dead so I could have my ½ of your money.” To the father gives him his share of the estate and the son takes off for Las Vegas and wastes all of his money in what the Bible calls “wild living”. Soon he finds himself broke and starving, so he gets a job feeding pigs, and he’s so hungry he longs to eat their food. Then he realized that his father’s servants actually had food to spare, so I’ll go back to his home and beg him to hire me.

I love this picture from Luke 15:20 But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. A good Jewish did not run. He did not disgrace himself by hiking up his robe to run. He would not go out to the son who had so disgraced his name. But this is how the father treated his son. He celebrated. He threw a party. “For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

This is the God we serve. He is faithful even when we aren’t. You might be saying, “What about Moses? Didn’t he get excluded from the Promised Land, just for one outburst? Maybe. In Matthew 17, as Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up to the mountain and is transfigured, who shows up? Elijah and Moses. In the Promised Land. Did you get that? Maybe I’m making too much of this, but it seems like God had mercy on Moses and lets him step foot in the Promised Land.

There is one reason for faithfulness, and one reason alone. Love. When we take our wedding vows, they’re all about love. We love each other enough that we’re willing to promise that no matter what, in sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer, till death do us part, we promise ourselves to one another. God’s faithfulness comes from his love, too. His unfailing, overflowing love for us. God loves us so much that He’s willing to do whatever it takes to make this thing work. Even send His Son, Jesus, to sacrifice Himself on the cross for our sake. Even to send Himself, in the Person of the Holy Spirit, to live within us.

You see, there is nothing we can do to void God’s faithfulness. In Romans 3:3, Paul asks a rhetorical question (about people who don’t have faith) “Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness?” And the answer is an extremely forceful: Not at all!

The Bible is a story of God’s faithfulness, even when his people are not faithful to him. If you want to boil down the gospel into one verse it’s this: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16). Salvation doesn’t come because we’re good. Salvation doesn’t come because we’ve done great things. Salvation doesn’t even come because we’re faithful. But salvation comes because God is faithful.

So, through the Holy Spirit, we reflect the qualities we learn from God in response to his unswerving, faithful loyalty to us.

Maybe this is where it gets hard for you; you’ve accepted Jesus’ gift of salvation, but you are constantly bombarded by temptation from every side. 1 Corinthians 10:12-13 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall! 13No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

And in his second letter to the Thessalonian church, Paul says, But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command. May the Lord direct your hearts into God's love and Christ's perseverance. (2 Thess 3:3-5)

So we can be sure that God will uphold his part; what is our part? Our part is to be faithful. It’s going to be hard. Jesus challenged his disciples to count the cost of faithfulness: If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23) Being faithful to God is a big deal. It’s not easy. It means denying selfish desires. For Jesus, faithfulness meant actually taking up a cross and going to his death. It’s hard, but it’s absolutely worth it.

When Jesus charges his disciples to faithfulness, he says this (in Luke 16:10-13) "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else's property, who will give you property of your own? "No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money."

When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we are drawn to serve one Master, to serve Him only, and to serve him with everything we are. Remember the lesson from Moses and Aaron: Aaron set up something else to worship (in his case, a golden calf). Moses disobeyed God’s clear command. Remember the charge from Joshua: choose this day whom you will serve. They were smart back in those days; they recognized that there was never the option not to serve something. Or as Bob Dylan put it, you’ve gotta serve somebody.

Then understand and recognize that being faithful and loyal to God means putting him first, above everything else. Everything. Later Jesus was even more forceful on the issue. In Luke 14:26, he puts it this way: If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple. Meaning that your identity is no longer in your family, and your allegiance is no longer primarily to your family, but first to God.

So if your allegiance and loyalty is to God first, then you will necessarily order everything around Him. Perhaps the most widely memorized and quoted scripture in all of history worldwide is Deuteronomy 6:4-9 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

Did you notice how the Shema orders life? Love God with everything. Be faithful to God in everything. Listen to His commands and memorize them; allow them to become part of you. Don’t just teach them to your children, but live them with your kids, model them for them. Fill your whole life with following Him. Make visual reminders everywhere. Everything in your entire life should point toward Jesus. If I looked at your calendar or your appointment book, it should show that you love Jesus. If I looked at your finances, what’s first?

1 Thessalonians 5:24 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Tending the Garden for a Good Harvest: Goodness

It was Friday night in Atlanta, Georgia. For two solid days, we had worshiped with 12,000 pastors and church leaders, listening to fantastic speakers and being challenged. And eating stadium food at stadium prices. We decided we wanted to eat somewhere else, somewhere authentically Atlanta. Though I was hoping for some places I saw on Man Vs. Food, they would have required an hour+ drive back into the city, and we didn’t want that. But there was another place that came recommended by the Travel Channel, authentically Atlanta, something you couldn’t get anywhere else. In fact, their website brags that they have been serving customers since 1928 – and people come from all over the world to experience… The Varsity.

Now, despite being a cavernous place with a line of bored cashiers (one of whom was shouting “Whatllyahave” repeatedly, everything looked pretty good. The menu looked really good. We were all really hungry (especially since we had been waiting around all evening for Rudy to get off the phone), so we were excited to get our food.

When we got our food, and when we began eating it, we learned two important lessons. Don’t trust the travel channel, and just because something looks good doesn’t mean it is good.

Today we are looking at the sixth aspect of the Fruit of the Spirit: goodness. Like Rusty said last week about “kindness”, goodness is one of those mushy terms like neato and nice. On the surface, there seems to be a lot of overlap between kindness and goodness, and even the Greek term (Chrestotes), which means kindness, includes in its definition “goodness.”

The word here for goodness is (agathasune), which comes from the root agathos which means “good.” The kind of goodness we’re talking about is moral uprightness of heart and life, an attitude of generous kindness to others, even being happy to do more than required.

After looking at some tough aspects of the Fruit of the Spirit, it’s finally nice to get something easy. I mean, I know we will end up talking about self-control, but it’s nice to not be talking about patience again, isn’t it? We’re a bunch of good people, right? I mean, isn’t that what we’ve been trying for all our lives? To be good? Just look around: you’re surrounded by a bunch of good people, right? Or, if you’re not surrounded by good people, at least you’re good. You look good, at least! But I’m reminded that the Varsity looked like a good place to eat, too.

Last week, however, Rusty read a scripture from Romans 3:10-12. As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.

No one does good. Not even one. What does this mean? It means if you’ve come in here to show people how good you are, you can take the mask off now. And it means if you somehow think you’re morally better than someone else, you can give that notion up as well. What is “good enough” anyway? I’ll tell you what good enough is. You know the Ten Commandments? Well, good enough starts with having always kept all Ten. Starts. Good enough is this: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on the cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back (Luke 6:27-35).

We’re really good at that, aren’t we? Really, what the world sees of us is we’re a bunch of self-righteous hypocrites who hate anyone who isn’t like us. Self-righteous because we make determinations as to which sins are ‘bad’ and which ones are OK – and those determinations are based on which ones we do. And that makes us hypocrites as well, as we go on sinning while at the same time offering condemnation for others.

We don’t set out to be bad. At least most of us don’t. But who can relate to the words the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome: I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing (Romans 7:18-19).

In Mark 10, when a rich young ruler approaches Jesus, he addresses him as “Good teacher” and asked him how to get eternal life. Jesus responds, “Why do you call me good? No one is good –except God alone” (Mark 10:17-18).

Understand that in the OT and in subsequent Judaism, only God was characteristically called Good. Jesus affirms this, which was also to say that human achievement was insufficient for gaining eternal life. Only by an utter reliance on God could anyone hope for eternal life.

Do you see the problem here?

God is defined by his goodness. Remember when I defined avgaqwsu,nh for you? It is generous kindness to others, even being happy to do more than required. Doesn’t that define God’s grace? Last week Rusty defined God’s grace as getting all of God’s blessings when we deserve none. This is God’s goodness. A God who created us in His image and gave us the ability to make choices, good or bad. And we continually make bad choices. This contrast is why we give God a bad name. People say, “How can your God be so good when His people are so bad?” Obviously we don’t want to be bad. But our culture, even Christian culture, often tells us that it’s by our goodness that we achieve eternal life. Even if not specifically stated this way, that’s the practical theology many of us live by. “As long as we’re good enough…”

So how do we change this? How can we be good? Or, another way to put it: how can we, as self-determining creatures who are prone to fall, to do the evil we do not want to do, how can we come to the maturity of moral character that reflects the goodness of God?

This can occur only by the power of the Holy Spirit. God’s plan for redemption can only be accomplished when God’s own Spirit dwells in the fallen human heart so as to refashion it.

In Psalm 16:1-2, King David prays: Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge. I said to the LORD, "You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing."

Apart from God, we have no good thing. And apart from God, we do no good thing. But it is in God’s nature to give us good gifts, and not just OK good gifts, but truly Good Gifts. I remember begging for the Land of the Jawas playset for Christmas one year. I got it, and was quite disappointed to find that the sandcrawler was just cardboard, which quickly ended up in the garbage. That was a gift I’d asked for, but it wasn’t really a good gift. God, on the other hand, gives truly Good gifts.

In Luke 11, Jesus asks “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13).

You see, this gift of God trumps every other possible gift. And goodness can only be present in our lives through God, who gives us Himself, the Holy Spirit, who comes to live within us.

And here is the way the Holy Spirit works: He changes us from the inside out. Matthew 7:17 reminds us that every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.

So what does it look like when we begin to bear good fruit?

James, the brother of Jesus, wrote this in James 1:27: Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. Are you looking after orphans and widows? Last week at the Catalyst Conference, we were given leather key chains with the number 143 on them. Representing the 143 million orphans in the world today. 143 million.

This past month at our Council on Ministries meeting, Karen Reed brought information that she had gotten from a United Methodist Women’s gathering, horrifying information about human trafficking. Did you know that the slave trade is alive and well? The average age of a trafficked victim is 11-14 years old. Every 2 minutes a child is being prepared for exploitation. You might think this is a phenomenon that is far from us – maybe Africa or Asia, but the FBI reports that over 300,000 children in the United States are at risk of being sexually exploited for commercial uses. In fact, Columbus and Toledo, Ohio are two centers for child exploitation. It’s not far away at all.

I would personally rather not even know about this. I wish I didn’t. But now that we do, we have a duty to do something about it, to show God’s goodness into the darkest of circumstances. You see, we don’t just have this information just so we can feel bad about orphans and exploited children. We have this information so we can do something about it. My family has supported a boy in Uganda for quite a long time through Compassion International. This is a great way to do something about the problem, to show God’s goodness in concrete and tangible ways.

In Isaiah 58, the prophet presents a picture of a people who want to hear from God, and they want God to hear from them, so they’re going through all of the “right” channels; they’re fasting and praying, but God responds this way:

Isaiah 58 5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it only for bowing one's head like a reed
and for lying on sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD ?

an 6"Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?

7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness
will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.

9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
"If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,

10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.

11 The LORD will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.

I understand this is hard. It’s not the way our culture is wired. We’re wired to look after mine and myself, too look out for #1. But this is exactly the way God is wired. This is God’s heart. God calls us to follow His heart, to allow the Holy Spirit to lead us.

We live in dark days. But if we call on God, crying for help, if we do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, if we spend ourselves in behalf of the hungry, and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, God gives us a promise.

His light will shine into the darkness. He will guide us and satisfy our needs. He will strengthen us. And we will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. We’ve been talking about tending a garden for a good harvest; isn’t this what we’re asking for?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Tending the Garden for a Good Harvest: Kindness

Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Note: this sermon was prepared and delivered by Rusty Simpson. I am simply posting the notes I took while he preached in order to keep the series intact.

Kindness comes from the Greek word chrestotes, which means goodness, gentleness, excellence, uprightness or the goodness of one's heart toward another. This can include the goodness of God's heart toward us.

The Bible is all about God's kindness to us. We fall away, but He shows kindness to us and brings us back to Himself. Anything good that happens to us in our lives is an example of kindness from God.

Unfortunately, we often fail at kindness. Two kindness failures are shallow kindness and lack of kindness altogether.

Shallow kindness
is when you "pretend" to be kind but really don't care. Like a salesman might do to try to get a sale. James 2:15-16
Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?

A lack of kindness is when Christians fail to be kind at all.
I was going to link to Westboro Baptist (not really a)church here, as Rusty mentioned them, but their whole website is so hate-filled and horrible that it made me feel sick to even look at it. If you want to see an example of someone who makes all Christians look bad, you can google them. But be warned: this isn't for the faint of heart, and though they may claim to, they don't speak for Jesus.
We often fail to be kind in personal relationships - why is it that when we have a bad day, the ones we lash out at are usually the ones who are closest to us?

So, how do we fix this? Our Brokenness + God's Grace = Kindness

Our brokenness is the fertilizer in a well-tended garden. It smells, but it is necessary for growing kindness. It is in these broken times when we can best recognize how lost we are without God. This is the point where we can best respond to Him.

Rusty shared an article Philip Yancey (one of my personal favorite authors) wrote for Christianity Today magazine called The Benefits of Brokenness. In it, Yancey references a speech he made for Christians involved in 12 step programs like A.A. During the speech he said this:
It occurred to me that what recovering alcoholics confess every day—personal failure, and the daily need for grace and help from friends and a Higher Power—represent high hurdles for those of us who take pride in our independence and self-sufficiency.
They recognize that they can't do it on their own.

When we get to this point, we can recognize that we are in the exact same boat as others, and we can begin to sympathize with our fellow humans. This levels the playing field; we're no better than anyone else. In fact, Romans 3:10-12 puts it this way: As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one."

The good news is that God shows grace: his kindness. Grace is getting all of God's blessings when we deserve none. When we understand our brokenness, we are thankful for what we have and don't have to compare ourselves with others.

Luke 15 tells the story of the Prodigal Son, who left home, taking his half of the inheritance, and spending it in the Bible-times version of Las Vegas. He finally realized that he'd screwed up, so he came home, hoping to be treated as one of his father's servants. The father showed grace, not because the son deserved it, but because he loved him.

We've been shown infinite grace; to show kindness to others, especially those who are different from us (including those who are living "sinful lifestyles") isn't celebrating what they do; it is celebrating God's love. The father in the Luke 15 story wasn't celebrating how the son had degraded himself; he was celebrating that his son had returned.

So how does this work together to help us show kindness?

When we recognize the kindness that God has shown us and we recognize that we're on a level playing field with everyone else, we can then show kindness. This doesn't mean we're permissive or overlook sin, but we love each other despite our sin.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Tending the Garden for a Good Harvest: Patience

2 Peter 3:8-9 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends. With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

Over the past four weeks, we’ve been looking at the fruit of the Spirit, aspects of the Holy Spirit that are necessarily evident in the lives of Christians. We started out talking about love, how God is love – His love overflows into us, and when we are full of the Holy Spirit, His love overflows from us as well. We talked about joy, how the Holy Spirit enables us to be joyful even in tough circumstances. Last weekend we talked about peace, and for many of us, that peace was tested this week in a time of tragedy.

Remember that when we talk about the Fruit of the Spirit, we’re not talking about nine different “fruits” that we can pick and choose from; we are talking about nine different aspects of the same Fruit – that all nine are evident in the lives of those who the Holy Spirit indwells. Remember also that the Holy Spirit is not just some impersonal force, but is a Person. This is important as we discuss the next aspect of the Fruit of the Spirit.

When we talk about love, joy, and peace, I can’t imagine someone not wanting these. In fact, I can’t really imagine someone not wanting these. But when it comes to the next aspect of the Fruit of the Spirit, well, maybe we don’t want to work as hard for it.

Today we’re talking about patience. Sometimes it’s hard to deal with outside circumstances beyond our control; I remember a colleague and his wife showing up late to an office Christmas party; she was so flustered about being the last one there that when the waiter asked her for a drink order she spluttered, “Give me something strong!” The waiter started giving a list of alcoholic beverages that were available at the bar, but she went on, “Bring me a coffee! Decaf!”

She was riled up because of the circumstances. There are other people who are cool, calm and collected in the face of tough circumstances. If you’ve been reading the newsletter, you already know that the Greek word for is hypomone.

This isn’t the kind of patience we’re talking about today. Today’s aspect of the Fruit of the Spirit is makrothumia, which in the King James translation, is often rendered “longsuffering.” This kind of patience is specific to interpersonal relationships. This is what we read of when we read verses like this: Colossians 3:12-13 Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Patience, longsuffering, is characterized by bearing with each other and forgiving grievances.

This is probably the most foreign aspect of the fruit of the spirit that we’ve talked about yet. We are extremely impatient when it comes to outside circumstances – we want what we want, and we want it now! And we are even less patient with other people than with circumstances. I mean, honestly, this is the one aspect of the fruit of the Spirit that I see as severely lacking right here in our community – in our church even.

I was meeting with some of my pastor friends this week and one of my friends mentioned someone who consistently gets under his skin. This person was at it again, and my friend asked us our opinion on the conflict. Another friend asked, “If it had been I who had done this, would you be so upset?” Truth was, he was upset less because of the circumstance, but more because of the person. He was a repeat offender, if you know what I mean.

Many of us have this kind of person in our lives. Maybe it’s a family member. Maybe it’s an old friend who you’ve had a falling-out with. Maybe it’s a friend of a friend. Maybe it’s “The Onion” who sucks the joy out of every room. Some of you have already come up with a mental picture of that person, that really hard to love person.

I think we can all think of someone who is hard to love, who is hard to bear with. Who is hard to forgive. In fact, we can probably think of someone we absolutely do not want to treat this way. We would much rather ignore them. Or withhold forgiveness from them. When it comes down to it, it’s pretty clear that we’re not very patient with one another. We all have things and certain people that push our buttons. Sometimes they seem purposely to do things to push our buttons. Doesn’t that frustrate you? It does me!

It can be easy to get frustrated and do everything in our power to steer clear of people like that, and honestly, when we encounter those certain people, the fight or flight reflex starts kicking in: we want to fight them or get out of there! That’s just natural! We’d rather spend our time with those loving, joyful, peaceful people we talked about over the last three weeks!

Did you know, however, that when we talk about patience, the ultimate example of patience is God himself? In Exodus 34, God is giving Moses the 10 Commandments. In verse 5, it says that the LORD came down in the cloud and stood with Moses and proclaimed his name, the Lord. In verses 6-7a, it continues: And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin.”

This isn’t just God talking; He’s saying what his name means! This is a fantastic summary of who God is. Did you get that “slow to anger” part? That is the Hebrew word for “longsuffering” or “patience.” That is who God is.

And because God is like this, we read scriptures like we read earlier: 2 Peter 3:8-9 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends. With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

God’s patience is purposeful. God is patient and loving with us because He loves us and he wants us to turn toward him.

And God calls us to treat those hard to “bear with” people the same way. He calls us to treat them with his love. In Matthew 25, Jesus presents a picture of judgment day, when all people are gathered before him, and he separates the people as a shepherd separates sheep from goats.

"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'

"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'

"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

Think of that person you have a hard time loving. Think of that person who takes every ounce of your patience not to punch. Whatever you did for that person, you did for Jesus. Anyone here good at this? Especially when those “least of these” stay in the same place and keep doing the same wrong things over and over again?

Am I the only one who gets fed up with people who keep on doing the same things? But Paul writes this in Romans 2:1-4 You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance, and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?

God’s patient kindness leads us toward repentance. And we as Christians are supposed to be vessels of the Holy Spirit: God Himself lives within us! So we don’t have to rely on our own patience, but pray for God to be patient through us!

Paul tells Timothy this in 1 Timothy 1:15-16 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.

God has shown patience to each of us, even though, if you’re anything like me, you keep doing the same things over and over again. Yet in us, the worst of sinners, Jesus Christ displays his unlimited patience. Wow! And Peter echoes Paul. 2 Peter 3:15 Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.

You see it’s all about God’s timing – and He isn’t in a hurry. He wants everyone to come to him. And if we let him, he will work through us as well.