“Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15

Until about 2 years ago, I was the queen of the leftovers.  I would plan meals so that not only did we have leftovers for lunch the next day, but I had leftover meat to use for another recipe.  In cooking, this was efficient and great.  I would still be the queen, but my royal subjects eat all my food now.  No matter how much I make, the Beetle and the Goose devour it, so the leftover days are gone.

I wish I could say the same for my spiritual life.  Unfortunately, most days, I’m still the queen of the leftovers.   When it comes to my spiritual walk, that’s not a good thing.  I am only giving God the left over time in my day instead of putting Him first.

There have been times in my life when I made sure to study my Bible and pray every morning.  However, these times were usually short-lived.  This is something I have struggled with since the beginning of time. (Or at least, the beginning of my time.)  It’s hard to make time for God!  As terrible as that sounds, it’s true.

Anyone who has been to church more than once in their lives has probably heard the preacher’s illustration of filling a jar.  If you have large stones, rocks, pebbles and sand to fit into a jar, the order in which you put it matters.  If you put the sand and pebbles in first, they will fill up the jar and not leave room for the large stones and rocks.  However, if you put the large stones first, then you can put the rocks next.  The pebbles and sand will go in easily as they will fill in the cracks around the bigger items.  The point is, if we put the important things first in our day, the rest will get done because they will just trickle in around the important ones.  That’s an illustration I think of often as I wonder where my day has gone and realize that I let the sand fill my time.

So many days, I hit the ground running.  I wake up and immediately think of all the things that have to be done before I can go back to bed.  I put in a load of laundry, get started working, do the dishes, etc.  I let all the little pebbles fill my jar, while the large stones and rocks wait to the side, never getting done.  It’s when I remember to put the important things in my day first that I get more accomplished.  I would imagine every mother out there struggles with the same thing.  There’s just so much to do and so little time to get it done!

Through the years, I’ve heard some suggestions on how to better fit Bible study and prayer into a daily schedule.  This list is by no means complete.  I would love to hear what anyone else wants to suggest.  This is something I struggle with, as I am sure many of you do too.

Here’s the list so far:

- Find a good Bible study book that interests you.  If you have a reason to study, you are more likely to study.

- Read the Psalms.  Study one or two a day as this will keep you busy for at least a month.

- Keep a prayer journal.  I have done this on and off during my adult years.  It is encouraging to go back and read my prayers from the past and know how they have been answered.  As an example, I prayed for a year and a half for a second child, and I just knew I was going to die if I didn’t get one.  The Goose proves that God answered that prayer in His time.

- Use a prayer rock.  Now, this sounds silly, but it works.  Use a rock to remind you to pray.  At night, put it on the floor so you step on it in the morning.  You’ll remember to pray.  Then, in the morning, put it on your pillow so you’ll see it (or feel it!) when you go to bed.  Then, you’ll remember to pray again.

- Specify certain things to pray for each day of the week.  That way, you feel motivated to pray, since you have a “reason.” (As if we don’t already have a million reasons!)  Here’s a suggested schedule:

Sunday – Pray for the growth and strength of your church family

Monday – Pray for the physical and spiritual health of your physical family

Tuesday – Pray for those who are sick and hurting

Wednesday – Pray for those who are lost

Thursday – Pray for the military and those in the community who serve us through various occupations

Friday – Pray for the government

Saturday – Pray for yourself for strength, wisdom and the fruits of the spirit

What are some other tricks that you use to get into God’s word and into prayer daily?  I would love to hear any suggestions you have.  Maybe they will help me not to be the queen of the leftovers!  -Al

I had the privilege of helping to pressure wash a pool deck the other day.  Really, it was kind of fun, until afterwards when I thought my arms were going to fall off.  I never knew pressure washing was so physical.  It looked like I was just going to be squirting water on things.  I did not know that it would take so much strength to hold the spray of water in place.

I had a few thoughts as I worked.  (I told you, working makes me think.  I should try it more often!) 

First, I realized that ants get very angry when you pressure wash them.  That’s not really useful information, unless you are planning on washing something.  However, as I look at my ant-bitten feet, I can’t help but remember that lesson.

Second, I realized that spider webs are really, really strong.  I knew this already, but I had no idea how strong.  As the pressure washer was ridding the screen of mildew and gunk, it couldn’t get rid of the spider webs.  They just hung there, flailing about, avoiding the spray.  It was kind of irritating.  (Of course, the spider probably found it really irritating that I was trying to wash her hard work down the drain.)

Third, I realized something that might actually be helpful.  I realized that pressure washing is a lot like trying to live a Christian life.  Hear me out, and I think you’ll agree.

As I washed the deck, there was a lot of mildew and dirt on the tiles.  I would squirt the water and get the river of gunk moving towards the back corner of the pool.  I would get the area around me clean, and then I would look up to start pressure washing the screen.  As I looked back down, though, I would find the gunk creeping back into my clean area.  Then, I would squirt it again, a little farther.  I did this over and over and over.  As I went, the dirty water became cleaner and cleaner, because the grime and mud were draining out into the yard.  The more I squirted, the more dirt I moved out of the area, but some dirt was still there.  The longer I worked at it, the cleaner the water got.  Finally, I managed to get all of the mildew and grime out of the pool area, and I could look back and see a pristine, mildew-free deck area.  Victory was mine after a long battle with the grime!

I couldn’t help but think of the similarities to sin in our lives.  Those of us who are Christians are trying.  We really are.  We aren’t perfect, but we are trying to live in a way that God wants us to.  We work and work and work to move the river of sin out of our lives, but then we get distracted.  As we look away, just like looking up at the screen, sin starts to creep back in.  If we act fast, we can squirt it again to get it moving out again, but we have to do this over and over.  If we lose focus, the sin takes back over, so we have to keep working at getting rid of it.  The more we work at it, the cleaner our lives look, but some sin is still there.  Eventually, with the grace of God, we will be able to look back at our lives and say, “Victory is mine!”

The Bible tells us to keep working on pressure washing our lives. (Okay, maybe it doesn’t mention pressure washing, but you get the point.)  Read these verses:

Acts 20:24   But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus--the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.

2 Timothy 2:15  Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth.

1 Timothy 6:12  Fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you, which you have confessed so well before many witnesses.

2 Timothy 4:7  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.

How is your pressure washing going?  Are you keeping an eye on the river of sin, or have you lost focus?  It’s not too late if sin is creeping back in.  Just spray it towards the exit, and your life will look cleaner and cleaner as you go.  It will get easier to serve God as you keep practicing, and your water will get cleaner and cleaner.  Don’t give up the fight.  Remember that we are working towards a goal.  We want to finish pressure washing so we can hear God say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:23)   -Al

I don’t know about you, but I do some of my best thinking when I am working.  If  I am doing housework or other tasks that don’t require a lot of brain power, my mind wanders to all kinds of topics.  Today, I was helping my husband finish a project.  My job was to grout a tile counter top.  I love to grout.  (Really, I do!)  It’s soothing to squish a mud-like substance into cracks.  For a while I made mosaic projects.  My two favorite parts of the projects were getting to break things and grouting.  Squishing stuff into the cracks is fun!

I started thinking as I grouted that it was very symbolic of what God does for us.  He grouts our lives, so to speak.

You see, we are broken.  We’re cracked.  We’re chipped.  The world and sin have busted us up inside.  Romans 3:23 tells us, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  We are all hurting in some way, whether it’s from our own sin or from the sin of others around us.  We are like mosaics; we are made of many broken pieces.

If you’ve ever looked at a mosaic project or a tile floor before it is grouted, it doesn’t look very good.  A mosaic looks like a bunch of broken pieces.  A tile floor just looks incomplete, and sweeping it is not fun because the dirt falls into the cracks.  Once it is grouted, though, it is beautiful.  A mosaic changes from a bunch of shards to a piece of art.  A tile floor looks complete and wonderful.

God’s love and mercy are our grout.  Until we allow Him to fill in the cracks, we look broken.  We are ugly and incomplete.  When His love fills in the cracks, we become beautiful pieces of art.  We are His creation, and we are made whole through Him.  Our speech becomes sweeter.  Our attitudes become better.  Our lives become happier.  He completes us.

Some other verses that talk about God completing us are Colossians 2:9-10 and Ephesians 3:19.

When we are at our most broken, God can fill the cracks.  He can fix things that others can’t.  He can use our problems, our trials and our sadness to make a beautiful life.  Romans 8:28 is one of my favorite verses.  It says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”  I love that verse because it assures me that, no matter how badly I mess up, God can fix it.

If you are feeling cracked, let God fill in the cracks.  Let Him smooth over the roughness in your life, and you can be transformed into a beautiful piece of art.  Hold onto the promise that God will use all things to His glory if you love Him and follow Him.  You will be a finished creation soon.   -Al

A few weeks ago in church, I heard just what I needed to hear.  It’s amazing how God has a way of doing that.  He gives you just what you need when you need it.  (I won’t mention the speaker’s name, since I don’t have his permission to do so.  He probably got it from someone else, so I’m not sure who really should get the credit.  The credit goes to God anyway, so it doesn’t matter who said it first.)

The speaker stood up to lead the contribution on Sunday morning.  I have struggled for a while now with the passing of the contribution plates, because I never feel like I give enough.  We have been living on a shoe string budget for so long, and I just feel like my measly little donation is inadequate compared to what Christ has done for me.   In life, I have felt like I have been on the receiving end so many times.  I look forward to (and pray for) a day when I can give to others as they have given to me.  I think that’s why the speaker’s message struck me.

Matthew 6:26 says, “Consider the birds in the air.  They do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not much more valuable than they?”

I have always thought about that verse as saying that the birds don’t have to worry about where their next meal is coming from, and if they don’t have to worry, we shouldn’t either.  I still think that is what was meant by this verse.  However, the speaker I heard brought up another good point.

Have you ever seen geese migrating?  They fly in a V formation.  They do this because they are drafting.  The lead bird is doing most of the work, while the ones in the back are not working as hard.  Then, when the lead bird gets tired, he falls back and another takes the lead.

This is how it is in a church family, a physical family or a circle of friends.  Sometimes, one person seems to be doing the leading, whether it is through their financial donations, through their time they are giving or through their resources they are using.  Meanwhile, other members are benefiting from their work.  Then, when the lead person gets tired or gets sick or runs out of money or resources, another person steps up to take the lead.  It’s amazing how many times in church you see a new family move into the area just in time to take over a ministry that is faltering.  God knows what he is doing.

Many years ago, I think I was one of the lead birds.  I don’t mean that in a bragging way.  It’s just a fact.  I was involved in just about every way possible in church.  I cooked for others.  I hosted showers for others.  I taught others’ children.  I sent cards and made visits to others.  I did for others non-stop.  Then, one day, I got tired (more accurately, I got emotionally hurt, and we became financially broke all around the same time), and I had to fall back.  Other birds took the lead, and I began benefiting from their work.  Over the years, they have cooked for me and taught my kids and sent me cards.  They gave us tools when ours burned, and they have given us money and help when needed.

I have felt guilty that I have received so much instead of giving.  I have looked back at the time that I was able to give and to do, and I have wondered what is wrong with me now.  I have thought that I am failing because I am not able to lead and to give and to do like I was then.  However, the illustration about the birds helped me to realize that it’s okay.  I don’t have to be in the lead all the time.  That’s what it means to be part of a church family.  That little 5 minute blurb before passing the contribution plates has helped me so much!  The guilt of receiving from others has been replaced with the knowledge that someday, I’ll be the one giving again.

I think this illustration applies to our lives in many ways, whether we are talking about our church family, our physical family or our friends.  There will be times that we will b
So, if you are feeling like the bird in the back of the flock, and you are feeling down on yourself, stop it!  Just know that you are resting up so that when the lead bird gets tired, you can soar.  -Al

I always find it amazing how children can look just like their parents.  People say the Goose looks just like her father.  (Other people say she looks just like me.)  I think it depends on who she is standing close to, because she looks just like both of us.  The Beetle is the same way.  Most people say he looks just like his father, but I see my side of the family. 

What is more amazing is how adopted children grow to look like their families.  Have you ever noticed it?  It’s strange how, even though there is no blood relation, they grow to look like the family they love.  I’ve actually said to a mother, “She looks just like you!” only to be told that the child is adopted.

I realized tonight in Bible class that this is how we as Christians are with God.  The Bible tells us several times that we have been adopted into God’s family.  Some of these verses are:

Ephesians 1:5 “God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.”

John 1:12 “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”

1 John 3:1 “See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are!”

Just as adopted children grow to look like their adoptive families more and more, we will grow to look like God more and more.  The closer we get to him, the more we will resemble him.  The question is, how can we get closer to God?

1. We can talk to God.  1 Thessalonians 5:17 says, “Pray without ceasing.”  I don’t believe this means that we are to kneel in prayer day and night.  God expects us to get work done.  We have to live life.  We can’t spend every waking moment in prayer.  I do believe this means that we should have a constant conversation with God.  Though sometimes we need to stop and be still and talk to God, we can also talk to God throughout our day while we go about our lives.  For example, did you lose your keys and then find them?  Thank God!  Did you get an unexpected bonus at work?  Thank God!  Did you see a car accident on the way to work? Ask God to be with those involved.  Are you feeling nervous and tense?  Ask God to help you through your day.  Talk to him!  He is a friend, and he is there to listen to you.

2. We can listen to God.  This listening can be in the form of Bible study.  Although a sit-down study session is great in theory, it doesn’t always happen.  Even if you read only one scripture, it’s one more than you knew before!  You can also hear God by listening to good music.  Sign up for devotional emails.  Talk to Godly friends.  Sit and look at nature.  These are all things that God can use to speak to you.  Are you listening for him?

3. We can look for ways to share God.  So many times, we run through life, just reacting to the situations that arise.  When is the last time you planned to do something for God?  I don’t mean agreeing to teach a Bible class because someone asked you.  While that is still good, it is a reaction to their asking you.  Instead, decide ahead of time how you will serve God tomorrow.  Will you do a good deed?  Maybe you’ll do something as simple as handing a bottle of water to a homeless person.  Will you encourage someone?  Just sending a card can make someone’s day.  Will you let someone else see Christ through you?  Making the decision to respond nicely to that person you know is going to be rude to you at work will change things.  You never know.

As we talk to God, listen to God and look for ways to share God, we will become more godly.  We are the adopted children of God, and we will grow to look more like him.  Maybe we will be fortunate enough to overhear someone talking about us and saying, “She looks just like her Father!”    -Al

Sometimes when I look at the list of Fruit of the Spirit, I get discouraged.  I know these are things that God will add to me as I develop and grow as a Christian, but I want them now! (I guess I haven’t grown much patience yet.)  However, the last fruit, self control, gives me encouragement.  Why?  Because it tells me we are never going to be perfect and God doesn’t expect us to.

Think about it.  If we could grow to perfection, we would be abundantly loving, joyful, patient, kind, good, faithful and gentle.  Why would we need self control?  We would already be perfect!  But God tells us we will grow more self controlled.  Therefore, we will never be perfect and should not beat ourselves up if we aren’t perfect in all the other areas.

Have you ever known someone who lacked self control?  We all lack it in some way or another, but have you ever known someone who had virtually no self control?  Chances are, he or she was in a sad situation.  I read a Proverb this morning that I had never heard before.  “A person without self-control is like a city with broken-down walls.”  That’s quite an image isn’t it?  If we don’t practice self control, all kinds of things can go into us and come out of us, just like a city that isn’t protected by walls.

God tells us that we are going to be tempted.  Even Christ was tempted. You can read about it in Matthew 4.  After Jesus had fasted for 40 days, Satan tempted him by telling him to make stones into bread.  Jesus’ answer started with, “It is written.”  When we are tempted, a great way to combat that is to follow His example and go to the Word.  The more we study and the more we pray, the more self control we will develop.

According to Romans 12:1-2, we are to be a living sacrifice to God.  That means that we are to work to give up our own wants to follow Him and do His will.  The problem with a living sacrifice is that it keeps crawling off the altar.  We have to put ourselves back into the will of God over and over and over.  We will keep messing up, and we have to keep repenting and trying again. 

Just like everything in life, self control gets easier with practice.  I was thinking about the time a few years ago when the Beetle got a Ripstick for Christmas.  In case you don’t know what that is, it’s a skateboard with crazy wheels.  It only has two wheels instead of four, and they move in every direction.  You have to use balance and skill to make the thing work.

The Beetle wanted a Ripstick so badly, and he was so excited when he got it.  I insisted that he wear protective gear, and I reminded him before sending him out the door that we had no medical insurance.  He went outside, jumped on and immediately fell down.  He got on again and fell again.  This child of mine was so determined to ride that thing that he got on over and over and over again, and he fell over and over and over again.  Pretty soon, he could stay on for at least three seconds before falling.  Then, it was five seconds.  He worked at that thing for hours until he was exhausted and bleeding.  The next day, he did it again, and the next day, he did it again.  Eventually, the Beetle got pretty good at riding the Ripstick, and he could stay on for a while unless he hit a bump.  Fast forward a few years of practice.  Now, the Beetle rides that thing better than he can walk.  It is amazing to watch him.  He can whip in and out, avoid bumps and keep himself falling even when he hits a bump.  He still falls occasionally, but more often, he stays on and makes it look easy.  Through practice, he prevailed.

That is so symbolic for what our lives should be!  When we are new Christians, we will fall constantly.  With practice, living the life we should will get a little easier and a little easier.  Over time, we will get better at walking the Christian walk.  We will become more loving and more joyful and more of all of the fruits of the spirit.  After years, we may even reach the point where we make it look easy.  That doesn’t mean we will never fall, but it does mean we will fall less and succeed more.  When we do fall, we will know how to pick ourselves up and start again.

My hope for you and for me is that we can grow and develop in the ways of Galatians 5:22-23.  I pray that our fruit will continue to grow and that we will grow more self controlled day by day.  On days when it is harder, remember that you are running a marathon.  It won’t always be easy, but endurance is the key.  Hopefully, some day, we will be able to quote Paul and mean it as we say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.”  (2 Tim. 4:7)                                                                                          -Al

To my friends,

It seems like so many of you are going through hard times right now.  In life, there’s always a storm that's brewing.  So many of you are hurting, and I wish I could fix your hurts.  I can’t, but I can pray for you, and God will help.  He always does, whether you realize it or not.  He will help you weather the storm.

I want you to know that some good is coming from your hurts.  You might not know it, but it is.  You are serving as an example to your children, your family and your friends, like me.  You are an inspiration to me, and I wanted you to know.

This is to the one who is in a struggling marriage.  You have stood by your husband and offered him forgiveness though he didn’t deserve it.  You have been patient, but at the same time, you’ve done what was needed to protect your children and yourself.  By being a good mother and a good wife, you inspire me.

To the one who is struggling financially right now, you have held your head up high.  You haven’t even told most people how badly you are hurting.  You are wondering how you will pay for groceries next week or how you will keep your electricity on.  You have inspired me by not giving up and by keeping the faith.  God knows, and He will provide. You inspire me.

To the one who was hurt so badly by your church family.  You have kept a positive spirit, even in times of turmoil.  You have made the best of the situation, and you have looked positively at what the future has to hold.  You could have been bitter, but instead, you had faith and joy.  You inspire me.

To the one who is sitting by her child’s hospital bedside.  You have been there for him and given unfailing love.  You have not rested, and you have not complained because that’s what a mama does.  I pray that God will give you an energy and strength that only come through Him.  You inspire me.

To the one who is by her adult child’s side as he struggles physically.  Although he is a grown up and you could easily have said you were too busy to help, you dropped everything and were there for him.  You showed the world and me that a mother’s job is never done.  You have helped him with a smile on your face and without complaint or thought of your own needs.  You’ve made me want to be a better mother to my own kids.  You inspire me.

To the one who is by her husband’s side as he is grieving, my heart goes out to you.  You are a good wife, and you are there for your husband in any way he needs you to be.  You will drop everything to do whatever is needed for him or his family.  You inspire me.

To the one who has lost her husband and is grieving day by day.  You still pick yourself up and go on to be a good example to your kids and those around you.  You face life with a faith that God will heal your wounds.  You inspire me.

To the one who is living in pain every day.  You go about life without complaint.  Most people don’t know how much you are hurting physically, because you never say it.  The smile on your face hides how badly it hurts, and your joyous spirit is great camouflage.  You inspire me.

So many of you are hurting physically, spiritually and emotionally, but you encourage me and uplift me.  I am praying for all of you.  You know who you are, and you know that I love you.  I hope that, on dark days, knowing that you inspire others will help you keep going.     

                                                                                                                Much love, Al

While working on this study, as I started thinking about gentleness, I was pretty sure I had already been disqualified from this fruit of the spirit.  I am anything but gentle.  I am big, and I am loud.  Have you heard my laugh?  It echoes for miles.  Mr. Everything says I can wake up the neighborhood just by being me on the mornings when I am trying to quietly get up before everyone else.  He says I am the loudest morning person he’s ever heard, and sadly, at that point, I’m trying to be quiet!

Luckily, gentleness doesn’t mean quietness (thank goodness).  Although I think there is value in knowing how to be calm and quiet.  I wish I could learn that.  Another translation of gentleness is meekness.  I think I can develop meekness.  Maybe.

The Bible says, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth,” in Matthew 5:5.  That’s near one of my favorites to quote to my children: Matthew 5:9, “Please are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.”

In our country and in this day and age, I don’t think we are taught to be meek, and many of us don’t even know what it means.  The dictionary defines it as, “the feeling of patient, submissive humbleness.”  Another way I saw it described was, “strength under control.”  I like that definition.

Meekness is not weakness.  It is not making yourself a doormat and allowing others to trample you underfoot.  It is a decision, though you could go against them, to submit to other people and to allow other people to be more important than you.  Meekness actually takes a lot of strength.  It is a choice.

Meekness is putting other people first.  It is putting God’s will first.  It is making a decision to allow other people’s needs, wants or opinions to come before your own.  It is a fruit of the spirit that God will develop in us as we grow as Christians.  The Bible tells us in Psalm 37:11, “But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace.”

Reading about meekness made me start wondering how I could become meek.  There were some things I found as I studied.

First, pray about it.  God answers prayer.  If you ask Him to help you become meek, He will.  However, be prepared before you pray.  God has a way of answering our prayers differently than we expect.  If you pray for meekness, you will be given opportunities to be meek.  (Just like when you pray for patience, you will have your patience tested!)  Sometimes, it is scary to pray these things, knowing that God will give us circumstances to help us develop, but it is worth because we will become better people in the long-run.

Second, look for opportunities to put others before yourself.  This can be as simple as holding the door open for someone or waiting to go last at the potluck at church.  You can let others out in front of you in traffic (and test the meekness of the person behind you in traffic).  You can give to those in need.  You will probably be amazed at how many opportunities there are to put others first. 

Volunteering at a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter or anywhere that there are people less fortunately than you is a great way to find meekness and humility.  As you are there, think about what it would take for you to reach that point in your life.  Could you be homeless?  Could you need help buying groceries someday?  I think you will find that you are closer to needing assistance than you might think.

Having to leave our house at the end of 2007 really changed my perspective about that very subject.  I don’t think I judged homeless people, exactly, but I do think I thought I was too good for that.  I thought they had messed up and it was through their own lack of intelligence that they had ended up poor and without a home.  Leaving our home and living with relatives and eventually living in a single wide trailer has certainly changed my perspective there.  It made me realize that we are all really just one or two steps away from being destitute.  How can we judge others when we could be in that exact situation so easily?  And, if you think you are above being in that situation, you’d better watch out.  God may just allow your circumstances to prove you wrong.

I pray that God will develop meekness in me.  I hope my children will learn to put others first by watching me.  I will start looking for ways to purposely put others first.  Then, eventually (hopefully), meekness, or gentleness, will be easier and easier.  Maybe in the process, I’ll learn to be quiet while I’m at it! (I wouldn’t count on it, though.)   -Al

Whenever I think about faith, I think of the verse that says, “He replied, 'Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move.  Nothing will be impossible for you.'"  When I hear that verse, I think of a family who used to attend our church.  I always loved the husband’s story of the mustard seed.  He said when he was in elementary school, he had been given a bookmark with this mustard seed verse on it.  It also had a tiny mustard seed stuck to it as a visual for the verse.  When he and his wife were dating, they were sitting in church one day, and he opened his Bible to the page where that bookmark was kept.  As they sat there listening to the sermon, she looked over and saw something stuck to the bookmark.  She reached over and flicked it off, thinking it was a piece of dirt.  She had thumped away his mustard seed!  Years later, they still laughed about how she flicked his faith away in one thump.  Luckily, faith is not something that can be thumped away.  Real faith grows and grows and becomes easier and easier.

A perfect example of faith in the Bible is the story of Abraham and Isaac.  This story can be found in Genesis 22.  Abraham and Sarah had prayed for this child.  Sarah had a baby much later in life, when it wasn’t even physically possible for her to do so.  Their prayers had finally been answered.  Then, God tested Abraham’s faith.  He told Abraham to sacrifice his only son.  Abraham, showing great faith in God, led his son up the mountain and prepared an altar.  When Isaac asked his father where their sacrifice was, Abraham told him that God would provide.  Abraham tied his own son up and put him on the altar.  It was not until Abraham’s blade was over the boy that God told him to stop.  Abraham was willing to go through with it, if that was God ordered him to do, but I’m sure he was relieved to see a ram in the bushes that could serve as a sacrifice.  Abraham showed ultimate faith.  He was willing to give it all for God.

This story is an example of big faith!  Most of us will never be able to show our faith in such a big way, and not everyone would even react in the same way.  Many of us would run in the other direction if God told us to make such a sacrifice.  Faith is hard!  Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.”  It’s the whole “believing in something you can’t see” thing that is difficult!

Have you ever taken the Lipton plunge?  There used to be a commercial (back in the dinosaur ages, according to my kids) where people would drink Lipton tea and then they would free fall backwards into a pool of refreshment.  When I was little, I used to do the Lipton plunge into our swimming pool.  Each spring when the pool was opened, the first time I took the plunge, it was really difficult.  I had to close my eyes, work up my nerve and just fall.  Once I had plunged and realized I wasn’t going to die, it got easier and easier to do it.

The same can be said of faith in God.  The first time you just let go and trust God, it is so hard.  Your mind is full of “what if’s.”  “What if He forgets me?”  “What if He doesn’t come through?”  “What if He doesn’t catch me?”  You have to pray and make your brain hush.  Then, you hold your breath and trust.  God comes through, and He does catch you and He does not forget you.  Then, the next time you have to trust in God and your mind starts asking questions, you can remember that God didn’t let you fail the first time.  This gets easier and easier and easier as God proves Himself to you. 

For whatever reason, God has really worked on me to give me faith.  I may not have many other fruits, but I’ve got faith.  Oh, sure.  I used to have plenty of doubts.  I did not grow up believing in God.  Once I thought I had “found” God, I still had years of doubts.  I had my “atheist” period in my teen years.  Then, I was gung-ho for Jesus (sounds like a T-shirt, doesn’t it?).  Then, I went through the “He might exist” stage.  I have bounced back and forth and up and down.  I have purposely done things against God just because I was mad at Him.  I have judged other people because I was so righteous and they were not.  I have been every color of the rainbow when it comes to Christianity.  Finally, through years of struggles, I can firmly quote and believe 2 Timothy 1:12, “Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.” 

I have seen Him. I have known Him.  I have been saved by Him.  I have been carried by Him.  I know He will protect me, yet I doubt it.  I am a contradiction in myself.  Mark 9:24 says, “The father instantly cried out, ‘I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!’”  That pretty much sums up how I feel, and it is how all Christians feel (if they are honest about it).  We believe, yet we don’t.  We have faith, yet we doubt.  We pray to God that we trust Him, and then we worry.  Faith takes practice, and it is never perfected.

Many times, if we lack faith, we beat ourselves up.  We think we aren’t good enough Christians.  We think everyone around is so faithful, but we are so weak.  The truth is, we are all weak, and we are all full of doubts.  Even Abraham was weak, and he had doubts!  He was a man of great faith.  He was willing to kill his only son, if that was God wanted him to do.  He was listed in Hebrews 11 in the “Hall of Faith.”  Abraham was one of the tops in faith, as far as I’m concerned.  However, Genesis 15 tells us of a conversation between Abraham and God.  It tells us about Abraham’s “what if’s.”  He had them too!  When God said he would make a nation out of Abraham, Abraham started questioning.  He had fear and doubt.  So, if Abraham, the father of all nations, had doubts, how can we not?  Our doubts don’t make us bad.  They make us human.

So, face today with as much faith as you can muster.  God doesn’t expect 100% faith all the time.  He says if you have faith that is the size of a mustard seed, you can move mountains.  I’m pretty sure we can manage a speck of faith, and when we find ourselves doubting, we can pray, “Lord, I believe.  Help me in my unbelief.”  -Al

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

I wasn’t really sure what to say about goodness.  I have struggled to know what to write, because I really wasn’t sure how it was different from kindness.  It seems to me that if you are showing kindness, you are showing goodness.  However, the Bible differentiates between the two, so they are different.

We tell our kids to be good, and what do we mean?  We’re not asking them to be perfect.  We aren’t asking them to be angels.  We just want them to act like decent human beings who have a mother and father.  Instead of telling the Beetle to be good when he was little, for some reason, I always used the phrase, “Behave.”  He would say, “I’m bein’ have, Mama!”  I can still hear his little voice telling me that.  I want to make sure I’m bein’ have for God!

So, if we are going to develop goodness as a fruit of the spirit, how are we going to change?  I think we will begin to act like we are decent human beings who have a Father.  As we become more like Him, we will naturally develop goodness, because God is good.  Just as we wait when our kids are little to see them show signs of a conscience and goodness toward others, I think God watches for us to show signs of a conscience and goodness.  We are proud when our kids quote us (assuming they are quoting something good we taught them), and God is proud when we quote Him.

A dear preacher that Mr. Everything and I have known for a long time always says, “God is good all the time.”  When he preaches, he has the congregation finish the statement.  He’ll say, “God is good,” and the people will say, “All the time.”  He repeats this several times.  His point is that God is good, even when things aren’t going our way.  He is right.  God is good all the time.

So, if God is good all the time, it only makes sense that as we develop in Him, we will become more like him by growing goodness as a fruit.

Psalm 31:19 says, “Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind!”

The fruits of the spirit are not a grocery list of things we have to force ourselves to do.  Instead, they are a promise of things we can expect to see in ourselves and other Christians as we grow.  As we grow in God, we can look forward to bearing more fruit, including goodness.  What are some signs that we are becoming good?

We begin to look for ways to help others.  Instead of waiting for others to ask for help, we seek ways to bless them.  Galatians 6:10 says, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”  This morning in church, it was announced that someone had put gas cards out in the foyer for anyone who needed them.  They were free to take with no strings and no obligation.  The person just wanted to be sure there was no one who was worried about how to pay for gas to get home.  That’s goodness in action.

We treat others as we want to be treated.  Matthew 7:12 is known as the “Golden Rule.”  You can quote it with me, I’m sure.  I have to quote in the version that I learned it in: “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.”  This really is easier said than done, but it is a great rule to live by.  When we follow this rule, we are showing the goodness that only comes through God.

We change our focus.  Colossians 3:2 says, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”  The things in this world become less important.  If this world is all there is to offer in life, that’s sad.  But, if we can look forward to eternal reward in heaven, every tear, every sadness, every hurt and every pain will have been worth it.  As we grow closer to God, we become more like him, and we show his goodness by the things we focus on.

Goodness seems to come easier with experience.  For new Christians, focusing on others and focusing on God will not come naturally.  We live in a “me” world, and it is hard to let go of those tendencies to look out for ourselves.  As we grow in Christ, we will find that being good becomes easier and easier.  I hope that one day, putting others first and focusing on God will be second nature.  Then, we can know that we have developed the spiritual fruit of goodness.  What a great day that will be!

“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.” Psalm 107:1    -Al



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    Fruit Of The Spirit