The Fruits of the Spirit – Faithfulness

“What makes an authentic disciple is not visions, ecstasies, biblical mastery of chapter & verse, or spectacular success in the ministry, but a capacity for faithfulness. Buffeted by the fickle winds of failure, battered by their own unruly emotions, and bruised by rejection & ridicule, authentic disciples may have stumbled and frequently fallen, endured lapses & relapses, gotten handcuffed to the fleshpots and wandered into a far county. Yet, they keep coming back to Jesus.” – Brennan Manning

 

 

 

fruitsThus far in our examination of The Fruits of the Spirit we have looked at love, joy, peace, longsuffering, and kindness/goodness/gentleness/meekness. And now we’ll take a closer look at what exactly God expects out of us in exhibiting the fruit of faithfulness. This one has been a long time coming and to be honest I’ve really struggled with writing what you are in the midst of reading. The words just haven’t come easily. I believe there is a reason for that. The other fruits we have discussed or will discuss (we will finish up with temperance…at some point) could…theoretically…be discussed on a purely human level. They are behaviors that deal with how we act toward ourselves & toward each other. Of course we know that from a Biblical perspective there is a deeper significance, but hypothetically we could be kind, patient, loving, etc. just because it’s the right way to treat people. However, being faithful is a whole new ball game. Why?? Because it deals with how we treat God. Faithfulness is authenticity, the power & motivation for Christian living. Faithfulness is the one fruit that we give to God, whereas the others are from the Spirit working in us. Faithfulness is both an attitude and an action shown toward God.

 

The word faithful means a variety of closely related things: loyal, full of trust, constant, steadfast, devoted, staunch, and firmly & resolutely sticking with a person, group, cause, belief, or idea without waver. These adjectives imply adhering devotedly to someone or something that elicits or demands one’s fidelity. Constant stresses uniformity and invariability. Steadfast implies fixed, unswerving loyalty. Staunch suggests unshakable attachment or allegiance. Biblically speaking faithfulness comes from the Greek word pistis, which at its root is about holding fast or steady. Pistis is considered one of God’s strongest personal characteristics. God is a covenant maker who is faithful to that covenant with us even when we don’t hold up our end of the bargain, which is all too often for most of us. Pistis was common Greek lingo for trustworthiness and is the characteristic of a person who is what we would call reliable. The Hebrew for faithfulness is emunah, which literally means firmness, figuratively means security, and morally means fidelity. Being faithful combines prioritizing what is important and being committed to those priorities. God wants to be the #1 priority in our lives and desires for us to remain committed to that priority. I don’t know about you, but in that regard I fail miserably.

 

I’ve never been to Yellowstone Park near the Teton Mountains of Wyoming. However, most Americans have heard of one of the park’s most famous features…the geyser known as Old Faithful. From what I have read about Old Faithful it isn’t the biggest or most powerful geyser, but it is the most reliable…the most faithful…erupting every hour or so. We tend to like our people as we like our geysers. Whether it is a friend, a spouse, an employee, or any other relationship humans engage in, we like to know who we can count on. One of the best abilities to possess is dependability. oldfaithfulTalented & smart are positive traits, but if a person isn’t dependable then those positives hold little value. Proverbs 25:19 says that “like a bad tooth or a lame foot is reliance on the unfaithful in times of trouble.” I used to be a supervisor at a teleservices company and one of the biggest issues we faced was retaining dependable workers, because it didn’t matter how skillful folks were at their job if they didn’t show up for work half the time. Of course we seek exceptional skill & talent in almost everything, from sports, business, & entertainment to our personal relationships, but faithfulness…reliability, loyalty, and the ability to have priorities in their proper order…is a bedrock prerequisite that, at the end of the day, outshines everything else. Afterall, what good is marrying the prettiest gal in town if she’s just going to end up breaking your heart?? Obviously God understands that much better than any of us, because while we are oftentimes led astray by superficiality, glitz, false promises, & emotion, God doesn’t care about any of that silliness.

 

What God also doesn’t care about is our own shallow, worldly take on faithfulness. In the holiday classic A Christmas Story the narrator tells us that “Some men are Baptists, others Catholic. My father was an Oldsmobile man.” We all have a particular level of allegiance to certain things. My friend The Owl has knowledgeable opinions about who makes the best guitars and other assorted musical equipment. My friend Greg has manufacturers of photography equipment that he prefers. I have been a diehard fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers for almost four decades. All that is fine, but it must be understood that the kind of faith we are speaking of here goes much deeper and is far more FGN02medimportant. What we are dealing with is faithfulness to one thing and one thing only…God and His guiding principles. Without faith in God and faithfulness toward God nothing else matters. Even Confucius instructs to “hold faithfulness and sincerity as first principles.” So why then does it seem to be so darn difficult for us to manage this first principle?? Faithfulness is based on what we value as important and our commitment to those things. We must love Christ above all else. If we are not willing to put Him before earthly possessions & earthly friends and obey Him above e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g else (including our own carnal desires) then our attachment to Him is tenuous at best. Faithfulness is love hanging on. It is love saying, “I will not quit. There may be misunderstandings, there may be disappointments, there may be discouragements, but I will not quit.” Being faithful requires personal resolve not to wander away from commitments or promises and requires trust in God. Humans can show a powerful capacity to be faithful to what we believe to be important, be it a spouse, friendship, employer, school, athletic team, or a brand of particular products. Where we often fall short is in translating that level of commitment & loyalty to God. Doubt, distrust and misplaced anger are the opposite of faithfulness, and they cause us to lose our trust that God is in control. When we are not exercising our faith we will be consumed with doubt & distrust. We use God as a kind of vending machine to get what we want then lose our patience with Him when things don’t go our way, but we have it all backwards. Proverbs 28:20 tells us that “a faithful man will abound with blessings.” In other words, God doesn’t have to prove anything to us…we’re the ones that have to prove our faithfulness to Him.

 

Deuteronomy 7:9 says to “know that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments.” Psalm 101:6 says that “My eyes shall be on the faithful of the land, that they may dwell with me. He who walks in a perfect way, He shall serve me.” In Matthew 24:35 Jesus says that “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away.” Psalm 100:5 says “The Lord is good & His love endures forever. His faithfulness continues through all generations.” 2nd Timothy 2:13 says that “If we are faithless He remains faithful. He cannot deny Himself.” Jesus told His disciples before He ascended to Heaven that “I will be with you always, even to the end of the world.” Hebrews 13:8 instructs that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” So you see God is faithful to us…always. All He asks is that we return the favor. But how??

 

We are studying the Fruits of the Spirit, right?? As I’ve mentioned, if we are doing things right we will bear visible fruit much like one can clearly see apples or oranges on a tree. If we are being faithful to God & His way there should be some proof.

 

Faithfulness means being selfless. Contemporary culture goads us in to asking “What’s in it for me? What are my needs, my ambitions, my desires, my goals, my hurts, my values, my profit, my benefit?” God says faithfulness is proven by giving our life away, by looking at others rather than concentrating on our own self. How can a person be faithful to God when he loves himself more treethan God? How can a person be faithful to God when his own gratification means more to him than pleasing God? We live in a world in which selfishness is promoted as the way to go. Television, movies, & music promote instant gratification – why wait, why deny ourselves, why sacrifice, why not go along with everyone else??? The occasion to sin, the incentive to do so and thus sin’s frequency & intensity are at their highest levels since just before the Flood. In other words, the environment to commit sin more easily grows ever more amenable, and human nature takes advantage of it. We have been born into an environment in which it is exceedingly difficult to remain faithful. Hollywood sells adultery & fornication as acceptable as long as the people involved are attractive and somehow oppressed thus “deserving” of a “better” relationship. We constantly hear, “Indulge yourself because you deserve it.” This isn’t really all that surprising. The apostle Paul saw this coming hundreds of years ago when he wrote in 2nd Timothy that “in the last days perilous times will come, for men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power.” But 1 John 2:15 urges us to “not love the world or anything in the world” because “if anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.” Romans 12:2 says that we should “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” So when the world tries to persuade us to be self-centered and have a Me First attitude we need to remember that faithfulness requires the direct opposite.

 

Faithfulness means living by the correct values and making sure our witness has integrity. A faithful person knows what’s important and what isn’t important in life. A faithful person can differentiate the significant from the trivial and considers what kind of testimony they have with unbelievers. It is more important to ponder what unbelievers think about you and how they see you than what fellow believers think. Christians should have an impeccable reputation of being dependable and keeping their word.

 

Faithfulness means good stewardship. How you handle your money is a test because the way thattithe you handle your worldly wealth affects what God is able to do in your life. We spend all our lives earning & accumulating money, saving it, and spending it. If we haven’t been faithful handling worldly wealth, who is going to trust us with true riches?? One should always ask “Do I pay my bills on time? Do I live within my budget? Am I consistent in tithing? How does my giving compare with my spending? How does my spending compare with my saving?” Luke 16:10 says that “he who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much, and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much.”

 

Faithfulness means developing & using our gifts and talents. If you are not using the spiritual gifts God has given you people are getting cheated. Just because we can’t do the spectacular doesn’t excuse us from doing nothing. Faithfulness is based on what we do with what we have. The old hymn Victory in Jesus says that “He sought me and he bought me with His redeeming blood”. God has made an investment in our lives and He expects a return on it.

 

bible11350Faithfulness means obeying God’s Word. God defines faithfulness as obedience to the commands of Christ. 1 Corinthians 4:1 says that “Men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God.” A Christian is responsible to be a good custodian of the truths God reveals and to minister these truths in a reliable manner to those who will be taught. But how are you supposed to obey something you know nothing about?? You’re going to have to become familiar with the instruction manual. Romans 10:17 says that “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.”

 

Faithfulness requires us to look inward and ask some difficult questions. How do I exhibit faithfulness in my daily life? What can I do to develop a better attitude of faith? What hinders faithfulness from working and being exhibited in me? How can I make faithfulness function better, stronger and faster even in times of uncertainly and stress? We all have our stumbling blocks. We all face temptation. Holding true to the course God has laid before us is difficult amid this world’s many alluring distractions clamoring for our time and attention. Being faithful necessitates identifying our weaknesses and overcoming them. Jesus tells us in Luke that “no servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other.” We must commit to God and make Him our priority. Easier said than done?? Perhaps. But an apple tree doesn’t stand out in the middle of an orchard prayer-end-of-the-age-intercessionsaying, “Now how do I develop apples?” An apple tree produces apples because that’s what apple trees do. And when we are Spirit-led Christians, when we are a branch attached to the vine who is Jesus Christ, then we produce fruit because it’s the natural thing to do. We don’t have to sit around & think about it & analyze it. We just have to be careful that our branch is never detached from the vine. 2 Timothy 1:13-14 implores us to “hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus, that good thing which was committed to you keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.” Author Oswald Chambers said that “faith is deliberate confidence in the character of God whose ways you may not understand at the time”, and that is true. But the more we pray & study the more apt we are to understand. Actor & evangelist Kirk Cameron says that one should “Put your nose into the Bible every day. It is your spiritual food. And then share it. Make a vow not to be a lukewarm Christian.” We are pressured on every side to develop negative habits, tempted to be unfaithful in church attendance, in prayer, & in studying the Word of God. But if we prioritize and determine to serve God faithfully then people will be able to count on us. We’ll be consistent, trustworthy, & reliable. Hebrews tells us to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” We need to seek the Holy Spirit’s reinforcement in developing regular, positive, spiritual habits. We must cultivate these habits so that they become automatic. And when Satan tempts us, we can be prepared because we’ve grown the fruit of faithfulness.

 

 

 

 

Judge Ye Not

In recent years I have developed what I refer to as hermit-like tendencies. I have stated…only partly in jest…that if I were to ever win the lottery or otherwise come into a princely sum of cash that I would love to fake my own death, move to some remote island,mansion and hole up in a mansion reminiscent of stately Wayne Manor complete with Batcave (minus the bats). I’d have my books, Internet access, radio & TV, and of course Rocco. There would certainly be a few family & friends…my Dad, my sister & nephews, The Owl, and Greg…that would know the truth, but for the most part I’d be completely off the grid and I’d be happy. The reason is simple…humanity too often aggravates me and the less I am forced to interact with people the better I feel.

It wasn’t always this way. While I’ve never been an extrovert I have been a “people person” and enjoyed meeting & talking with different folks. A confluence of factors has led to my semi-withdrawal, probably beginning in 2006 with the two years of my life that was spent in hospitals, “skilled” nursing facilities, and homebound with medical issues that I won’t bore you with now because that’s not my purpose at the moment. It is adequate enough for my purpose here to state that solitude changes a man…alter’s one’s perspective in a deeply profound way that is difficult to reverse. At any rate, there have been other events & observations before & after that carved this path, but that was the major detour from which I’ve never quite returned to the main road…and I’m not sure I’d want to even if I could. Things happen for a reason and I’m okay with that fact.

My general unease & antipathy was recently reinforced in a truly eye opening way. And that’s saying something because I had heretofore been under the delusion that my eyes were wide open. I suppose there is always room to learn & grow.

Eph 1-7I cannot & will not go into any detail here, but suffice to say that an acquaintance of mine found themselves in some trouble…some pretty serious trouble. The story became public. What this person is accused of doing is dreadfully tragic. However, in America aren’t we all “innocent until proven guilty”?? And even if a person is guilty didn’t Jesus teach us that “he that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone”?? Doesn’t The Bible teach us about mercy, grace, & forgiveness?? Unfortunately modern American society doesn’t seem to believe in such principles…atleast when it comes to someone other than the person they see in the mirror each morning.

The story I am referring to was published on a website. Again the details are not important and not mine to divulge anyway. But I was truly saddened by the comments that dozens of readers left. I know Americans enjoy our blood sports, and I sincerely understand why the accusations involved evoked such passion & rage. Yet I couldn’t stop thinking…where is the mercy?? Folks were calling for this person to be shot, stabbed, beaten, burned, raped & murdered. And yes, some even suggested they be stoned, proving some familiarity with God’s Word but obviously not enough. This is all before a thorough investigation has been conducted and due process of law completely plays out. My my my…jump to conclusions much??

Look, I don’t know who did what in all this, but I do know a couple of things. I know that this person’s family is standing behind them and stepping up in ways that a month ago I am sure they never fathomed they’d be asked to do. This is a good, decent, close knit family. I am closer to the parents than the offspring and the little ones, and they are people with a deeply abiding faith, a strong moral center, and unquestionable love for one another. A few comments on the aforementioned article cast aspersions on the entire family rather than family_holding_handsjust the one person, which angered me tremendously since I know what kind of people they are. The fact that they are supporting their loved one is good enough for me and sufficient validation to doubt the veracity of the story as it is being portrayed in the media. Secondly, I know things that I have done in my life. No I have never killed anyone or committed any kind of violent act, but I have sinned in ways that I definitely wouldn’t want published in the local newspaper or discussed on television. I suspect many of you out there in the Manoverse might feel the same about your mistakes. As my relationship with God & our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ evolves & deepens I become more grieved by past errors and increasingly aware of when I choose the wrong path (which isn’t as often as it used to be but still far too much). I would hope that, if a wrong that I did ever grew into some kind of public spectacle, that others would grant me some level of mercy…but after these recent events I have my doubts.

What’s worse is that I can look back and see where I have been just as judgmental as the people who left those awful comments. I am far too quick to size up a person…assess their motives, assume their lack of moral fiber, and judge their actions. It is so easy to be reactionary in 21st century America. Social media gives us all an avenue to respond without thought, to opine without knowing all of the facts. Everyone is a critic, a pundit, and an expert. The mere fact that I can call myself a writer, publish The Manofesto, and dole out my viewpoint on anything I choose is proof of this. Who am I?? I am no better than you. I do sincerely believe that I don’t go off half-cocked and say anything too crazy in this forum, but in other situations I am easily angered and lack patience, understanding, wisdom, & compassion.

Jesus asks “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye but do not consider the plank in your own eye?” and cautions us to “first remove the plank from your own eye, and handsthen you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” I am not advocating free reign. I am not saying that criminals should not be punished or that people should not be criticized when they make bad choices. But The Bible teaches us that “as iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend”, countenance in this case meaning character. Unfortunately too many of us spend a lot of time tearing others down instead of trying to help them or lead them to become better people.

I don’t have any easy answers or quick fixes for this issue. However, I can confidently say that we would all benefit from taking a moment to think…to look in the mirror and reflect on the mistakes that we’ve made and the skeletons we have in our closet whether they are big or relatively benign…before we haughtily lash out at others. No one is perfect…not you and certainly not me. The world would certainly benefit from more empathy & kindness rather than judgment, contempt, and anger.

 

The Fruits of the Spirit – Kindness, Gentleness, Goodness, Meekness

A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.”     –       Proverbs 15:1

After much too long of a hiatus it is time to get back on track. We last looked at The Fruits of the Spirit just over one year ago. As usual, I have no explanation for why I take these little breaks, but I have learned not to question and just go with the flow. Not surprisingly God’s timing, unlike ours, is absolutely perfect. So at a time in my life when I haven’t been feeling all that nice for various reasons related to general frustration and the flaws & foibles of numerous human beings with which I come into contact on a regular basis God has…of course…lead me to write about kindness. That God, He’s an ironic fella.

 

Depending upon which translation of The Bible one chooses, the terms kindness, gentleness, goodness, and meekness are used somewhat interchangeably in reference to The Fruits of the Spirit, to the point that it becomes confusing. The NIV, New King James, and New American Standard use, in order, kindness, goodness, and gentleness. The King James keeps goodness but substitutes gentleness for kindness and uses meekness in place of gentleness so that the order is gentleness, goodness, meekness. The American Standard uses kindness and goodness but also subs in meekness for gentleness. It can be quite perplexing. So what I have decided to do is examine these terms together because in common everyday use they have close enough meanings that I believe it might be instructive to look at them all at once in order to understand the subtle differences in a Biblical, Godly context.

 

First things first. As most everyone knows The Bible was not originally written in English. Therefore it can be rather enlightening to dig around and find out what the original words used were and what they meant, which obviously sheds some light on God’s intent. Not surprisingly one Greek word covers kindness, gentleness, & meekness. That word is chrestotes, which means moral goodness, integrity, usefulness, benignity, and beneficence, or the sympathetic sweetness of temper which puts others at ease and shrinks from giving pain. The Greek word for meekness is praos, which pertains to not being overly impressed by a sense of self-importance, and can also mean the state of being gentle, humble, courteous, and considerate.

 

I think this little ditty has taken me awhile to write partly because there is just so much to say and so many different directions from which the topic can be approached. However, from the moment I launched The Manofesto I made a promise to myself and my readers that I would always try to avoid being too verbose and keep things readable. One reason I wanted to combine these terms into one entry was because I feared that four different pieces would become tedious and repetitive since much of the same ground would be covered. For example, I already wrote about “The meek shall inherit the earth” in the series about The Sermon on the Mount. Jesus was a pretty straightforward dude. His teachings aren’t complex, just difficult to put into action. Therefore in pondering and praying about all the angles of kindness, goodness, gentleness, and meekness I figured out that it comes down to two things…what is inside and what is outside. What kind of attitude is in your heart and mind, and how do those thoughts & feelings manifest themselves in your deeds??

 

Let’s work from the inside out, because everything starts with the intellect & emotions. Utilizing our two terms chrestotes and praos we understand that we must begin with humility, integrity, and a benevolent temperament. Humility is the opposite of self-importance. Humility is being able to laugh at one’s self and be comfortable with your own imperfection. Humility is gladly being a team player and not needing to always be in the spotlight. Humility means not being rude or arrogant, and having respect for rules and boundaries. Humility means humbly submitting our lives to God because we know we can’t do it right on our own. Integrity is simply honesty and adherence to moral principles, i.e. following in the footsteps of Christ. Benevolence means the desire to be charitable and kind to others. Benevolence means giving people the benefit of the doubt and not rushing to judgment or taking pleasure in crushing them like a bug. Benevolence is the opposite of an all too prevalent need to seek vengeance or step over whomever is in the way of what we want. On an intellectual level most will understand these things, but if we are brutally honest with ourselves we often fall short of the mark. How often do we not feel these positive things in our heart?? How often does our attitude stray toward malevolence, arrogance, frustration, selfishness, disrespect, and being judgmental?? I cannot speak for the masses and only know my own heart, and I can say with all sincerity that most of the time I not only fall short, I fall WAY short. The attitude we harbor within our heart has a direct correlation on how we react to and treat others, but is it possible to be polite and courteous to peoples’ face while harboring harsh feelings inside?? Sure…we do it all the time. But there are two things wrong with that scenario. First, eventually…someday…the truth comes out. As the old saying goes “you can fool some of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time”. When our true feelings come out we just end up looking deceitful and manipulative. Second and more importantly, no matter how often we might be able to put one over on some folks here & there we can never trick God. He knows our heart, and there is no escape from that. I’ve never understood why that one fact doesn’t sufficiently blow peoples’ minds.

 

Therefore, if we are able to master genuinely feeling kind, gentle, good, and meek within our heart & mind it stands to reason that it will be reflected in our actions and external attitude. I don’t know about y’all, but I feel like I can usually spot a sincerely kind and gentle soul fairly quickly. It is difficult to explain, but they just seem to have a glow, a positive aura. Such individuals reek of goodness. Meekness pours out of their spirit effortlessly. But here is where I struggle: that type of person is all too rare.

 

I mentioned at the outset that I don’t feel like I have been all that nice lately. Me and The Golden Rule have kind of been on civil but not exactly friendly terms for awhile now. The Golden Rule, for those of you who may reside in the general vicinity of Wyoming County, WV (the 10% of that population that may be literate anyway), states that we are to “do unto others as we would have them do unto you”. Sounds great. It’s a very nice idea. But when a person…like your humble Potentate of Profundity…so often feels overlooked, underappreciated, disconnected, forgotten about, lost in the shuffle, irrelevant, taken for granted, and screwed over it becomes increasingly difficult to treat others just dandy while they treat me like a big pile of dog doo. For most of my life I feel like I have embodied most of the positive traits we are discussing here. I feel confident in saying that without a shred of arrogance simply because I give all the credit to how I was raised by my parents and the things I was taught by people in my family, community, and church. I was taught to be considerate, humble, and courteous. I have always tried to have integrity, to be a team player, and to put others at ease. I get no pleasure out of causing others pain. However, it seems to me that, more & more, those who go in the complete opposite direction…arrogant, mean-spirited, condescending, dishonest, judgmental, disrespectful people…are somehow the mice that always get the cheese. My reaction hasn’t been…thankfully…to become as self-centered & nasty as others, but rather to disengage from society as much as possible. And to be honest I am not really sure that is the right answer.

 

So what is the answer?? How do we become genuinely kind, good, gentle, meek people in our hearts so that those traits will sincerely manifest themselves in our actions and daily lives?? How do we ignore the nastiness of others and treat them as we would have them treat us rather than how they are actually treating us?? How do we make Luke 6:27-31, which says “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 one 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”, more than just empty sentiment?? How do we “be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32) ??

 

Well obviously I am the wrong person to offer a solution since it is a conundrum with which I struggle so mightily, to the point that I question the validity not of my faith but of the earthly demonstration of that faith by the masses. I am too easily wounded by those who don’t seem to realize I exist, even though their actions aren’t always malevolent and usually just oblivious and unintentionally insensitive. We all want to feel like we matter, to feel like we belong somewhere, and for most of the past 5 years of my life I have felt like I don’t matter and don’t belong. Am I still kind & gentle?? Yes…on the outside. But oftentimes I can barely conceal my rage, disappointment, and indignation, clearly indicating that I do not feel genuinely good & meek inside.  I recognize the problem but have no concrete answers.

 

The only answer that I can come up with just muddies the waters further. I am familiar, on an intellectual level, with the concept of being “in the world but not of the world”. But it’s kind of the same deal as with The Golden Rule…much easier said than done. I, like many folks I am sure, try my darndest to not be “of the world”, but the fact is that I live here for now and it is pretty hard to ignore the things that go on all around me and affect me on a daily basis. This whole kindness thing has really had me flummoxed for awhile now because I just don’t know very many truly meek & gentle people. The general populace has bought into the idea of The Rat Race, getting ahead, “success” (whatever that is), and stomping on whoever & whatever is in the way of accomplishing goals. So what am I supposed to do…get stomped on until Jesus comes and be happy about it?? That’s not an approach I am comfortable with, even if it could possibly be the correct answer.

 

So at the end of the day my general methodology has become retreat. I still try to be nice and helpful whenever possible, but I also avoid putting myself in situations where I know disingenuous individuals are just going to disappoint me over & over. I spend a lot of time alone in my apartment reading and hanging out with my puppy. Sometimes that’s my choice, other times it’s a choice that is forced upon me by the indifference of others. The unfortunate conclusion that I have come to can best be made by using a football analogy. There are 11 people on a football team. The team can sustain one or two people making a mistake, but if I am the lone person trying to advance the ball down the field and the other ten players are heading in the opposite direction I am going to get mauled. So rather than get mauled I mostly just choose not to play the game, which is sad because I love football and want to be involved.

 

 

 

The Fruits of the Spirit – Longsuffering

Patience-Roger-Smith-CEO-American-Income-LifeI was once given the advice “Don’t pray to God for patience because He will give you plenty of opportunities to practice”. Notwithstanding one’s opinion of that particular directive, I have decided for now to write about it rather than pray for it.  As you may have guessed, I am not examining The Fruits of the Spirit in any particular order or with any sort of overriding structural theme. I think they each tell their own individual stories that guide us down the correct path when viewed collectively.

 

Longsuffering is an interesting word. It certainly isn’t common terminology we utilize in everyday conversation. It comes from the Greek word makrothumia, meaning long-tempered…the opposite of short-tempered. Longsuffering can be defined as forbearance, patience, steadfastness, self-restraint in avenging wrongs, and the ability to endure adversity, persecution, provocation, suffering, & ill will with no thought of retaliation or punishment. Longsuffering is the antithesis of anger and is associated with mercy. It is being mild, gentle, and constant in all circumstances.

 

There are many shades of anger. I do not consider myself to be violent. I have never beaten anyone up or made any type of legitimate threats. I don’t brandish weapons, and I don’t generally go around causing mayhem or destruction. But…..I am easily annoyed, tend to hold grudges, and have an overall sense of resentment against people, situations, and entities that I perceive to have caused me harm or even mere inconvenience. This acrimony, more often than not, fruitdoes not manifest itself in any tangible way. Most who interact with me personally and professionally would consider me to be kind, polite, and even-tempered. Only those few with whom I am most comfortable ever get a glimpse of the animosity simmering just beneath the surface. And even then I have the ability to spin things with wit and a modicum of charm. But does the fact that my frustration with those things that fall short of my standards and expectations doesn’t lead to any corporeal damage make it okay?? Jesus tells the Pharisees in the 16th chapter of Luke that ““You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”  In other words, I have some work to do.

 

However, I suspect that I am not alone. Our society can be rather aggravating. Between job related stress, the pressures inherent with raising a family, economic woes, inescapable socio-political divides, technology that is both awesomely wonderful yet sadly fragile, and a dog-eat-dog fast paced world where we all want to keep up with the Joneses to the point that even a vacation can cause strife…well, as Kevin Costner says in Bull Durham, “We’re dealing with a lot of stuff”. It isn’t uncommon to hear people wistfully hearken back to a simpler time, where they perceive life was better. But that is a mirage. Life may not have been as fast paced a hundred years ago…no automobiles or super highways, no televisions, no Internet, no video games, not as many “everyone else is going there” tourist traps…but economic conditions were even tougher, people had to work much harder for much less, living conditions and illness meant shorter lives, and the world was far smaller and less accessible. In other words, throughout the ages humanity has had issues to face and burdens to endure. There has only been one constant over all the years, and with all due respect to James Earl Jones, it isn’t baseball. The 13th chapter of Hebrews tells us that God will never leave or forsake us and that Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.

 

faithWhich leads me to the first key point we need to ponder in relation to longsuffering. One does not have to look any further than the example of Christ to understand the essence of the fruit we are to bear. No greater demonstration of longsuffering can be found than that shown by God toward man. Everyone knows John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” We know it so well and it is a verse that is so often quoted that I sometimes fear its meaning has been watered down or atleast taken for granted. Do you know anyone who would literally die for you, or anyone who you would die for?? We all have close family and maybe a few good friends. It is likely that most parents would answer yes to the question in regard to their children. But honestly…and I am truly trying to put aside my cynical tendencies here…how many people would REALLY die for another human being?? I suspect the honest answer is “not many”.

 

Have you ever done a favor for another person?? I am sure most everyone has at some point in their life. How did the person react?? They probably said thank you, or maybe they went so far as to buy you a nice gift or treat you to dinner. However, have you ever experienced a person for whom you have done a favor say to you “I owe you one”. I have…many times. And let me tell you what usually happens…they never get around to actually doing anything about it. I think that is how we treat The Lord. He made the ultimate sacrifice for all of humanity, and how do we repay Him?? By not being even one thousandth of one percent as patient and understanding with our fellow man as He is with us. Our life is 100% in His hands. Every breath we take is a gift from Him. All that is asked of us is to be a mirror image of Christ, to bear the fruits that we are discussing in this series. Yet every single day…multiple times during the day…we carelessly ignore our responsibility and casually disregard the favor that was done for us…that is done for us every moment. If The Lord was an impatient with us as we are with everything and everyone none of us would last 5 minutes. But 2 Peter tells us that “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” If we make an honest effort to live life in a Christ-like fashion one of the first things we need to do…that I know I need to do for sure…is to shed much of the frustration and resentment that we allow into our daily lives. 1 Timothy says that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting”. If we want the gift of eternal life we need to use Jesus as the pattern and show others the mercy that He shows us daily. Another verse that we tend to use as a cliché without actually giving it the consideration it deserves is found in Matthew 7:12, which says “whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them”. Of course we refer to this as The Golden Rule…but do we follow it?? More often than not we tend to bend it into “do unto others as they have done unto you” or even “do unto others before they do unto you”. But those twists are the result of Man’s brokenness and the damage that sin has wrought on the world, and following those rules will get us nowhere except our very own extremely warm corner of Hell.

 

The second point that needs to be touched on is the question of how to bear the fruit of longsuffering. It is not a skill that one can learn in a six week correspondence course or that will magically develop overnight. It takes effort. It might seem rather obvious, but the only way to become more Christ-like is to develop a relationship with Christ and study His holy teachings. In one of my previous places of employment when a new supervisor was hired one of the first things they did was “shadow” an experienced supervisor for a number of weeks. We need to “shadow” Christ not just for a few weeks or months, but every day for the rest of our lives. Spend time with Him in prayer, study your Bible, and surround yourself with fellow Christians who you can learn from and emulate. This last part is admittedly a delicate balancing act because we are not to shut ourselves up in church and only associate with fellow believers. We are to be “fishers of men”. Jesus said “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners”. On the other hand, we need the support and relationship of other believers in Christ. A relationship with Christ is pretty much the whole ball of wax…it is what everything boils down to. And I think as we grow in that relationship we can’t help but become more and more the person that we are meant to be, which in part means bearing fruit. This holds true for all the Fruits of the Spirit, but I believe it is especially important in regard to longsuffering, as it may be the one we struggle with the most yet is most easily put into practice if only we make the effort.

 

When we accept the free gift of salvation we are to be “born again”. Galatians 2:20 says “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Once saved we are a new person. Ephesians instructs to “no longer walk as the rest, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart. If indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus, that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness”. Furthermore, according to 2 Timothy we are to “flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will”. It is important that we bear fruit not only as proof of our maturing relationship with the Lord, but so that we may also be a guiding light for others.  The same chapters tells us that we are to “Preach the word. Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching”. Anyone who has ever tried to teach anyone anything, whether it was one on one or in a group setting, will understand the need for patience in such a setting.

 

The final point I want to emphasize about longsuffering is…well…suffering. Afterall, it is part of the word, right?? Many new Christians come to the Lord through a “mountaintop experience”. They hear an especially powerful sermon, attend a large gathering like Promise Keepers, or go to an old fashioned fire & brimstone revival. In situations like that it becomes easy to run to an altar and “make the decision” for Christ. Please don’t misunderstand…I am not questioning the authenticity of salvation received in these settings. I myself gave my heart to The Lord following a performance of the drama Heavens Gates and Hell’s Flames. But my concern is what comes afterward. The next day one must go back out into the world…work, school, friends, family, and dealing with the general public in everyday situations. This is the true test. Contrary to popular belief life does not suddenly become sunshine and roses just because one said a prayer and asked Jesus to forgive their sins. Salvation is not the end, it is the beginning. Relationship and growth must follow, and it is my sincere belief that it is during this lifelong process that Satan will come after a person with a full court press. The question is how will you react to these tests of your faith?? Make no mistake…they are not graded on a curve and a C is not acceptable. Life is pass/fail. Our response to the difficulties we face is an excellent barometer of where we stand in our relationship with Christ. And I am not talking about the big stuff. I think most people have a tendency to call on the Lord in times of real trouble…severe illness, death, and other significant calamities. But how do you react to the “ankle biters”…the little aggravations and roadblocks we encounter every day?? James 1:2-4 counsels us to “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” It may seem a bit odd that we should rejoice when we’re in trouble, but that is exactly what we are supposed to do. Remember, Christ DIED for our sins…so is it really too much to ask that we endure annoying co-workers, bad drivers, slow checkout lines, thoughtless friends, overbearing in-laws, rambunctious children, and all the other obstacles life throws in our path??

 

The 103rd Psalm says “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever”. God is complex. He is love, and He shows us infinite mercy and patience on a daily basis, yet one day we will all face judgment. How can we hope for a free pass that we do not deserve if we do not bear fruit?? Why do we assume and expect God’s continuous patience with us in light of our sins but not show the same understanding toward others ourselves?? I cannot sum up the expectation God has of us any better that Colossians 3:1-5 – “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him. Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful”.

 

 

 

 

The Fruits of the Spirit – Joy

joyLast summer I began a series on the Fruits of the Spirit, but did not get very far before getting distracted with other things. The truth is that those other things are usually either easier or more fun to write, or spur of the moment musings brought on by something that has inspired me in my daily life. Something like a close examination of a lengthy and important Biblical passage takes a bit more research and prayerful consideration and therefore becomes a bit more of a task. However, circumstances have converged in a way that has aroused my desire to pick up the mantle. A general malaise and feeling of dissatisfaction with my life has somehow coincided with the writer’s block that hits me on occasion lifting. So rather than write a bunch of stuff that would only be of interest to disciples of Sylvia Plath, Ernest Hemingway, and Kurt Cobain, I have decided to write about joy. Oh how I dig irony.

 

Most may assume that we have a firm grasp on what joy is, but do we really?? Joy is defined as great delight, gladness of heart, keen pleasure, elation, glad feeling, and festive gaiety. Oftentimes the terms joy and happiness are used interchangeably, but is that accurate?? I think not. The author CS Lewis pondered the question thusly: “I sometimes wonder whether all pleasures are not substitutes for joy. Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is”. We can follow that up with this musing from another author, Ralph Waldo Emerson: “You shall have joy, or you shall have power, said God; you shall not have both”. I think one would be correct in stating that happiness is much more akin to pleasure, and therefore happiness and joy are not the same. Lewis is right…happiness is usually within our power. It doesn’t take all that much to make the average person happy. The possibilities are endless and depend on one’s own individual preferences. Personally I am happy reading a good book, when my favorite sports teams win, playing with my puppy, eating good food, and whenever I catch a favorite old movie on television…just to name a few. Others have spouses and children that make them happy. Some folks travel. Others play music. The problem, however, is this…as easily as we can be happy we can also quickly become unhappy. Anger, bitterness, and frustration are byproducts of being fallible human beings and dealing with others just like us. Happiness is all too temporary. Those things that make us happy may only last mere minutes or hours, and then it is right back to the inherent unhappiness in a world fraught with sin.

 

We spend our entire lives in the constant pursuit of happiness and pleasure. “The pursuit of happiness” is even written into the United States Declaration of j2Independence as an unalienable right endowed to men by God. The Founding Fathers almost had it right…but not quite. What we tend to find is that this pursuit of happiness is exhausting and ultimately empty. At the very least we are limited by time, money, and other responsibilities. In extreme cases we see people who tried to find happiness via alcohol, drugs, illicit sex, and other assorted illegal or unhealthy activities have their lives destroyed or even ended prematurely. St. Thomas Aquinas once stated “man cannot live without joy; therefore when he is deprived of true spiritual joy it is necessary that he become addicted to carnal pleasures”. Now I am not saying that we should stop having good clean fun. To be honest I get aggravated with Christians who unwittingly put a bad spin on the faith because they are uptight wet blankets that will not allow themselves to loosen up. However, what I am suggesting is that we put fun/happiness/pleasure into its proper perspective and understand its fickle nature. What we truly need to pursue is joy, and that cannot be found in a bar, as an ingredient in any drug, on television, at the mall, in any food we eat, or in the seemingly intimate embrace of another human being.

 

Romans 14:17 tells us that “the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”. At the end of the day the pursuit of happiness will always leave a void remaining within us, but true joy in The Lord is eternal. That joy will enhance the highs of life, but it also assists in riding out the low points…and there WILL be low points. One of the problems we run into is that we don’t like feeling sad, lonely, angry, disappointed, etc. In order to avoid those bad feelings we pursue more happiness, which in turn eventually lets us down again. We are like a cat chasing its tail, and it’s a game we cannot win, a most vicious cycle. What we need to do is change the game. Life does not have to be like golf or tennis…us against the world. Life is a team effort, but we not only have to accept the help of our teammate, but we have to make Him the captain of the team. Psalm 16:11 says “You will show me the path of life. In Your presence is fullness of joy. At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore”. The only way we can grow from the meaningless, vacant pursuit of happiness into having joy is to put our ego aside and let Him lead.

 

Now one thing we do have to understand is what I mentioned about those low points. I truly believe that the closer we draw to God the more it ticks off Satan and the more he tempts us in an effort to force us into sin. And while it is a certainty that we will still sin on occasion, we can lessen the impact if God is our team captain. I don’t want to plunge too deeply into the topics of salvation and grace, not only because it is straying from the purpose at hand but also because those subjects deserve their own focus. Suffice to say that if we are covered in the blood of Christ our sin is washed away and we are assured eternal life. But more germane to the present issue, if we have full joy in God then we can better weather the storms of life that are sure to come along. Habakkuk 3:17-18 says “Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; Though the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls— Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation”.

 

Also, if we are experiencing true joy in our life then we are better equipped to witness to others. Mother Teresa once said ““joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.” And isn’t that part of our mission?? We are to be “fishers of men”. I am certainly not an expert fisherman, but I know enough to understand that it is a lot easier and one will catch more fish with a net.

 

for_joySo how do we find joy?? I am not sure I am qualified to answer that question, as I am still figuring it out myself (and, to be quite honest, not doing such a great job lately), but I know a few things. I know that we are to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling”. One needs a personal relationship with Jesus Christ…that is the foundation for everything. I know the basic rules, i.e. The Ten Commandments, and other teachings of Jesus and that we are to strive to be Christ-like. I know that I am “in the world but not of the world” and that we (Christians) are to be “peculiar people”.  And I know that, as Ecclesiastes tells us, everything else is vanity. But there is a difference between knowing and doing. Famed 19th century minister and author Henry Ward Beecher said that “There are joys which long to be ours. God sends ten thousands truths, which come about us like birds seeking inlet; but we are shut up to them, and so they bring us nothing, but sit and sing awhile upon the roof, and then fly away.” We are so busy pursuing temporary, meaningless, and sometimes carnal and sinful pleasures that we overlook the eternal joy within our grasp. Stopping the cycle of futility is an ongoing battle. Much like an alcoholic is never truly “cured”, we need to fight for our joy every day, resisting empty temptations and turning instead to our Father in heaven. “Rejoice in the Lord always. Let your gentleness be known to all men. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;  and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” – Phillipians 4:4-7.

 

 

 

 

The Parable of the Lost Wallet

I can be absent minded and scatter brained. Sometimes I wonder with a certain level of concern what I might be like when I get older. When I leave my apartment every day there are certain things I try to make sure are with me…cell phone, home keys, wallet, truck keys, the keys I need to infiltrate the guarded fortress where I work. I have to make sure I have both sets of glasses…if it’s sunny outside and I’m wearing sunglasses I need to make sure my actual glasses are with me as well, and if it’s not sunny at the moment but may be later I need to plan for that contingency. I have an air pump for my wheelchair cushion that I always need to have access to because the cushion tends to randomly go flat for no real reason. If I am going to the bank I need the proper paperwork. If I’m headed to church or Bible Study I need my Bible. It’s a lot of pressure!! And quite frankly, sometimes I fail in my mission. What usually happens is I leave my apartment and somewhere between entering the elevator on the fifth floor and departing it on the first, or maybe between the elevator downstairs and my parking lot it dawns on me what I’ve forgotten. This seems to be a case of “like father like son”, as I recall many times as a child it would take my Dad 2 or 3 tries to actually leave the driveway successfully without forgetting something. The apple truly doesn’t fall far from the tree.

 

I bring this up because I recently lost my wallet, or so I thought. I was working a swing shift and upon departing my workplace at midnight I gathered my stuff up and headed home. When I got home I needed my wallet for some reason. I forget exactly why. Anyway, I looked in my man purse (more formally known as a messenger bag) and couldn’t find it. I emptied the bag of its contents…a Bible, a book or two, my IPhone, keys…..but no wallet. I suddenly became concerned. But I thought for sure that I’d just left it on my desk at work, so I called. I work at a 24/7-365 hotline so I knew the lady working midnight shift would answer, which she did. I asked her to look for my wallet. No wallet. Now I was really beginning to freak out. I’m not a wealthy man and rarely carry much cash, so that wasn’t really a big deal. The bigger issue in my mind was the possibility of identity theft. I was overwhelmed at the thought of all the hassles involved with cancelling credit cards, having to get a new drivers’ license and social security card, and trying to replace various other things I carry, some of which might not seem all that vital to most but they are meaningful to me.

 

I only live about a mile away from my job, so I made a swift decision to hop in the truck and come back down to look myself. Upon arriving in the parking lot and getting out of the truck, wheelchair and all (and those who know me realize it’s not an easy process) I realized I’d made a slight error…I’d forgotten the previously mentioned keys to the fortress. I couldn’t just call and have my co-worker come down and let me in because she was alone and not allowed to leave her post…plus I hadn’t bothered to bring my phone either. So I returned home and by this time I was an odd mix of manic and exhausted. It’s not a good combination. I got the fortress keys (and my phone) and once again came back to the office. I came, I saw, and I did not conquer…still no wallet. I returned home resigned to the fact that the next day was going to be a hellish effort of phone calls and trips to the DMV and whatever else needed to be done. And then, when I was at that point where all I could think about was sleep, I had a revelation. I reached for the man purse and took a peak into the rarely used back compartment. I had a slight inkling, a miniscule recollection of possibly having placed the wallet there earlier that afternoon. I never ever put anything in that compartment. But this time I had put something there. Words cannot express the feeling of relief I had as I clutched this wallet…this meaningless, insignificant object…in my arms like a baby and literally said, out loud, “thank you Jesus!!”.

 

And that’s when it hit me. I was reacting this way in regards to an inanimate possession, something completely replaceable and, in the grand scheme of life, not all that important. That’s when I began to think. I began to ponder people who come out of the mall or the grocery store and realize their car has been stolen. I began to contemplate folks who come home to find their home ransacked and pillaged, or worse…burnt to the ground. Then my mind wandered to parents who take their eyes off their child for just one second and all the sudden they’re gone. If I was so relieved to find something as relatively irrelevant as a wallet how must it feel to have that automobile found or realize that the thieves didn’t take anything of real value out of the home?? What must a parent feel like at that moment when a child who has been lost returns home safe and sound?? And then my mind began to zero in on Jesus.

 

I’d read the parables in the new testament about lost sheep, a lost coin, and the lost son. But now they had come to life in a very real, very personal way. The relief and dare I say joy I felt at the moment I found my stupid wallet can’t even begin to compare to the thrill Jesus  must get when one of his lost children decides to reclaim their relationship with The Father. I believe God speaks to us if we’re smart enough and open enough to hear what He is saying, and I believe that He was teaching me a very valuable lesson the night I didn’t lose my wallet but was convinced that I did.

 

 

 

Hall of Influence – The Inaugural Class

It didn’t take long to decide who the first inductee into The Hall of Influence should be or to settle on making Him the one and only person in the inaugural class. It would just feel wrong to include any other human being, be it actor or writer or purveyor of the public good, no matter how immense their accomplishments and influence upon my life may be. Sometimes a being is so special, so unique, so remarkable that they deserve the spotlight all to themselves. I can think of no one who fits that description better than Jesus Christ.

 

He is known by many names…..Jesus of Nazareth, The Alpha &Omega, Messiah, The Son of God, Our Lord & jesus-christ_3153Savior, Lamb of God, and The Way, The Truth, & The Life. Whatever particular verbage one chooses to utilize though cannot possibly capture who He is and what He has meant to the world. I am hesitant to even write about Him because there is no way I can even come close to doing Him justice. But I suppose I’ll give it a whirl.

 

I am by no means intolerant or arrogant, something that we Christians get accused of often in 21st Century America. However, I’m not a big fan of the term “tolerance” because I believe it to be a politically correct buzzword that means much more than just its surface definition. When folks talk about being “openminded” it often has a subliminal meaning. I consider myself to be pretty flexible and understanding, but on the other hand I believe what I believe and know what I know. Some things are black and white. There is right vs. wrong, good vs. evil. When being openminded in essence means “anything goes” and “whatever feels good do it” then I begin to no longer have an open mind. If that makes me bigoted or insensitive in some peoples’ eyes then so be it. When it’s all said and done I know how things will end.

 

I was a simple churchgoer for the first 25 years of my life. I sat in Sunday school, I listened politely to the sermons, I sang the songs. But after church…in the 6 ensuing days…I lived life pretty much how I darn well pleased. I think most folks perceive me as a nice guy…friendly, raised by a good family, a lifelong church member. But believe me…I’ve done a lot of things wrong in my life. I’ve done things and acted in ways that I’d be ashamed for anyone to find out about, especially family and friends who have that “good person” perception. There is a vast difference between now and about a decade ago though…..and that difference is Jesus Christ.

 

I wish I could say that I was one of those that was instantly transformed, that a warm feeling overtook me, a heavenly light glowed, and I have been a perfect person and not done anything wrong since I accepted the free gift of salvation. However, that would be a lie. And to be quite honest, I am not sure that very many people actually see such instantaneous change. The Bible talks about justification and sanctification. In the simplest terms possible justification is that moment when we ask Jesus into our heart and we are washed in the blood of The Lamb, while sanctification is the growth that takes place afterward. The first part is pretty easy and effortless.  It’s the sanctification…the growth…that is a lifelong process. I am learning more and more and it’s becoming clearer every day that the process, if it is to be successful in the long run, requires today’s subject – Jesus Christ.

 

We live in an interesting world. It’s a world of instant gratification, of having answers to almost anything at our fingertips via the Internet and other technology, of experts (atleast in theory) on almost any subject. Isn’t it odd that many will turn on Oprah every afternoon, bounce from doctor to doctor, keep Barnes & Noble in business by spending loads of cash in the self help section, or try to alter their state of mind through alcohol and drugs, all in an effort to seek elusive answers to complex questions?? I am not casting aspersions on everyone else because I too have been guilty of embarking on fruitless quests for a quick fix. What I have learned though is that even though some of those things aren’t all bad…doctors have their place and occasionally one will find a book with some unique and helpful insight…ultimately there is only one answer to every question, one path to true peace, one entity who will be there without fail and who is more faithful and reliable than the most cherished family member or the closest friend. That answer, that faithful and reliable being, is Jesus Christ.

 

As I mentioned, I’m still not the person I want to be. I still make mistakes…..daily. But the difference now is that I have the sincerest desire to improve, and also when I do head down the wrong road I know it a lot quicker than I used to. In many cases I realize it almost immediately, or atleast soon enough so that my error in judgment doesn’t actually turn into anything tangible. It’s called the conviction of The Holy Spirit. I am a sincere believer in The Trinity…..the three pronged being of God, Jesus Christ, and The Holy Spirit. The conviction of The Spirit is that little voice inside one’s head…or heart…that says “don’t do that”, “don’t go there”, “this is wrong and you know it”, and various other related messages. It also works in a more proactive way, pushing us toward knowing the right thing and actually doing that right thing, regardless of whether it’s the easy thing (which it usually isn’t). I will never be perfect, but being Christ-like is something I desire and work toward.

 

The voice, the connection with The Spirit, grows stronger by developing a relationship with Christ. It wasn’t that long ago that I didn’t really understand what that meant. It was just some fancy language that the preacher spouted off about on Sunday morning. But like a lot of the things related to being a Christian it’s really a lot simpler that we realize. Think about your parents and grandparents, your best friends, your co-workers, your spouse, your children…..all of which you have some sort of relationship with. What does having a relationship mean?? A relationship is a significant bond or an emotionally close camaraderie. By definition there is involvement. You know things about one another…..likes, dislikes, desires, what makes someone happy, what makes them sad. You hang out together, spend time together, do things, and engage in activities. That’s what Christ desires with us…a relationship. How do we develop a relationship with Jesus?? Pray, study The Bible, communicate with Him. If you’ve got a problem don’t read your horoscope, write to Dr. Phil, play the lottery, take every newfangled prescription medication that comes down the pike, or visit a psychic. Matthew 7:7 says “ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”

 

Now does that mean that Jesus is Santa Claus and He will grant your every wish?? No. Sometimes we, in our humanity, cannot see the big picture. Satan tempts us with a lot of things that look good, taste good, feel good, and seem…well…good. However, as the old saying goes, looks can be deceiving. The only way we can develop the power of discernment is to have an open line of communication with The Holy Spirit. Communication is a reciprocal process. Too often we don’t develop our relationship with Christ, only calling on Him when we’ve really stepped into something deep and have exhausted all other options. But isn’t it a little selfish to only call on someone infrequently and only when we have no other choice?? I know a lot of polite folks who wouldn’t dream of bothering or using a family member, neighbor, or co-worker like that…..yet many of us don’t hesitate to use The Lord like that without giving it a second thought. I am thankful that He doesn’t treat me like I treat Him sometimes, otherwise I’d be in big trouble. What I am learning as I travel the pathway of life is that it is much better in the long run…and so much more fulfilling…to have an ongoing relationship with Jesus. And I am quite sure He would agree.

 

I could go on and on, but I won’t. Suffice to say that Jesus should be the most influential person in my life, and that’s coming to fruition more each and every day. Therefore He is far and away the obvious inaugural inductee into The Hall of Influence.

 

 

The Godfather of Cyberspace’s 35 Undeniable Truths of Life

(Originally published 12/19/2007)

Back in 1988 The Godfather of Talk Radio, Rush Limbaugh, published his 35 Undeniable Truths of Life. A few years later he did a revised list since many of the originals had to do with communism, The Soviet Union, & other outdated concepts. Now, here, in the Year of Our Lord 2007, The Godfather of Cyberspace humbly presents my own list of The 35 Undeniable Truths of Life:

 

 

1. Jesus said “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3), “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6) , and “this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3).

 

2. Never put anyone on a pedestal…they will eventually come crashing down.

 

3. The most overrated sports dynasties are Notre Dame football and the New York Yankees.

 

4. Nothing is more important than family…never take sides against the family…never let anyone outside the family know what you are thinking.

 

5. “Look thou character
Give thy thoughts no tongue, nor any unproportioned thought his act
Be familiar, but by no means vulgar
Those friends thou have, and their adoption tried, grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment of each new-hatched, unfledged comrade
Beware of entrance to a quarrel but, being in, bear it that the opposed may beware of thee
Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice
Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgement
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy, but not expressed in fancy – rich, not gaudy
For the apparel oft proclaims the man
Neither a borrower nor a lender be
For loan oft loses both itself and friend, and borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry
This above all: to thine own self be true
And it must follow, as the night the day, thou cannot then be false to any man”
Shakespeare’s Hamlet

 

6. If you work on weekends then you are not at the top of your chosen profession. (notable exceptions: the clergy and sports)

 

7. Disappointment is the worst emotion, as it is a blend of both anger and sadness.

 

8. Faith and religion are two different things. Religion is a public show too often put on by hypocrites, while faith is a deeply personal thing that can change your life. Share your faith, not your religion.

 

9. Rap is not music. Poetry maybe. But not music.

 

10. Perception is reality & reality is perception.

 

11. When in doubt, atleast act like you know what you are doing.

 

12. Anyone who doesn’t shed a tear during the last 10 minutes of Field of Dreams doesn’t have a heart.

 

13. Don’t be sad because it’s over, be happy it happened in the first place.

 

14. Abortion is wrong and capital punishment is right. This makes perfect sense.

 

15. “It’s not what you know but who you know” is just as true as it ever was.

 

16. Guns don’t kill people…evil, crazy, stupid people kill people (sometimes with a gun).

 

17. Music makes our world a better place.

 

18. Freedom of religion has been hijacked to mean freedom from religion, which was not the intent of our Founding Fathers.

 

19. Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence
As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons
Speak your truth quietly and clearly, and listen to others – even the dull and the ignorant, they too have their story
Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit
If you compare yourself with others you may become vain and bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans
Keep interested in your own career, however humble, it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time
Exercise caution in your business affairs for the world is full of trickery
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is
Many persons strive for high ideals and everywhere life is full of heroism
Be yourself
Especially, do not feign affection, neither be cynical about love
For in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass
Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself
Be at peace with God
And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world
Be cheerful
Strive to be happy
-The Desiderata

 

20. Milk is the universal beverage, going well with almost all meals and nearly any type of food.

 

21. Timing is everything and hindsight is 20/20. Looking back, we can all see situations, great & small, where a seemingly insignificant shift of time (a few minutes, a day or two, a month) made a notable difference.

 

22. It’s always about the money. Always.

 

23. The wussification of America, in which overly sensitive followers of political correctness have turned our nation into the United States of The Offended, is very real and very disturbing.

 

24. There is a difference between being alone and being lonely.

 

25. There are three sides to every story – the two conflicting views of the parties involved, and somewhere in the middle is the truth.

 

26. Creationism and evolution don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

 

27. To laugh often and much
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends
To appreciate beauty
To find the best in others
To leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a redeemed social condition, or a job well done
To know that even one other life has breathed because you lived
This is to have succeeded
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

28. There are three answers to a prayer: yes, no, & not right now.

 

29. Anyone who says they’ve never contemplated suicide, even if only very briefly, is either very fortunate or a liar.

 

30. If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, but make allowance for their doubting too
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise
If you can dream but not make dreams your master
If you can think but not make thoughts your aim
If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two impostors just the same
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken, and stoop and build them up with worn-out tools
If you can make one heap of all your winnings and risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss
And lose, and start again at your beginnings and never breathe a word about your loss
If you can force your heart and nerve and muscle to serve your turn long after they are gone
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue or walk with kings and not lose the common touch
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you
If people count on you, but none too much
If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run
Yours is the earth and everything that’s in it
And, which is more, you’ll be a man, my son
-Rudyard Kipling

 

31. Cigarettes & multiple tattoos/piercings decrease a woman’s attractiveness by atleast 50%.

 

32. There really is no place like home.

 

33. Don’t ever pray for patience, lest God give you plenty of opportunities to learn your lesson.

 

34. Life is a lot like the Tom Hanks movie Cast Away. It’s really just you, alone on an island, struggling against the elements. There may be many people in your life, but almost all are like the soccer ball Wilson…they keep you company and give you someone to talk to, but in the end they’re fake, full of hot air, and float away. In matters of survival (food, shelter, etc.) you can only really count on yourself.

 

35. If you think you are beaten, you are
If you think you dare not, you don’t
If you like to win, but you think you can’t, it is almost certain you won’t
If you think you’ll lose, you’re lost
For out of the world we find success begins with a fellow’s will
It’s all in the state of mind
If you think you are outclassed, you are
You’ve got to think high to rise
You’ve got to be sure of yourself before you can ever win a prize
Life’s battles don’t always go to the stronger or faster man
But sooner or later, the man who wins is the man who thinks he can
— Unknown