The Marks of Commitment

I was reading a fortune cookie the other day: “Punctuality is a mark of commitment.” Now, I don’t take fortune cookie philosophy too seriously, but it did cause me wonder, “Is that true, and what are the marks of commitment?” And perhaps, more importantly, “Am I committed to the Lord?”

First, yeah, I think that punctuality is a mark of commitment. It is what one does, when we love something (or someone). It shows a readiness and an eagerness to get on with the job ahead. I can almost guarantee you that your employer thinks so. Do we demonstrate punctuality in the Lord’s work?

Volunteerism is another manifestation of commitment. Committed people don’t wait around for others to volunteer for things that need to be done to accomplish the mission. Volunteering says, “I believe in this and want to be involved in this!” After Isaiah’s vision and cleansing, the LORD asked, “Who shall we send?”; Isaiah’s hand shot up, “Here am I, send me!” Do we volunteer readily or do we hang back hoping that others will do what we could?

Committed people also are willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish the mission. It doesn’t matter if it is hard, unpleasant, humble, or even strange, as long as it makes a contribution to the larger cause. The committed person is just happy to be part of something larger than himself. Paul tells us, “Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.” 2 Corinthians 11:24-27. Are we willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish the Lord’s mission?

Related to the willingness to do whatever it takes is the willingness to sacrifice lesser things to do what needs to be done. Committed people act sacrificially; whether it’s time, effort, talents, money, leisure, or advances in this life they are considered expendable. Paul said, “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” Philippians 3:7. Are we willing sacrifice for the Kingdom?

Endurance and persistence are also marks of commitment. Committed people don’t give up easily. Knowing the importance of the cause, committed folks continue to work without giving up. Twenty-four times the New Testament encourages disciples of Jesus to endurance (hupomene, courageous, active service to the very end). Do I persevere in the Lord’s business or do I throw in the towel, when the going gets tough?

Commitment also is willing to serve the mission even when others abandon it. Some will abandon the battle, and when they do they give aid to the enemy, because it is discouraging to those who continue on. But the committed do continue on. Do we continue to serve even when others have fallen away?

And finally, commitment doesn’t offer half-measures. Commitment is “all in”, “no holds barred”, and “leaving it all on the field”. Jesus in His life and on His cross was clearly committed to you and me. Are we as committed to Him?

So, are you committed. I’ll confess I’ve got some work to do on myself. How about you? Are you really committed to the Lord and His great cause of salvation for all men?

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This Little Light of Mine

It’s a simple song, but it has a profound message—straight from Scripture—”This Light of Mine”.

It comes from a the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus tells us that His disciples are the light of the world (Matt. 5:14). Let’s allow this children’s song based on the Master’s teaching to remind us of some important Christian basics.

First of all, the world needs your light.

This little light of mine

I’m gonna let it shine,

Lights make a difference in a dark room, and the world is a dark place. You become the “light of the world” with your Christ-like deeds, attitudes, words, mercy, and message. And as the song says, it really does take a deliberate choice and effort on our part to “let it shine”. Are you letting your light shine?

Many times, of course, our lights will be unwelcome in the world of darkness. “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.” John 3:19. And with the opposition of the world, there will be a temptation to hide our light, become a secret disciple. But the song encourage us:

…Hide it under a bushel? No!

I’m gonna let it shine

Jesus told the disciples at the Sermon on the Mount that no one lights a lamp and puts it under a bushel or bowl. You lit the candle or lamp to shed light and make difference in the room; putting it under a bushel or bowl would be the opposite of what you need. The world needs the light of Jesus shining in our lives.

Naturally, Satan would like nothing better than to darken your light, lessening your influence in his world of darkness, or blow it out altogether, a return to darkness. But…

…Don’t let Satan blow (wwwhhh) it out.

I’m gonna let it shine

Satan tries to blow our our light through sin in our lives. He’s always got his lips puckered up for a light-dimming wwwhhh by entangling us in sin. Better still, he thinks, if he can blow out the light altogether and return the disciple to the darkness. Sin is the air in Satan’s wwwhhh; that can cause our light’s flame to flutter or go out completely; don’t let him near.

Lastly, we sing…

…All around the neighborhood

I’m gonna let it shine

…Let it shine all the time;

Let it shine!

Whether at school or work or in the neighborhood or in the coffee shop or the store or the whatever, let your light shine. In the morning or lunchtime or afternoon or commute time or game time or evening or night time, let it shine all the time, let it shine.

Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden;” Matthew 5:14. Be the light, out on a lampstand, shielded from the wind, up on a hill for all to see! This is how the dark world gets changed!

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The Encouragement of Involvement

After the defeat of Ammonites and Moabites, lands east of the Jordan River, the Gad, Reuben, and half the tribe of Manasseh came to Moses and asked if it were possible for them to settle east of the Jordan. They had large herds of livestock and east of the Jordan had abundant grazing lands. Moses’ first response to them was sharp, “…Shall your brothers go to war while you yourselves sit here? Now why are you discouraging the sons of Israel from crossing over into the land which the LORD has given them?” Numbers 32:6, 7. As the story has a happy ending; the tribes explain that they would go to war with the rest of Israel and stay as long as needed (they only wanted to settle their families in the east), and Israel conquered Canaan. But Moses brought up a very good point that applies to the Lord’s people in modern times, too: failing to join the work at hand discourages those who are working, but joining in uplifts. And with that in mind, let’s do a little soul-searching.

Are you a lifter or a leaner? Have you ever lifted something with a 3 or 4 year old? If you have, you might remember that sometimes you get to lift not only the original load, but the child also. It’s not their fault, they don’t know how to lift—yet. But we expect more from an adult, right? In the Lord’s church there is much to do; be a lifter, not a leaner. When you lift, you encourage others with your involvement!

Are you a server or a customer? Some folks see the church as a place to be served, not unlike a store or a restaurant. When the service is fine, they offer no complaint, but if the service is off—well, that’s different. But the Lord’s church isn’t a store or restaurant, and members are not customers, they are servants. Instead of looking to be served, shouldn’t we be rolling up our sleeves and doing what needs to be done?  When you serve, you encourage others with your involvement!

Are you an owner or a renter? Owners tend to be more careful with the homes they live in, the cars they drive, and the furniture they use. It’s theirs and they take ownership. Renters are usually not as careful; because these things aren’t theirs. Owners paint the walls, maintenance the cars, and clean the furniture; renters just call the owner when things get broken. Do you see the church and the work of the church like an “owner” or a renter? We know the church belongs to the Lord, but we are all stewards, charged with the duty of caring for it the way the Master would. And when we have an owner’s perspective, things start getting done. When you “own” the work of the church, you encourage others with your involvement!

Are you part of the church’s core workers or a peripheral member? Ask any church leader… It’s not that the core workers are just that talented; most often it is that the core group is willing to say, “Yes!” It’s not that the core group has more time than anyone else (they often have less); most often they are simply the ones who have eyes to see the need and are willing to find the time to get it done. Sometimes they are the ones who are willing to cancel other plans to get the Lord’s work done. Become one of the church’s core workers, and encourage others with your involvement!

When the church has a high rate of involvement, the whole church gets encouraged. Things get done by God’s power. New opportunities arise with God’s blessings. Souls are saved by God’s message. And the momentum of growth snowballs into great things. Get involved. Get excited. Invite others to get involved. And watch what God will do!

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Let Your Joy Shine!

Christian is not a negative religion. The world—very unfortunately—sees God’s word, Christ’s church, and Christians generally as very negative—a religion of “No”. We know why, of course; God often says, “No,” to the evil and harmful things that people in the world seem to love, but which hurt themselves and others, and violate God’s very nature. However, those who know the Lord understand that Christianity is very positive—and more than merely optimistic, it is full of faith and hope! The very things that make men pessimistic, cynical, curmudgeon-like, and defeatist have no power over the Christian!

For example, Christian know that our troubles will ultimately be turned upside down, if we follow the Lord’s commands. Paul reminds us, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28, NAS95). There is no problem so difficult that God cannot fix it, if we are willing to follow His solution.

And of course, one of the two greatest problems that man has ever had to face is death (the other being sin)—the Lord has solved it! While other religions may make a claim to some sort of afterlife and “salvation”, Christianity has proven it through the resurrection of Jesus. Let that sink in; the event in this world that brings the most sorrow and dread has been solved! “O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?” (1 Corinthians 15:55, NAS95). Death is not the end of existence; there is much more. And for the Christian, the “much more” is more wonderful than words can express. With this sort of hope, it’s hard to threaten a Christian with death!

And here’s another, the nature of individual men can be changed! In Jesus, where a new kind of life is revealed, a clean slate is offered, and forgiveness is bestowed, the lives of men and women can be radically changed, not just for the better but for the best! God’s word and Jesus’ cross can make amazing changes in individuals and in the world, when it is sown into the hearts of men and men submit to it. God through Isaiah said, “So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11, NAS95).

There is real joy in the fellowship of the saved. There is delight found in the commands of the Lord. There is hope for men in this world and iron-clad hope for the world to come. Even when we are persecuted in this world, we are confident in our victory, overcoming evil with good. We have abundant reasons to be joyful rather than cynical, dark, or suspicious.

And when we do dwell on the joy, on the hope, on the faith; we discover a strength for perseverance, endurance, and zeal in doing the Lord’s will—“Then he said to them, “Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”” (Nehemiah 8:10, NAS95).

This week, ponder the positive, enjoy the joy, and affirm the affirmative in your Christian life! Let that joy shine; people will wonder what you’re smiling about—and you can tell them. God is so very good, and He has given to us the hope, the peace, and the joy that cannot be touched by the world—if we don’t let it.

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THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT, Part 4

The last few weeks we’ve been giving a little deeper thought to the fruit of the Spirit. While we probably know the basic meaning of these qualities, I hope you’ve been made to reflect and examine “inspect” the fruit of the Spirit in your life. This last look will concentrate on faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.

Faithfulness

This aspect of the fruit of the Spirit has do do with loyalty and reliability. It is the quality of a steward that the master need never worry about Matt. 24:45. It is the kind of man to whom the teachings of “the Faith” should be entrusted (2 Tim. 2:2). In Paul’s writing it is the quality of a statement that the hearer can absolutely rely upon (e.g., 1 Tim.1:15; 1 Tim. 3:1; 1 Tim. 4:9; et al). It is also said of those who chose to die rather than deny their Lord Jesus (Rev. 2:10 and 3:14). And it is said of God who called us into the fellowship of His Son (1 Cor. 1:9). It is this loyalty, this reliability, this trustworthiness that the Spirit of God seeks to produce in the Christian. This is a man whose word can be trusted, whose loyalty can be relied upon, and who would rather die than deny the Lord who redeemed him.

Gentleness

The Greek word is praus and is difficult to translate precisely. The classical Greek writers defined it as the middle between the extremes of passion / apathy or pride / abject degradation or violent grabbing / completely hands-off, etc. Bible translations have used meekness, courtesy, modesty, and gentleness to express the meaning—all of which are trying to find a word to express “appropriate restraint”. This fruit of the Spirit is about finding “appropriate restraint”, especially in human relations. This makes sense of Gal. 6:1 “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted”, 2Tim. 2:24,25 “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth”, and other similar passages.

Self Control

The Greek word means to be in possession of something. In an ethical sense it describes the strength of spirit in which a man grasps control and holds control of himself, his desires, his lusts, and his passions. Self control, however, is not merely holding back from giving in to the works of the flesh; this is critical to realize. Self control must be exercised in two important ways: keeping the Christian from certain sinful things and deliberately engaging in commanded things. Christianity is not merely the religion of “no”; it is also about “yes”. It is true that self control will say no to the temptations of, for example, sexual sin; but it will also press us to be deliberately active in, for another example, practicing gentleness. Indeed, self control is the foundation for so many aspects of the fruit of the Spirit.

So, about your discipleship…are you living by the Spirit, walking by the Spirit, and producing the fruit of the Spirit? It makes a difference: Ga 6:7,8 “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” Don’t let the weeds of the works of the flesh choke out the good fruit the Spirit wants to produce in your life.

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THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT, Part 3

Last week we launched off into some of the particulars of the fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, and peace; but of course, there’s more to this delightful fruit produced in disciples of Christ through God’s Holy Spirit. This time we’ll take a look at patience, kindness, and goodness. While we probably know the basic meaning of these qualities, let’s dive a little deeper.

Patience

The Greek word here is macrothumia and it means simply “long tempered” (sometimes “long suffering”). It is the opposite our our common term “short-tempered”, because it points to a heart that is not quickly moved to anger, passion, or even disappointment. It is, of course, a characteristic of God Himself, who has been “long tempered” with mankind, although our actions have virtually begged for Him to pull the trigger on us long ago (2 Peter 3:9).

Patience in the Christian fails to throw in the towel on discouraging events or situations, choosing instead to soldier on in hope that either God will act or men will change. Patience in the Christian is integral part of the truth that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:7). It enables us to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3), because we won’t give up on one another. In essence it is the self-disciplined choice we make to wait—despite being fed up,  discouraged, provoked, or inflamed—before speaking harshly or acting rashly.

Kindness

Kindness is a sympathetic generosity of heart that deliberately seeks to give, to do, and to speak things that benefit others, especially those who are in need. The Greek word, when it was used of things, meant well-fitting, nonabrasive, or sometimes without bitter taste. Kindness is attributed to God as He blesses and saves men; take for example, Ro 2:4 “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?”, or Eph 2:7 “so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”  While the opposite of kindness might be thought of to be active “meanness”, it can also be the heart that is either callous or so self-absorbed that it never sees the needs of others and so never benefits them. When the Christian faithfully bears the fruit of the Spirit; he actively sees others, desires to help, and in sympathetic generosity benefits them with a smile and a gentle touch.

Goodness

Goodness and kindness are very close in their meanings. A close study of the Greek words indicate that the difference lies in the second-mile attitude that “goodness” carries. Greek writers contrasted their word for justice and goodness this way: justice prompted a man to give exactly what he was due, goodness prompted him to do enough to really help. “Goodness” would then be “generosity” or “open-handedness”. And once again, we can see how the fruit of the Spirit is a direct reflection of our Savior.

The fruit of the Spirit will certainly be kind, but more than kind, it will be good. It will go the second mile, giving open-handedly enough to really do some good.

When the fruit of the Spirit is really manifested in our lives, it becomes obvious how Christians really are the light of the world and the salt of the earth—and how evangelism really begins. Who wouldn’t be attracted to a Savior who teaches and inspires this kind of life and these sorts of qualities? Is this fruit in your life?

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THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT, Part 2

Over the last several weeks, on this bulletin page, we’ve been studying Galatians 5:19-23, the famous list of works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. We’ve looked at the Biblical definition of the works of the flesh (some of them are not common words) and we got a few examples of how we still practice them today—so we can be careful to avoid them in our Christian lives.

Last week we talked about the concept of the fruit of the Spirit: that it is 1) from the Spirit of God, 2) more than merely making other disciples, and 3) that it is a whole changed life, not just a list of a few virtues to take or leave.

So now let’s take a look at a few facets of the wonderful fruit of the Spirit.

Love

This is agape love, the love broad enough to include all mankind—good or bad, friend or enemy, countryman or foreigner, believer or not. In this sense it is sometimes described “unconditional love”. But it is more; it is a decision and commitment to speak and act in the best interest of one’s neighbor. But here is what it is not: it is not the permissive and soft love full of rainbows, and unicorns that the world thinks it is.  Jesus was the perfect embodiment of this love. His love certainly did include kindness and compassion; but when the occasion called for it, His love also included cleansing the Temple, correcting the proud, outright condemnation of some, and speaking the truth bluntly. This love is powerful, surprising, and right. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34).

Joy

This is another word that can be easily misunderstood, because of the world’s perception and definition of it; joy is more than mere happiness. We are happy when all is right with our world, but it evaporates quickly as soon as the circumstances of our lives change. Christian joy, on the other hand, is founded on the greater and eternal truths that are invisible to the world, but which Christians know are real nonetheless: the joy of God’s love, the joy of the Gospel, the joy of Christ’s resurrection, the joy of forgiveness, the joy of a new kind of life, and even the joy of suffering (knowing what it accomplishes, James 1:2ff)—to name just a few! Such joy in the Lord powers courage, perseverance, mission, strength, and a shockingly different attitude for the Christian, even while experiencing the trials and troubles of this world.

Peace

Once again, the Christian sees the idea of peace differently from the world. Worldly peace is the lack of conflict and absence of a troubled heart. But the Biblical idea is much broader and has little to do with whether everything is OK; in fact, Christian peace is at its best when things are not going well. The Hebrew word for peace is shalom, and the NT gets its meaning from the Hebrew meaning. It refers to the well-being of the mind, of the heart, of my relations with others, and most importantly my relationship with God. It is this last facet, one’s relationship with God, that that makes all the difference; because even in the midst of turmoil, our faith and trust rests comfortably in the Father who loves, provides, and listens. This is why Paul says, “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 comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6, 7).

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