Saturday, January 31, 2009


Avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all.
2 Timothy 2.23-24 (NKJV)

Forcing the Situation
I write this from my parents’ home, where I’ve spent the past few days. Last evening, I cooked dinner for the family: Mom, Dad, my brother and his two sons. My sister-in-law, true to form, had gone to stand by a friend in crisis. Had she been with us, perhaps this story would have ended differently. I laid out beef tenderloin and all kinds of fancy fixings. The kids looked at it and asked their grandmother for reheated chicken fingers and hash browns instead. While she rallied to meet their requests, I followed her into the kitchen and (not so subtly, I admit) implied she would have knocked us halfway into next week had my brother or I ever come to the table—especially as guests—and asked for something other than what we saw. “I get your point,” Mom said. “Now here’s mine: they’re kids—grand kids.” (Two words.)

This morning, I realize I pressed my case longer, harder than I should have. Truth be told, they are grand kids: smart, loving, and tender toward godly things. They’ve grown up with a gay uncle who’s spoiled them rotten. Why wouldn’t they assume they get what they want when I’m around? Did it cross my mind they’d prefer hamburgers? Yes. Did I think it crazy to imagine they’d get all excited about a roast? Yes. Did I anticipate a “foolish and ignorant dispute”? Yes. Were they wrong? Probably. Was I wrong? Definitely. I tried to force a situation, knowing it would likely generate strife. I got so wrapped up in proving a point I ignored what I already knew.

Knowing Your Audience
Knowing your audience is the crucial factor in successfully bearing gentleness, the second “useful” fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5.22-23). As Paul teaches Timothy, when we get entangled in foolish arguments and situations—in some cases, even going so far as to create them—we kill opportunities for gentleness to thrive. The suggestion is that merely entering into quarrels thwarts gentleness. “A servant of the Lord must be gentle to all,” Paul says. In today’s vernacular: “Everyone gets the kid-glove treatment.” And here’s why: as well as we know our audience, we can never fully know it. What’s tolerable to us may be insufferable them, and vice versa. Presumption never works to anyone’s advantage. “The brutal truth” may be true, but its brutality defuses its power; the truth gets lost in the pain. An argument that can’t be won gently can’t be won, regardless how much more correct one side is than the other.

Not on the List

Paul’s list of the Spirit’s fruits is interesting for what’s not on the list. To refresh, he itemizes the fruits of the Spirit as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Hmmm. Truth is not on the list. Righteousness is not on the list. Holiness is not on the list. Knowledge is not on the list. In other words, the Spirit doesn’t bear fruit that encourages us to exert authority over one another. They’re the fruits of our flesh—our personalities’ drive to prove we’re better, stronger, more correct, etc., etc., etc. That’s why Paul tells Timothy to avoid foolish and ignorant disputes that generate strife. That’s why gentleness is essential in all we do—a useful fruit that spreads the seeds of God’s Spirit. Proving we’re right usually ends in proving we lack wisdom and character. Gentleness sets aside proving we’re right so we can prove who we are—followers of Jesus, people who love God and our neighbors without condition, people who accept and forgive without the asking.

We'd do well to follow this fellow around, just to keep Peter's wisdom before us...

(Tomorrow: Self-Control)

Friday, January 30, 2009


Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.
Revelation 2.10

Useful Fruit
Our look at the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5.22-23) started by organizing them in three groups: summer fruit (love, joy, peace), winter fruit (patience, kindness, and goodness), and useful fruit. Useful fruits lack visual appeal. They’re bland to the taste. They’re neither intended nor recommended for casual consumption. The useful fruits of the Spirit (faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) are given to propagate the Spirit—to spread its growth and nature across the landscape. Useful fruits encase seeds of God’s character. They enable us to bear His presence at large in the world. God’s faithfulness to us is so key to our relationship with Him, it’s no surprise that faithfulness is the first among the useful fruits on Paul’s list.

Faithfulness Among People
Today, we most often discuss faithfulness in terms of relationships—particularly romantic ones, making faithfulness synonymous with monogamy. This actually reveals how little we understand, or appreciate, the meaning of faithfulness. Yes, it’s essential that we be faithful lovers, but it’s just as essential we be faithful friends, neighbors, colleagues, and believers—that we bear the fruit of trust and reliability, that those around us comfortably place their faith in us to do our utmost for what’s right and best.

A popular thought says, “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission.” The notion certainly has its merits. It removes complications and hindrances that often confound our ability to get things done well or correctly. But it’s also a second-tier strategy inasmuch as it neglects faithfulness. If we maintain faithfulness among people—if our word is our bond and our actions back up what we profess—asking neither forgiveness nor permission is necessary.

To Death
In the second chapter of the Revelation, God speaks to the church at Smyrna, promising if it remains faithful—holding true to its values and commitment, even to death if necessary—He will reward it with life. Poor Smyrna! Few early congregations suffered more hardship. “I know your afflictions and your poverty,” the Lord tells them. “Yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” (Revelation 2.9) But be faithful, He says, and I will give you a crown of life.

Faithfulness grows out of confidence that our Father knows our situation and judges our thoughts and behaviors accordingly. It’s important for us to remember He has no standardized tests; all trials and tribulations are subjective. What I may find a constant struggle you may overcome without a second thought. What you may battle your entire life, day and night, may never become so much as a blip on my radar. In the end, the specifics of our tests don’t matter. The faithfulness we produce in response to them is what counts. Faithfulness inspires faithfulness. The seeds buried in the fruit we bear will find their way into others’ lives. Faithfulness is useful—to God, to us, and to all those around us.

Faithfulness is a useful fruit--more essential for the seeds it protects than its taste or visual appeal.

(Tomorrow: Gentleness)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Growing in Goodness

Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life.
Psalm 23.6

The Dependable Fruit
Goodness is the dependable fruit. It’s simple, hardy, and it complements all other flavors and occasions. Goodness—real goodness—resembles another kind of winter fruit: the citrus, which, though plenteous, is also widely imitated. Like the orange, lemon, and lime, the flavorful appeal of true goodness is easily faked in combination with other behaviors and thoughts. Many attitudes and actions conceal their rotten intentions with false aromas of goodness. (Looking for an example? How about this: unprovoked invasion of a sovereign nation is made to smell like “liberation” from tyranny. Fill in the blanks with any number of aggressors and victims.) Yet because there’s so much phony goodness on the loose, it’s incumbent on believers to produce as much authentic goodness as possible. More than ever, the world thirsts for goodness; it can’t and won’t be satisfied with watered-down Tang. It needs full-bodied goodness it can depend on without reservation. We have the potential to bring genuine goodness to life.

Known for Our Fruit
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus makes a daunting statement: “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matthew 7.19-20) Obviously, the “good fruit” He speaks of is a generalization, but there’s no doubt “goodness” prominently figures among the good fruits. Furthermore, I’m prone to believe a life that doesn’t blossom and bear goodness in the right season is less liable to produce other good fruit. At the very least, it will not be sought after as a source of good fruit. We’re known for our fruit, Jesus says. If we fail to yield goodness, why would anyone be inclined to believe our other fruits—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5.22)—are any good? (I’m just saying…)

Followers of Christ must be extremely vigilant to make sure they don’t deceive themselves into manufacturing imitation goodness instead of nurturing the real thing. Goodness is an extraction of “godliness”—it contains the essence of our Maker’s nature. It loves unconditionally, forgives without qualification, gives without expectation, and hopes without proof. “Being good,” then, is being—behaving and thinking—like God. Goodness grows, lives, and thrives in the heart. “Acting good” is just acting. It produces nothing of nourishment or lasting value. Truly good fruit can’t be faked. And, as Jesus warns, trees producing anything other than good fruit get cut down and tossed into the fire.

Goodness Follows
“Surely,” David wrote, “goodness and love will follow me.” As we walk with Christ, goodness should—and will—automatically follow. But before we nod in implicit agreement and move on, it’s refreshing to back up a verse or so to observe how David reaches this conclusion with such confidence. “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” (Psalm 23.5) Here we find a three-step description of growing in goodness.

Step One: God feeds us. He feeds us in the most extravagant, exhibitionistic manner imaginable. He finds us surrounded by enemies—doubters, haters, antagonists, and every other sort of person who feels justified in rejecting us. He pushes them aside and lays a table of His blessings before us. “Here, this is all yours,” He says. “Eat all you want. Take your time,” He says, nodding at our adversaries. “Don’t worry about them. I’ve provided this for you.” Step Two: He pours His Spirit over us, into us, and through us. He anoints us, declaring we’re His children, empowering us to serve His cause, and entitling us to claim His name. Step Three: He gives us more than enough, more than we need… more than we can contain. Goodness follows us like fruit falling from our limbs. And, thank God, His goodness is the real deal.

Goodness is easily imitated; but the world craves the real thing, which we as believers naturally produce.

(Tomorrow: Faithfulness)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Counting on Kindness

[Add] to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Peter 1.7,8

Work Boots

About a week ago, my partner came in and announced he’d rented a movie called
The House Bunny. “You’re gonna hate it,” he said, “but it’s got that Anna Faris actress—the one who reminds us of Goldie Hawn—so I thought we’d give it a shot.” Final verdict: Faris, yes; Bunny, no. However, the screenwriters (two women, proving sexual objectification and condescension are not gender-based) did leave me with an unforgettable line. At one point, someone compliments Ms. Faris’s ditsy blonde for being so kind, and she says, “Oh, honey, kindness is just love in work boots.” I’ve not been able to shake that image: love in work boots.

In our survey of Paul’s list of the fruits of Spirit (Galatians 5.22), kindness falls between patience and goodness as a “winter fruit”—a less visually striking attribute that nonetheless is essential in its ability to sustain us through harsher times. From this perspective, kindness is like a sturdy pair of work boots. It allows us to wade through drifts of unpleasant conversation, slog through puddles of prejudice, and kick aside obstacles that adversaries raise to hinder our ability to express God’s love, joy, and peace.

The Linchpin

Just as Paul does in Galatians, Peter opens his second epistle with a list of qualities each believer should strive to embody. Many of them are the same, but the order is slightly different. Peter lists them as additive traits, one enabling another. He rounds things up with godliness—behavior and attitudes that reflect the nature of God—and ends with love. But he inserts kindness as the linchpin connecting godliness and love. “The more of these qualities you possess,” Peter writes, “the more effective and productive you’ll be in your knowledge of Christ.”

Kindness clears away clutter. It raises our minds and focus above pettiness and small-minded criticism. It deflects darts aimed at us by putting us on the offensive. Being kind to others outranks the importance of how kind others are to us. Counting on kindness inverts the equation. It’s not about us; it’s all about them and how we treat them.

Winter Warmth

That reversed flow of kindness for cruelty is easy in the summer, when love and joy and peace are ripe in our lives. It’s a little tougher in winter, when we may not have optimal conditions to grow love for those who falsely accuse us. But in these cold times, kindness can work wonders—for them and us. Kindness provides winter warmth. It knocks the chill out of situations. It brings light to quick-falling shadows and early dusks. It preserves us from injuries—frostbite and exposure to harmful elements. Kindness shouldn’t be underestimated or, worse yet, undervalued as less than love. It keeps us alive to love. It does the work of love before love reaches its fullness to work on its own.

Kindness: love in work boots.

Postscript: Kindness Rising

I’m thrilled to share a recent email I received from, that proves kindness to GLBT believers and other ostracized Christians continues to rise. Thank God for His Spirit—and the willingness of more and more congregations to answer His call to love unconditionally and wholeheartedly!

Dear Fellow Members in Christ:

It is my pleasure to announce that the 2008 Welcoming Christian Church Survey Report is out! Comparing the numbers to the previous year it is clear that churches continue to open their doors to the gay and lesbian (GLBT) community at a rapid clip. Like the gay community itself, this is a movement crosses virtually all denominational and geographically based lines. At the close of 2008 the directory contained 5,301 Christian churches from thirty different countries, representing sixty-five different denominations. The United Church of Christ leads the way with over 865 churches followed by the Episcopalian churches, Lutheran and Presbyterian churches respectively.

To find out more including details as to where this growth is taking place by denomination and geographical location, along with a brief analysis as to where this movement may be headed next the report is a must read. The 2008 Welcoming Christian Church Survey Report along with the other yearly reports can be found in the section of the titled “Welcoming Church Report”.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Surviving on Patience

By standing firm you will gain life.
Luke 21.19


The King James Version translates this as, “In your patience possess ye your souls.” Jesus is talking about hard times—winters of rejection and trials, when His followers would face harsh criticism from the religious majority. “All men will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. By standing firm you will gain life.” (Luke 21.17-19) Patience keeps us in possession of our souls.

We discussed the first three fruits of the Spirit—love, joy, and peace (Galatians 5.22)—as “summer fruits,” sweet and wonderful products that develop over time, appealing to the eye and taste. Patience, along with kindness and goodness, are winter fruits. They’re born in us and born by us to sustain survival. They allow us to withstand cold blasts of hostility and brutal, battering winds that would cause weaker people to snap. Winter fruits aren’t as lovely to look at as love, joy, and peace. People don’t reach for them as readily or enthusiastically. In fact, when anyone asks us to be patient, kind, or good, it’s a good guess they’re in tough situations to begin with. But patience, kindness, and goodness are vital fruits that every believer must yield in their seasons, because they keep us supple, nourished, and enable us to adapt to our circumstances. All the love and joy and peace we have will come to naught if hard times of rejection and tribulation uproot or break us. “Patience brings about self-possession,” Jesus says. “By standing firm you will gain life.”

The Vital Link

Hebrews 10.36 says we need patience “so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.” Patience is the vital link that connects faith in God’s promises to their realization in our lives. So many believers blossom quickly with love, joy, and peace. Then when the weather changes and they sorely need patience to survive, they find its fruit dull and lackluster, not at all the festive, attractive produce that they initially enjoyed. Yet what they don’t realize these initial bursts of love, joy, and peace are first fruits—early tastes of amazing things that come to those who do God’s will. Patience gets us from one summer to the next. Each summer’s fruit grows richer, sweeter, and more outstanding in every way. If we neglect to nurture the winter fruit of patience between these summers, however, we will falter. The strength we need to bear even greater love, joy, and peace won’t be there when the time comes.

Proof Points
The Spirit bears different types of fruit in our lives to prove different aspects of His nature. As we discussed a few days ago, love bears proof of discipleship; followers of Jesus love. Joy proves that our God can transform sorrow and loss into blessings. Peace proves that we live above human understanding; our faith eases our doubts and calms our fears. So what does patience prove?

Paul writes, “We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path… Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses.” (2 Corinthians 6.3,4) Patience proves we are servants—more specifically, we’re waiters. We’re in no rush. We can hang on as long as it takes for God’s plan to work as He wills. The same intolerance, suspicion, rejection, and hatred we endured yesterday may be standing at our gate today. It may be there tomorrow. It may be there next week. But God has promised it won’t last forever.

Numbers 23.19 reminds us, “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” No.
The old gospel song says, “He may not come when you want Him, but He’s right on time.” That’s the fruit of patience at its most concise. Answers we seek, changes we pray for, and hopes we’ve set our hearts on—they’re in development even as we read this. Patience feeds our spirits as we wait. It keeps us in possession of our souls.

Patience is a winter fruit--not as colorful and sweet as love, joy, and peace, yet it's the vital link between accepting God's promises and seeing them realized.

(Tomorrow: Counting on Kindness)

Monday, January 26, 2009

Cultivating Peace

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
John 14.27

Trouble in Mind

Peace comes in two varieties: ease and fidelity. Ease is an internal state—quietude built on confidence and courage. Fidelity is a mutual understanding—harmony built on accord, including agreements to disagree. One type of peace won’t survive without the other, however; when one goes untended, its complement soon shrivels away. Trouble in mind bears trouble in life, and vice versa. Unease about a situation puts us on the defensive, inevitably leading to conflicts and ensuing chaos. Conflicts destabilize situations, engendering discomfort and anxiety.

Consequently, peace—the third of Paul’s fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5.22)—must be cultivated with delicacy and determination. An unusual amount of thought is required to sustain its growth, protecting both varieties from undue stress and unwarranted fear. Peace of either variety, whether ease or fidelity, can’t thrive without generous supplements of faith. This demands we place total trust in what we believe despite what we see. If we look for peace, we have to see its potential long before we expect to see first signs of growth.

The Legacy of Christ

Peace is the legacy of Christ. In John 14, as He explains His imminent departure to the disciples, He wills His peace to those who follow Him. “This peace isn’t like any you’ll ever find in the world,” He tells us. And then He says that His peace encompasses both varieties. “Don’t be troubled,” He says. Be at ease. “Don’t be afraid.” Absence of fear is the basis of fidelity. The moment worry of harm or betrayal enters a relationship discord takes root. I start to distrust your loyalty, question your motives, and read between the lines. My guard goes up and my faith fails. Peace on both fronts—internal and with others—shrivels and dies.

Cultivating peace, then, begins with claiming our inheritance of peace with complete assurance it’s ours. Peace is in us and our job is to weed out doubt and wariness that destroy it. This makes no sense much of the time, because behaviors and attitudes we encounter blatantly threaten our peace. And, frankly, they have every potential of doing so. But the peace we’re called to produce is not our own. It’s the peace of God, which means it’s impervious to any attack or insult. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus,” Philippians 4.6-7 assures us. Making peace grow into ripe, nourishing fruit comes from removing anxiety—unease and doubt—and releasing our problems to the care and providence of our Father. We may not understand why or how His peace overpowers personal doubt and interpersonal conflict, but we know it does and will. It keeps our hearts and minds.

It Can Be Done
Like love and joy, peace is a summer fruit. It blossoms in season and ripens steadily until its benefits are ready for harvest. Cultivating peace is a tedious, often backbreaking process. Yet it can be done. Paul writes in Romans 12.18, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Those who sow discord, jealousy, fear, and anger are outside our control. But as far as it depends on us, we can live at peace with everyone. The attitudes and actions that would rattle and rile the self-serving individual can’t threaten our peace. These include assaults on our pride or identity or even our right to be. No one beyond our Father has any authority on such matters, so those who weigh in aren’t worth serious consideration. Whether or not they live at peace with us, we shall live at peace with them. Christ’s peace protects our hearts from doubts and fears. It’s an unworldly peace, an incomprehensible peace, a peace that only God’s Spirit can nurture and produce.

If we look for peace, we have to see its potential long before it starts to grow.

(Tomorrow: Surviving on Patience)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Blooming Joy

Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy.

                        Psalm 96.12

Bumper Crops

One of the more wistful aspects of getting older is watching common phrases fall from usage. (Those of you on the younger side of life, be forewarned: the new stuff is seldom as good as what it replaces.) We used to call excessive surpluses “bumper crops,” alluding to abundant harvests that overflowed the capacity of truck flatbeds and required farmers to tie extra bushels to their bumpers. Bumper crops of any kind—produce, jobs, medicine, movies, etc.—were always greeted happily, because they meant there was plenty to go around. Those who couldn’t find or afford certain items in limited supply enjoyed them along with everyone else when favorable conditions yielded bumper crops. (We called too much of a bad thing a “scourge,” another agricultural term.)

Joy often comes in bumper crops. When times are good, our vines burst with joy. We can’t give it away fast enough. Then, in tougher times and harsher circumstances, it seems there’s no joy to be had. Shortages of joy, however, are unnecessary in any season. They indicate we’ve forgot joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5.22). It can grow independently of natural considerations if properly nurtured and cultivated. Like the Psalmist above, we can call for joy and the key to this is monitoring joy’s growth from inception to harvest.

Sow in Tears

Psalm 126.5 assures us, “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.” (KJV) During hard times plagued by tragedy, disappointment, and depression, tears we shed normally precede blessings of joy. We can’t forget this. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,” James 1.2 tells us, going on to trace joy’s life cycle. Tests build faith. Faith develops perseverance. When perseverance finishes its work, we are “mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Therefore, joy testifies to maturity and well-roundedness—confidence in God’s wisdom, mercy, and ability to bring us through our trials, to teach us invaluable lessons from them, and to transform present sorrows into future joys. Joy is always present in the believer’s life. If not in fruition, it’s developing and can always be found. Knowing joy is there—waiting, growing, blooming, and ripening—permits us to summon it at any stage. And while it may not yet be available in its fullness, it’s being there brings comfort and strength all the same.

Sweeter as It Grows

Like love and peace, joy is a summer fruit. It remains dormant, nestled in our beings to survive wintry chills that would destroy it. During these periods, we persevere. As our seasons change, joy breaks forth in bright colors. Yet it’s imperative we remember blooming joy is a delicate thing, a precursor of far more substantial, satisfying fruit. If we pull its blossoms, we deprive ourselves of the richness to come. The same holds for the early days, after the petals fall and we start to feel joy increasing in weight and size. Joy gets sweeter as it grows. Impatience to taste its pleasures before it ripens will bring bitter tastes and indigestion. We allow joy to mature, carefully feeding it with strength we draw from faith in God’s promises and prayer. We shelter joy’s presence with God’s presence, surrounding it with His light and the warmth of His love. “You fill me with joy in your presence,” David writes in Psalm 16.11. God’s joy in us makes our joy grow. And observing its beauty as it develops—its metamorphosis out of sorrow, its initial flurries of radiance, its gradually taking shape, and its ripening fullness—brings joy of its own.

(Hat-tip to davis for guidance to Psalm 96.12 in a recent comment.)


Watching joy grow through its various stages brings joy of its own.

(Tomorrow: Cultivating Peace)