April 28, 2016

Who Is the Holy Spirit and What Does He Have To Do With Fruit? (Part 9)

As Christians, we're supposed to be filled with the Spirit of God. But what, exactly, does that look like? Well, for one thing, it looks like self-control.

What in the Word: Galatians 5:22-25

Hang-Onto-It Verse: "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." (Galatians 5:22-23a)

Sweet friends, I'm so honored to introduce to you the authors of the final post in our fruit of the Spirit series. Kyrsten Newlon (my honorary niece) and her friend Rebekah True are from Richland, Michigan, and have only recently begun writing Christian articles online. They love writing books together, performing in musicals, and blogging. Jesus Christ has transformed their lives and given them a beautiful friendship that shines into all they do together. Drink in Kyrsten and Rebekah's words, written straight from their sweet young hearts...

The last characteristic of the fruit of the Spirit is self-control. I think a lot of Christians kind of skip past this virtue when reading through the list. How often do we assume that we can easily control ourselves? But as I think more deeply on this subject, the more I realize that God doesn’t want us to control us. He wants Him to control us. Let’s dive in…

What is it? So what is self-control? According to the dictionary, it is defined as “the ability to control oneself, in particular one's emotions and desires or the expression of them in one's behavior, especially in difficult situations”. Okay. Easy enough. But what does the Bible say about self-control?

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:11-13).

God has prepared our hearts for Him. As God’s living temples (2 Corinthians 6:16), we are called to be pure and godly, not lacking self-control. I believe that it is very important to have self-control as God’s temple. Jesus dwells in me, and so I need to make my heart a suitable temple for Him and by Him.

Self-control is important to have as Christians, because we need to be able to control our spirits--to protect our hearts from bad influences and keep our bodies from harmful habits. Self-control will refine your life and, as you apply it to your behavior, you will notice a change of heart. The Holy Spirit will be able to take better control of your life to guide you in the direction that God has for you.

Who has it? 2 Timothy 1:7 says that God has granted us a spirit of power, not of fear. This beautiful, sacred spirit offered to us by God directs our heart and guides us if we have accepted him. God will give the spirit of power and self-control to anyone who asks. “Each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable” (1 Thessalonians 4:4).

Each of us should have self-control. Not just the ones who struggle with anger issues or anxiety levels. Let’s be honest, don’t we all have our struggles? Every one of us struggles with temptations and every one of us need the Holy Spirit’s control.

Good news! God loves to give his self-control to us all. He loves giving us the Holy Spirit. We just need to step out and take it.

What next? “Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control" (1 Corinthians 7:5b).

Once we have the Holy Spirit, Satan and our human wills will fight against it. It's hard to discern when it is the Spirit speaking to us or Satan trying to deceive us in disguise. But you can be sure that if you ask God for clarity in his voice, He will give you answers in his perfect timing. Do not forget about God’s spirit of control. His will for you is best, so don’t try to fight it. He will help you control everything from your food habits to your temper, and much more. So then, go forth and conquer in the name of Jesus! His spirit will produce fruit in you…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The control of the Spirit of God!

“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith, goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness.” (2 Peter 1:5-6).

"When your words came, I ate them; 
they were my joy and my heart's delight." (Jeremiah 15:16)

(Looking for Part 8 of this series? Find it here.)

April 11, 2016

7 Lessons From a Reluctant Women's Bible Study Leader

Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides You, Who acts on behalf of those who wait for Him. – Isaiah 64:4 NIV
Ten years ago, I was talking on the phone with my sister, and we got on the subject of Bible study. “I need to be in a group of women,” she told me. “I need the accountability. I won’t do it on my own.”

A few days later, I was talking with my cousin Karen, and we got on the subject of Bible study. “I need to be in a group of women,” she told me. “I need the accountability. I won’t do it on my own.”

A few days later, I was talking with my church friend Pam, and we got on the subject of Bible study. “I need to be in a group of women,” Pam told me. “I need the accountability. I won’t do it on my own.”

At which point, God had my attention.

A few weeks later, Pam and I headed up a planning meeting at church, and a few weeks after that, we held the first session of Proverbs 32 women’s Bible study. (No, we’re not trying to add to Scripture; we just wanted to convey that while we were striving to reach the Proverbs 31 standard, we weren’t there yet. We should have called ourselves Proverbs 30, but the “Sayings of Agur” didn’t seem to convey our mission. So we went with Proverbs 32…P32 for short.)

Just last week, my Bible study sisters and I wrapped up our 10th (!) season. I can hardly believe we've been at it this long. I can hardly believe it got started in the first place. Because I was possibly the least-qualified woman in the world to lead a women's Bible study.

But God has a way of working with the least.

I'm so grateful to Kelsey at The Unabashed Life for originally featuring this post in her Unabashed Woman Series. Now, just barely on the other side of another season of study, Kelsey has graciously given her blessing for me to share these lessons from the least here…treasured souvenirs from a very special journey.
1. With God’s help, you can do what you can’t. I was not qualified to facilitate a women’s Bible study. I am neither theologian nor Bible scholar. I am an introvert. I’d never even done a full-on Bible study before, much less headed one up.

Now I’ve learned that if God calls you to it, He will equip you for it. I brought plenty of weakness to the Bible study table—and there God showed His perfect power (2 Corinthians 12:9). Many weeks, after I’ve told God, “I can’t do this. I need You to do it through me and for me,” I’ve driven home from church praising God for the honor and thrill and wonder of seeing Him work.
2. You can love what you don’t even know you like. On a list of spiritual blessings from my entire life, P32 is very near the top. But before I wandered blindly in, doing or leading women’s Bible study wouldn’t have been on the list at all. Our God of surprises sprung this passion on me when wasn’t even looking for it.

3. Silence does not equal disinterest, boredom, or anger. In P32’s early days, I agonized that ladies who never spoke up didn’t like the material or didn’t like me—or both. But after more than one of them told me privately, “I love this study and this group. I’m getting so much out of it,” I quit worrying about my non-talkers. Someone can be engaged and enthusiastic without saying a word.
4. Pray. (Wisely.) From the beginning, we knew we needed to pray with and for each other. But in order to dedicate most of our time to studying and discussing the Word, we started using prayer cards. Every week, our members wrote their names on index card and, if they wanted to, a praise or a request. I shuffled the cards and handed them back out, and each woman committed to praying for the sister whose name was on the card. We also formed a closed Facebook group, open to all members of P32 but not to anyone else—a safe, private place for us to all share in one another’s joys and sorrows.
5. Do your best to choose a study that’s right for your group, but don’t get hung up trying to find THE right study. Every year, God has graciously guided me toward and then confirmed a study I felt was a good fit for us. But I always come back to this truth: as long as we are digging into His Word and using careful, humble teaching to do it, Jehovah will bless and inform us. He is not so stingy as to leave us just because we don’t choose one “right” study. He is bigger and more generous than that.
6. Growing pains are normal, but they probably won’t last long. We had seven ladies our first season of P32, and it was so special we couldn’t keep it to ourselves. We started showing and sharing it, and others began saying, “I want that.” Twenty women showed up at our first meeting that second year. We revamped our format to accommodate the growth, but it was unsettling. “I just feel like crying,” one our founding members told me, and I shared her grief. We went back to our original structure and quickly settled into a new normal with a larger group. It wasn’t the same, but it was still good.
7. You will scarcely know a sweeter privilege on this earth than that of watching—before your very eyes– another woman grow in her knowledge of God and her love for Him. The gift of having a fellow sister in Christ tell you that because of what she’s learned in a study, she chose differently or reacted differently or thought differently or felt differently than she “normally” would have is immeasurable. It is worth every worry, every difficult morning, every beyond- ourself moment. To borrow from 3 John 4: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my [study sisters] are walking intruth.” My heart breaks with happiness just thinking about it. 
In a few months, if God wills it, I might once again take the seat at the front of the table in our Bible study meeting room. From there, I’ll look for new lessons that I AM—The One and Only…the God of Daniel, Esther, James…the Spirit Who produces fruit—has ready for me and for the women seated around me. I can’t wait.
No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him. – 1 Corinthians 2:9 NIV

How about you, sweet friend? Have you led Bible study and learned some lessons along the way? Or have you sensed God calling you to lead (er, "facilitate") but are holding back? I'd be honored to have you share your story in a comment.

January 17, 2016

Who Is the Holy Spirit and What Does He Have to Do with Fruit (Part 8)

As Christians, we're supposed to be filled with the Spirit of God. But what, exactly, does that look like? Well, for one thing, it looks like gentleness.

What in the Word: Galatians 5:22-25

Hang-Onto-It Verse: "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patiencekindnessgoodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." (Galatians 5:22-23a)

Welcome to the penultimate post in our Fruit of the Spirit series! As we finish out this series on the qualities of the fruit of the Spirit, I've been sharing the wisdom and inspiration of other writers. Now I'm honored and delighted to introduce you to Karen Del Tatto of Growing Together in Grace and Knowledge. I "found" Karen via the blog hop circuit, and it was one of the happiest things to happen to me last year. I know Karen's gift with words and the wisdom behind them will be sweet for your soul today.

Matthew 5:5

I've always admired people who are gentle in their speech, manner and actions. Sweet, soft voices that seem to woo hearers into a peaceful state...attitudes which see good in every person and situation...calmness when circumstances warrant otherwise...

I've been blessed with two people like that in my life: my grandma and a dear sister-in-Christ, Raquel.

My grandmother left such a beautiful legacy. I never once heard her saying anything bad about anyone. She never complained. In fact, when you asked her how she was doing, she would always say, "Oh, I can't complain." Grandma was always happy. I can still hear her sweet voice in my "mind's-ear" saying, "Hi Dear" as I walked in the door. A sweet, gentle spirit...

My friend Raquel taught me much about being a gentle parent. Her children were already well-behaved, but if a situation arose where she needed to intervene, Raquel never raised her sweet sounding voice, but would stay calm as she spoke, her gentleness diffusing the situation, bringing calmness to her children.

I wish I could say both of these gentle spirits shaped me into a gentle phenom, but sadly this is not the case. I don't have a sweet, gentle voice. In fact, it seems physically impossible for me to lower my voice to a whisper. (LOL!) I can be assertive in certain situations, and I tend to complain and be critical. Nothing gentle about any of these things.

I don't know if it seems like it to you, but to me anyway, I feel like people who are gentle are just born with naturally sweet voices and dispositions.

But, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are all called and capable of being gentle. For we are born of the Spirit, and He has planted the fruit of gentleness deep within us. 

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines gentle as:
  • having or showing a kind and quiet nature : not harsh or violent
  • not hard or forceful
  • not strong or harsh in effect or quality
Similarly, a synonym of gentle, meek is defined as: quiet, gentle, and easily imposed on; submissive.

Having a few months lead time to prepare this post, I prayed and pondered about what I might share on the fruit of gentleness. The Lord responded by graciously providing many insights over these weeks and months. But there was one overarching theme that became very evident to me: we have the Perfect example of gentleness to emulate--the Lamb of God.

Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, 
and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:29)

Through this verse, the Lord showed me that gentleness is an antidote for fear.   

A majority of the time, when we find ourselves being harsh and controlling, (the opposite of gentle and humble), we are acting out from fear. In our striving, we are trying to force our wills on the situation, rather than having an attitude of gentleness and humility, which trusts God for the outcome of the situation, bringing rest to our souls.
Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus[a] was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” (John 11:1-15)
Through this, the Lord showed me that our gentleness brings glory to God.

When I'm in a state of rushing, I tend to bang around, loudly complaining that I am late. If I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, I look very harsh. It isn't pretty and there is nothing gentle about my demeanor...a very poor testimony.

It seems that inevitably, when we rush, we actually create obstacles that delay us even more, like spilled coffee from moving too quickly and not paying attention, or finally leaving, driving up the road a few minutes, and then realizing we need to go back to get something we've forgotten.

Rushing also exhibits itself through an attitude of impatience. When we are impatiently waiting for something to happen, such as waiting for an answer to prayer, a change in a loved one's detrimental behavior, results of medical tests, word about a job, approval of a mortgage, and the list goes on and on, we tend to fret and feel anxious. My impatience manifests itself through increased activity in an attempt to distract myself. I may become angry that something is not happening fast enough. Instead of calmness and gentleness, I display tenseness and irritability, many times lashing out at others. 

Jesus never rushed anywhere. He was always calm and gentle in His actions, even when those around him were hoping He would rush to help, as in the example of Lazarus, where Jesus chose to wait so that God would be glorified, and the disciples would believe.

God's Kingdom clock ticks differently then our own. He ordains our steps each day. When we view all of life's circumstances through the eyes of God's purposes, even those that seem annoying to us or that we have been waiting on God for, we must trust God's lessons and His perfect timing.

Be still {calm, gentle} before the Lord and wait patiently for him... (Psalm 37:7)

With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love...(Ephesians 4:2)

Going through the day to day activities of life in a gentle manner, taking our time and being purposeful in all that we do, trusting God for the outcome, will not only do wonders for our well-being, but most importantly will bring Glory to God by our witness to others.
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:21-23)

He will not cry out or raise His voice, Nor make His voice heard in the street.  A bruised reed He will not break And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish. (Isaiah 42:2-3)

Through these verses the Lord showed me that a gentle spirit gives grace at all times.

Unfortunately, I'm sure we've all experienced those people that like to "push our buttons" to the point that we respond harshly. We tell ourselves that we aren't going to let this person get to us, but then it happens, we explode...

There are also the little irritations in life that seem to "push our buttons." We show frustration to our husband who hasn't done something we've asked him to do; or speak angrily to a child who is throwing a tantrum.

O, that when our "buttons are pushed" we would pour out gentle grace instead of frustration and anger.

Jesus was the epitome of gentleness, even at the hands of His tormentors, never responding harshly, always extending grace. The culmination of this great grace flowed down from the cross: Jesus' blood, washing away the sins of the world, extending God's love and mercy to all who would believe.

After seeing the examples of Jesus' gentle ways, you might be thinking the same thing I am...

How can I possibly attain to the level of gentleness that Jesus exhibited? He was the perfect, spotless Lamb of God who knew no sin. I am a sinner with a bent to sin and self!

By abiding in Jesus.

Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches. The only way a branch is able to produce fruit is by staying connected to the vine, the lifeblood, that courses through, nourishing the branch.

How do we abide?

Through prayer and time in the Word, growing us spiritually.

 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, 
full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. (James 3:17)  

Through being part of a church body, and having fellowship with other believers, encouraging practical application.

I can definitely say that all of the positive spiritual changes in my own life, on a practical level, can be directly traced back to the encouragement and example of fellow believers who I had consistently spent time with or from teachers whose lessons I sat under often.

If the fruit of gentleness is something that you could produce a bigger bushel of {like myself}, find a gentle friend and learn from her and her ways; then be intentional to exercise the muscle of gentleness, and it will grow and become defined and evident, testifying to those around you, bringing glory to God.

May God strengthen us to...

... pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.(1 Timothy 6:11)

...let {our} gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. (Philippians 4:5)

"When your words came, I ate them; 
they were my joy and my heart's delight." (Jeremiah 15:16)

(Looking for Part 7 of this series? Find it here.)