“The Fruit of the Spirit is Gentleness”

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness…. (Galatians 5:22-23)

“Would the gentleman from North Carolina please yield the floor?”

“The gentle lady from California makes a good point.”

The U.S. Senate may be the last place in this country where people are recognized as being gentle. It’s a nice trait. “Gentle” means you are not bombastic, not mean-spirited, not rude or unkind or harsh.

My goal is to become more gentle in this life.

Various translations make this “kindness” and “goodness.” Same difference, I suppose, although there is something about “gentleness” that weighs heavily on my mind.

Did you hear about the local preacher who was protesting a “gay and lesbian pride” march winding its way through the French Quarter? According to the news reports, the minister was preaching to the participants in harsh and condemning tones. At one point, a woman decided that this angry man of God (we’re giving him the benefit of the doubt on this point) needed a hug. So, she stepped out of the crowd, walked over to him, and kissed him.

He has filed charges against her. Accuses her of assault.

On my Facebook page, I made a little joke about this, pointing out that if that preacher doesn’t know the difference in a kiss and an assault, he has lots of problems. Within hours, I had fifty comments. Some took me to task for my levity, some pointed out that if the woman was HIV positive and had some kind of openness on her mouth, she could infect him. Others wanted to weigh in on the homosexual issue.

My concern was lost in the uproar. I was wishing the preacher had been gentler, kinder, nicer.

If the fruit of the Spirit is gentleness–and it is–then is it not true that whenever a person claiming to be a follower of Jesus is anything but gentle and kind, we may conclude from their actions that they are not Spirit-filled?

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The Fruit of the Spirit is Longsuffering

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

John Cameron Swayze crowned a long career in news and television work with a series of commercials he did for Timex watches. After subjecting a wristwatch to brutal treatment, he would retrieve it (from the hole in which it had been buried, the building they had just blown up, whatever), hold it up to the camera, and observe, “Takes a licking and keeps on ticking.”

That’s you. That’s me. That’s the disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.

When we do it right.

The Lord told His followers that as a result of their identification with Him they were most definitely going to “take a licking.” In one passage, for instance, where we are commanded to love our enemies, Jesus said we can expect to be hated, cursed, threatened, and spitefully used. If we are struck on the cheek–that sounds like a licking to me!–we are to turn the other to our assailant. If someone steals our cloak, we are to offer our tunic also. (Luke 6:27-30)

In order to love the person who hits me, hates me, curses me, and forcibly takes what is mine, I am going to be needing one resource that does not come as standard equipment with the human animal: restraint.

The Greek word “makrothumia” is literally “long-tempered.” (makros = long; thumos = temper) Various translations call it longsuffering, as well as forbearance and patience.

Let’s stick with “longsuffering.” That word says it as well as any.

Longsuffering is self-restraint. When being provoked, one does not lose control and dish out the same kind of treatment he/she has received.

Perhaps a good way to emphasize what the word means is by thinking of its opposites. Here is my short list of the reverse image of longsuffering.

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I Have a Funny Story for You

Earlier this week, I posted this note on Facebook: Wanna hear something funny? I certainly do. If you saw something, read something, heard something funny or unusual, pass it on. The rest of us need laughter in our lives, and if you have some to share, you are Heaven’s gift to us today.

What I anticipated is not what I received. I figured some FB friends would agree on the need for laughter. What I got was funny stories.

Here they are. All of them.

1) After an especially hard landing by an airline overseas, the captain dreaded standing at the galley door looking people in the eye and thanking them for choosing this carrier. He knew someone would have some sarcastic remark about his landing on this particularly windy day. However, no one commented until near the end when he spotted one little lady approaching him with a cane. As he thanked her, she said, “Sonny, I have one question for you. Did we land or were we shot down?” (from Gordon Donahoe)

2) A riddle from M-Fuge camep: How did they dig up gold and silver in Old Testament times? Answer: Miner Prophets. (from Keith Jones)

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10 Prayers I Hope Never to Hear Again

You’re sitting in church, working hard to worship. You’ve had a hectic week and this Sunday morning has had its share of stresses. But finally, you’re here, in place, in the Lord’s house, sitting in your favorite pew. You’ve joined the congregation in singing the first hymn of the day. The minister has started the service right with a wonderful call to worship. And then it happens.

The person leading the opening prayer strays across an invisible border and says something that offends you or frightens you or angers you or troubles you or at the very least disturbs you.

That’s what this is about.

Just so you will know, I’m a pastor. We pastors have the same reaction you do when the person praying–whether a layman or a trained minister who should know better–says something very wrong or quite stupid or somewhat offensive. We wonder what that was all about, where he learned that doctrine, or where he picked that weird phrase up and decided to incorporate it into his public prayers.

Everyone has his/her list of prayers that cross that deadline. Here is my list of the Top ten prayers I hope never to hear again.

10. “And Lord, we want to tell you…and Lord, this, and Lord that.”

My neighbor Kay Swanson hears people pray, “Father God, Lord, I pray….and Father God, that you would…Lord God, Father God, be merciful to us….” Kay says, “Please! When you’re speaking to me, you don’t invoke my name between every couple of words. Why do you do this to God?”

Using the Lord’s name as punctuation is a no-no.

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When Preachers Need Correcting

Anyone who reads my stuff on this website knows I am a preacher and am pro-preacher. I’ve seen so much mistreatment of God’s servants over nearly a half-century in the ministry that it weighs heavily on my heart. I want to do anything I can to encourage these beloved friends and anything I can to help churches and church leaders know how to relate to them.

However.

Periodically, someone will write, “Yes, but what if the preacher is in the wrong? What if he is—” and you fill in the blank. What if he’s a bully? a dictator? a flirt? a heretic? a liberal? a nut? an abuser? a molester? a criminal? a thief? a liar?

Let me emphasize that I am under no illusions about human nature. We are all sinners and daily in need of God’s mercy, Christ’s forgiveness, and compassionate understanding from one another. I know also that some men in the pulpit have no business there.

There are times when godly lay leaders in a church absolutely must rise up and deal with an out-of-control preacher.

Those times and occasions are rare, thankfully.

More often, the problems are smaller, subtler, safer (if you will), and less of a threat. Even so, every church needs a system for speaking to the pastor who needs a rebuke, even if it’s only a gentle one.

If you thought I was leading up to a story, you’re right. Several, in fact.

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The Kind of Friend Every Pastor Needs

Question: Pastor, is there anyone you can go to with a serious doubt about the Christian faith?

Let’s say you are struck by contradictions in the Bible. But if you preached these from the pulpit, you would have caused great harm. Psalm 73:15 comes to mind.If I had said, “I will speak thus,” behold, I would have been untrue to the children of your generation.

But you need answers. Where do you turn?

You are burdened by the suffering in the world. “How,” you wonder, “could a powerful and loving God allow such?” Perhaps you say, as some have, if God is almighty and allows this suffering, He is not all-loving. If He is loving and does nothing to stop it, it must be because He is not able. But, you reason, since suffering exists, we cannot have it both ways.

Who can you talk to about your questions?

If you have no friend to whom you can turn, there is a serious gap in your life. You are in need of another friend or two or three.

We do not mean just any kind of friend. We may have hundreds of “friends” on Facebook. But most are only acquaintances at best. Few if any are “friends” in the deepest sense.

A friend, they say, is someone you can call in the middle of the night to help you bury the body. He shows up and never asks for the details, but helps you carry out your unpleasant little task.

Maybe so. Maybe not. I prefer to think a real friend would confront you and force you to come to terms with what you have done. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy. (Proverbs 27:6)

This is about two friends: a young Billy Graham and a young Charles Templeton. The story of that friendship and the doubt that drove them into separate life-paths is told in “Billy,” a book by William Paul McKay and Ken Abraham.

Billy Graham you know. What you may not know is that when he began his ministry of city-wide crusades, Charles Templeton was “the” evangelist drawing the big crowds, seeing great results, getting all the press. Templeton was tall, movie-star handsome, articulate, dynamic, and popular. He was a star, if we may use that word, when Billy Graham was just stepping onto the stage.

Instead of becoming rivals or competitors as we might have expected, these young men developed a great friendship. Each appreciated what he saw in the other. Both helped to organize Youth For Christ, the post-World War II evangelistic ministry which brought the gospel to a new generation. Billy Graham was its first full-time evangelist.

As young and dynamic evangelists, both Graham and Templeton went through a valley of doubts and questions regarding the Bible, God, and the Christian faith. Graham emerged stronger than ever; Templeton’s faith did not survive the test.

Billy Graham had friends to help him through his crisis; Charles Templeton did not. That, I believe to be the primary reason for what happened to each evangelist.

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The Fruit of the Spirit is Love, Joy, Peace…

Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. (John 14:27)

My young friend Josh Woo is visiting his parents’ homeland of Korea while on summer vacation from his studies at the University of Southern California. Today, I read the email he sends occasionally to friends and family. Over the weekend, he visited the DMZ, that “demilitarized zone” marking the border between North and South Korea, part of the settlement which ended the Korean War in 1953. Josh sent several pictures, including one showing a sign with the number: 21,172.

“That’s the number of days since the Korean War ended,” he said. Then he surmised, “This probably means that in their minds that war is not really over.”

I expect he’s right. What we have here is a truce, an agreement to disagree. For each of those thousands of days, relations between these two nations and its people have been strained.

What we do not have is peace.

When I went off to my freshman year of college, that truce was five years old. I recall our history professor, Mae Parrish, lauding the agreement that ended that war, calling it a mark of maturity among nations. Rather than a fight to the death, rather than demanding “unconditional surrender” of one side or the other, the combatants agreed to disagree.

That’s about the best we humans can do sometimes. And, let us be quick to say, it’s a far cry better than slaughtering our young men and women to make a point or have our way.

But let us not call it peace. Peace is something else altogether.

Scripture knows three kinds of peace: with God, within ourselves, and between one another The implications for Christ-disciples are enormous.

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Five Things I Know About Your Worship

You worship that which you do not know. But we worship that which we know…. (John 4:22)

It’s not easy making generalizations about the worship activities of every person on the planet, other than this one: something within the heart and soul of each human cries out–reaches out, strains, hungers–toward its Creator. The forms which that heart-cry take are as varied as the races and cultures of men. Some bow before the waterway flowing through their village, some sacrifice to the volcano looming above their community, and some build massive cathedrals which they decorate with ornate images, all as expressions of their worship. Others enter their church, their synagogue, their meeting place, and sing hymns, offer prayers, read from their holy book, and give offerings.

For those who worship the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ–for those of us who call ourselves Christians–making some generalizations is easier. We share many things in common, not all of them desirable.

I know five things about your worship, Christian. You make safely conclude these are likewise true about my worship.

1. You don’t do it very well.

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Getting What I’ve Got Coming

We are receiving what we deserve for our deeds. (Luke 23:41)

Every other day, it seems, the New Orleans newspaper tells of some group angry at a government entity for not “giving us what we have coming.”

Following Hurricane Katrina (August/September 2005), the federal government (in embodiments such as FEMA and the Corps of Engineers) arrived with billions of dollars to restore the city of New Orleans and help people rebuild their flooded homes. I have no idea how many billions were paid out, but the lasting remembrance some of us will carry to our graves are the disgruntled home-owners complaining about “not receiving my fair share.”

Recently a lawsuit was settled with the government handing out additional truckloads of cash. Plaintiffs claimed their homes had been appraised by the feds on the basis of what they were worth pre-Katrina and not what it would take to rebuild them.

The letters to the editor page regularly features stories from citizens not getting their fair share.

Watch for it in your area too. It’s coming. Belly-aching residents who are not getting what they deserve. It’s a national disease.

It’s all about justice.

In justice, I get my fair share. I get what’s coming to me. What I deserve.

Last week, as I write, untold millions watching the Casey Anthony trial from Orlando were stunned when the jury acquitted her of any responsibility in the death of her little daughter. A hue and cry went up from across the nation calling for justice.

I don’t know about you, my friend, but I do not want justice. Not in any shape or form.

I want mercy.

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The Fruit of the Spirit is Love, Joy….

In the 1950s, Frank Lovejoy was a popular movie and television actor. Wonder how someone decided to join those two fruit-of-the-Spirit qualities into one name. And wonder if anyone has tried it with any of the others. Is anyone on the planet named Gentlenessgoodness? Faithfulnesshumility? Probably not.

No question but the first three qualities that make up this Christlikeness–love, joy, and peace–are the best-known and best-loved of the nine. I suspect ten times as many sermons have been preached on these three than all the remaining six combined.

Joy is the flag flown from the castle of your heart to show the king is in residence.

I would have thought C. S. Lewis’ book “Surprised by Joy” dealt with his meeting Joy Davidman Gresham who became his wife. Instead, its subtitle gives it away: “The Shape of My Early Life.” The joy which took this Oxford professor of English literature so by surprise arrived when he put his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. He had built up such an army of misconceptions regarding the Christian life that when it arrived, he found it to be nothing like anything he had anticipated. He was unprepared for the joy.

“Joy,” Lewis later wrote, “is the business of Heaven.”

If it is–and who can doubt that, based on so many revelations of Scripture–then, for a believer to experience joy is to have a “foretaste of glory divine,” as the hymn puts it.

In thy presence there is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11)

Our Lord Jesus said, There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents (Luke 15:10).

Do you find it strange that the one described in prophecy as “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3) would devote so much attention to making sure His followers experienced joy in a full and permanent way?

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