Growing Christians

2 Peter 1

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The apostle Peter in his second letter to the churches encourages us and the early believers to exercise a life of righteousness  and to grow in those attributes on a continual basis.  The attributes or fruit that he refers to in verses 5-7 are the same fruits that are mentioned as the fruits of the spirit in Galatians 5:22-25.  God by His spirit produces fruit in true believers.  By producing this fruit Christians stand out in humanity and shine when they display these attributes.  Even non-believers stand up and take notice of those people who demonstrate an extra amount of patience, or loving kindness, or those who do not loose their joy even in the face of dire circumstances.

Recently my mother went through her second diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer.  I’ve seen the fruit of joy shine through her through this – even though she ended up losing a body part.  She has been a shining light to those around her – keeping her joy by not losing her sense of humor.  By being more concerned about others and their overall well-being rather than by wallowing in self-pity.  She has been continuing to bear fruit even in her circumstances.  Christians bear this kind of fruit and every good tree bears good fruit no matter what the circumstances.  Every tree is known by its fruit.  Peter is encouraging us and the early believers to continue to grow in bearing good fruit indicative of God’s spirit being multiplied within us.

In the last half of the chapter Peter fears that his time in instructing the believers will soon come to an end and he wants them to remember what is of most importance.  The important thing that he wants them to remember is that Jesus truly is the son of God  as was evidenced by him personally when the voice came from heaven declaring it so, and the importance of receiving Jesus as the promised Messiah.

In our walk with the Lord are we remembering what is most important and truly giving Christ first place in our hearts and minds as the son of God?  Are we allowing ourselves to be changed so that we continue to grow and produce good fruit by his spirit within us?  If we are not then we would do well to pay special attention to Peter’s words to the early church and apply them to our own hearts and lives as well.

-Merry Peterson

 

 

 

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1 Timothy 3

“I have written so that you will know how people ought to act in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” ~ 1 Timothy 3:15

Yesterday, we read about Paul’s instructions to men and women in church during worship services. The common thread throughout the chapter? We all need to pray in humility. As Paul continues his letter, he talks more about what a church should look like, focusing in particular on church leadership. He describes two different leaders: Pastors (or Elder) and Deacons. The job requirements for both of these positions may seem a little bit overwhelming. Instead of being the usual list of requirements that you might find in a job listing (e.g. must be upbeat and engaging, a team player, bachelor’s degree), these requirements shine a light onto the heart of a leader. 

Wednesday Devo

If we are a new believer, the first step we should take in our faith is to grow in our relationship with God. We do this through daily prayer and Bible reading and through meeting with our church family. However, after we have committed ourselves to the faith and have started to mature in the faith, we need to begin to work in ministry. We may not become a pastor or a deacon, but we may lead a Sunday School class for kindergartners, be on staff at an annual church youth camp, or be involved in a visiting ministry for shut-ins. If we are working in ministry, we are leading some group of people. Even if you feel like you are leading no one, you can look at your family, whether that’s children, younger siblings, or cousins, and see the effects of your influence. 

Though the requirements listed for pastors and deacons were written specifically for them, we can look at this list to judge how well we are filling our leadership role. We are not saved by these characteristics and traits, by having them shows evidence of how God is working in our lives. For instance, we should all strive to not be a bully or quarrelsome and instead be gentle (1 Tim. 3:2-3). Why? Gentleness is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). If God’s spirit is working in our lives, we should be showing evidence of that. So, as you look through the traits listed, think about how you measure up to the job requirements. If you find that you would not be able to fill these requirements, you should take a look at your life and ask God to help you change those areas. Those that are following you are counting on you to lead them down the right path. They are looking at you to see the way they should act. Where are you leading them? 

~ Cayce Fletcher

In Step with the Spirit

Galatians 5

Gal 5 7

Chapter 5 picks up right where 4 left off (if you haven’t already, you might just want to read the whole book straight through to get the most out of it – it’s only 6 chapters).

1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. […] You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth?

From chapter 4, we know that the Galatians were struggling, falling back to their old ways. Paul is still trying to get to the heart of the why and how.  He wants them to quit trying to be justified by the law – because by doing do, they miss out on Christ’s promise and are once again bound into slavery.

Do you ever get bogged down by doing things exactly by the letter and then realize that you have been missing the point?  Paul is specifically talking to the Galatians about circumcision, but I think the same idea could apply to many things.  This reminds me of Jesus’ teachings about the Sabbath.  The Pharisees were so focused on making sure no work was done, that they wanted to condemn Jesus for healing someone.  Jesus pointed out that if a sheep fell into a hole on the Sabbath, they would pull it out – and how much more valuable is a person!  So Paul’s point is to quit being so focused on the letter of the law – he says in verse 5 “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”

So rather than focusing on the law, focus on this:

13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh[a]; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

It could be easy to say that if we are not bound by the law that we are free to do whatever we want, but I believe we are called to a standard higher than the law by this freedom.  If we look to Romans 6, Paul clarifies here that we are to offer ourselves to God as an instrument of righteousness and to not let sin reign.

This chapter finishes with the fruit of the Spirit.  You are probably familiar with these, but I usually think about these alone, not in the context of this book.  If we are children of God through Christ, then we have the Spirit to guide us rather than the law.  This list isn’t easy.  They are high standards of living.  I am going to leave you today with these verses as a reminder – let’s try to live in step with the Spirit.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

 

~Stephanie Fletcher

Begins with Love, Ends with…

gentleness-self-control-against-such-things-there-is-no-law-esv copyWe sometimes get the wrong thing in our mind when we think about gentleness or meekness. We associate meekness with timidity or with shyness. Today, we use the word as a negative character quality, but that’s not what Christ or Paul had in mind when calling on us to be meek. Instead, they are calling on us to have a quiet strength that we are capable of holding under control, even under provocation.

James calls on us to receive God’s word with meekness. It’s a central component to our ability to be faithful. Peter also writes that we should be able to convey our hope to others in meekness,  and James tells us we should be living in meekness and wisdom. Our examples should be gentle. Teaching others should be approached with gentleness. Galatians says we can take a soft approach when standing firm in the truth, and this requires self-control. If we are going to stand firm in the truth under pressure while remaining gentle and meek, we have to develop self-control.

The last item listed in the qualities of spiritual fruit is self-control. These qualities begin with love and end with self-control. Love cascades through all of these qualities, and they all require a foundation of self-control. This is a capacity to restrain our own impulses so we might serve God and others. Whether we’re talking about faithfulness, patience, forgiveness, or any other quality of Spirit living, we require self-control. By contrast, the items Paul lists in Galatians as defining worldly living demonstrate a lack of control.

Romans tells us we should be transformed from this world through God’s renewal.  Self-control allows us to overcome the sinful and self-destructive behaviors that can consume a life without control. When Paul says, in Galatians, that we are called to freedom, we are freed from the bonds created by worldly living, but we can’t grow this self-control by ourselves. We have to accept help from others. As we rejoice together and we sorrow together, we should also be helping each other grow. Ephesians tells us we are to work together to grow in maturity and be more like Christ. Self-control has to be self-contained, but it does not have to grow alone.

-Katie Beth Fletcher

Submit Your Ways to God

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Do you ever find yourself thinking “I’ll believe it when I see it?”  It’s easy to slip into the mindset of doubt. We live in a broken world, and we may have gone through painful experiences that cause us to lose our trust in others.  For this reason, faithfulness, a fruit of the Spirit, can be a challenging trait to possess. Faithfulness comes from a place of trust and loyalty. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is a confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”  As a Christian, it is important to be faithful to God. It is one thing to simply believe in Him, but another to be faithful to Him. When we are truly faithful to God, this shapes the way we live. Faithfulness requires us to submit our ways to God.

Proverbs 19:21 says, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” We are to be faithful to God, because He is faithful to us.  In the Bible, the story of Abraham demonstrates the importance of faithfulness. Abraham and his wife Sarah struggled to trust God, but learned the value of faithfulness when they submitted to Him.  For example, Abraham and Sarah waited many years for God to fulfill His promise of giving them a son. Because of her lack of faith, Sarah insisted upon Hagar, her maid, giving birth to her son. This resulted in pain and conflict. However, when Abraham and Sarah put their faith in God, Sarah was able to give birth to Isaac despite being past childbearing age.  Ultimately, the story of Abraham shows how God blesses those who are faithful and trust in His plans.

So, how do we grow in our faithfulness?  We can grow in our faithfulness by having a personal relationship with God. If we are truly faithful to Him and obey His commands, this will be evident in our lives.  My challenge to you is this: Think about the ways you show your faithfulness to God. Are there things that are getting in the way of your faithfulness? What areas of your life have you not given over to Him? Through spending time in prayer, ask God to make these things clear to you, so that He can grow you in your faithfulness.

-Katie-Beth Fletcher

Kind and Good

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Some have referred to kindness and goodness as the twin fruits. Kindness and goodness are so closely related that sometimes it is not easy to distinguish between them. A kind person is also a good person; a good person is by nature a kind person. Both of these characteristics stem from love. Some have said that patience is suffering love; kindness is compassionate love; and goodness is ministering love.

Kindness is more about our attitude and goodness is more about the things we do for others.  Some people are born with a kind, gentle personality. This may come natural to them. But others have to lean on the power of the Holy Spirit to help them be nice.

These characteristics which are produced in us by the Holy Spirit have to do with our relationships to others. We usually think of kindness as an expression of love from one person to another, and of goodness as a quality of being pure.  It is striking that parents are forever telling their children to “be good,” but they never need to suggest the opposite to them. Being “bad” seems to come naturally.

Without the Holy Spirit within us, our nature is inclined toward that which is evil and bad. But the Holy Spirit produces in us kindness and goodness, helping us to minister to the world with the love of Jesus. What the world needs is Jesus—that means more love, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and caring generosity.

Katie-Beth Fletcher

How We Respond While Waiting

Patience

Patience is translated as forbearance in some translations of the Bible.  Forbearance has a deeper meaning. It includes self-control, restraint, and tolerance, implying that we have a choice about how we response to God in our times of waiting.  We can, for example, receive patience as a gift that helps us develop restraint or we can become resentful and anxious, bucking against the reality that we have very little control over our circumstances.

While giving in to our impatience can feel good in the moment, it often sends us spiraling downward into frustration—because even if we do send that email to check on the status of a job we applied for or to find out about the grades we’re waiting to be posted, the fact remains that we can’t do much to change the circumstances. We have a choice in moments of impatience: let Jesus cultivate our inner world or escape into destructive behaviors or attitudes.

So what can we do while we’re waiting to embrace the fruits of patience (self-control, restraint, and tolerance)?  We can pray while we work. The world doesn’t stop while you’re waiting for something. There are things and people that still need your attention. Your own soul needs your attention too, as does your body. So, while you’re waiting, pray while you wait by focusing your attention on something you actually do have influence over. Make a date to go bowling with friends, clean your bathroom fastidiously, read a novel, or cook a new food from a different country.  Patience is a virtue and a virtue can’t hurt you. So keep waiting. Work on what you can.

Katie-Beth Fletcher