The Power of Self Control

It’s February, just a few weeks since New Year resolutions. How is it going? Some victories, some changes? By now, some people may have given up or forgotten their new direction and desire for change.

When I decide to make a road trip I plan the route, clean the car, put my packed suitcase in the back, take food and drinks for the ride, and I’m ready to go. But if there is no gas in the car, with all my planning and preparing I’m not going anywhere. Like the road trip, I can make plans and have the best intentions for change but I need something important to get going. I need the power of self-discipline and self-control. Daily!

Right now, we are living in a time where self-control is almost nonexistent. We often hear people say, “I just can’t stop it”, “It’s just part of who I am.” Even Paul, the Apostle of Jesus admitted: “I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind.” Romans 7:21-24, NLT

The world around us and our own sinful nature war with our minds trying to stop us from doing what is right. So what do we do?  Give up?  Where is the power to change? Even on a long road trip, eventually you will need to fill up with gas again when you are running on empty. Are you running on empty?

Thankfully, as believers in Jesus we have the power that never goes empty. Paul went on to say, “Who will free me…Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 7:25 NLT

Jesus told his disciples, “Apart from me you can do nothing…but if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.” John 15:5, 7

We can’t accomplish anything but through Jesus’s power. As we walk with, “remain” with Jesus, reading and “remaining” in God’s Word, then we will want what Jesus desires. Our desire will be to produce spiritual fruit. Then when we pray what Jesus desires Jesus will grant our requests. Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit who will produce this fruit: “So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives… the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives…self-control.” Galatians 5:16, 22-23

As believers in Jesus, we should be the best example to the world around us of self-control. Yet, we often look like the world with little or no power. I call it spiritual “amnesia”. We have forgotten Jesus, His words and His promises to answer our prayers. We have forgotten the power He has given to us through the Holy Spirit to live the Christian life. Jesus desires for us to change and He is willing if we just ask. It is a new year with new resolutions- a new week, a new day, a new direction. Don’t forget the gas, the power of self-control to keep you on the right track. Ask Jesus for His power:

Dear Lord Jesus, thank you for your power to not only forgive my sin and make me your own, but also the power you give me through the Holy Spirit to live a fruitful life. Thank you that you desire to produce the fruit of self-control in my life. I give you my life and my lists and ask that you would change these areas. I am trusting in you to bring these changes. I need the Holy Spirit in my life moment by moment to guide me. Thank you that you promise to answer my prayer in your will. I look expectantly for what you will do in my life this year and desire to give you the glory for the change. In your powerful name, Amen

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The Missing Fruit of Thankfulness

thanksgiving table

Like most families, during this season of Thanksgiving our family would make lists of things we were thankful for in our lives. As we sat at the table we shared our lists which included family, jobs, friends, food and housing, happy events, God’s love for us, His provision and His salvation. It is always good to spend this time giving thanks for all the gracious benefits and comforts God has given to us in our lives.

But often we are missing one of the fruits of thankfulness on our lists.  We don’t add the difficult things to our list of thanks. Wouldn’t that be strange to thank God for the difficulties and hardships in our lives? Who does that? Yet, when we only thank God for the good in our lives and not the difficult things we miss out on having a true thankful heart.  We miss out on acknowledging the character of God – He is good, loving, kind, patient and totally in control no matter the circumstance.

Paul, a follower of Jesus, who had been beaten, imprisoned, stoned and suffered for his belief in Jesus wrote,

“Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.”                          1 Thessalonians 5:18

always giving thanks to God the Father for everything.” Ephesians 5:20

Even Daniel, a servant of God, who when he heard that a law had been passed to persecute those who prayed to and worshipped God instead of King Darius, responded with thanks to God:

“But when Daniel learned that the law had been signed, he went home and knelt down as usual in his upstairs room…He prayed three times a day, just as he had always done, giving thanks to his God.” Daniel 6:10

Grateful people are those who can be thankful in all circumstances. I have met very few who can do that. And most of those were believers overseas living in difficult conditions with little freedoms and great persecution. Yet, they were glad to praise and thank God in all their circumstances.

It seems unthinkable to be thankful for the difficulties and sufferings in our lives. But it is during those times that we can come to know first-hand the kindness, mercy, love, goodness and sovereignty of God. Then, by faith in God’s character, we can be thankful knowing there is a bigger picture and purpose in our small world of pain and hurt.  As I desire to abide with Christ and be more like Him, He will produce the fruit of thankfulness in my life. He desires for me to be thankful for everything.

Are you going through a difficult time? Perhaps you are suffering and hurting. You can be thankful that there is a loving, merciful, wise, all knowing God who sees your pain, cares for you and has a plan.  It takes faith to thank God during those times. He will give you that faith if you ask.

This Thanksgiving, when I make that list I will be thankful for all that I have and don’t have, for the good and also the challenges and difficulties in my life. What will you include on your list?  I desire to say as David said,

“I will praise the Lord at all times. I will constantly speak His praises.” Psalm 34:1

Withering But Awakened to New Life

rose bud

A bright yellow bud is finally appearing on the rose bush. After clearing a bank of weeds and dead plants in front of our house, I needed to fill it with other plants, so I went to our local garden shop. I always look in the back for plants that are half dead, the ones that no one wants but are ridiculously inexpensive, and I found a few plants plus an unrecognizable “Royal Golden” rose bush.

Taking them home, I took special care to plant the rose bush where it would get a lot of sun. Green started showing on the bush but no rose. Finally last week, nearing the end of summer, I saw a beautiful yellow bud on one end of a green stem. I just wanted to see one rose before the end of summer. A sigh of relief and joy, I was glad it was true to its name on the tag – a “Royal Golden” Rose. If there were no roses on the bush it would just be another green plant with thorns. I would have to throw it away because a rose defines a rose bush.

Like the shriveled up rose bush, many people who call themselves Christian don’t have fruit that looks like Christ at all. Their thoughts, actions, and speech are nothing like Jesus, even though the “tag” says “Christian”. There is little or no fruit in their lives, no buds on the branches. Just a green plant with thorns. From years of not talking with God, not reading His word, and not fellowshipping with other believers they have withered. And they need new life. The soil has become dry. Maybe just living in a sinful world, they have allowed themselves to become bitter, discouraged or apathetic by hurt and rejection. They just quit and no longer trust God and His nourishment for their lives.

Yet God sees them and wants to renew their lives, to bring fruit to the unrecognizable branches. God is extremely patient and longs for those who know His love and forgiveness to return to Him and be renewed. God wants those who know Him to abide with Him and seek Him. Then He will produce fruit, rose buds in their lives.

God shared this message with His people centuries ago through Hosea:

“…stay away from idols! I am the one who answers your prayers and cares for you. I am like a tree that is always green; all your fruit comes from me.” Hosea 14:8

“Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.”  Hosea 6:3

God cares for those who know Him. He produces the fruit as we love only Him and not the idols in our lives. He wants to shower His rain into our hardened dry hearts. He says:

“Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD.” Zech 1:3

Right now there are too many defeated, apathetic, and lifeless believers in Jesus who need to return to their God. Seeing God work in my own life, just like the rose bush, I wrote a book to encourage others, Christians and non-Christians, to seek God and let Him renew their lives. Wake Up! Return to God will be out on Amazon in a few weeks. God always longs for His people to return to Him and be made whole, to live fruitful lives that reflect His glory to the world. As we seek God and only Him in our daily lives, He alone can create a vibrant life, full of hope, joy, peace and goodness. He gives us a life full of abundant rose buds bursting into radiant fragrant roses.

Are you like the rose bush in the corner needful of new fresh blossoms, a restored relationship to the Creator who loves you and wants to care for you? Go to Him, He knows exactly what to do and will plant you in such fertile soil you will be amazed at the abundant fruit in your life – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control and a witness of Jesus in your life.

Real Miracle Grow

With coffee grounds in hand, I begin throwing this “miracle grow” fertilizer under the azalea bushes.  In a few months these pink and rosy red bushes will be filled with blooms so I prepare them with what they love – coffee grounds.

Sometimes I feel I need some extra “miracle grow” as I desire to produce an abundance of fruit in my Christian walk. Like loving that difficult person – again, having patience when I just can’t wait any longer and self-control in an area that just needs a lock and chain on it with the key thrown out. Jesus told His disciples He would send the Helper, the Holy Spirit, into our lives who is the real “miracle grow”. He miraculously grows the abundant fruit as I abide with Christ.

Who is the Holy Spirit and what does He do?:

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” John 14:26.

“It is the Spirit who gives life.” John 6:63

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses.” Acts 1:8

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”  Galatians 6:22-23

The Holy Spirit gives life, will teach me all things that Jesus said, and gives me the power through Jesus to produce abundant fruit.  My responsibility?  To walk with the Holy Spirit daily and ask Him for the power to love, have patience and for that much needed self-control.

“If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.”  Galatians 6:25

Are you dependent on the Holy Spirit? Are you walking with Him?  I sure am thankful Jesus sent the Helper, the Holy Spirit.  I need Him today.

Full of Joy

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  My fiance, Lowe and I were sitting in a dimly lit room somewhere in Beijing, China.  Riding buses, taxis and walking without saying a word, our Chinese friends led us all over the city to this apartment so we couldn’t retrace our steps.  Other Chinese quietly entered the room of the small house church one by one. We sat in chairs along the wall to hear his testimony.  The elderly man who was originally from the city where we lived in northeast China wanted to meet us.  He stood and began speaking in Chinese.  Listening intently, we heard him begin to tell of his trust in Jesus, how after coming to Christ he actually died of a fatal sickness.  How three days later, Jesus appeared and brought him back to life. How so many people came to Christ from his testimony.  How Jesus appeared to him one morning preparing him to be thrown in prison for his faith.  Decades of surviving in a dark prison telling others about God.  And then being set free from prison but continuing his ministry under watchful eyes.  I felt like I was reliving the book of Acts.

And what was the most unbelievable? The stories, his faith, his strength, the hundreds who came to Christ?  No. His JOY!  Unexplainable joy spilling over every word and sentence.  The smile on his face.  Saying “Praise God!” after almost every sentence.  How could this man be so full of joy after all he had been through in his life – the suffering and persecution for being a Christian and sharing his faith?

This is the joy that only comes through Jesus.  The fruit He produces in the life of a believer who clings to Him. The result of walking with Him so closely that no circumstances, fear, persecution or trial can take it away.

The psalmist says it clearly– “In your presence is fullness of joy.” Psalm 16:11.

He begins by asking God to preserve him (Psalm 16:1-2), “… for in you I take refuge…you are my Lord; I have no good apart from you”. He is in desperate need of God’s closeness.  When we are facing pain, trials, hardship, persecution and fear we need security.  God is our security. He loves us, forgives us, comforts us, cares for us, and knows all about us.  Through knowing Him I experience that unexplainable joy that the world and it’s goods can’t give and don’t understand.  Nothing can take that away.  No circumstance, person or even prison.

Happiness depends on what happens to me.  Joy depends on what happens within me.  Or really who lives in me – Jesus.

I look back on that time in China and think of that dear brother who joyfully suffered so much. His testimony reminds me that no matter what comes my way, God is big enough to handle it as I walk with him.  His closeness is my joy.   “…He is the source of strength and joy.”  1 Chronicles 16:27

Are you facing trials, fears, disappointments, loneliness, persecution, or hardship? Go to the One who can take it all and give you joy in return.   “…the joy of the Lord is your strength.”  Nehemiah 8:10

The Power of Gentleness

While pondering the word – gentleness– my mind goes back to Nickel Mines, PA.

The shooting of 10 peaceful Amish girls, killing 5, brought such horror and shock. More shocking and amazing was the quiet gentleness of forgiveness that was shown at a time of deep sorrow and pain.  Defined by their gentle strength, the grieving Amish fathers visited the wife of the killer.  They gently cared about her pain and expressed forgiveness towards her deceased husband. Grief-torn themselves yet they were gentle towards the pain of others.

That gentle strength continues even today.  Teri Roberts, the mother of the killer, makes weekly visits to care for one of the victims, Rosanna – paralyzed, unable to walk, talk or eat.  She bathes Rosanna, gently caring for her lifeless body, cleaning her bedclothes, brushing her hair, singing songs and reading Bible stories.  Her strength is in her gentleness despite her own pain and grief.

There is a certain power in gentleness.  A strength that is seldom seen in this world filled with violence, hatred, harshness and sternness. And the world wonders where that strength comes from.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke and put it on you, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit; and you will find rest.” Matthew 11:28, 29

As I go to Jesus, he has the strength to take my burdens and pains, the power to lead me and to make me gentle and humble.  The result is peace and rest.  As I trust in Him, He produces the gentleness in my life.

Am I gentle in my words and actions towards others in my life? Is there some situation where I need to show gentleness instead of abrasiveness or harshness?  I want to learn from Jesus who is the epitome of gentleness.

“Both gentleness and meekness are born of power, not weakness… We should never be afraid, therefore, that the gentleness of the Spirit means weakness of character. It takes strength, God’s strength, to be truly gentle.”

Jerry Bridges – The Practice of Godliness