Friday, November 27, 2015

Fruits of the Spirit: Faithfulness


Faithfulness
I can think of no better Biblical analogy of the faithfulness described as the seventh fruit of the Spirit than the story of David and Jonathan. Their story is one of breathtaking loyalty and trustworthiness, even in the face of brutal circumstances (an awesome storyline for a future novel, perhaps?). Both were young men of great courage. Jonathan and his armor bearer single-handedly took on a whole garrison of Philistines; David killed a giant no one else dared face with only a sling and five stones.

These two valiant men became fast friends after David defeated Goliath. As it says in 1 Samuel 18:1:

Now it came about when he had finished speaking to Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as himself.

It is no doubt that they were kindred spirits. Jonathan saw in David a young man on fire for Yahweh, an obedient servant who was so confident in the Lord that he would face down a giant and still be sure of victory. This attitude was something Jonathan himself possessed, so it is no wonder that he was attracted to David so deeply. Right then and there the two young men made a covenant with each other, and Jonathan even freely surrendered his princely robe, armor, and weapons to David, recognizing, no doubt, that David would one day be king of Israel.

The covenant they made that fateful day would be tested soon after. You know the history. Saul, Jonathan’s own father, the king of Israel, burned with envy toward David. You see, the tale of this young youth’s bravery quickly spread among the people of Israel, and he almost instantly became a national hero. Saul, who obviously had a big problem with pride, couldn’t stand the attention David was receiving, and eventually his envy drove him to try and kill David. He first tried to pin David to the wall with a spear, twice. Thankfully, he missed both times, and David escaped with his life. His rage only growing stronger, Saul then set up a deadly snare for David with his daughter Michal as the bait and 100 Philistines as the steel jaws of the trap. David survived that, too.

Saul must have been pulling his hair out in frustration at this point. He was now openly David’s enemy, and clearly desperate to vanquish him, Saul recruited his son Jonathan and all his servants to put David to death. Jonathan now had a choice: break his covenant with David by literally stabbing him in the back, or disobey his father’s outrageous demand and help David stay alive. He chose the latter.

In a stunning picture of faithfulness, Jonathan risked his relationship with his father and even his life to remain faithful to David. He saved David at least twice from death, remaining loyal to him even in very dangerous circumstances. And there were serious repercussions. In an ultimate example of a father-son relationship gone wrong, he too was almost pinned to the wall by the spear of his father because of his loyalty to David. Jonathan was one faithful dude.

It should be our desire to have this kind of (using teenager lingo again) “epic” faithfulness. First and foremost, we should have this kind of faithfulness for our Lord God. We should never waver in being faithful to the One who deserves all our devotion. After all, He Himself is faithful--the absolutely perfect picture of it:

"Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments. (Deuteronomy 7:9)

Secondly, we should be faithful to our sisters and brothers in Christ. Paul clearly had a great respect for the servants of Christ who were faithful to God and to each other (he describes Timothy, Onesimus, Tychicus, and Epaphras as such, for example). We should love and care for one another wholeheartedly.

Now for some practical application to live out this “epic” faithfulness.

Practical Application

Faithful to God

One practical way to be faithful to God is to take the responsibility He has given us seriously. This idea is found in Jesus’s parable of the talents in Mathew 25:14-30. In this parable, a man gathers his servants together and entrusts them with different amounts of talents to keep safe before he went on a journey. One servant was given five talents, another two, and the last servant was given one. A talent was a specific weight of gold or silver that was worth a considerable amount of money, and it was implied that the servants would not only be faithful in keeping the money safe but also in using it to increase their master’s wealth while he was gone.

The first two servants did just that. While their master was gone, they wisely traded the talents entrusted to them and doubled their master’s wealth. The servant entrusted with five talents had ten at hand when his master returned, and the servant with two talents had four ready to give back to his master at his arrival. The last servant, however, did not do the same.

Instead of increasing his master’s wealth, this third servant buried the one talent given him and did nothing to increase it. He convinced himself that his master was a “hard man, reaping where he did not sow and gathering where he scattered no seed (v24).” Apparently, this servant was afraid that his master would “steal” any profit he, the servant, made with the one talent given him, failing to realize that the talent belonged to his master anyway and that any profit made from it belonged to him. In short, this servant did not fulfil his responsibility to his master, and he paid the price for it. This slave, worthless to his master, was thrown in the outer darkness, the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth (v30).

The master in this parable is Jesus Christ; we are the servants. The talents represent the different levels of responsibility we have been entrusted with (at least according to John Macarthur, they are not the “gifts” we have been given). Jesus only desires for us to be faithful with our responsibilities, as seen in that the master rewarded both the faithful servants the same, even though the first servant gained more talents than the second. This is further brought out in the fact that though the third servant did not lose the one talent he was given, he was not faithful in fulfilling his responsibility to make profit with it. Jesus cares less about the end result of our faithfulness, but He cares deeply for our faithfulness to Him.

In whatever responsibilities God has given us, whether it be small like walking the neighbor’s dog, or big like pastoring a church, let us be faithful in fulfilling them and giving God all the glory!

Faithful to each other

There are many ways we should be faithful to human beings like other Christians, our parents, our spouse (ahem, if you are married yet), exc., but simply put, it all comes down to love (yep, the love that is the first fruit of the spirit). As Jesus commanded:

"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35)

This commandment came after a touching passage where Jesus washed the disciples feet in an act of humble service. After He had washed the disciples feet, He said this:

"If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” (John 13:14-17)

As Christians, it is our duty to humbly serve one another. I will not even begin to try and explain what this service should look like, for it looks like many things. However, here is what our attitude should look like as we do serve:

Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:1-5)

Okay, so you may never have the chance to show the epic faithfulness of Jonathan to another human being, but still it is our job to faithfully serve one another, selflessly and without conceit, regarding one another as more important than ourselves. Let us all be faithful to fulfill our calling, and may it be said of us as it was to the faithful slave in Mathew 25:

“Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”

Fruits of the Spirit: Gentleness


Gentleness

I confess that I have not thought a lot about what it means to be gentle as a young man. My daydreams rarely include me being gentle in spirit. Instead, I imagine myself laying out several burly brutes to save the damsel in distress. To me, it is much easier to think of being a macho man than a gentle one.

But maybe being “macho” is an ideal created by our fallen world. Maybe it means something completely different to be a true man of God. Instead of walking around with a swagger, the sleeves of your shirt cut off so you can show off your “guns”, perhaps a true man is someone who is gentle. Instead of challenging the brute who hit you to a duel, perhaps a true macho man from a Biblical perspective will not retaliate to the personal offense, choosing to instead patiently, humbly bear the insult.

Okay, at this point it is very important to explain what I mean, before you get the idea that I think true Godly men should be spaghetti-armed weaklings. There is a balance to be had, and this balance is on the peak of quite a slippery slope.

First off, it is clear that Christian men are to be gentle. After all, it is a qualification for an elder of the church (1 Timothy 3:3). Furthermore, we are told in Philippians 4:5 to “Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.”

However, gentleness is not to be mistaken as cowardice. There are times where I believe Christian men are completely in line Biblically while throwing a punch (you can read more on this topic by reading my post on turning the other cheek). For instance, if ever I was to come across a damsel in distress, I assure you that I will do my utmost to get her “un-distressed.” If that includes throwing punches, I will be more than happy to oblige.

We just read in our family Bible readings a grim portrayal of cowardice. When Lot is threatened by the filth of Sodom in Genesis, he tries to appease the mob by offering to give his two virgin daughters for the mob to do to them whatever they liked. Thanks only to the two angels with him, he doesn’t follow through with that plan. Please know that Biblical gentleness looks nothing like that. As Christian men, we are to be strong and courageous (Joshua 1:9)--but yet, gentle.

For all the ladies reading this who might be rather upset at me for not including you in this study, well, don’t worry, because I am not excluding you from this post in any sense (okay, maybe disappointing for those of you less inclined to be convicted ;0)). Gentleness, of course, applies to the fairer of the two sexes as well. In fact, Gentleness is a very important to every Christian! As Paul adds in his instructions to Christian women:

Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. (1 Peter 3:3-4)

So yes, ladies, if you want to be precious in the sight of God, this definitely applies to you too.

So what is Biblical gentleness? Here I am 528 words into this article, and I haven’t yet given a definition of the gentleness found as the eight fruit of the Holy Spirit. Well, there are actually not an abundance of verses describing this gentleness, but we can see from this verse the basics of what it looks like:

For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness—nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority. But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. (1 Thessalonians 2:5-7)

Biblical gentleness is the opposite of flattering speech, greed, pride, and unneedful assertion of authority. Instead, it looks like the tender care a mother shows to her nursing babies. I have a feeling I am not the only male a little reluctant about pursuing this gentleness, but to all guys still struggling with this picture of gentleness, remember that this is Paul writing the passage above. This guy writing about gentleness is the same apostle who spoke boldly before the Sanhedrin and debated Roman leaders. Read 2 Corinthians 10:1-6. The same Paul who urged the brethren of Corinth with meekness and gentleness in Christ is the same Paul who goes on to talk about our job of destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God. Being gentle does not mean becoming emasculate by any means. Instead, being gentle fulfills one of the greatest qualities of a true man.

This gentleness is patient and humble in the face of offense. It never seeks retaliation or revenge. In regards to our relationship with one another, this gentleness should be seen in how we treat one another with love and respect. In short, our gentleness should model the gentleness Jesus has shown to us:

"Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 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. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Mathew 11:28-30)

Practical Application

One of the hardest practical applications for me will be learning to never retaliate when I am offended. It is much easier to give a knuckle sandwich than a gentle answer to someone who (perhaps even rightfully) angers me, but God’s way is always the best way. As this Proverb puts it:

A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15:1)

Gentleness is the best way to respond to whoever we are at odds with. When we truly realize that, it becomes much easier to give a gentle answer. Avoid responding harshly; be gentle!

In Titus chapter three, Paul tells Titus to remind believers “to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men.” (v2). In a few verses a little further down, he gives some practical advice:

But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned. (Titus 3:9-11 NASB)

There are many things to apply from this passage. The most obvious, of course, is to steer clear of foolish arguments! I know, I like debating my viewpoint on this or that as much as the next arguer, but is the argument really worthwhile or profitable? If not, we need to pipe down and find something useful to do! It will help grow or at least keep intact our spirit of gentleness.

The second practical application is simply avoiding factious men. I had to look up the definition of “factious”. To put it in “layman” terms (which I am, no doubt), the word is basically used to describe someone who “stirs the pot ,” initiating useless or even divisive argument in a group. As Christians, we should steer clear of such a person, and definitely don’t become a “pot stirrer” yourself!

Lastly, here is one promise for all of us to take to heart as we strive to live out this fruit of the Spirit:

"Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Mathew 5:5)

 

Fruits of the Spirit: Goodness


Goodness

Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth. (Exodus 34:6)

God perfectly exemplifies the goodness found as the sixth fruit of His Spirit. We cannot even comprehend how good God is! His goodness is everlasting, shown in His lovingkindness and compassion to the very people who rebelled against Him. His lovingkindness abounds throughout the Earth (Psalm 33:5), and He loves us so much that He sent His only Son to die for us (John 3:16)! This is unbelievable compassion. This is amazing grace.

In light of all this, God is unarguably the only One who is perfectly good (Mathew 19:17). But yet, we are called to follow His example:

To this end also we pray for you always, that our God will count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power. (2 Thessalonians 1:11)

As Christians, we should desire goodness. After all, we are supposed to be perfect, as God is perfect (Mathew 5:48). We should seek to be morally and spiritually excellent, and this excellence will be manifested in our active kindness and good works.

If you had to reread that last line about good works, I don’t blame you. Good works get a bad rap in our churches today. Christians seem to shake their heads at good works, almost as if they are sinful. True, some would try to use good works to gain their way into heaven, and that is clearly wrong. We are saved by grace through faith, not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9). Still, it is obvious from the Bible that good works are important.

Almost as if God knew we might struggle with the right balance between salvation by grace and good works, the Ephesians passage above continues that though we are saved by grace through faith, we are still to do good works, works which God created beforehand for us to walk in.

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

The goodness we should seek to cultivate in our lives starts inwardly, but it does not stop there. First we must make Jesus our Lord and desire His pure goodness in our lives, but then this goodness must be expressed outwardly in our actions. As Christians, we have been created for good works!

Practical Application

Do you ever struggle with being good like I do? If you answer no, please read 1 John 1:8. We want to be good like Christ, but oftentimes our old sinful self gets in the way. It may be either encouraging or rather disheartening to note that even Paul, one of the greatest Christians ever to live, also struggled with doing good. (It is encouraging in the sense that we are not alone in our struggles, but rather disheartening to know that even if we become a mighty warrior for Christ, we will still struggle with being good [sigh])

 Paul wrote in Romans chapter seven that he is “the one who wants to do good.” He joyfully concurred with keeping God’s Word and wanted to be pure in all he did, but yet still he did what he did not want to do, that which is evil.

You see, ever since Adam’s first sin, there has never been a human (well except for Jesus, duh) who could avoid living without sinning on a daily basis (Romans 5:12). We are all born in a fallen state, and in this state we can do nothing other than sin. Though our minds have been made new in Christ, we still live in our fallen bodies. As much as our redeemed mind wants us to be pure, our flesh, sinful and fallen, wages war with our mind and makes us prisoners to sin still. Paul knew this and could only cry out:

“Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?”

This should be the cry on all of our lips. We should be broken by our inability to be good; we should recognize just how wretched we are! But thankfully, we have an answer to the question above: Jesus. He will set us free from our body of death! This freedom will never be complete till our bodies are redeemed when we go to be with Jesus, but from the moment we accept Him as Lord, Jesus begins this transformation in our lives from one who hates good to one who does good all the time! And He definitely gives us some practical advice in His Word to help us along.

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:2)

See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people. (1 Thessalonians 5:15)

We have been given a tool to overcome evil with, and with it comes the first practical application I can think of. Do you seek goodness? Resist returning evil with evil. Humble yourself to the point where you would seek to do good to everyone, even the one who does evil to you.

Also, stay away from bad company, for bad company corrupts good morals (1 Corinthians 15:33). Do you have non-Christian friends? Do you enjoy hanging out with non-Christians more than you do Christ followers? Now I am not saying that we should become something akin to Amish people and never associate with those of the world, for how are we to reach the word with the Gospel if we isolate ourselves from it? However, if we are not careful, the ones we try to reach out to can instead pollute the very root of the goodness we are trying to grow in our lives.

Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed. (2 Corinthians 9:6-8)

I would encourage all of us to sow goodness in abundance! Not only this, we should be cheerful as we do it! God is for us. He will supply us with the sufficient grace to accomplish every good deed we set out to do! Sow goodness in your lives, and it will grow.

One quick warning before a last verse of encouragement: sometimes after we show goodness to others, we will be praised. This praise may be warranted, but it can be very harmful. All praise belongs to God who has saved us from death and equipped us to do good. Our puny little selves (excuse me for calling all of us such) should never be praised for something that God is doing in our lives. Instead, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Mathew 5:16)

Now for the encouragement:

Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith. (Galatians 6:9-10)

Amen!

Fruits of the Spirit: Kindness


Kindness

The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all . . . (2 Timothy 2:24a)

Sigh. This is so hard to live out. I sometimes love flying into battle with my tongue. Just ask my sisters. Though we get along really great most of the time, when a quarrel gets going I have a tendency to forge right in and not let up till either I have proven my “point” or been given the last word. The tongue is indeed very hard to tame (James 3).

My parents had an interesting way of curing me and my siblings of our bickering ways. Whenever we were caught bickering in front of either of our parents (or when one of the siblings “ratted us out”), my mom would gather us two bickerers together, produce a length of old jump rope, and tie us together by the wrist. We would then have to spend the rest of the day together—doing each other’s chores together, spending free time together, and sometimes even eating together. Believe me, this was utter misery.

But it worked. You see, we had no other choice but to learn to work together for the rest of that day, which could only happen if we got past our bickering. Though at first we might basically be playing tug-a-war with our arms, each of us straining to get our chores done first, by the end of the day we would have to be working as a team to get anything done. After all, we only had one hand each to work with and walking was almost impossible if we were not both on the same page. It wasn’t the most pleasant experience (though it was comic relief for the rest of the family), but we definitely have less of a tendency to bicker now.

What is desirable in a man is his kindness  . . . (Proverbs 19:22a)

She (the virtuous woman) opens her mouth in wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. (Proverbs 31:26)

Proverbs is a book of wisdom, and from it we learn that kindness is very important for both men and women to possess. In its New Testament sense, this kindness found as the fifth fruit of the Spirit parallels the kindness of Jesus. As my John Macarthur study notes put it (yeah, I am cheating again), Biblical kindness is “tender concern for others, reflected in a desire to treat others gently, just as the Lord treats all believers.”

This principle is backed up in Ephesians 4:32:

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

What was the kindness that Jesus showed? Well, even when we had turned from Him and denied Him as our Lord, He came to our Earth, humbling Himself as a carnal man; He lived a life that was completely pure, showing kindness and love to everyone, even His enemies; and He died a horrible death so that we might live, offering Himself as a sacrifice for those who had rebelled against Him. Can you imagine what it would be like if all of us Christians showed this pure kindness to each other and to our world all the time? That is what we should strive for, through the Holy Spirit.

Practical Application

The verse before Ephesians 4:32 offers some very good practical advice:

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. (Ephesians 4:31)

Basically, to be kind to one another Paul is saying you must “put away” all these things. It makes sense, because everything listed above is essentially an antonym to kindness. But how do we put away these things in our lives?

And in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him (Colossians 3:7-10)

From this parallel passage we learn that we have put on our “new self” as Christians. There is no longer room for our “old self”, which means all anger and its kin need to be shown to the door in our lives. The “true knowledge” in this passage is the deep, spiritual understanding of God’s will that is described in Colossians 1:9-10:

For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

The more we know of the true knowledge (A.K.A. spiritual wisdom and understanding), the more we will walk in a manner worthy of our Lord! Our new self will begin to look more like the image of the One who has created us, and we will put off all anger, bitterness, wrath, clamor, slander, and abusive speech and fill the empty spot with Biblical kindness instead!

“Hold on a minute, Kyle,” you might be saying at this point. “Where is the practical application? Sure you have attempted to show us how to put off all these antonyms to kindness by putting on our new self, which in turn means we need to grow more in our knowledge of God’s will, which in and of itself will help us cultivate kindness, but how do we go about growing more in God’s will, so that we can put off the old self, so that we can put on the new self, so that we can cultivate kindness in our lives. (Phew, that was a mouthful. Hopefully you got the point.)

How do you grow in the knowledge of God? By reading His Word! After all:

All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Yep, once again it all circles back to God’s Word, and subsequently, obeying it. Where else should it start?

Fruits of the Spirit: Patience


Patience

As a big brother to four younger siblings (and also to my three “younger” quadruplet sisters, though they will dispute that claim), I have had the privilege of seeing my parents teach patience quite a few times. My parents start training us young, you see, even before we can talk, and the first step to this training is learning a hand gesture for patience.  

As my little siblings get old enough to where their culinary experiences broaden from more than just milk and baby food, they naturally get a little eager to be fed each time they are strapped in their high chairs. Who wouldn’t when you can now eat diced vegetables instead of mash that probably tastes as gross to them as it does to us? The result of this eagerness is a lot of unintelligible babbling, which can eventually cause quite a strain on the rest of the family . . .

Insert patience. At this point in their lives, my siblings are taught that hand gesture for patience I mentioned. Instead of letting them babble away, either of my parents would tell my sibling, “Show your patience.” My little sibling (let’s use Joe-Joe for clarity’s sake) would instantly shut up and clap his hands together, interlocking his fingers and holding his clasped hands before his chest. It is a gesture that is really cute (while at the same time peacefully quite), but that is not the point. My parents, the best in the world in my opinion, are teaching the fourth fruit of the Spirit even before their trainee can talk.

Patience is underrated in our world today. We live in a nation that is extremely fast-paced, and we have grown used to getting what we want, when we want it. But true Biblical patience is obviously very important and essential to our Christian lives.

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-3)

If we want to walk in a manner worthy of your calling as a Christian, patience is one of the essentials. What does this patience look like? Well, I am going to cheat a little bit and use John Macarthur’s definition from my John Macarthur study Bible:

Patience: The ability to endure injuries inflicted by others and the willingness to accept irritating or painful situations.

Yep, though it is a good start, Biblical patience goes much deeper than waiting with hands clasped for your sliced veggies to be served.

We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone. (1 Thessalonians 5:14)

Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. (James 5:7-8)

As Christians, we are to be patient with everyone, and we are never given leave to stop till Jesus returns. If this sounds like it might be difficult at times, well, it does because it is!

I think this is a good time to cue the practical application.

Practical Application

Again, this is a fruit of the Spirit. We cannot produce it on our own. The most practical application starts on our knees before God. Paul knew this when he prayed that the Colossians would be “strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience” (Colossians 1:11a).

We need to be strengthened by God to attain patience, and His strength comes through the Holy Spirit in our lives (Ephesians 3:16, Acts 1:8). We must first make Jesus Christ our Lord and then be obedient to His Word if we are to be strengthened in attaining patience. (See, you knew I was going to circle back to obeying God’s laws)

Also, when it gets hard to show patience in the face of unjust circumstances, just remember the example Christ Jesus set for us! Though the verse below is written to servants in subjection to their masters, I think it definitely applies:

For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps. (1 Peter 2:19-22)

The passage continues in the following verses to explain Jesus’s example, that even while He was reviled and suffering, he did not revile in return or utter threats but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously. We should all remember the unbelievable sacrifice Jesus made and live accordingly, entrusting ourselves to our Almighty God. Maybe then it will be easy to bear with patience the things that pale in comparison to what Jesus bore for us.

The last thing is to just not give room for disparaging this fruit of the Spirit. In several places we learn that patience (translated “perseverance” in my NASB Bible) is the important middle link to hope in God’s love. Patience is important.

And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)

May God strengthen all of us to “show our patience,” no matter what!

Fruits of the Spirit: Peace


Peace

Peace.

We have all heard the word, and most of us probably even know the universal hand signal for peace (holding your pointer finger and middle finger straight up while folding the rest of your fingers against your palm). Hippies have made the word “peace” both a greeting and a battle cry. Of course, the peace they want is one that just won’t work with us sinful human beings. Sorry to break your bubble, guys, but “world peace” will never be accomplished till Jesus returns.

 There is, however, another peace, a peace that can be obtained through Jesus Christ alone. This peace can set you free from fear and worry. This peace will enrich your life. This peace is the third fruit of the Holy Spirit.

“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” (John 14:27)

The peace Jesus offers is not of the world. This third fruit of the Holy Spirit is found in our assurance of our salvation through Jesus Christ and God’s presence alone. Let me try and explain.

First, salvation. When you accept Jesus as Lord, your whole mindset changes. Your mind is no longer set on the flesh (sin), for that is death, but on the Holy Spirit who brings life and peace (Romans 8:6). In essence, salvation frees you from worry of death and punishment and replaces it with assurance of life and your eternal destiny. Salvation gives you peace with God, something we all desperately need.

Secondly, God’s presence. When any one of us becomes a Christian, we no longer have to worry about the things of the world, for we know that God is with us and will work all things together for our good. I am sure most of you can quote this verse by heart, but I will go ahead and post it below anyway:

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)

 With the peace this passage brings we can confidently say with Paul:

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

Sure there will still be wars; sure there will still be trials; but we will never be separated from the love of God! And in His love He will work all things together for our good. Now that is peace that surpasses all understanding.

Practical application

I am Buzz Lightyear, and I come in peace.”

I often ran around when I was a little guy repeating that line with my Buzz Lightyear action figure in hand. Good ‘ole Buzz always came in peace, but alas, the evil Zurg was always lurking around the corner (in my other hand), waiting to challenge Buzz to a less-than-peaceful game of laser tag. (Of course, Buzz always won his battles, but that is beside the point)

In much the same way, there always seems to be enemies that arise against us as we try to cultivate this fruit of the Spirit in our lives. Whether it is doubt, worry, anxiety, or whatever else, often times any of these can steal away the peace in our hearts.

But don’t let ‘em. Instead, remember what Paul said. Nothing can separate us from God! He is the source of our peace, and in Him we can remain peaceful no matter the circumstances.

There is some practical application as well, for we are given a weapon in Philippians chapter 4 to combat any anxiety or anything else that would try to steal away our peace:

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

I know there will be times when all of us will feel quite the opposite of peaceful, but that is not what God wants for us. He has given us peace beyond comprehension; let’s live in it! Don’t keep your worries and your fears; make them known to our almighty God! He will give you His peace again, and it will guard your heart and mind.

There is also a practical way to live out this peace, for as we live out our Christian lives, peace should overflow to everyone around us! As children of God, we should be peacemakers (Mathew 5:9)! As Paul commands:

If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. (Romans 12:18)

No, I am not recanting what I said at the beginning of this post. It is a clear Biblical fact that world peace will not come till the Millennial Kingdom, but that doesn’t mean I am against peace. As far as it depends on us, we should seek to establish peace with all men! Unfortunately, though, there will always be “Zurgs” out there who would rather blow off our heads for their own personal gain or because of their beliefs than to ever make peace with us. Paul through the Holy Spirit knew what he was writing when he wrote that bit about “as far as it depends on you.”

Paul also knew through the Holy Spirit what he was writing about when he gave us the practical advice on how to live out this peace with men in the verses before and after Romans 12:18. Though the passage is too long to post here, I would highly suggest you read Romans 12:9-21. It is an awesome passage on the Christian life!

 It is clear that as Christians, we are to be at peace whenever possible. And hey! That gives me an idea. How about we Christians steal Buzz Lightyear’s greeting?

“I am Kyle Bowes, and I come in peace.”

Fruits of the Spirit: Joy


Joy

Joy: Feelings of great happiness or pleasure, especially of an elevated or spiritual kind.

Funny, even the Encarta Dictionary hints that joy is so much more than just “happiness” or “pleasure.” True joy is deeper, elevated above the normal pleasures of life. The purest kind of joy is found, quite simply, in Christ (I.E. “the spiritual kind”)! This is the joy that is found as the second fruit of the Spirit.

You (God) will make known to me the path of life; in Your presence is the fullness of joy. (Psalm 16:11)

Christians should be the most joyful people on earth. We live in the presence of God, and in Him is the fullness of joy! True Christians can’t help but sing joyfully or make a joyful noise to the Lord! No wonder David, the man after God’s own heart, mentioned joy so much in his Psalms.

Jesus, right before he was betrayed, told of this joy we have in Him. At the time, His disciples were deeply confused and worried, for Jesus had just revealed to them that He must “go to Him who sent Me.” Jesus comforted them with these words:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, that you will weep and lament; but your grief will be turned into joy. Whenever a woman is in labor she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy that a child has been born into the world. Therefore you too have grief now; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you. In that day you will not question Me about anything. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you. Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full.” (John 16: 20-24)

Jesus loves us more than we could ever imagine and wants our joy to be complete in Him; that much is pretty clear even from this passage. Isn’t it awesome being a Christian?

Practical Application

Do you ever have a problem feeling joyful? Me too. Sometimes things seem just too stressful or (to use teenager lingo) “messed up” to have this abundant joy in God. Jesus must have known that worry would often claim mortal combat with this joy we are meant to live in, for He devotes a good chunk of His Sermon on the Mount on the subject of worry. You can read the whole passage in Mathew 6:25-34, but the passage can be summarized in these verses:

“Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Mathew 6:31-34)

We can trust our God! We need never worry about anything, for He knows what we need and will provide for us. Even when it’s hard, we can always have joy in God!

Another way to cultivate this joy in our lives is simply to abide in Jesus’s love:

“Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” (John 15:9-11)

As I detailed in my previous post of this series, it all goes back to keeping God’s commandments. I have a sneaking suspicion that this will be a main theme of this study on the fruits of the Spirit. If you keep God’s commandments, you will abide in Christ’s love; if you abide in Christ’s love, your joy will be made full!

I ditto Paul’s prayer to the Romans for all of us:

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)

Amen!

Fruits of the Spirit: Love


Love

Love can mean many things today. For instance, it can mean merely that you like something (I love that new book by Douglas Bond!). It is also often used to describe the attraction between two dreamy-eyed young people, or even the feelings you have for some other animate thing, like a cat (unfortunately). But what is love in its purest sense? What is this love that is listed as the first fruit of the Spirit?

Well, first off, it is very important. It is the greatest commandment in the Bible to have this love, and without it, we are nothing (see 1 Corinthians 13:1-3)! Here is what Jesus had to say about Biblical love:

And He said to them, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Mathew 22:37-40)

No wonder love is listed as the first fruit of the Spirit! According to Jesus, the whole Old Testament hinges on this love, and of course a good case can be made that this love is a huge part of the New Testament as well. We must understand this love for what it is (and consequently, what it is not) if we are to live out a life in service to our almighty God.

Let us first quickly get rid of the notion that the love of the Bible is anything like that which the world understands today, cuz’ it is not even close. However much you “love” your cat, for instance, that is nothing compared to Biblical love. For some (odd) reason, you use the word “love” to explain your feelings for your cat. Maybe it is the fluffy fur, the way it chases that laser beam around the room, or even because in your mind you think cats are cute (a bad analogy, I know, but let’s roll with it). But really, that “love” is pretty superficial. Shave away its fluffy fur and try to give it a bath, and your “cute” kitty will become a bald, furious terror that will claw your hands to shreds before it lets you dunk it in water.

Try loving them then.

I’m sorry, I’m sorry! By now you can tell I am not necessarily a fan of cats. But I digress . . . As with my (perhaps overdone and humorous) analogy of the cat, the love our world understands is a self-serving, very-shallow emotion. When things change for the worse, the world tells you to withdraw your love and move on. The second you have a dispute with your spouse or feel he/she is not giving you what you need, the world completely understands your need for a divorce. The fact that about fifty percent of marriages today end in divorce is a sad sign of just how superficial the love of the world is.

But Biblical love is so much different! It is patient and kind and is not jealous or boastful. In short, Biblical love is selfless! As this well-known passage puts it:

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a)

Wow. Simply, wow.

Practical Application

How are we to cultivate this amazing love in our lives? What are some practical steps we can take to show this love both to God and our neighbors?

Love God

First and foremost, this love can only start in our lives after we put our trust in God. In and of ourselves, our love will look like that of the world. Selfish. Superficial. Ugly. It is only through the Holy Spirit’s power in our lives that this fruit can grow. Cultivating this love starts on our knees before God.

I believe that the second you trust in Jesus as your Savior, your love for Him starts. It is pretty hard not to love someone who has saved you from eternal death, after all. The direct result of your love for God is keeping his commandments. As Jesus said:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)

Do you want to love God? Keep His commandments. Your love for Him will only grow, for the more you read God’s Word and obey His commands—the more you abide in Him—the more this fruit of the Spirit will grow! I highly recommend reading John 15:1-11 to see what I am talking about.

Love your neighbors

I got this one easy. I have great neighbors, including my aunt and even my grandparents in the summer time, so this commandment is no problem!

Or is it?

Just who exactly are my neighbors? A lawyer in Luke 10:25 asked Jesus this same question, and though He answered with a parable, Jesus’s response was no less stunning. The lawyer was looking for a way to justify loving only a select few—of wrenching out of Jesus a comfortable “loving your neighbor to-do list” that could be easily checked off. Instead, Jesus gave him the parable of the Good Samaritan.

In this parable, a Samaritan stopped to help a badly beaten and robbed Jew on the side of the road, something that a Jewish priest and a Levite didn’t even care enough to even think of doing. You must understand that the Samaritans and Jews of Jesus’s day did not get along. At all. They shared a mutual disgust for each other. The Samaritan would have been more in character if he had stopped to give the half-dead Jew a kick to the gut, but instead he had amazing compassion on him.

And Jesus tells us to do the same.

Yep, Jesus answered the “who is my neighbor” question in a way that is less than convenient to any to-do list. Essentially, He defined our neighbor as anyone who needs our help, even those we despise. This definitely keeps in line with Jesus’s teaching, as he tells us elsewhere to love even our enemies (Mathew  5:43-44)! At this point, I am sure our lawyer friend was feeling pretty uncomfortable, as should all of us.

Again, there is no way we can accomplish this kind of love on our own. It is called the fruit of the Spirit for a reason, because we can never produce it in and of ourselves! However (and thankfully), the Bible gives us many practical tips on how to live out this love through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Remember, one of the qualifications for Biblical love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a is that it “does not take into account a wrong suffered.”  Jesus expounded on this principle when He told us not to retaliate when someone wrongs us in Mathew 5:38-42, right before He tells us to love our enemies. We are to turn the other cheek when we are offended. Though this may seem a little off topic, it definitely reflects the love we should show.

Furthermore, Jesus says a couple of verses later that part of this love we are to show is to pray for those who persecute you. I am not going to pretend that is easy. When we were taking part in the Forty Days for Life pro-life campaign in front of our local Planned Parenthood clinic, my family was verbally assaulted by a decidedly angry man who we later learned had a daughter in the clinic, probably receiving abortion counsel. It was so bad that another man hopped out of his car and offered to call the police for us. As my dad was working that day, I was naturally the one to step up and take most of the name calling. And I was called all kinds of things. A half-hour later when the man finally left us alone, I was shaking with anger and emotion. When my mom suggested that we should pray for him, my first inclination was “no way!”

All of us returned home emotionally-sapped that day, but we did pray for that man right there on the street and forgave him, and I for one felt much better after that prayer, as I am sure all of us did. God knows what He is doing when He tells us to pray for our enemies, and though it may be hard, He wants only the best for us. And it is.

Probably the most well-known and applicable command on how to love your neighbor is found in what we call the Golden Rule in Mathew 7:12:

“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the law and prophets.”

This is the perfect description of what loving your neighbor should look like. We all would like to be treated with the love shown by the Good Samaritan to the needy Jew, right? Do the same to others.

It is my prayer that all of us will seek to grow in this amazing love through the power of the Holy Spirit, for it is this love that should define a Christian. Lord, help us to pursue this love and make it our own as your disciples! Help us to love everyone, even our enemies.  Help us to daily walk with you. Amen.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

The Heart in the Silver Birch Tree


To the amazing, beautiful young lady the Lord will lead me to someday. Claiming God’s grace and forgiveness for the mistakes in my past, may I keep my heart for you, complete and pure, so that my love legacy will not be one of a rotted stump, but of a vibrant, thriving tree.

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Romance, who can understand it? A man and a woman attracted to one another. Two lives intertwined. Two hearts falling for the other. Two souls bound forever. That’s how it should be.

But often it’s not. Hearts can be broken. Love can be lost. So beautiful, yet so dangerous. So pure, yet so easily defiled. How I wish I could understand it! But I am old now. I have experienced it all—first love, lost love, true love, enduring love—and I still am no closer to solving the mystery.

There is an old, rotted stump at the edge of my property, and it brings a pang to my heart every time I walk by it. So much heartbreak, so much pain. But no, there is joy now as well, for God is gracious. That stump was not always bug ridden and crumbling with decay. Once it was a beautiful Birch tree—thriving, it’s silver bark a sharp contrast to its cloak of dark green leaves.

A young boy roamed the land in the days when that Birch tree was vibrant and pure. He would splash across a clear trickling stream and throw himself on the lush green grass, eyes merry, head thrown back in laughter. How I can see him, even now! With legs outstretched and hands behind his head, he lay there under the Birch tree in the grass, dreaming of what he would become and what he would do.

She was there too, smiling down on the boy. Her brown hair was in beautiful disarray from running with the wind, her clear brown eyes sparkling. They had been friends from early in childhood, but as he held her gaze that moment, something changed forever. The boy was new to the mystery, but he did not wait for caution. His heart went out to the girl, and it seemed a small price to pay to love her, so pretty and perfect she seemed.  

The boy walked the girl home that afternoon feeling as if he was walking in the clouds. On the way back, he stopped by the Birch tree again. The boy knelt and carved a heart and a pair of initials deep in the silver bark of the tree and then threw himself back on the lush green grass. He gazed up into the silver and green canopy above him, now tinted golden with the last rays of the sunset, and at the heart carved at the base of the tree, and he dreamed another dream.

But it never came true. The boy loved the girl, and she loved him, but one day the girl’s eyes were not sparkling when she met the boy under the Birch tree. Her father had taken a job at the opposite corner of the nation, and they would be moving soon. She had come to say goodbye.

The boy swore to her that this wouldn’t be the end, that one day, when he was a man, he would come for her. The girl smiled sadly and promised to write him, and the next minute she was gone. He watched her go, helpless and brokenhearted. How he wished he was older and could somehow save the girl from leaving! But he was but a boy, and for the first time he wondered if it would have been better to wait till manhood to love.

They stayed in contact for a few months after the move, but overtime, the letters started coming longer apart, than not at all. The boy wandered aimlessly through the forest, no longer carefree and innocent, but sober and hurt. He found himself under the Birch tree one day, staring at the heart and initials carved into its trunk, and somehow the tree was less beautiful to him. He suddenly threw himself to his knees and removed his pocket knife, carving away feverishly at the heart and initials. In seconds, they were gone. But the pain wasn’t. He wanted to forget—but could not. For though the symbol of his lost love was gone, there was still a deep scar in the Birch tree.

The boy grew older, and then he met his second love. She was perfect, he thought—beautiful, smart, funny. They lived hours apart, but he found ways to keep in contact. Soon they were e-mailing every day, and he felt himself again giving his heart away. He was no longer completely na├»ve to the mystery, and caution warned him to be careful lest he be hurt again. But she was worth it, he thought. One fresh, crisp morning he splashed across the stream to the Birch tree, and clasping the same knife that had been used on the tree before, he carved a heart around another set of initials in the trunk. To him, it was a new beginning in every way, and he barely glanced down at the scar in the silver bark. It felt good, very good.

Months later, the boy used his knife to shave off strips of bark, till all that was left was another ragged scar. His stomach was tight, and he felt sick. How could this happen to him again? Yet though he had tried to rationalize and ignore it at first, he had learned from their e-mails how different he was from her, his second love, and she had too. The relationship had felt good, but now it was over. It hurt, almost more than it had ever been good. He promised himself that the next time he carved a heart in the Birch tree, it would hold the initials of his wife. In his grief, he couldn’t imagine it any other way.

Years passed, and the boy became a young man. He purchased a small chunk of land from his parents with the intention of building his own homestead on it, and 23 found him striding along the clear, trickling stream at the edge of his property. He glanced up at a withered, silver tree as he passed, and his stride faltered. A flood of memories came to mind.  A smile played at the corners of his mouth as he remembered a young boy stretched out under the tree, carefree and dreaming.  He had spent so much time like that!  But then his eyes traveled to the scars carved in the trunk , and his smile faded. He looked away quickly, not caring to count the scars. Not again. Not anymore. How quickly he had pushed aside his promise in the thralls of infatuation, but again and again the relationship had not lasted. He was so sure that she would be the one that it seemed silly to wait till the wedding day to carve anything more on the Birch tree, but he had been proved wrong so many times that he no longer cared to even think of the tree. It was dying now, perhaps from some disease, or perhaps from its scars. The young man shook his head and strode past.

A gust of wind played among the treetops, dislodging the last few crisp brown leaves from their precarious perch. With the wind came the sound of an axe ringing through the forest. The young man hacked away at the Birch tree. The biting wind seeped through his coat and gloves, but he kept swinging relentlessly, ignoring the cold. The rhythm of axe on wood was steady and unbroken. It was as if he wanted it this way, as if he was willing himself away from any other feeling. He needed firewood to last him through the winter, but deep down inside, that was not the only reason why he was cutting down the Birch tree.

The tree finally fell with a loud, splintering crash. It lay there on the frozen ground—a pathetic, leafless thing—and the young man stared numbly at it. But something inside him had snapped with the tree, and he tossed aside his axe and collapsed. He lay there once more in the grass, but he no longer dared to dream. Instead, the tears he had bound up for so long came loose, and he hugged his knees to his chest and sobbed silently.

I know the site of a young man in such a prideless position is foreign, but I hope you can understand what a broken, empty heart can do to a man. I can, for I was that young man.

Yes, it’s true. It is painful for me to tell my story, but I must in the hopes that you will see the truth in it. Some will say that heartbreak is just all a part of life, but I don’t believe it has to be that way.  I finally understand this at least: love was not made to be broken. It is made to thrive, to grow ever stronger till in death do us part. Thankfully, my story didn’t end that bleak winter day. I finally met the woman I was to marry, and 25 found me with a ring on my finger. I held my wife’s hand, and we walked together down a little, winding stream. She carried a shovel in her free hand. I carried a tender Birch sapling in mine.

Together, we planted that Birch tree by the stream. It was a symbol to me of a new chapter in my life, a commitment to the everlasting love I would have for the woman beside me. For a long while we sat together in the lush green grass, her head on my shoulder, and admired our work. The little Birch tree, as twig-like and unaspiring as it was as a sapling, seemed all the more beautiful to me. At the same time, my eyes traveled to a rotting stump a short distance away, and I smiled sadly. Yes, the hurt was still there, but the joy and contentment was so much stronger than that now. I pulled my wife closer and kissed her. My dream had finally come true.

In a few years, the children came, and I was launched into the daunting occupation of a father. How often I needed God’s grace to raise my family! I strove to train them up in the Lord, and praise be to Him alone, my children all accepted Christ even from a young age! My family grew and thrived just like the little Birch tree at the corner of our property.

My oldest son reached the teen years, and hormones took over. One day I took him to the old, rotted stump and told him my story. How I wanted something more for him than what I had gone through! I cried out to God that He would help my son keep his heart pure and undefiled for the young woman he would marry.

My son saw my pain, and he saw my love for him. I will never forget the day that he came to me and promised that his love legacy would be different. In the same breath he implored my help, for he was just as baffled with the mystery as I was. And it was hard. My son noticed quite a few pretty girls, of course, and then the time came where he was interested in one in particular. It was all he could do to keep his feelings for her in check. He began to question if it was all that wrong to start pursuing the girl, and I implored him to hold fast to his promise to guard his heart as I had been unable to do. I urged him to give it time. He was still so young, and so much could change before he was actually ready for marriage.

And it did, of course. The girl turned out not to be the one the Lord intended for my son, but praise be to God he didn’t have to find that out the hard way! You could often find my son down by the Birch tree in those days, sprawled out on the grass, reading the Bible I had given him. I smiled when I saw him down there. Like father like son, a Birch tree had become a part of his young life too. He asked me once if I would mind if he carved a heart and a pair of initials in the tree when he was married. I told him that nothing would make me happier.

The Birch tree grew stout and vibrant, and in much the same way, my son matured into manhood. Finally, the waiting was over. For several years his friendship with a certain young lady had grown only stronger, and after much prayer, my son decided to pursue a relationship with her. In the season of courtship that followed, he got to know her better and seriously evaluate if she would be a good match, and every day they drew closer together. Still, though it must have been hard at times, he waited to carve a heart in the Birch tree, steadfast in his promise.

At long last, there was a wedding ceremony. My son kissed his bride for the first time that day, and with that kiss he gave her his heart, complete and pure, to love, honor and protect her all the days of his life for as long as they both shall live. What a joyous day that was!

They had a honeymoon to run off to, but their first stop was at the corner of our property. They splashed across a little stream hand in hand and ran across a bank of lush green grass till they stopped before a lone, silver tree. They were still in their wedding clothes—my son in his tuxedo, my daughter-in-law in her gown—but they didn’t seem to mind.

What they did next can still be seen to this day. My son knelt down, and with great care he carved a heart and a pair of initials in the silver Birch tree.