In a recent Sunday school class that I led, we took some time to talk about hope.  We discussed the hope that all Christians have in Jesus Christ, what that means for our lives on earth, and why it is so important that we share that hope with others.  These are mostly simple concepts that are very easy to forget when times are tough.

After an overview of how to define hope, I asked the students to recall a time when somebody had given them a message of hope during a troubling time.  As I waited for the students to come up with answers, I started thinking about how I would answer that question.  So I decided to share the following story with the class.

Almost two months before my son’s due date, my wife was rushed in an ambulance to a hospital with a neonatal intensive care unit in the middle of the night.  We were both panicking beyond belief.  We had no idea what would happen to this baby of ours.  We didn’t even know what was going on with my wife.  At times, it felt incredibly hopeless.  It was easily the most scared we have ever been. 

When we arrived at the hospital, our pastor and Sunday school teacher were there.  While my wife thought that meant she was dying, it was very comforting to have their support.  We had friends show up and wait all night with us to see if we would be meeting our baby that night.  They were fantastic.

As it turned out, things were not as urgent as they seemed.  But they were still not good.  We stayed in the hospital for three more weeks waiting to see what would go wrong next and praying for a miracle so we could go home.

During that time, we had dozens of visitors.  Pretty much everybody we knew from our church, and many folks we didn’t, stopped in to wish us well and pray for us.  Our friends showered us with gifts to make our hospital room feel more like home.  Our family kept us well fed and took great care of our dog.

To be perfectly honest with you, I can’t remember a single word that was said by anyone during that time.  There were no inspiring speeches or life changing conversations.  But just by showing up, we were given hope that we did not know existed.  When things looked grim, we felt like things would never be the same again.  But with all of the love we were shown through the presence of our friends and loved ones, we were reminded that God is greater than any dire situation.  We are loved by God and His people were sent to help us remember that.  And we knew that, no matter what, He would take care of us in a way far better than any of us could ever imagine.

In case you were wondering, it all worked out like this:
For my wife and I, we had experienced God and we recognized His love.  We just needed a little refresher when things got tough.  There are people out there, though, that have no idea what kind of hope He provides.  It is our job to show them that, through Him, all things are possible and all things will ultimately be made right according to His perfect plan. 

You don’t have to say all of the right things or even say anything at all.  Your love is made known through just being there.  Your willingness to show up gives hope to those that need it.  You have the ability to show others who Christ is just by being present. 

Seems easy enough, doesn't it?  Let's make it happen.

As a parent, I am always looking for advice about how to raise my children to be Godly adults.  I want them to know that God loves them, to know that I love them, and to know right from wrong.  My goal is to raise children that would be the best friend a person could ask for.  But to be honest, some days I am just hoping that I don’t cause them to become serial killers.

As it should be, one of my primary sources of advice is the Bible.  So many lessons about how to treat people, how to react to adversity, and how to experience God.  Most of these lessons can be translated to parenthood as we try to make these stories and principals relatable to children.  But it is rare to find an example of quality parenting that can be put straight into practice.  I was fortunate enough to stumble upon one of those passages earlier this week.

Speaking to his son, Solomon, David was giving instructions for building the temple.  He gave a list of building specifics, went over blueprints, and let Solomon know that this was all straight from God.

Then David continued, “Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Don’t be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. (1 Chronicles 28:20a NLT)

I have always been inspired by the way the Old Testament refers to God as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel.  They talk about the God of their fathers.  That makes God personal and less like a distant deity.  And I think David does a great job making God a reality to Solomon.  He says that God is the Lord, but he is also my God.  That’s real.

Speaking from his personal relationship with God, David talks with authority about who God is.  He will not fail you or forsake you.  There is no reason for Solomon to be afraid or even nervous.  David is so convincing about who God is that his other advice about constructing the temple, and life in general, is flawless.  Be strong and courageous, and do the work.  Don’t be afraid or discouraged. 

If I can convince my children that my God is who I believe that He is, the rest of my advice should take care of itself.  However, like David, words alone will not be enough to convince anyone that my God is real.  I must have faith as he did when facing Goliath.  I must trust God as he did when preparing for kingship while surviving Saul’s reign.  I must work hard as he did to expand and secure his kingdom.  And I must obey God as David did by waiting to pass the temple project over to his son.

I may not have a temple for my children to build, but I have a God that I can’t wait for them to meet.  In the last piece of advice he gave to his own son, David gives instructions for how I can show them how great my God is:

“I am about to go the way of all the earth,” he said. “So be strong, act like a man, and observe what the Lord your God requires: Walk in obedience to him, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and regulations, as written in the Law of Moses. Do this so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go…” (1 Kings 2:2-3 NIV)

In case you have yet to pick up on it, the Bible is pretty much a metaphor machine.  Between Jesus’ parables and Paul’s sometimes obscure references, it often feels like you are trying to solve a riddle to find the underlying meaning of a particular scripture.  There are other times when there is an obvious message, but the implications run much deeper than it appears at first glance.

One of those pieces of scripture is found in the book of Galatians.  “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. There is no law against these things!” (Galatians 5:22-23 NLT)

The fruit metaphor in scripture is usually pretty clear.  Fruit usually represents a good work or deed.  It refers to offspring and increasing numbers.  In this scripture, we are given a specific list of fruit that come directly from being led by the Holy Spirit.

As we have seen before, Paul uses the fruit illustration to talk about good things that come from being obedient.  There is no debate that love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are all great things.  In fact, it would be hard to find anything negative that could come from this list as long as a person’s heart is genuine and focused on the Lord.

However, there are deeper messages and implications in this list that Paul does not fully explain.  Over the next nine Fridays (Fruitful Fridays), I am going to discuss, in-depth, how each fruit can be lived out and what it would look like if truly guided by the Holy Spirit.

For now, however, let’s take a deeper look at the fruit metaphor itself.  What could fruit represent that we have not already discussed here? 

First of all, where does fruit come from?  It comes from trees, right?  Sort of, but that is not what I am looking for.  Fruit…plants?  No, that’s just ridiculous.  Fruit, my friends, comes from…wait for it…fruit.

Fruit contains seeds.  Those seeds are planted and new plants grow.  From those plants, new fruit is produced. 

Like edible fruit, the fruit that we produce should not just serve a purpose and cease to exist.  The fruit of the Spirit should plant seeds that produce more fruit…that produce more fruit…that produce more fruit...and so on.

We should also keep in mind that fruit produces nourishment.  While an apple a day keeps the doctor away, love can have an eternal impact on the lives of everyone around you.  The fruit of the Spirit provides nourishment to the souls of those we serve, and it recharges our own spiritual batteries. 

And of course, let’s not forget Jesus’ reaction to a tree that failed to produce fruit.  “Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry.  Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.”  (Matthew 21:18-19 NIV)

As we dive into the specific fruit of the Spirit over the next couple of months, please feel free to share any other “fruit metaphors” you come up with in the comments section as they apply to this piece of scripture.  I always find it amazing how many different lessons people can learn from a particular passage of the Bible.

I am going to be perfectly honest, I have a situation weighing on my heart pretty heavily right now.  I have always been prone to worry about things.  And while I am doing better about not worrying about the less significant things, I very quickly slip into a worry coma when things get real.  But even as I sit here, my stomach turning and heart aching, I believe with all my heart that worry is a sin.

First of all, the Bible is pretty clear about where God stands on the subject.  Matthew 6:34 says not to worry about tomorrow, but to let tomorrow worry about itself.  Jesus teaches that since God makes sure the birds in the air and the flowers in the field are taken care of, it should be obvious that He will take care of us.

When we worry, we are not trusting God.  We are essentially saying, “God, I know you said you would handle this and usually I believe that You know better than me, but I’m not quite sure about this one.”  Really?  Seriously?  For realz?  How ridiculous does that sound?  Worrying is just a selfish way for me to try and control a situation that I usually have no business being in charge of.

So if worrying is wrong, what should I do if I have a huge problem in front of me?  The answer is very simple.  First, you need to completely assess the situation.  See if there is anything you can do to help your cause or resolve the issue. 

If you find that there are things you can do to take on the problem, then do them.  Take your fate into your own hands (after praying to make sure it is what you should do, of course), and get to work.  Then don’t worry anymore because you are doing all you can do.

If there is nothing you can do, then you simply need to give the situation to God, pray for resolution, and trust that God will take care of the situation as He sees fit.  On the scale of “easier said than done,” I realize this is near the top of the list.  Trust me, this is something I struggle with a great deal.  So if you would comment below and let me know I am not alone, that would help me not to worry so much about how much I worry.  Sad, right?

“Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD, the LORD himself, is the Rock eternal.” (Isaiah 26:4 NIV)

It’s no secret, I like food.  I like food a lot, and I like a lot of food.  I could make you a very extensive list of foods that I enjoy.  Desserts, pastas, anything off of a grill, cakes, pies, and most things out of the freezer section.  I am honestly getting hungry thinking about this.  Any time I am invited out to eat, I immediately start salivating at the thought of all of the options out there.

I wonder if that is how the Israelites felt when they were roaming the desert.  If I feel that way with a myriad of options available to me, I wonder how they felt having feasted on manna for forty years.  Perhaps that is why they always referred to the Promised Land as the land of milk and honey.  They associated the one thing they desired most with something that would be both sustaining and appealing.

I think that is very telling about their priorities.  Of course they knew milk and honey would be available to them there, but so would many, many other things.  It was the Promised Land for crying out loud, not the Offered Land That Nobody Else Wanted.  Yet, they chose to refer to it as the land of milk and honey.  Something tasty AND filling, delicious AND satisfying…not just one or the other.

Praise God that He is loving enough to meet our needs.  He has promised to provide the necessities for us to survive so that we may live on to glorify Him.  But he does not stop there.  If we truly dwell in His presence and allow Him to take control of our lives, He will fill us with indescribably joy that will be more delectable than the finest of cuisines.  He will allow us to enjoy His love in ways that will make the McRib seem like Spam.  Yes, God makes sure we are fed.  But He also provides a menu of blessings that everyone can enjoy.

I wonder what we would call the Promised Land today.  The land of steak and slushies?  The land of Coke and pizza?  The land of buffalo wings and Mountain Dew?

How would you refer to the Promised Land if you knew it would meet all of your needs and desires?

I love movies.  All kinds of movies.  Comedies, action movies, mysteries, cartoon movies.  They all have entertainment value and lessons to be learned.  For several years, approximately 30% of every conversation I took part in was a direct quote from a movie.  In fact, I had a young lady once tell me that I had no personality of my own.  Good times.

While most of the main points in movies are hammered home in the plot, often to the point of overdoing it, I usually find the most wisdom in the “throw away” lines that nobody else notices.  Maybe that’s why nobody ever knows what movies I am quoting….hmmm.  Anyway, I had a recent experience where one of those random lines that nobody notices got stuck in my head and I just can’t get rid of it.  So I hope that it will leave me alone if I write about it in my blog.  Let’s find out.

Have you seen the movie Courageous by Sherwood Pictures?  If you haven’t, you should.  It’s definitely their best film yet.  At some point during the film, a few of the main characters find themselves in a tight spot.  Luckily, backup arrives at the last minute to help them save the day.  As they are talking about the situation afterward, one police officer says to another, “Thank God for backup.”  Then they move on to the next scene without any elaboration or further discussion.

“Thank God for backup.”  Man, it is always so tempting to do things on your own.  We all want to be independent, right?  People dream about not having to be dependent on others.  The problem is that we can’t always do everything on our own.  We all need help at some point.  ♪ Everybody needs somebody sometime…♪.  And by the grace of God we are able to surround ourselves with other Christians that love us, support us, and are eager to help us when we are in need.  We have a steady supply of people standing by to step in and save the day. 

The Bible tells us that if we step up and support “the least of these brothers and sisters of mine” as their needs arise, it is as if we are doing these things directly for Jesus Himself.  We often visualize this as feeding the hungry, healing the sick, or spending time with those that are lonely.  However, there is another side to that statement.  At one point or another, all of us will be one of “the least of these.”  It is a guarantee that, just as we are called to serve other believers, we will have the opportunity to allow others to serve us.  We will be hungry, in need of clothing, lonely, thirsty, or sick.  We will all be in situations where we just cannot make it on our own.  Thank God for backup.

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  (John 15:13)

Have you ever needed of backup that showed up at just the right time?

_ I don’t like waiting in lines.  I would honestly rather get chopped in the throat than have to wait in line for more than five to ten minutes.  Lines ruin the fun of amusement parks, make grocery store trips unbearable, and make me glad I am a man when I need to use a public restroom.  I have waited in very few lines where the payoff was worth the wait.  However, I recently found one where the wait was the payoff.

In our town, McDonald’s is right beside Wal-Mart and the traffic situation in that area if very similar to every Goofy road rage cartoon.  No matter how clear the roads are coming in, it is always a pain to get out of there.  Anyway, with the traffic as bad as it is, that area is a very popular place for individuals to ask for assistance.  It is very common to see folks holding signs asking for money, food, and gasoline.

A few weeks ago, my family and I were headed to McDonald’s.  There was a man on the corner holding a sign that said “Homeless and Hungry.”  My wife and I decided to buy the man a meal and take our son over to give it to him to teach him a lesson about giving.  Let me be clear that I am not telling this story to brag on how generous we are.  Actually, that was the first time we have done anything like that in far too long. 

Anyway, we went in and got a few items in a to-go bag.  My son and I started across the parking lot as I thought about what to say.  I was quickly distracted by the church van in the parking lot, very near where the man stood.  There were several teenagers on board, and it was from a church that was definitely out of town, so I assumed they were on a youth trip.  In my mind I thought, “if somebody from that group does not offer the man help, what will his perception of Christians be?”  I started running scenarios in my mind of how he must feel being ignored by hundreds of people driving by, and then finally by a group of people that claim to love everyone and are supposed to help out those in need.  I went through the gamut of sad, angry, and disappointed all in about ten steps.

When I got near the corner, however, what I saw almost brought me to tears.  There was literally a line of people waiting to offer help to this person in need.  A man and woman from the church bus were hugging him and praying with him, and handed him what appeared to be a gift card as they walked away.  Cars were literally holding up traffic waiting for him to finish talking to the church couple so they could give him money and spare change.  I stood there with my son, gladly waiting our turn.  We handed him the food, said “God bless you,” and walked away so the next person in line could give their gift.

While I had hoped my son would learn a lesson about giving in the process of helping this man, as I walked away there was no doubt that I had learned the greater lesson.  As I stood in that line, I saw several people go out of their way to help somebody in need.  I saw the love of Christ manifested in a way that I had never noticed before.  Sure, I see cars stop and give spare change to folks asking for help all the time.  But seeing people pray with the man and hold up traffic to offer him money, and to have to literally wait in a line to offer my gift, I was both humbled and encouraged in a way that I never expected when I walked across that parking lot. 

We often think that all hope is lost in our communities.  We believe that our churches, our organizations, and our families are the only ones out there trying to be the body of Christ.  I found out, in a very unexpected way, that His work is being done all around me.  There is hope in my community.    

How have you seen God’s work being done in your community lately?