Thoughts on Gentleness

This past week was an interesting one. As we at South Ridge Church have been focusing on the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) throughout the Summer, I had the pleasure of studying the topic of Gentleness. Had I been asked to define Gentleness before the message, I’m quite certain my personal definition would not have compared with the definition I discovered in my studies.

According to The Complete Word Study Dictionary, Gentleness, has a dual meaning.

  • Gentleness is not only applied in outward behavior or our relationships with others. But primarily an attitude reflected towards God Himself. It is that attitude of spirt [in which] we accept God’s dealings with us as good and do not dispute or resit.
  • Gentleness is getting angry at the right time, in the right measure, and for the right reason.

Regarding this understanding of Gentleness, I took this opportunity to challenge the people of SRC with two questions:

  • Who and/or What may be preventing you from experiencing the Gentleness of God?
  • Who and/or What may be preventing you from expressing the Gentleness of God?

The beauty of these questions is that there is likely a different answer for each person. One individual may not experience the Gentleness of God due to their own sinful nature (Galatians 5:19-21). They may miss out on experiencing the Gentleness of God because they get involved in things such as pornography, sex outside of marriage, other forms of lust, putting someone or something before God, resenting others for what they have, outburst of anger, intimidating others, regularly disagreeing with others, drunkenness, getting high, and so much more.

Or maybe they don’t get to experience the Gentleness of God due to other things they use to hide from God. Social Media, Entertainment, News, Diet, and so much more. These, too, may be excuses we use to hide from God. We don’t believe His dealings with us are good, which causes frustration. Pain. Hurt. Shame.

These are just some of the things that may be our go-to’s because we don’t accept that God’s dealings with us are good. As a result, we get into a terrible cycle.

We don’t believe God’s dealings with us are good.

         We give into something that’s a part of our sinful nature.

                We don’t experience the Gentleness of God.

                      We don’t believe God’s dealings with us are good.

                           We give into something that’s a part of our sinful nature.

                                We don’t experience the Gentleness of God.

                                     And on and on and on the cycle goes.

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As the cycle continues, we may become more frustrated with God. Or we feel shame, so we hide from God. Or we try to numb our pain by going to something or someone other than God. And the cycle continues. Again. And again. And again.

In order to experience His Gentleness, we must first trust – completely, wholeheartedly, confidently – that God’s dealings with us are good. When we don’t, we miss out on experiencing His Gentleness. And then when we miss out on experiencing His Gentleness, we miss out on being about to express His Gentleness in our other relationships.

So, this week, consider these questions:

  • Who and/or What may be preventing you from experiencing the Gentleness of God?
  • Who and/or What may be preventing you from expressing the Gentleness of God?

Once you’re able to identify (at least) some of the things that may be preventing you from experiencing & expressing the Gentleness of God, only then can you consider how God may be inviting you to experience & express His Gentleness in your relationships with others.

But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says.

Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. (James 1:22 NLT)

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choices: part 1

Upon receiving a career opportunity they couldn’t refuse, Ron and his wife Linda moved their family half way across the country. It was going to be a fresh start for Ron, who had always struggled to climb the corporate ladder. It was also a fresh start for Linda, who had very few friends and was looking forward to beginning new friendships with other women.

After taking the first couple of weeks to settle in, Ron and Linda contacted four local churches and scheduled times to meet with each pastor. They wanted to connect with a church as soon as possible, and had some very specific questions they wanted to ask each pastor before beginning to attend on a regular basis.

Most of their questions were pretty common for the pastors they met. Questions such as, “What does your church teach about Jesus?” And, “What ministry goals do you have for our children?” But one question they asked caught some of the pastors by surprise.

“If you could get your congregation to commit to one specific thing, what would it be?”

The first pastor they met with responded by saying, “If everybody here would boldly share the gospel with everybody they knew, that’s the one thing I would want them to commit to.”

Ron and Linda really appreciated his answer, as they’d never really been challenged to ‘boldly’ share the gospel with others.

The next two pastors both had similar answers. “If we could get every person in our congregation to commit to serving in some way, it would be a true blessing to the others on staff.

But the last pastor they met, Mike, had an answer that caught them a little by surprise.

Linda asked him, “If you could get your congregation to commit to one specific thing, what would it be?”

Mike simply smiled and said, “Grow.”

“Grow,” they asked?

“Yes, grow. Some churches ask people to create relationships, or join a Bible Study, or serve, or something like that. But here, we take a more holistic approach. We want people to grow in their relationship with Jesus. That means that those who are prone to gossip will be kept accountable in how they talk about others, and those who struggle with things such as pornography will allow others to keep them accountable to how they see their relationship with their spouse.” He continued for a few more minutes, and as he spoke he talked about specific ‘sins’ many people wrestle with, and as Ron and Linda listened, they realized they struggled in some of these areas themselves. Finally, he closed by saying, “The gospel is all about repentance, and repentance means truly relying on God. Ridding yourself of self-centeredness, and ensuring Jesus truly is Lord over every aspect of your life.”

Ron and Linda thanked Mike for his time, and as they drove home they discussed the various options they had. Neither of them said it out loud, but they had no desire to attend the church in which Mike was currently a pastor. Both felt uneasy about the challenges he talked about and what a “real life relationship” with Jesus Christ looked like. In the end, they chose to attend one of the churches that was looking for people to serve. They felt that was a goal they could easily attain. Linda would be able to quickly connect with some of the other ladies, and Ron would be able to begin serving on a regular basis.

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Each of us has a lot in common with Ron and Linda. We like to be in control. We want to decide what it is we’re going to do. We want to decide how we’re going to do it. We want to decide how our time will be spent. We want to decide who we’ll spend time with. In short, we want to be God. We want to be in control of every aspect of our lives.

But there’s something else we all have in common with Ron and Linda. We all have hurts. We all have habits. We all have hang-ups of some kind. None of the other Pastors Ron and Linda met with discussed this, but Mike clearly communicated that within his congregation their was an expectation to give up control and to rid the sins that cause hurts, habits and hang-ups.

Funny thing is, this is a problem that has been ongoing since the beginning of time.

I recently began a new Bible reading plan – reading through the Bible in 40 weeks. (Really, it only takes about 15-20 minutes a day 5 days a week. It’s not nearly as hard as people think it is!) And as I was reading through Genesis I came upon one of my favorite stories in the Bible – the life of Jacob.

You see, there are four patriarchs in the book of Genesis. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. You’ve probably heard stories of Abraham and what a great guy he was – so great he was even willing to sacrifice his son. You’ve probably heard of Joseph as well. He was wrongfully imprisoned for years before becoming the 2nd greatest ruler in all of Egypt. But Jacob doesn’t get talked about much. His story isn’t as insightful.

Or is it?

Read the life story of Jacob carefully (Genesis 25:19 – Genesis 33) and you’ll see a common theme throughout his life. This theme can be summarized in just two words…

If…Then.

Jacob tried to control God and others using these two words.

If you do ______ for me, then I’ll _____ for you. Or something like that.

Control.

Manipulate.

Deceive.

That’s all he was trying to do.

It starts in Genesis 25.

29 Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field exhausted. 30 He said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, because I’m exhausted.” That is why he was also named Edom.

31 Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.” (Gen. 25:29-31)

Here, Jacob essentially says, “If you sell me your birthright, then I’ll give you some stew.”

But this is just a part of Jacob’s deceitfulness. He soon steals his father’s blessing as well, and angers his brother Esau. In fact, Esau becomes so enraged he plots to kill Jacob. So what does Jacob do? He high-tails it out of town.

Soon Jacob finds himself alone in the desert. He has no food. No water. No possessions. No family. No friends. Nothing. And God appears to Him in a dream. God promises to protect him and be with him and watch over him. How does Jacob respond? He responds like a man with a desire to be in control. The “if…then” mentality of Jacob continues.

20 Then Jacob made a vow: “If God will be with me and watch over me on this journey, if He provides me with food to eat and clothing to wear, 21 and if I return safely to my father’s house, then the Lord will be my God. (Gen 28:20-21)

Now take a minute to think: How much do you like to be in control? Are you like Ron and Linda? Are you like Jacob? Do you take opportunities to manipulate others to get your way? “If you do ______ for me, then I’ll _____ for you.”

Remember, we all do this to some degree.

But we each have an opportunity to make a choice. We can choose differently. We can choose to allow Jesus to be Lord. We can choose to actually grow, and not live our lives trying to hide our hurts. Concealing our habits. Masking our hang-ups. We can choose to give up control.

Are you willing to make that choice?

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Choosing to give up control is one step each of us can take to recover from our control problem. As you consider making this decision, consider the following questions:

  1. What people or situations do you have the power to control?
  2. What people or situations do you like to try to control?
  3. What decisions do you make on a daily basis to control your image? Others? Your problems? Your pain?
  4. How have your decisions impacted your relationships with God and others?
  5. What hurts do you have? Habits? Hang-ups?
  6. Are you willing to give up control?

Laughter, Time and Care

It started out as a typical summer day. The sun came up. The sky was blue. The kids were eating their morning cereal.

But this wasn’t your typical summer day. This was the start of family vacation.  As we packed our suitcases and coolers into our cars my mother-in-law looked over at me with a smile. It was a smile she always seemed to wear. “Remember, Justin. Your only job on this vacation is to make me laugh.”

“Is there anything else I need to do,” I asked?

“No. That’s it. Just make sure I laugh.”

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On another summer afternoon I took the opportunity to mow my grandmother’s grass.  About 2/3 of the way through she came out to interrupt me. “Why in the world is my grandmother interrupting me right in the middle of mowing the grass,” I thought to myself.

“Hey, there’s a riding mower in the garage. Would that have saved you some time,” she asked?

“Ummmm…yeah, that would’ve saved me a good hour or more! But I’ve done almost all of the flat part of the yard now, so I can’t use it.”

“OK, well go ahead and finish up and then we can sit out on the porch and talk for a while.”

“Well, I really should get home to my family sometime soon.”

“I won’t keep you too long. But let’s spend at least a little bit of time catching up.”

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On yet another summer morning, I remember having breakfast with Megan’s grandparents. As we ate breakfast they were sure to ask the the normal questions.

“How are others in your family doing?”

“How is everything at the church?”

“How is that car of yours running?”

And as we began to clean up and get ready for the drive home, Gram had one final thing to say to me.

“You take good care of that bride of yours, you hear?”

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These are three simple memories I have of three women who had a tremendous influence in my life. One was my mother-in-law, who passed away earlier this year in February. Another was my grandmother, who passed away shortly after my mother-in-law. And another was my grandmother-in-law, who passed away in April.

Each spoke of and received love in different ways.

One wanted to laugh.

Another wanted time.

Another wanted to know her family was being well cared for.

Laughter. Time. And Care.

That’s all they wanted.

They didn’t want nicer houses, cars, cell phones, or anything else. They simply wanted laughter, time and care. But they didn’t see it that way. They saw it as love. They simply felt and received it in different ways.

How many of us want exactly what they wanted, we just keep looking for it in all the wrong places?  We want to know and experience love, yet we try to find it outside of relationships with others.

Maybe if I have a nicer home. Or car. Or shoes. Or a TV. Or a…(you fill in the blank.)

But we keep looking. We keep searching. Contentment runs dry. And the ‘stuff’ we own never brings us the joy we think it will.

This line of thinking always leads me to Philippians 4:13. This passage is quite possibly the most misrepresented verse in all of the Bible.  It reads:

For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.

But this passage isn’t about having the ‘strength’ to do really, hard, challenging tasks.  It isn’t about climbing mountains, white water rafting, or running a marathon.  It’s about contentment.  Read this passage again, but in the context of the few verses before it.

Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:11-13 NLT)

You see, this passage is about contentment, not strength.

These three wonderful ladies who influenced my life so much, they were content with many things in their lives. They no longer cared about ‘stuff’, but about family. They cared about people. They cared about relationships.

This week, take some time to think about your level of contentment.  Are you content with what you have? Are your thoughts for ‘stuff’ consuming you? Or are you simply looking to know and experience love from others? Think — What exactly is it that you need in order to experience contentment on a regular basis?

That’s a challenging question, isn’t it?

But don’t stop there.

Take purposeful opportunities this week to bring others to laughter. Take purposeful opportunities to spend time with them.  Take purposeful opportunities to show that you care for them and their family. Provide them with laughter, time and care. Make lasting memories with the people you truly care about.

Who knows? You may just find that contentment isn’t going to be found in what you don’t have.

It’s all around you.