“The fruit of the Spirit is faithfulness...” Galatians 5:22b
Faithfulness flows from the fruit of the Spirit’s vine with divine fidelity. It is the ability to stay the course in a crisis or to correct a corrupt circumstance. Faithfulness is a personal resolve to stay committed in marriage through “sickness and health, richer and poorer and to death do us part.” Faithfulness feels a compelling call from Christ to stay put in a career, especially when it’s not easy, knowing perseverance leads to righteous rewards.
Are you at the crossroads of a commitment? Will you remain faithful, even though it is unfair and hard? It is easier to follow Jesus when He heals and forgives. It is harder to be a dedicated disciple when you are persecuted for your faith and demeaned for doing good. However, because Christ remained faithful to the Cross, on the Cross and after the Cross, you remain faithful to bear your cross for Christ. Faithfulness finds faithfulness by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
“What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness?” Romans 3:3
Moreover, make sure to keep your eyes on Jesus, not on the unfaithfulness of others. People will let you down; so do not place them on a pedestal. A friend’s unfaithfulness, even betrayal is your opportunity to remain faithful, as you lean into the Lord’s faithfulness. Scared friends may scatter and an insecure family member may gossip, but you still model loyalty to those you love. Love is faithful in the face of unfaithfulness.
Furthermore, you can rely on the faithfulness of your heavenly Father. He is faithful when you are not faithful. He is faithful to give you courage when you face fearful situations. He is faithful to give abundant grace in your time of great need. He is faithful to give you wisdom for the best decision. He extends you mercy, so you can be merciful. The Lord’s faithfulness facilitates your faithfulness. So, stay faithful to Him and them!
“Teach me your way, LORD, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.” Psalm 86:11
Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for Your faithfulness to me. Keep me faithful in the face of unfaithfulness.
“The fruit of the Spirit is goodness...” Galatians 5:22b
The Holy Spirit’s fruit of goodness flows from the heart of God. It is pure in its essence and it is sure in its application for good. Good is to God what bad is to evil—a reflection of its origin. Goodness is the expression of moral excellence found in any man or woman surrendered to the Spirit’s control. It is virtue that bubbles up from a deep seated belief that outside of Christ there is no good thing. His goodness reveals His glory to the world.
To say he or she is a good man or woman does not do justice to the depth of the fruit of goodness. It puts too much emphasis on the human element in being good. Goodness comes from God to do good for God. We are only good to the extent that our goodness is initiated by Christ and sustained by the Spirit. At salvation God’s goodness floods our soul like a warm bath cleanses a dirty body—our soiled soul is washed clean. Goodness takes permanent residence when the Lord Jesus is the Landlord of our life. He’s all good!
“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.” 2 Peter 1:3
So, what does it mean to have a good heart? It is a heart governed by God. A good heart is more than following a set of principles—additionally it recognizes the Lord is the moral authority over what is defined as good. For example, we can feel good about someone, but if their morals or ethics violate Christ’s code of conduct, theirs is not a good life to emulate. Goodness is not defined by what we feel, but by what God says is good.
God has made you good in Christ to be a humble but bold standard bearer of goodness. Good and decent followers of Jesus have a moral obligation to obey God and thus be a force for good in a morally decaying culture. Goodness defines you as more than a do gooder—it marks you as being a slave to your Master Jesus. Your goodness gives you the influence to change the culture. God is calling you to be an agent of change for His glory!
“With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith.” 2 Thessalonians 1:11
Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for Your goodness and mercy that follow me all the days of my life.
“The fruit of the Spirit is kindness...” Galatians 5:22a
For the Christian kindness comes from the Holy Spirit’s inner work of compassion that expresses itself in outward deeds. Random acts of kindness are divine encounters wrought to illustrate the kindness of God. Kindness is more than being nice; it is discerning another’s point of pain, and with Spirit led sensitivity, brings them relief. A kind action may come in the form of a gift, a word of wisdom, a verbal prayer, an introduction or an affirmation.
Because of God’s great kindness He gave His son Jesus to save sinners and to grow saints. And for all who believe, He grants a seat to sit at His table as an adopted child of God. Yes, we are sons and daughters of the most High! What a privilege to have access to our heavenly Father’s vast resources of grace, wisdom, love, forgiveness and holiness. His kindness leads us to repentance, guides us in character growth and graduates us to heaven.
“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” Titus 3:4-5
Have you been wronged? If so, consider an act of kindness in response. Extend gentleness in the face of harshness. Give authentic affirmation to someone weighted down by disappointment. Ask how your server is doing and leave them a generous gratuity. Validate your friend’s feelings without prescribing solutions. Open your home to those who need a safe and secure environment. Kindness comes from feeling accepted. Not everyone will affirm your kindness; some will use you—so react kindly to the unkind.
Be kind to your spouse who may be in the middle of an emotional melt down. Be kind to your child who made a foolish decision. Be kind to those whose political views are opposite of yours. Be kind to a work associate who is not pulling his or her weight. Be kind to the unkind, the handicapped, the elderly, the uneducated and the immigrant. Kindness heals and gives hope. Most of all, your kindness is an invitation to the kindness of God!
“The king asked, “Is there no one still alive from the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?” Ziba answered the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is lame in both feet.” 2 Samuel 9:3
Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for Your loving kindness toward me and use the Spirit’s kindness in my heart to bring people to You.
"The fruit of the Spirit is forbearance..." Galatians 5:22a
The Spirit's fruit of forbearance is much more than patience. It is choosing not to retaliate when wronged. It's extending terms to benefit another, instead of demanding a justifiable immediate payment. Forbearance is the long suffering the Lord has towards sinners who need Him. He knows that time away from Him eventually loses its luster and appeal.
By faith we are able to model God's great patience towards those who anger us, who deeply disappoint us. The Holy Spirit fills us with the fruit of forbearance so He can lengthen the fuse of our temper. The longer it takes for our temper to smolder under self-control, the more time we have to cool down. The Spirit's forbearance releases our vengeance to the Lord.
"Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance." Romans 2:4
Do you thank the Lord for His kindness, forbearance and patience toward your ignorant indiscretions and your intentionally unwise acts? Are you taking for granted God's great grace? Eventually His patience does run out on those who run away from Him. There comes a time when secret sins come to roost on God's righteous roof. So, come clean and learn how to walk wisely in this season of forbearance from your heavenly Father.
Lastly, do not buckle in unbelief under the pressures that threaten to crush your spirit. Christ has given you a deep reservoir of forbearance to bear these burdens. There is not a drought of God's grace during hot summers of suffering. Critics will come and go. And hard circumstances are meant to soften your heart to grow a harvest for Christ. The fruit of forbearance in your life waters seeds in other searching souls. Thus, be a faithful forbearer of faith!
"But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life." 1 Timothy 1:16
Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for Your loving forbearance toward me; fill me with Your great patience toward others.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is peace…” Galatians 5:22a
Peace is an intuitive fruit of the Spirit. There is an inner sense that Christ is in control, even when external circumstances swirl with uncertainty. It is a calm that only the Spirit can create. Furthermore, a lack of peace protects from moving forward too fast or at all. It is a check and balance to impulsive emotional commitments and/or impetuous mental assent. Peace produced by the Spirit is not subject to shifting situations, but leads one to a stable Savior.
Spirit-filled peace leads us to become peacemakers, not just peacekeepers. We take the initiative to bring together two friends who may be in conflict, reminding them of the traits they admire in each other. We help to bring harmony where hurt has been inflicted. Once we have peace with God, others, and ourselves, we can create a safe environment of acceptance for those in turmoil. Peacemakers who sow peace reap righteous results.
“Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” James 3:18
If you are without peace of mind meditate on the mind of Christ. His thoughts remind you of the big picture and the vision the Lord has for your life. He gives humility, wisdom and forgiveness to recalibrate conflicted relationships. Jesus takes the fear out of finances and replaces it with the assurance of His provision. Peace replaces worry. It stops fighting against and begins praying for a friend or enemy. Spirit-filled peace sustains a long life.
Above all, peace is found in resting in a right relationship with the Almighty. The fruit of peace with God is an immense harvest. Chaos is replaced with calm. Trust and tranquility triumph over anxiety and striving. Your guilt is gone—your purpose and passion remain. You serve a risen Savior who breathes peace into your lungs of faith. It may feel that He is asleep in your current storm, but He will awake to comfort you. Peace with God brings the peace of God. Finally, be a peacemaker whose peace rests in your Maker. Shalom!
"Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." John 14:27, NKJV
Prayer: Heavenly Father, may I be a peacemaker whose peace rests in my Maker.
The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD thunders over the mighty waters. Psalm 29:3
God’s voice has not vanished. He has not lost His voice because of overuse. His vocal cords are not strained. God does not cough or become congested. His voice is strong and intelligible. His voice is all around us, for us to listen to and be in awe of. Thunder and lightning display their glory in the heavens, but they are commissioned by Christ. They are natural phenomena, but they originate from the Almighty. Thunder appears from the most high and is independent from man. It is a work of God. It is the voice of God poetically, figuratively, and instructively. His voice through nature invites our awe and our attention. We hear His thunder and gaze heavenward in both fear and amazement. His voice reminds us of His glory. It is the glory of God that thunders from heaven in the heavens.
The glory of God governs the heavens. Electricity in itself is powerless. It is ignited by Almighty God. He is the source of light, heat, cold, and darkness. God is the creator and the sustainer of the earth. His creation continues because He continues to create. Just as human beings are an ongoing creation of the Lord, so the earth is the Lord’s ongoing creation. He resides in eternity but still engages with the earth. His glory has not been gutted by scientific explanations, only validated. We see God in the dark clouds and the upper water of rain, and we give Him credit for the lower water of the seas. Our Savior can be seen in the beauty of His creation. Christ can be seen in all corners of His creation. His voice is powerful and majestic. It cannot go unnoticed by any honest individual.
The power of His voice is illustrated in nature and applied in our life. His voice can be stern in discipline or tender in grace. Wise are His children who respond to both. The powerful voice of Jesus called Lazarus back from the dead, and upon His earthly death, interceded to His heavenly Father for forgiveness on behalf of His enemies. We do well to imitate Christ’s voice of faith and compassion. Use your voice to pray for people who are dead in their sin and in need of a softened heart toward their Savior, Jesus. Lift up your voice on behalf of others who have offended you and your friends. God hears your voice. He honors the voice of those who vicariously cry out on behalf of unbelievers. It may seem like you are a lone voice for the Lord, but you are not. God has His people around you.
God’s voice is majestic and regal. He is enthroned above all His creation. Jehovah Jesus is our King of Kings and Lord of Lords. When He speaks, we listen. His words matter most. The Holy Bible is the wisdom of His words in written form. His voice speaks through the pages of Scripture. So milk His meaning for you from His written word. Take what He tells you, and obediently apply it to your life; then tell others. Those of us who hear the voice of God cannot keep quiet. He speaks in the temple of His creation, and we speak in the temple of His worship, the church. The Body of Christ listens. We speak His name and He gives us strength. We speak His name and He gives us peace. Name the name of Christ for His glory and for your good. God desires to speak to us and through us. Therefore, be a clean instrument for His voice to be heard.
Taken from Reading #19 in the 90-day devotional book, “Seeking God in the Psalms”… http://bit.ly/bQHNIE
Post/Tweet this today: The voice of God in Scripture helps us find our voice. #calling
“Moses said to them, “Listen you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank. But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelite's, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” Numbers 20:10b-12
Angry obedience is better than no obedience, but it is not the best obedience. It has its positive results and it has its negative consequences. It does get results, but does so at the expense of dishonoring God and people. It’s like a frustrated husband who lashes out at his wife, yet says that he loves her because he provides her food, a home, a car, and clothes. The facts of his provision are true, but there is something ominous about the omission of love and respect in the tone of his defense. In this angry reaction, God is not glorified and self becomes the center of attention. Anger drives this type of response.
It may be anger from the grumbling of ungrateful people; it may be anger at others whose capacity for work and activity does not meet your expectations; it may be anger for always having to be responsible for irresponsible people; it may be anger at oneself for not preparing others to do their own planning and implementation. Obeying God is more than going through the right motions. It is going through the right motions with an attitude that acknowledges Him as the source of provision and trust. Anger puts the self-control of the Holy Spirit into hibernation. We are tempted to get angry with others for their ingratitude, when our own lack of trust in God denies His grace. We get angry when we place too much on others and ourselves; anger limits us.
However, appropriation of God’s grace infuses graciousness. His grace enables you to trust in the Almighty’s agenda. You can trust Him and rest in His provision, instead of rushing into angry reactions. You can get right results without being driven by anger. Ask God to replace your anger with His understanding. Submit to the control of the Holy Spirit. Your submission to your Savior positions you to walk in humility, not in pride. Those who do not live up to their expectations easily offend prideful people. Humble people, however, are patient and self-controlled. They are as concerned about the means as they are the ends. Unfortunately, at any given moment, anger can push humility out and replace it with pride. It is a Christ-less coup of the heart. You become too driven when you run over relationships. Praise God there is a remedy to anger-driven living.
The remedy is living at a pace governed by grace. Living without margin pushes out grace and incubates anger. Therefore, create more time for people and prayer. Grace-filled living is more relational and less transactional. Relationally motivated people ask caring questions instead of engaging in angry accusations. Their obedience to God is motivated by their fear of God. This honors Him, which in turn extends love and respect to others. Once you leave your place of prayer, you are still to pray. You pray without ceasing and you ask the Holy Spirit to douse any flittering fires of anger that pride tries to ignite. Stop and discern the Spirit’s prompting to pause in prayer.
Replace anger with peace and patience. The promised land of more opportunity awaits those whose complete trust in God is their motivation to obey Him. Pray as the Psalmist: “Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart” (Psalm 119:34).
Taken from August 23th reading in the 365-day devotional book, “Seeking Daily the Heart of God”… http://bit.ly/bQHNIE
Post/Tweet this today: Wisdom and patience lives at a pace governed by grace. #grace
“But the fruit of the Spirit is joy…” Galatians 5:22a
Joy is the juice that flows from the fruit of the Spirit. It is tasty, delightful and delicious. Joy from Jesus gives strength for the journey, endurance to obey and enjoyment to relationships. It offers hope for the future, optimism in the present and it reflects on pleasant memories from the past. Spirit-filled joy is a faith-filled attitude that is contagious. It converts frowns to smiles, cranks to encouragers and inertia to energy.
Joy gives fuel to our faith and it allows us to fuel the faith of others. It lights up a room with its genuine gladness and delights to hear another’s heart. Indeed, our countenance stays soft and kind when joy, like emotional lotion, has been applied to our face by the Spirit. Just as sunblock protects us from overexposure to harmful rays of light, so joy shields our soul from the lies of defeat and depression. Joy in Jesus generates gladness.
“Worship the LORD with gladness; come before Him with joyful songs.” Psalm 100:2
We worship the Lord with gladness when we reflect on the gift of His son Jesus. How can we not explode with joy when we celebrate our eternal salvation in Christ? Praise to God releases our soul to lift up and proclaim joyful songs to our Great Shepherd, our Great Savior and our Great Spirit—the Godhead, three in one. Gladness in God can’t help but give Him glory. We are recipients of blessings that transcend our temporary trials.
Therefore, be a joy giver—not a joy killer. Joy givers smile—joy killers scowl. Joy givers build up—joy killers tear down. Joy givers laugh out loud—joy killers sneer inside. Joy givers see opportunities—joy killers see obstacles. Thus, be an agent of joy on behalf of Jesus. Perhaps you take yourself less seriously and the Lord more seriously. Laugh at yourself, sing in the Spirit and extend encouragement. A smiling soul molds the mouth.
“Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 1:8-9
Prayer: Heavenly Father, may I be a conduit of Christ’s joy to those I encounter.
As Scripture notes, the body of Christ is made up of many members – each with unique talents, callings and a critical role to play. Stephen Mansfield’s role is especially significant. With wisdom and a distinct passion for instruction, he helps us to see truth in a progressively-darkening culture. We caught up recently with Stephen to discuss his new book on the topic of Mormonism in America and how we can maintain a Christian world-view in the face of rapidly-changing times.
Family Christian: Before we talk about The Mormonizing of America, we’d like to learn a little bit more about who Stephen Mansfield is.
Stephen Mansfield: Sounds great. Probably the most defining experience of my life prior to becoming a Christian and then going to college was that I was raised in Europe, the son of a U.S. army officer, who was an intelligence officer. We lived in Berlin, Germany during the Cold War. Most of my youth was spent overseas. I became a Christian at eighteen, went to a Christian college [then] began to pastor. I pastored for twenty years and always had a fascination with how faith impacted the real world, leadership, politics, history, etc… I earned a couple of master’s degrees and a doctorate along the way. In 2002, I transitioned out of the pastorate and almost immediately had the opportunity to write The Faith of George W. Bush, which I’m sure we’ll talk about. I had written some books before on Churchill. I had been asked by the governor of Tennessee to write the history of Tennessee for the bicentennial of that state. I’ve written some other books, but The Faith of George W. Bush was my first big international hit. I live both in Washington DC and Nashville. I’m married to an amazing woman, Beverly Darnall Mansfield, who’s a songwriter, producer, also works with me in publishing matters. She’s [also] produced tours for Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant. We’ve got two children, Jonathan and Elizabeth. One of them is at college at Belmont University, and Jonathan, the older, has just started a business in Chattanooga, Tennessee. That’s the best overview I can give you. (laughs)
FC: So you mentioned being a pastor for a season. Where was your church?
SM: I had two 10-year stints of the senior pastor in two different churches. One was in Abilene, TX because apparently I sinned in a previous life. Ha, I’m just playing. I was a kid raised in Europe and went to Abilene, Texas right out of college and pastored an interdenominational church that did well. We had a great time. We ministered to the poor. We had the most multi-racial church in town. As you can imagine, west Texan culture was a little much for me having been raised in southern Europe. And then my second stint of about ten years was in Nashville, Tennessee. And I was first the number two guy, and then the senior guy at the historic Belmont church on music row in Nashville. Transitioned out of that in 2002.
FC: As a pastor, where did the idea begin to start writing books? You mentioned The Faith of George W. Bush, but that was not your first published title. What steered you toward becoming an author?
SM: I think probably, not to take it back too far, but most of the people who write about writing say that there’s a voice that forms in our head that begins about the time when our parents read to us, and that’s the narrative voice you begin to hear. So thankfully I grew up in a reading home. [But] we certainly weren’t geeky. My parents were outgoing social types, and our home was filled with books. My parents read a lot and discussed books. And living in Europe, of course. As time went on, especially as I went to college and went into the pastorate, it was really the level idea that came next. I’m preaching and I’d think, “Well Churchill said something about this…” Or I’m teaching and I’m intrigued with what Cromwell said, so it grew into the world of ideas and language. I was unusual as a pastor because I would refer to a lot of non-Christian [quotes or analogies], outside of church leadership, outside of church history examples for things on the pulpit. In 1994, an editor heard me talk about Winston Churchill as an example of some spiritual principles. He was editing a series of books called Leaders in Action and he gave me a chance to write the book on Churchill, which was not only my first book, but the first thing that gave me international attention or even getting close to earning any awards. That’s really how it evolved. Early literary home that lead to language and ideas, then non-religious history as an illustration of religious principles. That’s how it progressed.
FC: The book that you wrote, Faithful Volunteers, did you co-write that with George Grant?
SM: Yes. George is a dear friend of mine. We had a great time writing that. As a matter of fact, he’s the one that was editing the series called Leaders in Action, which I wrote three books for, one on Churchill, one on Booker T. Washington, and one on George Whitfield.
FC: So from there, you leapt into the political realm. You wrote about George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, Barak Obama and even Oprah Winfrey, which is not necessarily a book on politics, but certainly the other side of a conservative value. It seems that your books have a tendency to stir up controversy. What is your goal when you set out to write a new book?
SM: That’s a great question. I don’t think it would be correct to say that I try to be controversial. If I wanted to do that I’d probably attack or criticize. I’ll have to tell you that most of my calling [to write about these topics] comes from my orientation as a teacher. My wife will tell you if we’re driving to Chicago, at some point I’m bringing up the cattle industry and Carl Sandberg in their contexts. Teaching is the way I’m oriented naturally. When I think about, say, Mormonism, like now, we’ve got this “Mormon Moment” [happening in our country] as Newsweek has called it. So I start talking to people on the streets and realized there’s a huge gap of knowledge. I think I can articulate this, I think I can understand it. Let me make it fun, make it cool, and it ends up being controversial even though I didn’t intend it to be. That’s really how I got into the George W. Bush thing. Whatever you may think of him as a president, he just was not articulate about his faith. He would make cryptic statements. I asked him who his favorite political philosopher was, he would say, “Jesus Christ, because He changed my heart.” Well that was wonderful for me as an evangelical, but what does it mean about what you believe? What’s your worldview? Of course it was easier for us evangelicals to understand, but the outside did not understand it at all. So I would try to step in and educate, and I would end up articulating what people needed articulated. Sarah was a little bit controversial, but mainly it was just a teaching function I was trying to fulfill. Really, I’ve only written a few books that were sort of warning books. Maybe the Oprah book was more of a warning book, but mainly my goal is to educate.
FC: Let’s briefly talk about your book The Search for God and Guinness. It definitely hits on an issue that Christians feel strongly about, with multiple viewpoints. How do you feel the book was received?
SM: I’ve not had any personal negative feedback for the Guinness book. Nobody’s hammered me for maybe assuming I was encouraging alcohol. I think that’s for several reasons. First of all, I don’t drink beer and I say so in the very beginning of the book. So, it’s not an issue of me advocating for alcohol. Second of all, I make it very clear that it’s perfectly biblical and fine to abstain. I also believe it’s fine to drink, but you must drink to the glory of God and you must drink within proper boundaries. And all of that I think is said in the first ten pages. So anyone looking for license, anyone who’s looking for support for an “anti” kind of perspective is not going to find it. Maybe people just don’t come up and talk to me or tell me when they disagree. I’ve had even some say from their pulpits of their large churches, “Great book on biblical principles in a company.” The focus of the book—sure, I explore beer and I explore the times and such, but mainly what I’m doing is talking about how a company can do good in the world, rooted in a Christian worldview, without all of it being summarized in a Bible study on Tuesday mornings on the factory floor. I think people get caught up in that intention and the rest of it goes away. So I’ve not had anything negative happen.
FC: Stephen, as you’ve written these books and, in a sense, become very close to the individuals that you’re writing about, were you ever surprised by what you found out about them? Did you, after your research, find that you either were more favorable or less favorable toward them?
SM: Let’s limit it to living people that I’ve written about. I was surprised. There were not many surprises with George W. Bush. I pretty much knew what was going on there. I had met him and so on. I think the two surprises that I have had—one was with Barak Obama. I was fully prepared to explore the fact that he was anything from a cultural Christian to a liberation theologian kind of Christian, and what I found was what got me in trouble a little bit, which is that I think he’s confused about the application of his faith when it comes to public policy. I don’t think he’s really had a chance to think that through, but is there a genuine (as far as he understands), commitment to Christ? By all the evidence, there is. This is not what I expected to find. For example, I spent quite a bit of time at United Church of Christ, his former church before he was president, and while there were a hundred things I disagreed with about theology and even worship, when it came down to preaching the gospel and calling people to Jesus, it was the kind of call that Billy Graham would make to repentance and the saving grace of Jesus Christ. So that was surprising to me. I think our whole country is still trying to process what the guy believes and exactly who he is religiously. I think the second surprise to me was, when I wrote the book on Sarah Palin, I know this is going to sound counter-intuitive and I am making no case for her, believe me. Of course, the wrap on her is that she’s not very bright. She does horrible interviews. She stumbles over her words. Gets facts wrong; she can’t nail it down. But, the reality is that she, by all accounts is very well-read. Very intellectual background. [She] has at many times as governor of Alaska taken a moderate, learned, reasoned stance on something that was a hot-button issue in the culture. So, the surprise to me was that I couldn’t reconcile the Sarah Palin of Alaska, the Sarah Palin of her family background with the Sarah Palin of the Katie Couric interview, which is hard to watch. So, those are probably the two biggest surprises in the writing of the biographies.
FC: I have one question about Where Has Oprah Taken Us?and then we’re going to talk a little bit about your new book. Is there a danger in followers of Jesus watching Oprah Winfrey in your estimation?
SM: Well, I’d have to say there’s not inherently a danger in followers of Jesus watching Oprah only. Because one day she might be doing an interview with, who knows, Billy Graham? The next day she might be doing something about women’s underwear that helps heavy set women or whatever. None of that is an inherently moral or immoral position. The problem is when they watch Oprah uncritically. When they listen to all of Oprah’s religious “mixture” and they do so uncritically, then, yes it becomes dangerous. I would never make the statement that just watching the show inherently is immoral or wrong or a sin. The problem is having millions and millions of church-going women who have either just turned off their minds, or never had a distinctly biblical base, so they [don’t have] an antidote for what Oprah is preaching from her show. (The word preaching, by the way, is her word, not mine. She considered her show her ministry.) So for those to watch and listen to her without having their critical faculties, their Christian filters turned on would have been a big mistake.
FC: Would you agree that this, to some extent, is the same type of warning that a follower of Jesus should have in watching any television show?
SM: Absolutely. Other than out and out porn or horror stuff or violence, I don’t know that it’s inherently a sin to watch anything on television, but again, moving to the obvious extreme edge. But to watch even a cartoon with your Christian filters or Christian discernment system turned off, obviously you’re going to end up in trouble. That can be watching Band of Brothers on HBO or it can be watching West Wing. All of that falls in the same category if you’re going to take it in uncritically.
SM: It comes back again to that educating function. I’ve been teaching world religions for years. I’ve been deeply disturbed by what Christians do not know about the religions of the world, particularly American Christians, and that’s because we don’t tend to teach this material in schools, meaning largely public schools but also private, even Christian schools. And we don’t teach an apologetic for it. Whereas scholars maybe forty years ago might have said we would be living in a post-religious, post-Christian era [by] now. Instead, we’re living in a more heatedly religious era than in (maybe) a century or more. So I first came to it because I realized that Mormonism was on the rise. Mormons, by virtue of a number of factors, were taking prominent positions in society. Again, I saw an opportunity to educate. I saw an opportunity to help people understand what was going on in their society. And an opportunity to help Christians think more critically about what was going on in the world. All of that was before Romney became the likely nominee. So, that’s what started it. I’m always wanting to teach people and help them understand the faith, meaning the faith-interpretation of their times.
FC: Do you think the church here in the U.S. is in danger of anything as we encounter the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints or interact with them?
SM: I think my answer would almost be the same as it was about watching Oprah. Are you inherently going to be tainted by interacting with Mormons? No. If you turn off your Christian discernment, your Christian biblical faculties, your biblical world view and the filters it gives you, then yes. The more exposure you have to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the more opportunity for confusion sets in, the more the opportunity for [the] blurring of your own lines. I do not fear a Romney presidency. There are only seven million [Mormons] in America. That’s not very many. It’s just about the same as the number of Jews. If you’ve seen the book, you’ve seen that I make some parallels. I think it’s about as many people who subscribe to Good Housekeeping. The bottom line is that they know their theology, they know what they believe, and most Christians don’t. The pew forum polls regularly show that particularly conservative-leaning, evangelical Christians don’t tend to know their Bibles, their history, their doctrine. And so in that sense, I’m concerned about any Christian who doesn’t know why they believe what they believe, or have the ability to give a reason for the hope that lies within them. Getting too much exposure to these stronger religious movements that are unbiblical in their basic doctrine. It might sound like I’m dodging the question but I’m really not. I’m just saying—do I have concern about you, for example, spending time with a table full of Mormons? No. Do I have concern about the average, pew-sitting, evangelical American, who does not know what he believes, sitting with a bunch of well-trained Mormons over lunch? Yeah, it’s a little situational.
FC: Peeling back the layers of Mormonism, did you discover a significant number of them existing outside of Utah?
SM: In 1950 there were one million and they were basically in Utah. There are seven million now. The majority of that growth, four to six million, has been outside of that area. There are astonishing numbers in New England and the east coast. Yes, I’m surprised by the growth that has occurred and has taken them way beyond where they were centrally-based just sixty years ago. I’ve been surprised at how intentional they are at Brigham Young University. They host training dinners for their students so they will know how to make introductions, which is the dessert fork for use at those White House or congressional dinners. They are preparing nineteen year olds to do this. While reviewing historical documents and preparing to write this book I was surprised by how charismatic and pentecostal they’ve been through their history. How speaking in tongues was and is a big thing, praying for the sick to be healed, times where the Holy Spirit “fell” and people were passed out on the floor speaking in tongues and shouting prophecies and all that kind of thing. It is all through Mormon history. I spoke to some of the scholars and even some of the more priest-level leaders in the Mormon church and they said yeah, once a Mormon trusts you, they’ll tell you about that – it’s a very common experience in our churches. So that surprised me, I had missed that somewhere along the way.
FC: As we’re approaching November, it seems like there’s a question in the church about how to vote. I know in your book you don’t tell people how to vote, but how should a Christian approach politics and their faith?
SM: There is a certain amount of our expectation – we hope – that as followers of Jesus we’ll have a candidate who is also a follower of Jesus that we can vote for. This is the legacy of some of the fathers of the religious right like D. James Kennedy and Jerry Falwell - fine men, but they certainly stirred in people a desire (I think for the most part a righteous desire) to have people who reflected their values in office. What it could lead to and in some cases has, is “perfectionism”. That if we don’t have a man who aligns with our values almost entirely, we shouldn’t vote for him. I’ve written recently for Christianity Today and have long said (regarding politics especially), hold your nose and hold your nose tighter. You’re not choosing between Jesus and the devil, you’re choosing along a sliding scale of good, bad and ugly. And I’m not sure that the religious right or a lot of writing and teaching about Christianity and politics (most of which I’m with) prepares people for the more difficult choices that are not between the ideal and the non-ideal. So when they look at Mitt Romney, of course they see a man who is in what evangelicals would consider a cult that changes/perverts/undermines almost every major Christian doctrine. They have a hard time promoting that man while at the same time they agree with him on almost every current and pressing issue of public policy. It’s a very hard thing. I’ve had people break into tears with me at the dinner table over this issue. And I understand their struggle. But I think what’s going to have to happen is a bit of maturing in the body of Christ, to not [expect that level of] perfectionism. If we could realize that if you’ve got a candidate who is an atheist but he’s pro-religious liberty and for all of the things that most evangelicals are, then he’s the guy you’re going to have to vote for whether he agrees with your theological assumptions or not. And let me say quickly on the heels of that, that I would also say to the evangelical world, while there certainly is nothing wrong with voting for Mitt Romney, [just] be prepared for what comes next, which is the heightened visibility of the Latter Day Saints, which is a theological challenge to evangelicalism. I think we’re going to have to “man up” (so to speak) within our churches, within the teaching of our doctrine and in knowing what Latter Day Saints and a lot of other non-Christian religions believe, as we live in this world. Overall I think it will be a good thing for Biblical Christians – I think they’re going to have to mature a bit, but I certainly understand the struggle in the meantime.
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“But the fruit of the Spirit is love…” Galatians 5:22a
Love leads the list of nine character traits that constitute the fruit of the Spirit. Love, the greatest commandment—is God’s gold medal for His children who run the race of faith. This authentic affection for the Lord and people sets the tone for the following eight character traits. Love is foundational, because it keeps motives pure and it builds trust that delivers truth. Like a loving mom, love looks for ways to give care and comfort.
Love gets behind enemy lines with the determination of a Navy Seal. It is the tip of a sharp arrow that slices into the hardest of hearts. Delicious love is an appetizer and entrée we can offer to hungry souls. It is attractive to acquaintances and it retains friends. We love when we initiate interest, refrain from retaliation, give grace and take responsibility. Love listens, gives, helps, forgives, perseveres, serves and sacrifices. Love is a verb.
“And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Colossians 3:14
Your love ties together all other virtues with its eternal elasticity. It doesn’t divide, it unifies. It doesn’t take, it gives. It is not selfish, it is selfless. However, it is the Holy Spirit that dresses you each day in the garment of God’s love. You are not capable to love beyond human effort without strength from the Spirit. He is the source of your power to love like Christ: you love your enemies, embrace your critics and forgive all who hurt.
How do you know if you are growing the fruit of love in your life? You begin to know and understand details important to your spouse, children and friends. Prayer needs, birthdays, anniversaries, interests, pain points and joy factors all arouse your memory when you are around those in your circle of influence. Your love may courageously ask for help on behalf of another who finds himself in a desperate situation. Love is action.
Furthermore, undeserved love may be the highest level of love. You love an addict even though their capacity to love is numbed and they only have pain to give back. You love a proud person, so they see a model of humility that reminds them of Jesus. You love someone who does not love you, because your heavenly Father did this for you, before you fell in love with Jesus. Your Spirit filled fruit of love shares the gospel and your life.
“Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” 1 Thessalonians 2:7b-8
Prayer: Heavenly Father, who needs my listening ear, my tender touch or my time and trust?