Monday, August 13, 2018

The Fruit of the Spirit - Joy


Galatians 5:22-23
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!

Everyone who believes in Jesus Christ has the Holy Spirit of God living inside them.  The Apostle Paul says the Spirit produces the fruit--Christian virtues--of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.  For the next several weeks, I will examine one virtu each week.  I challenge you to learn all nine. I know you can.  Most people memorize the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag, and that's 31 words.  Surely we can memorize nine Christian virtues.  Here's a song that might help you remember.  Today, lets look at the second virtue Paul lists: joy. 

So What is Joy Anyway?
Some people say that joy is different from happiness.  They say happiness is just an emotion and temporary, whereas joy is somehow deeper and more lasting.  However, the Bible never makes that distinction.  The Greek word for joy in the New Testament is “chara”.  It means cheerfulness, calm delight, gladness, great joy and happiness.  In fact, many places in the Bible use the words joy and happiness interchangeably or link them together.  For instance, in Esther 8:16 (NIV) when the Jews experienced a stunning reversal of fortunes from something very grave and desperate to something glorious, it says, "For the Jews it was a time of happiness and joy, gladness and honor."  Joy and happiness are linked.   In Jeremiah 31:13, (HCSB), God says, "I  will turn their mourning into joy, give them consolation, and bring happiness out of grief." Proverbs 23:25 (NLT) says, "Give your father and mother joy! May she who gave you birth be happy."  The Bible doesn't distinguish between joy and happiness.  They are just synonyms. 

I've discovered we all really need to know more about joy.  Let's take a deep look at today so we can better understand and seek it in our lives.  I also invite you to come to my church for a study about joy that will start on September 19th.  It's a 6-session study by John Piper.  It will be on Wednesday nights at 6:45.  I invite you all to come.  However, if you aren't able to come, you can watch the videos by clicking here.  I really like John Piper’s definition for joy:  “Christian joy is a good feeling in the soul, produced by the Holy Spirit, as he causes us to see the beauty of Christ in the word and in the world.”

What Makes Christian Joy Special?
Joy/happiness is a feeling, an emotion.  We don’t produce joy/happiness ourselves.  Someone or something causes the emotion to well up within us.  That may be why some make the unnecessary distinction between joy and happiness.  They try to say happiness is caused by worldly things and that joy is caused by God.  I used to make that distinction, but I don’t think it’s really helpful anymore.  Joy and happiness is the same thing.  It’s  the source of your joy and happiness that determines whether it is eternal or will fade away like green grass in a summer drought.

Christian Joy comes from the Holy Spirit.  It is an eternal well of living water that bubbles up from inside.  It is not turned bitter by the tragedies and sorrows of this life. There are many other things in this world beside the Holy Spirit that can make you happy/joyful.  Some are very deep and meaningful—like the birth of a child.  Others can be quite trivial—like when your favorite football team wins a game.  However, if your happiness/joy is based solely on fleeting, earthly things, it is in great danger.  For earthly things pass away.  Football teams lose.  Studies show fan depression is a real thing; it can even affect entire cities.  When the Atlanta Falcon tragically lost the Superbowl after almost winning in 2017, it seemed like the whole southeastern United States was in a depression fro days afterwards.  Fan depression even leads some to thoughts of suicide.  Significantly more serious tragedies like the death of a child can smash your joy/happiness to pieces.  Joy that is tied to such vulnerable, earthly things is as fragile as a snowflake in August.

Yet, the source of the joy of the Lord—the fruit of the Spirit—isn’t earthly.  It comes from the eternal Holy Spirit of God.  And as long as your faith is in Jesus, the Spirit lives in you.  Your “Spirit Joy” is not destroyed when the world comes crashing down.  Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)  Holy Spirit Joy/Happiness is as eternal as God Himself.  That is why the Apostle Paul could write such joyful letters like Philippians even while he was locked in a dungeon for preaching the Gospel.  He said, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4)

There is a kind of joy that comes from feasting and friends and the things of this world. However, it is temporary joy.  The Holy Spirit invites us to stop expecting our greatest joy to come from people and things that can’t give us ultimate and lasting joy.  Real Joy, Christian Joy, is found through faith in Christ and is produced in your heart by the Holy Spirit.  It is eternal and it never fades away no matter what happens to you.

Now, sometimes you can see the Beauty of Christ in your kids, in your spouse, in your friends, even in the material things of this world.  And when you do—when you see the beauty of Christ in these things—you may derive real joy from the Holy Spirit through them.  And you won’t have to fear the loss of your joy if you lose the things, because you will never lose the Holy Spirit, who is eternal.  And at the end of it all—for those who trust Christ as their Lord and Savior to the end—we will see the beauty of Christ perfectly in all things and for all eternity.  That is why we will praise Him without end.  However, be careful not to confuse seeing the beauty of Christ in things for the things themselves.

Creating a Garden Where JOY Can Grow
The Fruit of the Spirit is produced by the Holy Spirit, not produced by you.  No matter how hard you concentrate or strain your spiritual muscles, you can’t produce these spiritual fruits—and that includes joy.  You can’t make a garden grow.  Only God can make a garden grow.  However, there are some things you can do to help a garden grow.  You can till up the soil to make it soft and receptive, fertilize the soil, plant seeds, water the garden, pull up any weeds that grow, protect your garden from pests, etc.

How can you tend the garden of your heart so the Holy Spirit can grow Joy within you?  Just like with any garden, you’ve got to tend it.  You've got to soften your heart and make it receptive, fertilize your heart through prayer and worship, ask God to plant seeds of joy within you, water your garden everyday by reading God’s Word, and protect your garden from weeds and other pests.

I'm not a very good gardener.  I lack the patience and attentiveness needed to really nurture a fruitful garden.  The first time I tried to grow a garden, I planted some tomato plants.  I was so happy to see those first green tomatoes coming in.  Now, I love a juicy tomato sandwich in the summer!  Everyday, I watched my tomatoes getting ready to pick.  But every time, just before they were ripe enough to pick, some animal (a squirrel or rabbit or something) would sneak in and take two or three bites out of the fruit!  It was so frustrating!  No tomato sandwiches for me!


Get Rid of Spiritual Pests
If you want spirit-filled Joy/Happiness in your heart, you’ve got to protect your spiritual garden from the pests that want to sneak in and steal your joy!  Consider some of the pest that threaten your spiritual garden:

Fear – We fear of what others think about us.  We fear we might miss out on something good if we devote our life to Christ.  We are often afraid we won't measure up and God or others will reject us.  We're afraid of not being loved.  We fear losing something or someone we care about.  Fear is a pest that will sneak in and destroy your garden of joy.  Thankfully, faith is a powerful pesticide against pesky fear.  Jesus said, "Do not worry..." (Matthew 6:25)  Trust God.  Put your faith in Jesus Christ.  Know that he's got your back and if he's for you, nothing can succeed against you.  Don't worry about what people think about you.  Know that the God of the universe thinks you were worth dying for.  Spray your garden with faith and watch the pests flee!

Poor health – Joy is an emotion.  Emotions are biological and chemical and hormonal.  Emotions are affected greatly by your health.  So take care of yourself.  Eat right and exercise.  It will help cultivate a garden where joy can flourish.  A simple 30 minute walk everyday can make a world of difference in your attitude and receptivity to joy.  Everyone's health varies according to many factors that are out of our control.  However, we do have control over somethings.  Be as healthy as you can be and it will help joy grow more in your life.

Negativity – Negativity is one of the peskiest pests that can infiltrate your spiritual garden.  Chase negativity away by hanging around with people who are kind and positive.  Avoid people who criticize, blame, judge, and are driven by fear and negativity.  They will suck you dry.  Now there is always a certain amount of negativity in our lives, but we don't have to seek it out or go for a swim in cesspool of yuk!  Instead, focus on Christ and what he’s done for you and how much he loves you.  This is a powerful pesticide that drives away the negative thoughts that try to sneak in and steal your joy.

Meditation
As we close, I invite you to meditate on the cross of Christ where the Savior of the world gave his life for you, because he loves you SO MUCH.  Spend some time thinking in the presence of the Holy Spirit about how Jesus left the perfection of Heaven to come down into the cesspool of our brokenness, reach out his loving hands to rescue us, and pull us up out of the mire to safety.  Let the truth of his love fertilize the soil of your heart and nurture the spiritual fruit of joy.


Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The Fruit of the Spirit - Love


The Fruit of the Spirit – Galatians 5:22-23
22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

Introduction
            The famed list of spiritual virtues from Galatians 5:22-23 are known to Christians as “The Fruits of The Spirit”.  I going to spend some time each week considering each of these spiritual fruits.  Actually, you might notice Paul calls these the Fruit of the Spirit , not fruits; he uses the singular form, not plural. I don't know if he did that on purpose, but I do know that all of these virtues together make up a single fruit that the Spirit produces in us. It is not that one person gets patience and another gets love and another gets self-control. No, the Holy Spirit develops all of these in each follower of Christ. Some people are better at on than the other, but all are accessible to every individual if we allow the Spirit to produce them in us.
As we go through this series of blogs, I challenge you to memorize the list of virtues known as the fruit of the Spirit.  That way you will now the characteristics you should develop as you follow Christ.  And really, it is not that difficult.  If you can remember the ingredients of a Big Mac—two all-beef patties, special sauce,lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun (a jingle with 15 words)—you should be able to learn a learn the list of 9 the spiritual fruits of a Christian. Too young to have learned the Big Mac jingle?  Ok.  If you can remember the words to the Kiki challenge song by Drake (“In My Feelings”), which is a chorus of 60 words, then surely you can memorize the 9 fruits of the Spirit!
As Christians cooperate with the Holy Spirit, the Spirit develops these fruits within us more and more.  It’s important to remember, we do not make these fruits grow. Only God can make them grow.  Just as a 5-year-old child cannot close his eyes, grit his teeth, and will his body to transform into a 16-year-old, neither can we will ourselves to grow love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, or self-control—no matter how hard we clench our teeth and concentrate.  The growth of these spiritual fruits—just like the growth of the human body or the growth of a fruit tree—is the work of God.  However, there are many things we can do to nurture that growth—to cooperate with the Holy Spirit’s work and create an environment where the most growth is possible.  This is also something I want to address in the weeks ahead.  So contemplate, as we go along, how you could open your heart and life to God in such a way that love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control take root and grow more and more in your life.
Let's begin today with the first and most important of all spiritual fruits—love.

Love - 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
            As a pastor, I have the privilege of uniting many couples in holy matrimony.  One of the most common scriptures to read at a wedding is 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.  It is known as the love passage as it shares St. Paul’s famous description of Christian love.
4 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. 
If you’ve ever attended a wedding, you’ve probably heard those words.  They are a great reminder to the newlyweds what it means to love, honor, and cherish each other as they begin their life together as husband and wife.  
St. Paul’s description of love is so common at weddings, people might not know the passage was not originally intended for that occasion. Paul wrote those splendid words that tell the qualities of love—not for weddings, but—for a church of people that were struggling to get along. The Christians in the Corinthian church were fighting over who was in charge, who was more important, and who had the most impressive spiritual gifts.  Paul wrote his famous words about love to implore a deeply divided church to simply love one another.  Paul wanted the Corinthians to stop arguing with each other and jockeying for power and competing to see who is most important person in the church. 
God calls us all to love one another and “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”

Love is Essential
Love is the most important of the fruits of the spirit for “…love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8) and, “Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)  Love is what makes us relevant.  Ideas and philosophies and even people come into and go out of fashion as quickly as the Kiki Challenge, but love last forever.  Biblical love (the divine love of God) is the one thing that never goes out of fashion.  Love makes all other things either relevant or irrelevant. When love is present something else is relevant.  When love is absent, people will quickly lose interest because it will soon become irrelevant.
            Love is the very presence of God.  1 John 4:7-12 sums it up.  "Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.  God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only
Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. 10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. 12 No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.
            Love is essential to the Christian journey. It saves us, it sends us, and seals us to one another. As we serve together as a church and as we represent Christ to the world, I pray love will guide all that we do.  Jesus said love would be the defining virtue in all his followers that proves to the world that we are His disciples.  In John 13:35, Jesus said, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

Creating a Garden Where Love Can Grow
Well, now we have a description of love and how important it is. But how do we help it grow in our lives? We have to prepare the garden of our heart.
Now I'm not a very good gardener. I'm good at building things, but not so good at growing things. I can build a good garden to start with, but it's everything that happens after that gives me trouble. You see, to build a garden, you start by making a place. You clear away the grass or weeds, you till up the soil to make it soft, you plant the seeds and water them. Maybe you put down some fertilizer. And I'm usually good to spend a day or a weekend working on a gardening "project." But I quickly lose interest or get busy with family or work and I don't spend the time I should tending the garden. That's why I do better at building projects like carpentry, because I can work on them for a few hours, and then set them aside and come back to them in a month or so and pick right back p where I let off.
Unfortunately, you can't set a garden aside for a month. It takes constant attention and nurturing. You need to check it everyday to pull up weeds, make sure it's getting enough water (but not too much), and maybe get rid of any pests and bugs that are invading. If you forget about the garden for even a few days (which is what I tend to do), it will quickly run into trouble or be overrun by weeds and eat up by devouring bugs.
Well, what about our spiritual fruit garden? What do we have to do to help nurture the fruit the Holy Spirit wants to produce with in us? It is much like tending a physical garden. To start with, you have to clear out some things in your life so there is room for love to grow. Do you have hatred in your heart? Bitterness? Are you harboring any grudges? These are things you must get rid of or else love will have no room to grow.
One of the things I see so much these days that keeps real love from growing is the impossible and unrealistic fantasy of a love relationship. People have an idealized (idolized really) fantasy of what it is to be in "love". And it hinders the growth of real love. And I often see people who grow older--maybe late into their twenties or thirties or maybe even later and they still haven't married. And for them they want to be married so badly that they make an idol out of marriage. They often make foolish choices or compromise their values all for the sake of the dream of being married. Idolatry is a sin and our idols always let us down and get us into trouble. And it's not until you tear down your idol (or your fantasy) and you clear out space in the garden of your heart, that there is room for real, genuine, fruitful love to grow.
Just like in a real garden, you have to break up and soften the soil of your heart so the Holy Spirit can plant some seeds of love. Have you asked the Holy Spirit to plant seeds of love if your heart? He will if you ask Him. Then, what can you do to water and fertilize the love He is trying to grow within your heart? How can you show love to others through the things you say, the ways you behave, and the things you do?
Now, you have created the perfect environment for growth, but love is not the only thing that will want to grow there.  Now, the Devil will constantly be encouraging weeds to grow in your life. These are things that will distract you, use up your spare resources of time and energy and money. Left unchecked, these weeds will grow up and choke out the love that is starting to grow in your life. How do you take time to watch over your spiritual garden and pull up any weeds that grow alongside your spiritual fruit, stealing vital nutrients from the soil? Do you pray for God to show you those things that are leading you astray or just distracting you from His will for your life? Do you listen and rip them out when He reveals something?

Invitation
            I want to close with a word of encouragement.  If you ever feel guilty, like you ought to be more loving or patient or whatever, give yourself a break.  Jesus came to set us free from sin and guilt and shame.  It's not your job to change yourself; that's the work of the Holy Spirit.  Be patient with yourself.  The Holy Spirit will do the hard work, the supernatural work of making you more like Jesus.  Your job is just to cooperate.  Do the things the Spirit shows you.  Open yourself up to spiritual growth and nurture what the Spirit is doing in you and leave it at that.  It takes time to grow, so cut yourself some slack.
            I invite you and challenge you ask God to plant the seeds of more spiritual fruit in your life.  Ask Him also to show you what you must tear out of your life to make room for the spiritual garden He wants to grow within you.  Ask Him to show you how you need to break up and soften the soil of your heart and how you can nurture and guard the spiritual fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We will look at each one and some of the spiritual practices that help garden your spirit in the weeks ahead.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

R U Fruity - The Truth As Far As I Can Tell...

John 15:5 – “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.”


Are you fruity?  If you were put on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?  We are called by God to be a royal priesthood, a holy nation.  We are set apart, sanctified to God.  Sanctified means dedicated for a holy purpose.  As Christians, we are to be dedicated to God.  Set apart from all other people—peculiarly different.  The difference between Christians and non-Christians should be obvious.  Why?  Because the Holy Spirit of God lives inside us and changes us.

The more we realize the price Christ paid to redeem us, the more it will profoundly affect who we are.  It affects the way we live.  It affects the way we think.  It affects the things we do.  It even affects the things we desire.  Soon it is obvious we are indeed different from those around us who do not have faith, because faith in God is a powerful and life changing force.

Think of two people, wandering in the desert, each holding a glass of water.  They are both thirsty but won’t drink the water because they think it’s actually poison.  Suddenly, God opens the heavens and tells them both, “Drink.  This is not poison.  It is water.  It will save you.”  One believes God and the other does not.  The one who believes will drink and be satisfied.  The one who does not believe will remain thirsty.  So you see, true faith leads to action.

It is the same with us, except our faith is not in water.  Our faith is in the living Son of God!  And more than that, we believe He lived a perfect life, suffered and died in our place, was buried in the earth for three days, rose again to live forever, and that we will join Him!  How can that not affect us?  How can that not change our lives?  It most definitely will, unless we don’t really believe.

Galatians 5:22-23a says, “The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”  As we let the Holy Spirit guide our lives and change us, we begin to exhibit these kinds of spiritual fruit more and more.

And that brings me back to the original question of this article; are you fruity?  Do you really believe what you profess?  How has your faith changed you?  Are you now different from the way you were when you first believed?  Does your faith cause you to bear fruit?  I hope so, because true faith changes us from our old way of being into the fruity new creations God wants us to be.  Of course, I’m no expert and certainly don’t claim to know everything, but that’s the truth as far as I can tell…

God loves you and so do I!

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Vandalizing Lady Liberty


Introduction
            This is the last in this series of blogs about true freedom as Paul shared in his Epistle to the Galatians.  Christ has set us free! Free from the impossible burden of trying to be perfect so as to please God. Free from the fear that God does not love us, or will not love us, or will ever stop loving us. Free to love others just like God loves us through Jesus Christ.
            The title of this blog is "Vandalizing Lady Liberty".  The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of freedom to people all over the world. But did you know it has been vandalized many times?  Recently, a group protesting Trump hung a banner on the statue saying, “Refugees welcome.”  Others, over the years, have used spray paint to damage the monument—for no good reason at all other than meanness.  Who would do such a thing?
            Well, we have to be careful we do not vandalize the freedom Christ won for us on the cross.  Some have said that because Christ won forgiveness for our sins on the cross, we can live however we want.  I know of a husband who said something like that to his wife when she reproached him for his unchristian behavior.  He actually said, he could do whatever he wanted because Christ had already forgiven him!  Others may not say as much, but they live that way.  We have a term called a "sinning baptist" to describe someone who appears all holy on Sunday morning at church, but sins like the Devil Monday through Saturday.  
             Is this true? Does our freedom in Christ give us a license to live however we please--to sin as much as we like without fear of judgment from God? This is the subject of this final blog about freedom from the letter to the Galatians.

Galatians 5:16-23
16 So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. 17 The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. 18 But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.
19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

Galatians 5:16 - A Verse Full of Meaning
            Verse 16 is packed full of meaning.  It says: “Let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves.”  So what does that tell us?  First of all, it says the Holy Spirit will guide you.  Everyone who puts their faith in Jesus Christ has the Holy Spirit of God living inside them.  This is the same spirit that has no beginning and no end--the Spirit is infinite.  And God's Holy Spirit lives inside those who put their faith in Christ and speaks to us and guides in how to live righteously before God.
            However, verse 16 also reminds us we still have a sinful nature.  And our sinful natures craves the wrong stuff.  So, there is a war within us.  The Holy Spirit guides us to do the right thing, but our old sinful nature urges us to do the opposite.  Before we trust in Christ, we are powerless to fight our sinful nature.  In fact, Scripture tells us we are enslaved to it.  However, Galatians 5:16 lets us know that Christ won your freedom from the power of sin.  It no longer has the power to control us if we listen and obey the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, you have to listen to the Holy Spirit instead of your sinful nature.

How Do I Know if I’m Following the Holy Spirit or My Sinful Nature?
            Galatians 5:19-21 says, When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these.”
            Notice, these are primarily issues of morality, based on God’s holy nature.  These are not civil codes about how to build a proper fence or what to do if a neighbor is gored by your ox.  Nor are these religious ceremonial laws about how to sacrifice or circumcision or what foods make you clean or unclean.  These are moral laws; some would argue (I would argue) they are universal laws.  Almost everyone—accept those whose conscious is seriously clouded—can agree that the immoral behaviors listed in verses 19-21 are unwholesome, unholy, and harmful to both individuals and the Body of Christ.  Anyone with a basic common sense would not want to go before the throne of God and brag that they had engaged in any of these behaviors.
            Now there is still an immature, sinful nature that lives inside us all that still craves these immoral things.  Now, maybe sexual immorality isn’t your vice (I don’t know).  But how many struggle with jealousy?  How many of you just want to vent your anger and really give somebody a piece of your mind from time to time?  How many of you are full of selfish ambition and feel tempted to compromise your integrity to get something you really want?  How many of us talk about how upset we are that America is so divided, and yet we eat up news stories that fan the flames of quarreling, dissension, and division?  (We might as well make a bowl of popcorn as we sit down to be "entertained" by it all.  You see, there is still a sinful nature in us all.  But you don’t have to follow it.  Jesus gave you the freedom to follow God’s Holy Spirit instead.

What happens when you follow the Holy Spirit?
            Galatians 5:22-23 says,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!”  Now, is there anything in that list that seems out of place?  Do you see anything that you would not like to have as part of your character?  Is there anything here that you feel would not be pleasing to God?  These are all virtues that bring healing and wholeness.  They make our world a better place.  They make our own lives more wholesome.  They draw us close to God—the source of Life. 
            The more you listen to and obey the voice of the Holy Spirit, the more these fruits become part of your life.  It doesn’t happen overnight, but through a lifetime of faithful cooperation with God’s Spirit, you find yourself become more and more like Christ—who exhibited all of these spiritual fruits perfectly and abundantly.

Repent and be Washed Clean of Sin
In closing, I want to return to the question I posed at the beginning:  Does our freedom in Christ give us a license to live however we please--to sin as much as we like without fear of judgment from God?  The clear answer is no! No, because it is not good for us.  No, because it is destructive to our spirit and to the Church Christ established.  No we cannot go on breaking the clear moral laws of God because it is an affront to our Holy God who sent His only begotten Son so that anyone who believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  To take Christ’s death on the cross as a license to sin as much as we please would be worse than vandalizing the statue of liberty.  It would be infinitely worse than desecrating the American flag.  It would be like walking up to the foot of the cross, where the Savior of the world, the Lamb of God, who died to take away your sins hangs bleeding and dying, and pick up another nail and pound it into him while he cries out “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” 
            If that’s how you’ve been living, you can make a change today.  The mercy and love and grace of God through Jesus Christ is so infinite that even you can be forgiven today!  Won’t you fall on your knees before Christ today, say you’re sorry, and ask forgiveness?
            Or perhaps today, you want to start opening you ears to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  You want to let God's Holy Spirit produce more spiritual fruit in you--love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness. amd self-control.  Pray to the Lord and ask Him to help you.
            Next week, I will begin a new series that looks at each of these spiritual fruits listed In Galatians 5:22-23.  I hope you will join me for the journey.

Monday, July 23, 2018

The Babysitter

Introduction
            Babysitters are some of the most unsung heroes of our lives.  We have Mothers' Day, Fathers' Day, even Grandparents' Day; don’t you think we should have a Babysitters' Day?  (Actually, there is!  Every year, the Saturday before Mothers' Day is Babysitters' Day!  Who knew?)
            I have 3 kids.  They were each spaced about four years apart.  That means we have had precious babysitters helping us manage spanning throughout our lives going all the way back to 1998--that's twenty years!  Since our youngest, Abigail, turned 11 this year, we have mostly moved
beyond babysitters (though we still need them occasionally when we are gone overnight).  Abigail is old enough and mature enough to stay at home alone for long periods of time by herself.  Plus, she has older siblings that are mature enough to supervise her (and can even drive her to school or church or other places if needed).
            That was not always the case for our family.  We couldn't have made it through without so many sweet and helpful people who pitched in to babysit our kids through the years.  Sometimes it was our family--grandmas, aunts, and uncles.  However, since we have usually lived to far away from family, it was more often our friends at church who stepped up to watch over our kids when we couldn't.
            Did you know that the Apostle Paul talked about babysitters in Galatians?  As he spoke about freedom to the Galatians, Paul likened the Old Testament Jewish Law to a babysitter watching over minor children.  Listen to what he said. 

Galatians 4:1-7
1Think of it this way. If a father dies and leaves an inheritance for his young children, those children are not much better off than slaves until they grow up, even though they actually own everything their father had. They have to obey their guardians until they reach whatever age their father set. And that’s the way it was with us before Christ came. We were like children; we were slaves to the basic spiritual principles of this world.

But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir.

The Babysitter
The Apostle Paul originally used two greek words in verse 2 that the New Living Translation translates as guardians:  Epitropos and Oikonomos.  An Epitropos was a tutor for children.  An Oikonomos was a household manager whose duties would also include watching over children.  Families often used these tutors and managers as guardians or babysitters for minor children.  And, if the parents died, the epitropos and oikonomos would serve as guardians for minor children until they were old enough to live on their own.
            What is Paul talking about?  He’s talking about the function of the Old Testament Law in relationship to Christians.  Before Christ came, the Old Testament Law served as humanity’s spiritual babysitter.  What does a babysitter do?  Many things.  A babysitter keeps kids safe and keeps kids out of trouble.   A babysitter keeps kids safe from each other, keeps the house safe from the kids.  A really good babysitter might help kids with their homework or help them have fun or even comfort them if they miss their mommy or daddy.  Kids can sometime develop strong bonds with their babysitters.  Yet no matter how good a babysitter is, they are only a temporary substitute for the parents.  Children want and need their parents. 

Christ Freed Us for Adoption as God's Children
            There is another theme that Paul is teaching here.  There is the theme of adoption.  Before Christ, humanity was like an orphan with no spiritual Father.  Sin separated people from God.  They could not hear the voice of God's Spirit.   People were spiritual orphans.  The Law of the Old Testament serves like a babysitter in an orphanage to guard people who don't know Christ, to keep them out of trouble, to keep them safe, and keep them from hurting each other (or at least it tries).  But living in an orphanage is never the ideal, is it?  We want to be part of a family.
            What do you think of when you think of an orphanage?  The United Methodist Children's Home started out as an orphanage for children who'd lost their parents and had no one else to care for them.  Millions of children and families have benefitted from their care.  Parentless children is an even tougher problem in other parts of the world.  The Chinese government says there are about 600,000 orphans in their country.  China is filled with orphanages with children wanting and needing to be adopted.
            Whereas parents might hire a babysitter for a few hours, Orphans require guardians to watch over them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  A really good orphanage—like the UMCH—does their best to provide a safe, loving environment.  Unfortunately, even a good orphanage is a poor substitute for being part of a family.
            Paul writes in Galatians 4:4-5 – “But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law.  God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children.”  Isn’t that amazing!  All who place their faith in Jesus Christ have been adopted as God’s own children!
            Now, I have known several families who have adopted children.  Some adoptions came through mixed families--through a marriage, step children were adopted into a new family.  Other times, children started out in a foster care situation that turned into a permanent adoptions.  Other times, people specifically went out seeking to adopt a child who needed a family.  Some families who adopt already had children of their own, but the glorious truth is the children they adopted are loved and cared for just as much as their natural born children.
            Now if human parents—who are by nature flawed and imperfect—can love their adopted children just as much as their natural born kids, how much more can a perfect God love His adopted children—those who put their faith in Jesus Christ?  Isn’t it an amazing thought that God loves us just as much as He loves His Son Jesus?

Maybe It’s Time to Grow Up
            Young children need a guardian, a babysitter, to watch over them.  However, kids aren’t meant to stay children forever.  They are meant to grow up into mature adults who know right from wrong and choose to do the right thing.  Similarly, humanity was never meant to remain under the Law (our spiritual babysitter) forever.  We were meant to grow into mature spiritual beings.
            Before Christ came, people needed a babysitter to keep us in line.  However now, because of Christ, we can grow and mature.  If we trust in Christ and seek to follow him as our Lord, we don’t need a babysitter to keep us safe anymore.  With God’s help, with the Holy Spirit’s help, we can know right from wrong and choose to do right.  We don’t need the Law to supervise us.  Everyone who put’s their faith in Jesus Christ has the Spirit of God living in them.  The Spirit guides us to do God’s will.  And so, now we can live—not as immature children who need a babysitter to keep them safe—but as mature adults who choose every day to follow Christ and love God and love our neighbor. 

How do you need to respond today?
            Maybe, you still feel like an orphan.  Maybe today, you would like to let God adopt you as His very own son or daughter—to know that God loves you just as much as He loves His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.
            Maybe today, you realize you are a Christian, but you need to grow up and mature in the faith.  Perhaps, you need to move beyond a faith that merely relies on rules and religion to babysit you and keep you out of trouble.  Maybe today, you need to realize Jesus set you free so you could follow the Holy Spirit and live as mature sons and daughters of God.
            Maybe the Lord has spoken to you in another way.  I invite you to respond however the Spirit leads you.

 

Monday, July 16, 2018

No Longer A Slave

Introduction
            What are some of the things that make you afraid that God does not love you?  Maybe you don’t feel like you're good enough.  Maybe you worry you don’t know enough about the Bible or your don't read the Bible enough or you don't pray enough; you worry that God is upset with you.  Maybe you struggle with an addiction--alcohol, drugs, food addiction, an addiction to internet porn, or something else.  Your bad habit might make you fear God has given up and turned His back on you.  You think, "God just couldn’t love me because…"
            Fear can make you a slave.  I am so thankful Jesus came to set us free from fear!  We are no longer have to be slaves to fear or anything else.  Jesus sets us free, so don't go back and let fear or anything else enslave you again.
 
Galatians 3:1-4
1 Oh, foolish Galatians! Who has cast an evil spell on you? For the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death was made as clear to you as if you had seen a picture of his death on the cross. Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. How foolish can you be? After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? Have you experienced so much for nothing? Surely it was not in vain, was it?
 
The Galatians
            The Apostle Paul came and preached the God News about Jesus Christ to the Galatians--a group who believed in many different pagan gods.  They believed you had to make sacrifices and perform certain religious ceremonies in order to manipulate the gods into doing favors for you.  But Paul preached that God already loves us and sent Jesus Christ as the only sacrifice that was able to atone for our sins.  So we no longer need to be afraid of GOd, because through Christ we are forgiven and restored. 
            Through the Apostle Paul, the Galatians were set free.  Unfortunately, some false teachers arrived after Paul moved on to another city and started teaching the Galatians they must follow the Old Testament laws in order to be “real” Christians.  Paul wrote the letter to the Galatians to counteract the evil spell of these false teachers.
            The message of Galatians is this:  Jesus set us free from the impossible burden of the Old Testament Law (or any religious laws).  We are save by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ and not by following the Law.  You are no longer a slave.  Therefore, don’t let anyone lead you to be enslaved again.
 
Freedom
Jesus came to set you free:
    Free from the impossible burden of trying to do everything perfect. 
      Free from the requirement to follow all of the Old Testament laws. 
         Free from the fear that you aren’t good enough and that God won’t love you. 
           Free from the unreasonable expectation other people (and even society) place upon you.

            If Jesus sets you free, you are free indeed. (John 8:36)  But just like the Galatians, we sometimes listen to lies that tell us our faith in Jesus is not enough, that we must do something more or else God won’t really love us.
            What voices are telling you that you aren’t good enough?  That God doesn’t really love you?  That you don’t measure up?  What voices are confusing you?  Making you doubt Jesus and his love?  Discouraging you, making you want to give up?  You need to understand, that's not the voice of God or His Son Jesus.  That may be the voice of Satan trying to mislead and discourage and destroy you.  Learn to distinguish between the voice of Satan and the voice of Jesus.

Here are some ways you can tell the difference:
 
Satan’s Voice
Jesus’ Voice
Rushes you
Pushes you
Frightens you
Confuses you
Discourages you
Worries you
Obsesses you
Condemns you
Stills you
Leads you
Reassures you
Enlightens you
Encourages you
Comforts you
Calms you
Convicts you
 
            Did you notice that last one on the list?  Condemn vs. Convict?  People often confuse these.  To be sure, no one likes to be convicted; it doesn't feel good, but it is healthy when we need it.  Satn would condemn you and tell you there is no hope for you, you have messed up and you are no longer loved and you will be punished and there's nothing you can do about it.  But the voice of Jesus doesn't condemn you; Jesus convicts you.  Conviction says, "You messed up and I love you so I want you to know, but if you repent I forgive you and we will move on together."  So Jesus may convict you, but he does it out of love.  He doesn't condemn you.
            Whenever you hear someone or some thought making you doubt God’s love for you, remind yourself:  I’m no longer a slave to fear.  I am a child of God. 
Repeat it to yourself until you believe it. 

Jeremiah 1:5 – “I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb.”
            Did you know God chose you before you were born and set you apart for something special.  God’s Holy Spirit has walked beside you your entire life—even if you never  thought about Him once—in hopes that you would one day receive His gift of salvation.  In fact, God loved you so much that He sent His one and only son, Jesus, to leave the glory of Heaven to come down to earth in search of you. 
            In John 15:16, Jesus said, “You didn’t choose me. I chose you.”  Jesus loved you so much he willingly died on the cross to set you free.  So now you are no longer a slave—if you trust in Jesus Christ.  If you trust in Jesus Christ, you are born again into the family of God. 
            Consider this—Jesus blood flows through your veins!  You are indeed a child of God!  Galatians 3:26 says, "For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus."  God’s Spirit lives inside you and we can call God “Daddy”, “Papa”, “Pops”, or whatever else you would call a loving father with whom you had a deep, intimate, and trusting relationship.  (Galatians 4:6)
            Who is Jesus to you?  Is he a myth?  A man in a book?  A historical figure?  Do you think he is a great prophet or religious leader?  Is he the Son of the Living God?  Jesus said he is your best friend!  Jesus said:  I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me.” (John 15:15)  Isn't that wonderful! 

I Want You to Know at the Very Core of Your Being that God Loves You!
            Whenever you begin to doubt or feel unworthy or guilty or ashamed or unloved, I want you to feel the loving arms of our Father surrounding you in a loving embrace.  When our sin and guilt and shame was a like an impassable Red Sea, Jesus split the Sea so we could walk right through it.  Walk through to freedom!  When the enemies of your fear and doubt chase you trying to drag you back into slavery, God sends the seas crashing back in to drown them with perfect love while you walk through to freedom unscathed! 
You’ve been liberated from bondage!  Don’t spend your time thinking about or worrying about the past.  Surround yourself with songs of deliverance and people of deliverance!  Sing praises together to God about your freedom!

Invitation
            If you are a Christian, I want you to know that you are set free.  You are no longer a slave.  You are a child of God.
            But perhaps today, you are not sure if you are a Christian.  Maybe you know that you are not because you've never put your faith in Jesus.  Why not start today?  Do you want to be set free from your fear?  Do you want to know your sins are forgiven?  Do you want the freedom Christ brings?  Do you want to become a child of God?  Them I invite you to become a follower of Christ today.  Put your faith in Him.  Repent of your sin and trust Jesus as your Lord and Savior from this day forward.  All you have to do is pray to God and ask him to save you.  You can pray something like this:

Dear Father in Heaven,
I know Jesus is Your precious Son,
And that he died on the cross for my sin,
And that he rose from the dead and is living again. 
Lord I confess my sin.
Forgive me. I trust You to save me.
Please come take control of my life. 
Thank you for setting me free to know Your amazing grace and love.
Amen.

If you became a Christian today, I would love for you to email me and share your story so I can pray for you.  Would you email me at ReverendChrisMullis@Hotmail.com?

Now, click here for a song to sing whenever you start to doubt if God really loves you or if you've really been set free.