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Showing posts with label Spiritual Fruit. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Spiritual Fruit. Show all posts

Monday, March 30, 2020

I Am the Vine


Introduction
Well, spring has definitely sprung!  And the weather Friday and Saturday was glorious.  This is my favorite time of year.  So, although this virus has disrupted all our lives, maybe the weather and the green grass and the budding flowers is some compensation.  So, while you’re practicing social distancing, be sure to get outside and do a little yard work, go for a walk, or just sit on your front porch for a few minutes.  The sunshine will do you good.  Sunshine give you vitamin D and vitamin D is good for your immune system and your emotional health too.

And while you’re watching the world spring to life and grow all around you, think about what Jesus said.  He told us who he is and explained his character.  Using the eternal proper name of God, “I AM”, Jesus said:
I AM the Bread of Life – the only thing that satisfies the deep hunger in your soul
I AM the Light of the World – the One who reveals the truth and lights your way out of darkness
I AM the Gate – the only way into the protective safety of God’s presence
I AM the Good Shepherd – the One who knows you by name and protects you, even at the cost of His own life.

Today, we look at Jesus’ 5th I AM statement from John 15:1-17 – I AM the true vine.

John 15:1-17
1 “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.
“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. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.
“I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. 10 When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. 11 I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! 12 This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. 13 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 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. 16 You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. 17 This is my command: Love each other.
Grapevines
Jesus said, “I Am the true grapevine.”  I have never grown grapes.  I did find some wild grapes in the woods behind my house one time, which was pretty cool.  They are edible and they’re not too bad, but they just aren’t as good as the sweet, juicy cultivated grapes you get from the store.

Grapes were one of the main crops grown in Israel in Jesus’ day.  Now, I’m not a grape farmer, but here’s what I have read about it.  It takes three years for grapevines to mature enough to produce fruit.  The first year the vines grow up very fast and gardeners train the vines to grow over a lattice.  The second year, the vine may produce some fruit, but only small impotent berries.  By the third year, the grapevine is ready to produce a real crop, but only if the vine has been properly pruned.

Grapes develop only on new growth, which sprouts from 1-year-old wood.  So, in the vine's second fall, the gardener must prune off about 70 percent of the plant, leaving just the main trunk and canes.   Now think about that...  70 percent!  I'm not a gardener and chopping away 70 percent of a healthy looking grapevine until all that was left is a bare, ugly, hacked up vine would scare me to death!

If the gardener fails to properly prune the grapevine in this way, it will not be very fruitful.  But if the gardener, in faith, cuts away 70% of the vines branches, that same vine will grow new branches and shoots and will be fantastically fruitful—producing the wonderfully sweet and juicy grapes we all know and love.

I Am the Vine, You are the Branches
In this I AM statement, Jesus not only tells us who He is, but also who we are.  He is the true vine, we are the branches.  The True vine is the source of life.  It is the part of the plant that reaches down into the soil and draws up life-giving water and nourishing minerals.  These essential elements are distributed out into the branches so they can produce fruit.  Apart from the vine, the branches are useless.

Yesterday, I cut my grass for the first time this season.  Before I could cut, I had to go around and pick up several small, broken branches that had fallen out of trees over the winter.  What are those small broken branches good for?  Nothing.  I pile mine up next to our fire pit and burn them whenever we have a bonfire.

Now, Jesus isn’t talking about agriculture.  He’s talking about your spiritual life and your relationship with God in Christ.  We must remain connected to Christ and when we do and when we allow God to properly prune us, we will bear much fruit.

Spiritual Fruit
Galatians 5:22-23 lists the kinds of spiritual fruit Christians produce:  “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”  As we remain in Christ, we bear much fruit.  Now there's something about fruit.  It isn't for the plant that produces it.  It's for others.  The grapes on a grape vine aren’t for the grapevine to eat. Right?  The sweet, juicy grape is not for the vine; it’s for others. Right?  Maybe it’s for the birds or animals or the gardener, but the vine doesn’t eat the fruit.  But every grape (every fruit) has seeds in it.  And if a bird eats the seed andn flies away to another field, the fruit will be digested and the seed will be dropped (in a load of wonderful fertilizer).  It may take root and grow a new vine.  Or maybe the gardener eats the fruit and collects the seeds and plants a new vine, which produces even more fruit.  

Think about the seed/fruit principle in terms of your own spiritual fruit.  When we follow Christ as our Lord, the Holy Spirit grow spiritual fruit in us--love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self control.  And in general, these fruits not only bless us, but hey bless others even more.  So when the world is turned upside down and everyone is full of fear, we have a spiritual "peace that passes all understanding".  And others enjoy this peace in us (or love or joy or kindness...).  But, just like the grapes, inside every fruit of the spirit is a seed--the seed of the Gospel.  And as people see this fruit in us and enjoy it, the also get the seed of the Gospel.  They may think, "Why is this person so full of peace, patience, kindness?  I wish I had more of that."  And they find out the person is a Christian and Jesus' Holy Spirit is the source of their spiritual fruit.  And sometimes, the Gospel seed takes root and grows in their heart too and they begin to follow Christ.  And even more fruit begins to grow in our world.

Spiritual Pruning
Now, God (the Gardener) is no fool.  He knows there are many branches on the Jesus vine who are useless, resource sucking, “no fruit producing” branches.  These selfish people are only hoping to hide is Christ and avoid eternal punishment in Hell.  These useless branches care nothing for God’s glory or Kingdom.  They’re only in it for themselves and what Jesus can do for them.  But God cannot be fooled.  The Great Gardener of our souls knows how to tell a useless, resource stealing branch from branches with real potential.  And God cuts away those useless branches who will never produce fruit and throws them into the fire (because that’s all they’re good for).

I gave my life to Christ and became a Christian when I was only 8 years old.  To start with, I was a very unfruitful branch.  Quite honestly, I became a Christian for merely selfish reasons.  I learned in Children's Church at Pine Forest Baptist Church that if a person accepts Jesus into their heart, they will receive eternal life with God in Heaven, where there will be no more suffering or sickness or death.  It will be a paradise that lasts forever.  And I also learned that if you reject Christ and die, you will spend eternity in Hell, a place of eternal torment from which there is no escape.  Now, it didn't take much to convince me that I wanted to go to heaven and not hell.  So I chose to follow Christ.  It was purely a selfish decision.  I wasn't very interested in serving God or being fruitful.  And for several years as an immature Christian, that's how I lived.

I am so thankful now, that God is abounding in patience and mercy and He waited for me to mature in my faith until I was less selfish and began to bear fruit.  Eventually, I began to realize how wonderful God is and what Jesus had done for me.  And I began to see how I loved Him, becuase He first loved me.  And I also began to see how God loves everyone and I want to love those whom od loves.  I bean to feel compassion for others and want to serve them the way Jesus has served me.  Only then, did I begin to start bearing fruit.

God has been merciful and patient with you--oh fruitless Christian--but how long must God wait on you before you wake up and find your heart warmed to love others and be fruitful?  God will not wait forever.  While He waits for you, you are consuming resources and space that could be used by a more fruitful branch.  Wake up, oh useless branch, and begin to be fruitful lest you be pruned away and thrown into the pile of useless branches destined for the fire!

Even for those who remain in Christ, who truly are good branches, who truly do desire to bear fruit, there is a kind of pruning that must take place.  There are many things in our lives that must be pruned away.  I don't know what percentage of your life must be cut away to make room for fruit.  However, consider the grapevine, which must lose 70% of it's branches to be fruitful each year.  What would it look like if you lost 70% of yourself to God's spiritual pruning?

As we go through the difficulties of the COVID 19 pandemic, much of our lives has been turned upside down.  Maybe we are experiencing a spiritual pruning.  I invite you to consider, what are you learning from these very interesting days we are living through?  What are some things God may be cutting away from your life so that you can be more fruitful?  What are some new things God is growing in you (where less fruitful branches once were) that might bear real fruit for His Kingdom?  Maybe there are some things you should not return to once this is all over and we find our new normal.

Invitation
Jesus said, I AM the true vine.  If you remain in Him, you will bear much fruit.  Apart from Jesus, you can do nothing and will wither and die.  Then you will be discarded to the trash pile to be burned up later.  The Good News is, you can choose who you will be.  Through the gracious power of the Holy Spirit, God allows you to decide.

Will you choose to remain disconnected from Jesus, chasing your own selfish desires? These are useless. They lead to nothing. They only suck your life away until you are a dried up withered branch that’s only good for the fire.

Or will you try to hide among the other “Christian” branches, just trying to “look” like a Christian and “act” like a Christian but not really producing any fruit for God, hoping you will go unnoticed by the Master Gardener? Let me assure, nothing escapes the Gardener's discerning eye. He knows and will cut away any useless branch, to make room for new branches to grow that will bear much fruit.

I pray that today you will choose to be one of Christ’s faithful, connected branches, allowing God to prune you so you can bear much fruit for His Kingdom. Won’t you pray for God to help you choose to be fruitful today?

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.