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Showing posts with label The Fruit of the Spirit. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Fruit of the Spirit. 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?

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Spiritual Disciplines - Introduction


Galatians 6:8Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit.

You are what you practice regularly.
If you want to get good at anything, you have to practice.  I started training in martial arts when I was 11-years-old.  I went to class two or three times a week until I graduated from high school.  I took a few years off, but started back training again when I was 27.  I’m almost forty-five-years-old now and I still try to train two or three times a week. 

People sometimes ask me, “Can you teach me something about how to defend myself?”  They often have this misconception there might be some secret karate move that will save them if they ever get attacked.  Sometimes, I will show some trick I’ve learned.  But always in the back of my mind I’m thinking, “You can’t learn one karate move and think it will keep you safe.  You can’t even just take one class and expect to be prepared for a violent encounter.  You have to practice and practice and practice until self-defense becomes second nature to you.” 

Practice is essential in any sport.  Professional football players run some of the same weekly drills they ran when they were just kids starting out.  Singers and musicians know how important practice is too.  Our church pianist, Sara Forester, comes out and practices almost every week in the sanctuary.  You will often find her on a Saturday morning by herself in the sanctuary practicing the offertory or prelude music she will play on Sunday morning. Our church choir practices at least once a week, sometimes twice.  Singing in the church choir is probably one of the best ways to really get better at singing, simply because of the regular practice you get.  Your voice is a muscle that grows stronger and better the more you exercise it.

Can tell? I’m a strong believer in practice and training.  And here’s why:  what you practice regularly comes out when the pressure is on.  If you know how to fight because you practice all the time, your fighting skill will come out naturally in that unexpected moment when you’re attacked and you need to fight.  You won’t have to think about it.

The same is true of the Christian virtues in a person’s life. You are what you practice and it will come out when the pressure is on.  You might be able to fake being Christian for a little while when everything is easy; but when the squeeze is on, the real juice on the inside is gonna come out. When you’re stressed out and under pressure, who you are on the inside is gonna come out—compassion, forgiveness, grace, and mercy or frustration, retaliation, unreasonable demands, and a mean spirit.  When someone squeezes you, the juice that comes out will be from whatever fruits are in your spirit.  What kind of person are you when the going gets tough?


The exercises Christians practice to help develop their spiritual muscles are called Spiritual Disciplines.  Some of the most useful spiritual disciplines are:  meditation, prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration.  Each of these disciplines have been used by Christians for thousands of years to nurture the growth of the fruits of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Over the next few months, I’m going to teach about each of these spiritual disciplines.  We will try to understand each one better.  What I really want, though, is for you to practice them.  What good would it be to know all about prayer, but never pray?  It would be as useless as a recipe for a pecan pie, but never cooking or eating one.

Two Dangers
There are two dangers I need to point out from the very beginning in regards to spiritual disciplines.  First off, there is a danger of using the spiritual disciplines for the wrong reasons.  There are many—chief among these were the Pharisees in the New Testament—who misunderstand the purpose of the spiritual disciplines.  They think that by their very strict and strenuous practice of prayer and fasting and study and worship, etc. they might work their way to God’s blessing and salvation.  Remember the prideful prayer of the Pharisee from Luke 18:11-12?  The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector!  I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’ 

You see, the Pharisee thought his religious devotion made him special and better than others.  When spiritual disciplines are misused in this way, they actually lead you away from God and not toward Him.  Pride is one of the deadliest sins in the human heart.  Fasting and tithing are spiritual practices that, when used rightly, can help drive pride from your heart and remind you of your utter dependence on the merciful providence of God.  However, if you use your fasting and tithing to convince yourself you are something special, you have increased your pride and defeated the purpose for fasting and tithing altogether.

Another common misuse is related and stems from using the spiritual disciplines to try to impress others.  Again, the Pharisees in the New Testament were very diligent with their prayers, but they did it to impress people.  A common practice—which Jesus condemned—was to go out on a busy street corner and blow trumpets to get everyone’s attention.  Then a Pharisee would handout charity and pray so everyone could see them and be impressed (Matthew 6:1-6).  Jesus said you should pray in private so no one sees it—except God.  In Matthew 6:16, Jesus said, “And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting.  Jesus taught we should fast in such a way that no one would even notice we are fasting, except God who knows what we do in private.  So we have to be careful not to misuse the spiritual disciplines to try to impress people or God. 
  
That brings me to a second danger in regards to spiritual disciplines.  There is the danger that we neglect the spiritual disciplines, because we assume we can’t do anything at all to help transform our spirits.  It is true that we are saved by grace and not by the good things we do.  But that doesn’t mean we just sit back and let Jesus to do all the work without any help from us. 

Notice what Jesus said in Matthew 6:16.  He said, “And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do…”  He said “when” you fast.  He assumed we would indeed fast (which is one of the spiritual disciplines).  He just wanted to make sure we fast and pray for the right reasons.  This applies to all the other spiritual disciplines as well.  The reasons we practice them make all the difference.

Meditation, prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration open us up to the power of the Holy Spirit and nurture the growth of the spiritual fruits in our hearts.  The spiritual disciplines are the means God gives us to receive His grace. They are the methods by which we place ourselves before God so that He can transform us.

The Spiritual Disciplines are for Everyone
Unfortunately, people these days often think spiritual disciplines are only for spiritual gurus or people who live in a monastery.  That’s only because so many these days have forgotten about the disciplines.  For centuries, most Christians practiced these disciplines on a regular basis.  They were even incorporated into their communal life.  People automatically knew it was time to pray when they heard the bells ring in the church steeple.  People knew fasting and penance were the order of the day during the forty days of Lent leading up to Easter.  Some of these practices survive today.  Most have been forgotten by the masses.  And we are weaker for it. 

I want to revive these spiritual disciplines as a regular exercise within our church.  And really, it shouldn’t be too difficult.  These spiritual disciplines aren’t too difficult to understand or practice.  It’s just we have to make them a priority in our busy lives.  We have to exercise our spirit the way we exercise our body.

My hope then, as we go through this series, is to better understand each of the disciplines in order that we may practice them.  But the key is in the practice.  Understanding the spiritual disciplines is not as good as practicing them.  Understanding and practicing them is the best of all.  So I hope we will grow in both understanding and practice together over the next few months.

Monday, October 15, 2018

The Fruit of the Spirit - Self-control


Introduction
I want to thank everyone who has followed this blog series on the Fruits of the Spirit from Galatian 5:22-23.  We started all the way back at the beginning of August!  If you’ve missed any, I invite you to go back and read them.  You can also watch videos of the sermons on my church's Facebook page at www.facebook.com/pg/pgumc.dalton/videos/.

Galatians is all about Christian freedom.  Christians have been set free from a vain religion where we try to impress God and earn His love by following a bunch of rules.  Jesus proved God's love by dying on the cross and won our freedom from sin and death.  We are free to love God as He loves us.  However, with great freedom, comes a great need for self-control.


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!

Self-Control
Today, I want to talk about self-control.  Self-control is vital for free people.  The more freedom your have, the more self-control you need.  Think of a child.  They start out as a helpless infant.  Then something terrifying happens.  They become toddlers who know how to walk--sort of.  Suddenly, these immature, fragile beings are mobile and stumbling around.  Every table corner and sharp object threatens to smash their head or impale them as the bumble around their environment.  They are learning, but they are in danger because they have yet to learn to control their movements and their parents are terrified for them.  Parents, do you remember the first time your toddler learned how to open the front door?  It's horrifying because you know it's not safe for them to be outside alone.  They need an adult to keep them under control and safe.  Thankfully, as our children grow, they need less and less direct supervision because they are more mature and can control themselves.  Soon, they are adults who hopefully have enough self-control to live independently.  

This is a good analogy for the Christian life.  Before Christ, people needed rules and laws to babysit us and keep us safe and out of trouble so we didn't hurt ourselves or other.  Then Christ came to set us free.  Those who trust in Christ have the Holy Spirit living inside them to guide and direct them.  We have the freedom given to those who are spiritually mature.  However, with great freedom comes great responsibility.  We must have self-control to live safely in our freedom.

Self-control doesn’t mean controlling everything yourself.  There are some who just can’t let go.  They have to be in control of everything in their life.  Are you the kind of person who can’t sit in the passenger’s sit and let someone else drive?  When was the last time you let someone else plan a trip—figuring out how you are gonna get there, booking the hotel, deciding what to do while you’re there, etc.—without any input from you?  Self-control isn’t being a control freak.  Christian self-control is actually the opposite.  Christian life demands you to get out of the driver’s seat and let the Holy Spirit of God take the wheel.  That can be incredibly difficult for some people; and so sometimes the first act of self-control is controlling your own impulse to be “in control” of everything.

"Just Say No" In the 1980’s, Nancy Reagan said we should “just say no” to drugs.  It was a helpful public service campaign to bring awareness to America's growing drug problem, but it didn't solve the problem because, sometimes we just can’t say no.  Some teens are so influenced by peer pressure it is nearly impossible to just say no in certain circumstances.  Without God’s help, we are not free to “just say no.”  There’s a darkness within every human heart that just wants to say “yes” to all the wrong things.  And it doesn’t ever want to say “that’s enough” to good things when too much is bad for us.  The human soul always cries, “More! More! More!” even when more will completely destroy us.  “Just say no” was a good start, but people can’t just say no—not on our own.   We need God's help.  

The Christian life of freedom can be a tangled wilderness.  Freedom is awesome, but it is also messy.  We are free from the legalistic rules of religion that say, “You must do this and avoid that in order for God to love you.”  Instead, God’s grace tells us, “I love you regardless of any sin you ever commit.  You are welcome in my house!”  1 Peter 2:16 says, “You are free!”  but it also says, “don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do evil.”  Thankfully, God gives Christians the Holy Spirit to show us the way.  So, we must let the Holy Spirit be our careful guide as we walk this middle road through the tangled wilderness between evil self-indulgence and religious legalism.

Self-control is not just for teenagers. Adults often like to criticise teenagers for their like of self-control, but maybe we should take the log out of our own eye before we complain about the spec in the teenager's eye.  Adults need self-control even more than teenagers because we have greater freedom and usually more resources with which to indulge ourselves. With greater freedom comes a greater need for self-control.  Unfortunately, adults today seem to have so little self-control.  Cholesterol problems, high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease are rampant among adults in America primarily because we lack self-control.  We eat too much food and don't exercise enough.  We also struggle to control our TV and internet consumption.  We complain news outlets and social media are too negative, yet we do not limit our consumption of them to healthy doses.  And adults struggle with alcoholism and drug abuse as much or more than teenagers.  Where is our self-control?

How to Nurture Self-control
If we are going to lead healthy, godly lives, we need more self-control.  Thankfully, this is a virtue the Holy Spirit wishes to grow in us.  We cannot grow it ourselves; we must allow the Holy Spirit to grow it.  However, just like a garden, there are some things we can do to nurture the growth of self-control.  Self-control is like pruning your garden.

We have a lovely rose bush at our house.  Now, in order to have a lot of roses, you have to do something that doesn't make sense.  You actually have to prune--cut away--a good number of the rose buds before they bloom.  That just seems crazy to me.  Why would you cut off rose buds in order to get more roses?  It's because the bush can actually produce more roses if it can concentrate its limited resources on fewer buds.  So by cutting away some of the buds, the bush focuses on the few that are left and they are larger and more beautiful.

In our spiritual life, if we try to feed our every selfish desire, we grow spiritually weak and malnourished.  However, a self-sacrificing life of self-discipline, controlled by the Holy Spirit, leads to spiritual abundance and health.  Self-control takes root and grows.

Spiritual pruning, self-control, is a daily way of life gained as we walk intimately with the Lord. In Matthew 22, someone asked Jesus, “What is the greatest command?” Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 

This is how we live to nurture the growth of self-control.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.  And love your neighbor as yourself.  

First, love the Lord with all your heart—service.  1 John 4:20 says, “…if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?”  You have to love people in order to love God with all your heart.  So, find as many ways to serve as possible.  The local church is a great place to serve.  At my church, you can help serve food and cleanup during our Wednesday night suppers.  You could volunteer with our youth or children's programs.  You could work in the yard.  You can fix something that is broken.  You could be one of our Facebook live videographers.  The list of other service opportunities is long.  Serving helps you focus less on yourself; this is a great way to practice 'self' control.
Love the Lord with all your soul—piety. Piety is a fancy word that means spending time with God through spiritual practices.  As you become intimately acquainted with God, you worry less about yourself.  Self-control grows inside you more and more.  Some essential ways to practice piety are through prayer, worship, and Holy Communion.  
  • Prayer - I encourage you to pray five times a day--in the morning when you wake, at night before you sleep, and before every meal--and also say a short prayer whenever else you think about it throughout the day.  
  • Worship - We were designed to worship God and God deserves our loving thanks and praise.  I recommend you worship God with other believers every Sunday.  Try not to miss more than five Sundays per year.
  • Holy Communion - Also known as "The Lord's Supper", Holy Communion is an important way Jesus told us to remember what he did for us when he died on the cross.  Furthermore, it is a sacred way God pours grace into our life and nurtures the growth our our spirit.  I recommend you celebrate Holy Communion as often as possible, but at least once a month.
Love the Lord with all your mind—study.  Through the daily discipline of study, we can nurture more self-control within.  Read your Bible prayerfully and daily.  The Lord will strengthen you mind and your spirit.  Everyone should also study together with a small group of Christian believers.  At my church, this is primarily found in a Sunday school class, Wednesday night study, or our Thursday morning Bible study.  What study groups could you join to help nurture the fruit of the Spirit, self-control?
Conclusion
If you love God with all your heart, all your soul, and all love your mind, and if you love your neighbor as yourself, you will let the Holy Spirit control your life so that you do all that you can to express that love and avoid those things that are not loving to God, your neighbor, or yourself.  The practice of these greatest commands given to us by the Lord is a great exercise in self-control.


I hope you enjoy reading my blogs, made possible through the support of Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church in Dalton, GA.  Please consider supporting us financially by making a donation online.  Click here to go to our website and make a donation - www.LoveLivesAtPGUMC.org.   

Join us for worship each Sunday at 10:55 AM at 2701 Cleveland Hwy in Dalton, GA.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Fruit of the Spirit - Gentleness


Introduction
When you put your faith in Christ to save you from your sins and trust him as your Lord, the Holy Spirit of God comes to live inside you.  The creative power of God begins to change you from the inside out so that you are more and more like His Son, Jesus.  Galatians  5:22-23 tells us the character traits of those who follow Christ.

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!

Though God is the mighty Creator of the universe, He is gentle and will not force you to change.  God’s Holy Spirit is available to help you, heal you, and grow the fruit of the Spirit within you, but only if you welcome His love and nurture the spiritual fruit He wishes to give you.  Like a garden—when tended and nurtured—the Fruit of the Spirit grows steadily within you until you reap a bountiful harvest.  I challenge you to learn all nine of the Christian virtues listed in Galatians 5:22-23.  Furthermore, I challenge you to cooperate and let the Holy Spirit grow them within you more and more.

Gentleness
Gentleness is not difficult too understand. We have known people who are gentle and also those who are not. And we see that the Word of God encourages gentleness throughout the history of God's people.

  • The Bible shows that God is devastatingly powerful. However, when God spoke to the prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 19:11-12, it was not in a tornado or an earthquake or a fire or even a thunderous voice; God spoke to Elijah in a gentle whisper. 
  • Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.”
  • In Matthew 11:29, Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
  • And Ephesians 4:2 encourages us to emulate Jesus' example saying, “Always be humble and gentle.” 

Gentleness is Not Weakness
The Greek word the New Living Translation renders as gentleness is “praus” (prah-oos). Some older translations like the King James Version use the word meekness. The same Greek word is used when Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. “Praus”, means gentleness, meekness, or humility. But it does not mean weak! 

“The Greek word “praus” (prah-oos) was used to define a horse trained for battle. Wild stallions were brought down from the mountains and broken for riding. Some were used to pull wagons, some were raced, and the best were trained for warfare. They retained their fierce spirit, courage, and power, but were disciplined to respond to the slightest nudge or pressure of the rider’s leg. They could gallop into battle at 35 miles per hour and come to a sliding stop at a word. They were not frightened by arrows, spears, or torches. Then they were said to be meeked… …To be meeked was to be taken from a state of wild rebellion and made completely loyal to, and dependent upon, one’s master… …These stallions became submissive, but certainly not spineless. They embodied power under control, strength with forbearance."[i]

We are to be gentle, like a warhorse. The Lord takes us from a state of wild rebellion to that of total obedience. He moves us from a state of fear to one of unflinching trust in the face of danger. To be gentle is to be full of God’s incredible power, but yet to also speak and act with incredible humility and gentleness. 

Perhaps CS Lewis captured the “meekness” of Jesus Christ best in his fictional book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when Mr. Beaver and Susan talk about the lion, Aslan, who represents Jesus Christ. Mr. Beaver says, “Aslan is a lion—the Lion, the great Lion." "Ooh" said Susan. "I'd thought he was a man. Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion"..."Safe?" said Mr. Beaver ..."Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.”

Jesus is Gentle
Jesus is the perfect example of the spiritual fruit of gentleness. Matthew 12:19-20 says, “He will not fight or shout or raise his voice in public. He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle.” Do you ever feel like a flickering candle, like you're barely hanging on in this life?  You feel like the smallest puff of wind might blow you out.  Jesus doesn't look at you and scoff about your weakness; nor will he lash out at you so as to snuff out the tiny flicker that remains in your heart.  No, Jesus gently comes and guards you and nurtures that tiny, flickering flame until it grows and grows to become a raging fire burning within you.  Do you trust him?  Jesus is incredibly powerful, but he’s also gentle. And gentle is what we need—especially because we are so broken. 

When we feel lost and alone, Jesus gently comes to be our best friend.  When we’re bruised and broken, Jesus gently come to heal us.  When we’ve failed and fallen and given up hope, Jesus gently comes to pick us back up and set us on the right path once again.  When we fear our sin has angered God to the point He will turn His back on us forever, Jesus gently comes to forgive and invite us back.  And when we feel full of energy and power, or when we feel self-righteous or angry at those who have not lived as they should, Jesus calls us to be gentle as he is gentle.  

I read this illustration the other day and I share it with you. It is from Richard Foster's book Prayer.  Suppose you find a bird with a broken wing and pick it up to nurse it back to health. How would you hold the bird? Would you squeeze it tightly with all your might? Of course not!  That would kill the bird!  Nor would you hold it too loosely with hands wide open—for then it might be frightened and try to fly away and fall from your grip in injure itself even worse. No. You would hold the bird gently in cupped hands until it was healed and healthy enough to fly. This is how we are to be gentle with those around us—for everyone we meet is broken in some way. Treat them gently as you would a bird with a broken wing.

As Christians, we have incredible power.  It is not our own power.  It is the power of the Holy Spirit of the Living God inside us.  We often don't realize our power.  Like a grown 200 pound man who often doesn't realize how his slightly raised voice sounds booming and frightening to a small child, we often don't realize the amazing power we wield as God's adopted children.  With great power comes great responsibility.  We must constantly remind ourselves to be gentle.  We must pray the Holy Spirit plants the seeds of gentleness within us.  We must nurture the seeds of gentleness so they grow into abundant Fruit of the Spirit within us.  For we want to be like Jesus.  Though he was the Lion of Judah, he humbled himself, laying down his life on the cross--even forgiving those who nailed him there.  And thus, our gentle Christ brought salvation into the world.  And he gently calls to you, "Come Home.  Come Home."


[i] https://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/31293/does-meek-in-matthew-55-refer-to-restraint-with-weapons

Monday, October 1, 2018

The Fruit of the Spirit - Faithfulness


Everyone who believes in Jesus Christ has the Holy Spirit of God living inside them. 
The Holy Spirit is a powerful force.  It is the very power of God that was with God and was God creating the universe filled with trillions upon trillions of stars and planets and galaxies—so much that it would take you 27.4 billion years to travel from one side of it to the other if you could travel at the speed of light.

And when you have faith in Christ, the power of God’s Spirit takes up residence in your soul and begins to work His creative power in your life.  However, our powerful God is not a monster or a tyrant.  He will not force change upon you—even though He knows it’s for your own good.  He only grows change within you as you cooperate with His love and nurture the spiritual fruit He wishes to give you.  Like a garden—when tended and nurtured—the Fruit of the Spirit grows steadily within you until you reap a bountiful harvest.  The Apostle Paul wrote:

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!

Faithfulness
I want to talk to you about faithfulness today.  According to Wikipedia:  “Faithfulness is the concept of unfailingly remaining loyal to someone or something, and putting that loyalty into consistent practice regardless of extenuating circumstances.  It may be exhibited by a husband or wife who, in a sexually exclusive marriage, does not engage in sexual relationships outside of the marriage.”  However, when we speak of faithfulness—as a fruit of the Holy Spirit—we are speaking of faithfulness in a relationship that is even higher than that of marriage.  We are primarily focused on faithfulness to God through Jesus Christ.  Our faithfulness to God leads us also to be faithful in all our other relationships, because doing so is an expression of our faithfulness to the Highest Power.

Before we were ever faithful, God was faithful to us.  He created us with the purpose of sharing His love—of living a life in loving relationship with God and each other.  Boy have we messed that one up.  The history of humanity has been a continual history of turning our backs on God and each other.  Yet God has been faithful to us, even when we have been totally unfaithful to Him.  Ultimately, God sent His own Son, Jesus Christ, in love to reconcile us to Him.  Yet we were unfaithful and murdered the Son of God on a cross.  Yet still, God didn’t turn His back on us.  Christ rose on the third day and continues to offer God’s love and forgiveness to all who repent of their sin, turn to God, and trust in Christ.  Through faith we have eternal life—but we have something even greater; we have a living, loving relationship with the God of the universe who is always faithful and challenges us to be faithful.

Faithfulness in Uncertainty
God calls us to remain faithful even when we don’t understand.  Faith, almost by definition, implies a degree of uncertainty.  We sometimes use expressions like "taking a leap of faith" to describe faithful obedience.  We even use a simple exercise to demonstrate faith—a trust fall—where you close your eyes and fall backwards into the arms of a colleague you trust (it can be an unnerving experience).  Faith implies that we don’t have all the answers, that sometimes we are walking through life in the dark and cannot see the way, but we are trusting in God’s faithfulness to get us through.  Even when we hurt, even when losses come that are too deep to fathom, even when we don’t understand and just want to give up, faithfulness means we just keep trusting God and walking through the darkness towards His voice.

We don’t have all the answers, but we do have some; we have enough to get started and we will get enough as we walk to continue walking the road of faith.  There are many who read the Bible and lament, "I don’t understand it."  It is true that there are many things in God’s Word that are very hard to understand.  However, there are also many things we read that are very clear and it’s not the things I don’t understand about the Christian life that disturb me most.  I am far more disturbed by the things I do understand.  For then I feel the Holy Spirit convicting me:  “Will you be faithful?  Will you obey?  Will you do what you know you should do?"

The Faithfulness of a Church Member
In the United Methodist Church, we try to spell out the ways we promise to be faithful to God when someone decides to become a member of the church.  Many feel church membership is no longer important.  "Why should I join as a member of a church?" They say, "Isn't that like joining a club?  It sounds so exclusive!"  And our culture reflects this devaluing of church membership more and more.  It mirrors the general aversion to commitment that runs throughout our society.  People ask some of the same kinds of questions about marriage.  "Why should I get married?"  They ask.  And for all practical purposes, it seems they have a point.  In our times, an unmarried couple can do just about everything a married couple can.  They can fall in love, live together, have sex, have and raise children together.  So many ask, why should they bother with marriage?  I would argue marriage is essential.  Here's why.  Through marriage, a man and a woman stand before God and witnesses and promise to love each other for better or worse, in sickness and in health, for richer for poorer, until death.  And until you make those promises to each other, the relationship can only go so far.  Until your partner knows that you are all in, 100%, completely committed to the very end, your relationship cannot go to the deepest levels.

And much the same is true of church membership.  You can attend a church and never become a member.  For most practical purposes, you will look and act just like a member.  You can attend, worship, sing in the choir, volunteer, and even serve in some official positions.  However, your relationship with God and the other members of the church can only go so far until you fully commit.  Until you stand before God and the whole church and promise to be 100%, all in, sold out to the mission of the church, you can only go so deep.  And so, I encourage everyone who really wants to go to the deeper levels in their spiritual journey to prayerfully consider joining a church as a member.

The very first step to becoming a member of my church Pleasant Grove United Methodist church) is to become a Christian.  You cannot be a member of our Church unless you are a Christian—meaning you have repented of your sins and placed your whole faith Jesus Christ, the Son of God, for your salvation.  So we ask potential church members some questions in front of the whole church to help them profess their faith in Christ.  We ask:
  • Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?
  • Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?
  • Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?  

Local Church Membership
Having become a member of God’s “Holy Catholic” Church (that is the universal church that is made up of all believers in Christ from all places and in all times), now one makes a commitment to be faithful to a local congregation of the church.  So we ask potential members a few more questions about how they will be faithful to the local congregation.  We ask:  "As members of this congregation, will you faithfully participate in its ministries by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, and your witness?"

Are you faithful to pray?  I recommend everyone should pray five times a day.  Say a prayer to start your day when you wake up and a prayer before you go to sleep.  That's two prayers.  Add to this a prayer to bless your food before every meal (which for most is three times a day) and you have five prayers.  But don't stop at just five prayers.  Live a live of prayer.  Throughout your day, say a breath prayer whenever you think about it (a breath prayer is a short prayer you can say in one breath).  So as you are sitting in traffic, aggravated by the person in front of you for going too slow, breathe out, "Lord Jesus help me to be patient."  As you pass an accident on the side of the road, pray, "Father, please help that person who is hurt."  When someone asks you to pray for their mother who is having surgery on Tuesday, right then as they are asking in your own mind pray "Holy Spirit, take care of their mother this Tuesday during her surgery."  In this way, you can be more faithful to pray.

Are you faithfully presence at church?  We need to be together with other Christians for worship, study, fellowship, and service.  This is best done in a local congregation.  Do you attend church weekly.  My own practice and what I encourage everyone to adopt is to miss no more than five Sundays of worship per year.  Does that seem excessive?  I don't think it is.  Last week I was talking with a South Korean pastor who explained that Christians in Korea have church 7 days a week.  On work days, thousands of Christians come in to the sanctuary as early as 5:00 AM for an hour long prayer service before they go to work.  It's no wonder that a great revival is taking place in South Korea, home of the largest Christian church in the world--Yoido Full Gospel Church--with 480,000 members.

Are you faithful in your giving?  The biblical standard is to offer 10% of your income God through the local church.  So if you earn $30,000 per year, you would give $3,000 to the church each year.  The church in America struggles to do all the good God calls us to do because we simply don't have the funding we need.  That problem would be instantly solved if every Christian would simply be faithful to give the tithe.  Maybe you are willing to jump straight into tithing.  But could you grow more faithful in your giving?  If you are only giving 1% right now, could you be more faithful to give 2-3%?  make it a goal to grow a little bit every year until you reach 10%.  And if you are already giving 10%, don't just sit back and fold your arms and say, "I've given all I need to give."  What was Jesus' standard for giving?  He said give it all.  Remember, he said if some ask you to carry their back for a mile, go an extra mile with them.  If someone demands your coat, give them your shirt also.  That sounds a lot like 100% giving to me.  Now, what you give is between you and God.  And no one at my church--me or anyone else--is going down the list checking to see who gives what or ranking people by their giving status.  That's between you and God and our church is all about grace.  Jesus doesn't want your money.  He wants your heart.  For where your heart is, there your treasure will be also.  I just want to encourage you to be faithful in your giving.

Are you faithful to serve.  Some people think, "Well I give a lot of money so I don't have to serve."  Members who join Pleasant Grove UMC promise to do both.  It's not either or; it's both and.  Faithful members give and serve.  So remember the words of Galatians 6:9, "So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up."

Are you a faithful witness?  A witness is simply someone who tells what Jesus has done for them.  A witness invites others to come and see what Jesus is doing in there church.  Are you a faithful witness?  How many people have you talked to about Jesus?  How many have you invited to church this year?  If you haven't invited anyone, what does that say about the faithfulness of your witness?

Repentance and Call to Faithfulness
If we are honest, we all see how we have fallen short in many of the areas in which we promise to be faithful.  It breaks my own heart to think of the ways I fall short and fail God who has been so faithful to me.  In particular, I struggle in the area of faithful prayer.  Don't get me wrong, I pray all the time, because I am a pastor.  I pray several times during the Sunday worship service.  I pray to open Bible studies, Sunday school classes, in prayer meetings, and with those who are sick or in the hospital.  Where I struggle is in praying when I am not operating as a pastor.  I think it's because I pray so much on other occasions.  I just get tired.  However, I have asked the Holy Spirit to help me be more faithful in this area of my life and I'm working on it.

How about you?  Can you be honest with yourself and God?  Can you confess where you have not been as faithful as you should?  Do you faithfully renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?  Do you faithfully accept the freedom and power God gives you every day to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves ?  Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and serve him as your Lord? Are you faithful pray, be present at church, to give, serve, and be faithful witness?

Perhaps God is calling you repent today.  Maybe you need to commit your life to Christ and becoming a Christian for the very first time.  Maybe you need to find a local church where you can join and become a faithful member.  Maybe you need to admit that you have not been faithful to the membership promises you’ve already made.

Even when we are unfaithful, God is still faithful.  In 1 John 1:9 it says, “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.”  Perhaps today, you would like to pray the following confession to God and ask the Holy Spirit to help you be more faithful.

Prayer of Confession
"Most merciful God, I confess that I have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done, and by what I have left undone. I have not loved you with my whole heart; I have not loved my neighbors as myself. I am truly sorry and I humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on me and forgive me; that I may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your name. Amen."

And now, I offer this prayer on your behalf:
Almighty God have mercy on you, forgive all your sins through our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen you in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep you in eternal life. Amen.