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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

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.

Monday, September 24, 2018

The Fruit of the Spirit - Goodness


Everyone who believes in Jesus Christ has the Holy Spirit of God living inside them. 
In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul said the Holy Spirit produces Christian virtues within everyone who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and follows him day by day.  These fruits don’t appear overnight.  But like a garden—when tended and nurtured—they grow within us over time until we reap a bountiful harvest.

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!

I hope you will memorize these 9 fruits of the Spirit.  Better yet, I pray you will cooperate with the Holy Spirit that He may grow them more abundantly in your life.

Goodness
Today, I will discuss goodness.  We need more goodness in our world.  Galatians 6:9 says, "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."  Don't wear yourself out with all the volunteering, giving, and serving you do.  There is always more good to be done.  If you try to do good from your own limited supply of goodness, even the best will soon be exhausted.  However, God's goodness never runs dry.  We need to share goodness with others from the unlimited source of God's goodness.

Goodness is a fruit of the Spirit.  The Holy Spirit wants to grow more goodness in our lives.  And if we cooperate, the Spirit will.  Since you and I are in the world (though not of it), we can be and instrument of God to bring more goodness into our world.  Will you cooperate with the Spirit in this noble task?  Will you fertilize your spiritual garden with the Word of God and listen to the Holy Spirit so you will know how to be good and then do the right thing at the right time in the right way?

The great shepherd, king, and psalm writer—David—wrote that famous 23rd Psalm that has brought comfort and hope to so many throughout the ages.  “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures.  He leads me beside still waters…”  And he ends his beautiful passage with this promise of hope.  “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life…”  There’s one thing my faith has always helped me to believe:  God is good!   My faith helps me to believe that God is good even when things go badly.  I believe that God is on my side.  

God is good and He wants goodness for you and me.  A lot of people get Christianity all mixed up.  They think it's all about rules.  They say, "If you're a Christian, you can't do this and you can't do that and you have to do this."  That's not it at all.  There are rules, but the rules are there for our benefit because God is good and He wants good for us.  He knows that we can avoid so much trouble and suffering and that's why He gives us some rules to steer us in the best direction.

Our Good God Created a Good World
Genesis 1:31 says, "Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!"  Created a good world.  Unfortunately, the world we see has a lot of sin and suffering and darkness.  A lot in this world is not good.  So what happened?  

It's not God's fault that the world is broken.  He didn't break it.  We did.  In the beginning, the world was perfect and people were perfect and our relationship with God was perfect.  In order to make love possible, God gave the first humans--Adam and Eve--a simple test of faithfulness.  He told them you can eat anything you want from the garden, but don't eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Unfortunately, they chose to disobey God. Their sin violated love and broke their perfect relationship with their Creator.  The results were catastrophic.  Paradise fell apart and the world became a place were darkness and suffering and death are as much a part of our experience as goodness and love and light.  

The miracle is that God still didn't abandon us.  He has been working to clean up our mess since the very day humanity messed it all up.  We don't deserve it, but God has always been good to our world.  In the story, when Adam and Eve sinned, they realized they were naked and ashamed and afraid and vulnerable.  What did God do?  He could have abandoned them, but He didn't.  He protected them by making clothes for them--even though they didn't deserve it.  And throughout the ages since, God has been working out our salvation by:
  • Saving Noah and the animals on the ark through the flood
  • Calling Father Abraham to leave his homeland and go start a new people in the Promised land
  • Paving a way to redemption through Moses, King David, and the prophets
  • And He fulfilled His plan of salvation through His Son, Jesus
I don't just know God is good because of stories I've read in the Bible.  I know because God has been so good to me, personally.  He saved me at the age of 8; when I had no father in my home, God adopted me as His own son and He became my perfect Father.  He changed the course of my life from a very bad path to a path of light and love and eternal life.  He has been good to me by leading me down a path of life-long spiritual growth.  Thankfully, I am not the same immature Christian I was when I was 8 (or 16 or 25 or 35).  God was good to me by giving me a wonderful wife.  I don't know why Kelly agreed to marry me.  All I can say is it was the goodness of God that encouraged her to agree.  And God has given me three awesome children.  Each one is special in their own way.  And I cannot take credit for how good they are--I can only praise God for His goodness in the matter.  And God was so good to me to give me a gift for speaking and a love for serving in the church and the ability to make a living for myself and my family as a pastor.  I am blessed beyond all measure, because God has been good to me.  Has He been good to you?


God has Been Good to Us.  Let’s be Good to Him.  But How?
Micah 6:7-8 tells us how.  It says, "Should we offer him thousands of rams and ten thousand rivers of olive oil?  Should we sacrifice our firstborn children to pay for our sins?  No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you:  to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God."

So here we have in verse 8 a simple explanation of the good we are to do.   

First, It Says Do What is Right
The Word of God and the Holy Spirit work in concert to show you the right thing to do, at the right time, and in the right way.  It is not good to just following the shifting trends of a fickle society.  For in one decade they say one thing is bad and in the next they say, "Oh, that's okay now," and some other behavior becomes the unpardonable sin that will ruin  your career and make you an oucast from society.  Neither is it good to take the Bible out of context and use it as a tool to prove you are right (as many southerners did in the 1800s to prove that their slave trade was justifiable in the eyes of God).  The Bible is not a tool we use to justify our misbehavior.  The Bible is the Word of God the Holy Spirit uses to challenge us to be more like Christ.  Goodness is humbling yourself before God, listening obediently to His Word in Scripture, and relying on the Holy Spirit to lead you to do the right thing, at the right time, in the right way.

Second, It Says Love Mercy
God has been so merciful to you and to me. We also, ought to show mercy. Be merciful. No, that’s not enough! It say, love mercy. That's much stronger, isn't it? Look for ways to be merciful. Let your first thought not be how to punish or get back at soemone, but be: "How can I apply mercy in this circumstance?" Ere on the side of mercy. Now, I must say, mercy is not pretending there isn’t a fault. It means, there is a fault but you will forgive the fault anyway. In order for the to be real forgiveness and mercy, you must recognize that an offence has occurred--sometimes a very devastating and despicable sin--but you are going to show mercy and forgive anyway. So, do what is right, love mercy, and...

Walk Humbly with God
Remember who’s in charge. This life is not about you. You were created to worship God, not the other way around.  Society tells us in so many ways that this life is about us and our wants and our happiness.  But where did God ever say that in His Holy Bible?  Life is not about you.  We were made to worship God.  Also, if you are going to walk humbly with God, you need to stay close to Him. It says walk humbly with God. That means He isn’t standing still. He’s moving and you should be too. If you’re in the same spot spiritually you were five years ago, you might not be walking with God. Maybe you were five years ago, but He’s moved since then. Have you moved with Him? Maybe it’s time to catch up. The Good News is, the Holy Spirit can show you the way!  Devote yourself to prayer, which is rubbing up against God, and you will find you are walking humbly with Him day by day.

Sara Brooker’s Letter
I want to share a good word from a lady I know who is filled with incredible goodness.  She is a matriarch of my church and her godly reputation has spread throughout our community and far beyond by the many people who have come to know and love her.  At the age of 92, her health has declined until she is not able to attend church regularly anymore.  However, she is still a joy to visit and she blesses everyone she meets.  This letter is an open letter she wrote to her grandchildren (and she has more than I can list) to give them a good word of wisdom to bless their lives.  May these words she wrote to her grandchildren inspire you to goodness as well.
09/05/2018
Sara Brooker
My Dear Grandchildren 
As I reflect over the 92 plus years of my life, I vividly see God's hand shaping and guiding my life to the present day. All of you are gifts created by God and deeply loved by me. You are a constant in my prayers as you grow and assume responsibility for the decisions in your lives. My most fervent prayer is each will chose a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This is the most important and wisest choice you can and will ever make in your lifetime. 
l Timothy- 1:19 
Cling tightly to your faith in Christ and keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences, as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked. 
A live and growing faith is the legacy I wish to leave you. A faith that grows through life, daily trials and struggles, with the knowledge that our God will never forsake us. His love is steadfast and everlasting. 
It is not only a Grandmother's love that I leave to you, but foremost the love of Jesus Christ. 
My prayer is each one of my beloved accepts "His" love personally and fully. That you live and grow in that love. For even before I knew or loved you, God did. 
Loving you always, 
Mammaw Sara