The Fruit of the Spirit (part 1)

When we turn from sin and put our faith in Jesus, one of the great things we experience is God in us. The Holy Spirit indwells us and gives us a new heart and mind. Then, as we follow Jesus, the Spirit spends the rest of our lives reshaping and refocusing who we are and what we do.

The Spirit doesn’t bring an end to our individuality and personality, but he does empower and enable us to be the most supremely Jesus loving and deeply other loving people we can be.

In Galatians 5, Paul detailed two ways the Spirit does this–in terms of what he leads us from and what he leads us to.

If we “walk by the Spirit” then we “will certainly not carry out the desires of the flesh” (5:16). Such desires of the flesh are found in sexual immorality and misconduct, false religious ideology, bad attitudes or actions toward others, selfishness, and so forth (5:19-21). Such things as these are what the Spirit leads us from.

What the Spirit leads us to are things Paul described as fruit. These are the result of experiencing God’s grace and growing in faith. These are attitudes that produce positive actions toward others. This fruit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (5:22-23).

In future posts, we’ll take a brief look at each of these traits and how they are manifested in our lives. But to close this post, a few thoughts on how we grow in the fruit of the Spirit.

  1. Spend time listening to God and speaking with God. In John 15:7-8, Jesus said, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this: That you produce much fruit and prove to be my disciples.” Jesus tells us to live in his word. This is how we hear from God: Opening the pages of the Bible. Read it, think on it, and seek to live it. Then, also, spend time in prayer, talking to God. These two things help produce fruit in our lives.
  2. Spend time fellowshiping and worshiping with other followers of Jesus. This is Ephesians 5:18-21 in a nutshell, where Paul described being “filled with the Spirit” in terms of religious practices that involve others. We sing to God together, we give thanks to God together, and we serve one another together. And the Spirit grows us as we do.
  3. As mentioned in #2, serve others. Paul spent several chapters in 1 Corinthians talking about the gifts of the Spirit present in our lives. All the various gifts have one purpose–to serve others. While the gifts and the fruit are not the same things, the gifts are to be manifested in our lives with the fruit, especially the fruit of love. The Spirit uses our serving of others to grow us in his fruit.

May we have hearts set on growing in the Spirit’s fruit. And next time, we’ll take a look at the fruit of love.

All scripture references taken from the Christian Standard Bible (CSB).

close up of fruits hanging on tree
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The second most important thing about the return of Jesus (a meditation on a life lived in expectancy)

“Watch out! Don’t let your hearts be dulled by carousing and drunkenness, and by the worries of this life. Don’t let that day catch you unaware like a trap.” ~ Jesus, Luke 21:34

A good way to start a debate or even an argument among Christians: bring up Jesus’ return. For centuries many godly people have disagreed about the details of Jesus’ second coming. You find people from all types of Christian backgrounds who are post-, pre-, mid-, or a- when it comes to topics like the millennial reign of Jesus and the church’s place in the “great tribulation.” And a lot of it has to do with how people view the relationship between Old Testament Israel and the New Testament church, which brings out more debates.

endtimes_01Some will say about these things, “See, Christians can’t even agree about what they believe so how can we accept it as true?” That misses the point that these things are secondary matters (which does mean we should spend less time arguing about them) and other than the fact that Jesus will indeed return, they are not central to the gospel message and the reality of our salvation in Jesus. There are some things we can agree to disagree about because none of us are perfect people with perfect understandings.

In Luke 21 Jesus told his followers a bit about his return as well as the destruction of Jerusalem which took place in 70 A.D. The most important thing about Jesus’ teaching is the fact that Jesus is indeed coming back. Though we might disagree about certain details of his return, the future hope of his return has been a doctrine that defines the core of Christianity. His return means we have hope that things will not always be like they are now. Our “redemption is drawing near” (21:28). Jesus will fully rescue us from sin and death and make all things right.

If I were to pinpoint a second most important thing about Jesus’ return it wouldn’t be about when these things will take place or where the antichrist will be born and what government he will control or when the tribulation and rapture and all of that occurs.

Rather it would be what Jesus says in Luke 21:34-36 which echoes what he taught in 17:20-37. The day of his return will come upon the world in a surprise moment like a thief breaking into a home under the cover of darkness. The world will be going on business-as-usual since they don’t have much of a concern for Jesus or his coming, and then suddenly the day will be upon them.

But for us who are his followers, we are to keep watch on our own lives. We are to be different and be expectant. We are to pursue righteousness, fleeing sin because we anticipate his return.

It still will be a surprise to us in a way, after all Jesus said, “No one knows the day or hour but the Father” (Matthew 24:36). It might not even happen in our lifetimes. But we should expect it to occur and our expectancy of it should drive us to follow Jesus and represent his love, grace, and holy character our every waking moment.

That is what matters most, second to the return of Jesus itself: that we as his people live for him in eager expectation and show the world through our words, attitudes, and actions that Jesus is better and his way is eternally more joyful. Our lives should be witnesses and examples to the reality of salvation including salvation’s completeness found when he comes back. Our witness and example should encourage others to long for Jesus and hope for that day as well.

So pursue Jesus, long for his return, and live for him. He’ll take care of all the other details.

This post is part of our ongoing journey through the Bible as a church.

A prayer for every day (a meditation on growing in faith)

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” ~ Luke 17:5

The Christian life is built on the foundation of faith. It is by faith we are saved and it is by faith we are to live each day as followers of Jesus (Ephesians 2:8-10, Hebrews 10:36-39). Faith starts with belief, specifically a belief that Jesus is the crucified and resurrected Savior-King who gives us life from death, but faith is more than mere belief. Faith is a life-altering trust.

Because we have faith in Jesus, we trust that he is the greatest treasure and hope we can have, and we trust that his way is better. So, we follow him.

Faith in Jesus is to define the lives of people who claim to be his followers. And Jesus said about faith, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you” (Luke 17:6).

mustardseedsThe fact is that I have never met a single person who spoke to a tree and saw it move (let alone a mountain, as Jesus said elsewhere in a similar situation). Mustard seeds aren’t that big. This means we have a lot of room to grow in our trust in Jesus.

Jesus’ words were in reply to a request by his followers. Jesus had just warned them about the dangers of sin but also called them to a life of constant forgiveness (17:1-4). The first thing Luke recorded they said was, “Increase our faith!” They recognized that for them to obey what Jesus had called them to they would need more trust.

Hebrews 11 defines faith as the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen, which begins with the reality that “we understand the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” Hebrews goes on to describe men and women, imperfect and flawed and at sometimes faithful while at other times faithless, who nonetheless trusted God when everything was on the line. God gave them promises and they believed these promises would come true, even if it happened after their lifetimes.

Their faith was based in the past: God spoke and things became; but they kept looking forward to the future, desiring “a better country, that is, a heavenly one.” So by faith, many did great and wonderful things: they left home to live in tents and wander in wait of God’s promises; they stood nose to nose with Pharaoh and declared God’s greatness; they walked across dry land in a seabed as walls of water stood tall beside them; they “through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight, [and] received back their dead by resurrection.”

And then others, nameless in Hebrews 11, through their faith remained true to God even though they were tortured, mocked, beaten, imprisoned, sawn in half, destitute, homeless, and murdered. These were men and women who instead of receiving great rewards and riches in this life received the commendation of God. They were those “of whom the world was not worthy.”

Jesus said we can do great things in faith. The Bible confirms this over and over again. Sometimes the great thing is remaining fixed on Christ, joyful and hopeful, when the world around us is crashing down. Even this with faith as small as a mustard seed.

As we are to be people of faith, so we should each day echo the apostles in our prayers. It is a simple prayer as we seek the great and awesome God and say, “Lord, increase our faith!”

This post is part of our ongoing journey through the Bible as a church.

Holy Celebrations (a meditation on the joy of salvation)

Sometimes in popular culture Christians get the reputation of being like sticks in the mud. We’re not all that fun. While cultural (especially Hollywood) stereotypes of faithful followers of Jesus are drastically overblown (most of the time), sometimes they also bubble up with hints of truth.

In contrast to the stuffy and stoic fun-hating image that some have developed, Christians are to be the most joyful and fun-loving people on earth. Yes, there are proper times of serious contemplation; yes, we are to weep with those who weep; and yes, our sins we commit dishonoring our Savior-King should grieve us. But we should also have a great sense of joy, wonder, and awe as part of our light shining in the darkness, and especially in response to the awesome grace of God in salvation.

In Luke 15 Jesus launched into a quick series of three parables. Each spoke in response to some grumbling and whiney religious types. Jesus hung out with sinners and tax collectors (a tax collector for the Roman government, and especially a Jew who worked as a tax collector for Rome, was essentially the scum of the earth in that first century Jewish culture), people the Pharisees and scribes thought weren’t worth the time of day. So they “grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them’” (15:2).

The three parables with which Jesus replied each spoke to something that had been lost: a lost coin, sheep, and son. The lost were the sinners and tax collectors. They were far from God. Like the younger son in the last parable, they had gone out, lived recklessly, and squandered everything. Yet, these things did not remain lost. The shepherd left his other 99 sheep safe in the pen to go find that one missing, the woman cleaned house until she found her coin, and the father ran to embrace his son once the son realized his desperation and started home.

And each time the lost became the found, there was joy and a call for a community celebration—it was time to party.

So Jesus said, “I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (15:7).

Salvation is a reason to cut loose in holy celebration. With the lost son, Jesus described a party with music and dancing and cuts of the choicest meat. That is as far from a stick in the mud as one can get.

joyNow to be sure there are still differences between a holy celebration and many parties of the world. A holy celebration commemorates freedom from sin and therefore refuses to revel in it. So the drunkenness and sexuality that are realities of many parties would not have a place; but the joy, fun, and energy very much do. And all of this flows from the fact that God is a God of celebration. In the Old Testament he laid out the details of several feasts the people were to enjoy throughout the year to remember him, his goodness, and his love for them. In Revelation 19 eternity kicks off for God’s people with a massive marriage supper—a feast and a celebration.

Salvation is a joyous thing because it is about the lost being found, the dead coming to life. It is about the grace of God extending to those who are unworthy of it because we have spurned him and rebelled against him time and time again. Yet, he brings us into his Family and makes us his own. It is something to rejoice in and to celebrate over and over and over.

In Jesus’ story of the lost son there was also the other son, the older brother who got mad at the father for throwing the party and refused to take part. He was one who didn’t see the need for such festivities, especially to celebrate the return of the son who had squandered and wasted everything. After all, unlike his little brother, he stayed home and worked hard and did everything the father asked. He represents the religious types—the Pharisees and the scribes, the ones who thought all their devotion and rule following earned them high honor.

But they missed the point. They needed the Father just as much, and if their hearts were truly dedicated to his will and ways they would understand his love, grace, and joy. They would long to celebrate the great event of salvation.

Let us not be like those who take little joy in God and the amazing grace of his salvation of lost sinners through Jesus. Let us be people who revel in happiness and amazement at the awesomeness of God and his great love towards us. Let us join in the holy celebrations.

This post is part of our ongoing journey through the Bible as a church.

Yeah, God’s that big… (a meditation on the God who cannot be contained)

All humans have these ceaseless yearnings…not simply because we are incomplete but because God is infinite. God’s wonder and beauty become overwhelmingly attractive because they are infinite and inexhaustible. ~ Os Guinness, Fool’s Talk

But will God really live on earth? Why, even the highest heavens cannot contain you. How much less this Temple I have built! ~ King Solomon, 1 Kings 8:27

Have you ever just sat back and stared up at the night sky? Away from cities, towns and lights the sky takes on a breathtaking beauty with thousands of pinpoints of light flooding in from millions upon millions of miles away.

On a clear night, I’m able to stand in my driveway with much of the ambient light blocked by two large oak trees, look straight up, and see the hazy band of the Milky Way stretched across the dark canvas. But perhaps nowhere have I seen the sky so filled as while standing in the bush of Zambia, an hour or so away from the nearest city.

It’s one of those moments where you realize the universe is a big place. Bigger than we can really even begin to comprehend. Billions of galaxies filled with millions if not billions of stars, and we are but one tiny speck.

The bigness and beauty of the universe are signposts pointing to the infinite bigness and unmatched beauty of God.

Solomon captured this when he dedicated Israel’s first temple. Up until that point, the Ark of the Covenant, where God at times manifested his glory in blinding light and thick smoke, had moved along with the people and rested in a tent. King David desired to build a permanent home, a temple for the Ark to rest, but God told him no. Instead his son would build it. So Solomon, after the people had received rest from their enemies, built a temple grand and magnificent. Yet in dedicating it, Solomon realized that even with all the pomp and grandeur the temple at best was a tiny symbol. The universe itself could not contain God, how much less this temple?

osguin01In his book Fool’s Talk, Os Guinness argues that each person has a restless longing within their hearts—a longing for greater meaning, greater purpose, greater joy, and greater experience; a longing for something more. This restlessness is our longing for God whether we realize it or not.

On the one hand, a barrier exists because of mankind’s fall into sin. We chose to replace God with something much smaller, most prominently our own desire to be self-defining and in charge. Yet rebellion against our Creator did not bring a lasting happiness or satisfaction. Rather, it left us with a void we could not fill. So God gave us Jesus to rescue us from our rebellion and to reunite us to his goodness.

Yet even then, we still crave—another barrier: God is infinite, large beyond imagination; we are finite, small. When we receive of his grace, our hearts begin to long to know him fully; yet him being infinite there is always more to know, discover, and explore. This craving is good because it pushes us to plumb the depths of God more and more.

It is as we dive deeper into God we find that he is, as Jesus said, the bread that calms hunger and the water that quenches thirst (John 6:33-35). And so we want more, not because we are unsatisfied but because we find true satisfaction in the overwhelming greatness and unending beauty of God.

God is that big and he calls us to learn to delight in him through the work of Jesus and the Holy Spirit within. God is that big and he calls us to help others see the joy of true delight in him.

This post is part of our ongoing journey through the Bible as a church.

Things that matter; things that distract (a meditation on time well spent)

I’m not sure who first coined the terms, but Chuck Swindoll has spoken and wrote about the tyranny of the urgent. Stephen Covey in his book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People discussed the same ideas under the labels of urgent and important.

Essentially, our lives are made up of years, each of which has a set number of days. Each day has a set number of hours, and each hour has a set number of minutes. We cannot create more time. In the time we have, we tend to focus on the things that are urgent. After all, they seem pressing—crisis arise, deadlines loom, reports must be filed, emails and texts must be answered, someone is coming over and the messy house must be cleaned… it goes on and on and on and on.

And while some of these things might be important, many are not as important as they seem in the moment and some end up not being important at all. Yet when we are distracted by the cries of the urgent, we can miss what is really important.

Well before Swindoll and Covey, we see these realities at play in the lives of two sisters, Mary and Martha. At the end of Luke 10, Jesus stopped in a village on his way to Jerusalem and went to the house of his friends. While there,

Mary sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was worrying over the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.” (10:39-40)

We sympathize with Martha. We’ve been there—a crisis of the moment and no one else seems willing to lend a hand. Martha wanted to be hospitable, which is a good thing. She wanted to make sure that all her guests were well taken care of. And besides, Jesus was there—the Lord, the Great Teacher, the greatest guest you could have. Things needed done. And there was Mary, just sitting at his feet listening when she could have been setting the table or helping with the bread.

Bothered by the pressure of the urgent, Martha interrupted Jesus to complain. Surely this would force Mary to help.

But that’s not how Jesus answered. Instead, “My dear Martha, you are so upset over all these details! There is really only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it—and I won’t take it away from her” (10:41-42). In other words, when you have Jesus teaching in your house dinner and chores can wait.

Jesus’ aimed to focus Martha back to the important: him.

On the one hand, the Bible is filled with passages warning against laziness and sloth. We are to be hard and honest workers at our jobs, acting as if Jesus is our direct supervisor on site and we’re aiming to honor and please him. We need rest. We need to take care of our families. But the most important thing in life is Jesus himself.

After all, he is life. If we don’t have time in our day for him (time for prayer, time for praise, time to sit at his feet—as we read his word), then we are busier than God intends for us to be and we need to rethink and reorder what we do. And this becomes a matter of trust.

Yes, the urgent threatens, but God knows every detail. God is also the one who created time and days and weeks. He is the one who told us to do all our work in 6 days and rest on the 7th. He is the one who has all our days counted and numbered (Psalm 139:16). He is the God in control of time. He is not pressed by the urgent.

So let us not let things distract us from what really matters. Trust Jesus, spend time with him, and let him order the priorities of your life and the time of your days.

Are you willing to lose to gain? (a meditation on the heart of the Christian life)

“For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” ~ Jesus, Luke 9:25

In a single moment we come alive. Two cells fuse together and begin to multiply and grow, reproducing and reshaping until organs and body parts develop. Then we burst forth into the world and gasp that first breath. In a single moment we die. Sometimes we live out our days to a ripe old age, other times tragedy robs us far too soon. But that moment happens where the lungs exhale their final breath and the heart pulses its final beat.

On the headstone of many graves the story of everything between these two moments often finds its summary in a single dash.

A brief mark that encompasses a life. What do we do with that dash?

Often, life seems to be about survival. We work and fight through exercise and diet and doctors and pills in order to extend the distance of that last breath as far as possible from our first. Life also seems to be about comfort. If we’re happy then what must we do to maintain that happiness? If we’re not, then what must we add (or subtract) to achieve a state of bliss? Life can be about achievement. What are we going to be known for? What are people going to remember about that dash after the end date is carved into the stone?

When it comes to finding the best meaning, though, Jesus said, “I want you to let go”—don’t make it about survival, comfort, or achievement.

It’s a paradox that follows on the heels of hard words. First, Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Self denial and self death. Some people like to say, “God has a wonderful plan for your life.” Yet it’s not always immediate to see how a wonderful plan fits into the language of take up your cross.

The Roman cross was an instrument of brutal death, unlike many the world has seen. Involving public humiliation, being stripped naked and marched in open to be jeered by the crowds around you. You might be beaten, you might be whipped, and you might be stabbed. And then either with nails or rope or both you would be attached to wooden beams and left to agonize for gasps of air in the scorching of day and the chill of night until your body could bear no more.

It’s the path that Jesus walked and he called out to us to daily do the same: a daily death, daily setting aside of rights and wants and desires.

Yet, the paradox: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (9:24-25).

If our ultimate goal is survival, comfort, or achievement then we’re going to be quite disappointed at the end of that dash. You can have it all: the best health, the best genes, the best doctors, the longest life, the least pain, the largest house, the most money, the most toys—every bit of pleasure and every experience of a “good life” that you desire. But when that final heart beat comes, it’s gone.

We brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world (1 Timothy 6:7).

When Jesus said to deny self and take up our crosses, his aim wasn’t to make us poor and miserable wretches who lack happiness in this life. Rather his aim was to show us how to find true life. Momentary pain today pales in comparison to eternal loss. Conversely, momentary pain today is not even worth comparing to the eternal glories and happiness of people who are willing to let go their grasps on this world for the sake of Christ (Romans 8:18).

In telling us to lose our lives, Jesus was teaching us how to gain life. In telling us to loose our grips on things we think will make us happy, Jesus was teaching us how to find true joy.

luke 12_32In Luke 12, Jesus taught that we are not to be anxious about food and clothing and gain in this world. Instead, we are to trust the Father. God indeed has a wonderful plan, the best plan: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (12:32). We gain this not by seeking survival, comfort, or achievement as our ultimate sources of meaning and happiness. We gain this by seeking his kingdom (12:31).

Practically, then, we become self-deniers and cross-bearers as we give ourselves for the sake of others: “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with money-bags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (12:33-34).

Give yourself away with a love of God and love for others and you will gain. That is the heart of the Christian life.

This post is part of our ongoing journey through the Bible as a church.