Fruit of the Spirit: Joy

“22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

In this installment of the Fruit of the Spirit study, we look at JOY. Joy is listed second, next to Love in this list of characteristics which are attributed to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. What I would like to ask you is, as you read this, do you have joy in your heart? If not, do you know why? If not, would you be willing to find out why?

What is Joy?

Proverbs 12:20 ESV says this:

“Deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil, but those who plan peace have joy.”

Two words there jump out at me: Peace and Joy. More on peace later. According to Proverbs, joy is a product of the intentional approach to peace. I’ve spoken with many people who say they want peace….World Peace. But there seems to be a gap between where we want to be and where we are in terms of peace. So is this a ‘chicken or the egg’ argument? How can we have joy if there is no peace? How can we have peace?

“Why do so many Christians seem void of joy?”

 If peace is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, and joy comes to those who plan peace, it makes sense that joy is also a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Why do so many Christians seem void of joy? I have to ask another question…what are your goals for the universe? You may be thinking that I’ve gone off the deep end now, but I think it’s worth asking. A better way to put it, are your goals for the universe in line with God’s goals for the universe? Do you place your hopes in a sports franchise? A piece of legislation? What about self accomplishment? Or how about your kids’ accomplishments?
I think we have to ask ourselves what are God’s goals for this place we call home? His goals will come to fruition. If our goals aren’t His, we’re looking at eternal disappointment. If we’re working against His goals, we are an enemy of God. How can we find peace in that? We Can’t! So how do we reconcile our lack of joy with our claim to be filled with the Holy Spirit? I’ve long said that our proof to those around us that we have the Holy Spirit living in us, is just as Galatians 5 says. Those fruit are the proof. Our claim needs the support of evidence. I hope that we can look in the mirror and ask, “Does the Holy Spirit really live in me? Or am I just saying that it does?”

If we’re working against His goals, we are an enemy of God. How can we find peace in that?

We Can’t!

I pray that our goals will begin to line up with the Father’s so that we may find the peace that produces joy. And that we seek out those plans intentionally. God has given us free will to pursue joy, if we’d just find her tracks and follow her. I think we have to start with a genuine request that God fill us with His Spirit, and that He would prune the branches so that we may bear good fruit.

“Why then did God give us free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.”

– C.S. Lewis

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Do You Know God?

It takes an intimate knowledge of the Creator to understand why he gave the law as He did at Mt. Sinai. That law, includes the ten commandments and the law given to the Hebrews on how they would live as a nation.

Moses had an intimate relationship with God that none other since Adam and Eve had. Of all the prophets that carried the message to the Hebrews, whom God spoke to by representative or angel or a dream, God spoke to Moses directly. Moses saw God like no one else ever had. But because the people were so afraid when God spoke at the mountain, they asked not to be spoken to by God. It is for that reason that God gave them what they asked for. To be represented by prophets to the people instead of being spoken to by Him directly.

We now have an opportunity to know God intimately as Moses did. Through the saving work of Jesus Christ. To those who follow or obey God’s commands without this relationship with Him are doomed to feel the oppression that simply following laws brings. The purpose of the Law was and is to teach us that the only life we can live outside of it is disease, death, hatred, suffering and loneliness.

With the Holy Spirit living in us, we have an intimate knowledge of our Creator and his desires for us and the world. Jesus’ sacrifice was necessary for this: to sanctify us so that we could receive the Holy Spirit in us. When we choose to be baptized, we are choosing to be buried and resurrected again with Jesus, as a declaration that we will no longer live as we once did, which is in selfish pride and arrogance. Instead, we choose service to mankind, as Jesus showed us to live. Jesus once told the Pharisees that he desires mercy, not sacrifice.

We are daily implored to exercise forgiveness. 70 x 7 times. We are warned that those who do not forgive in this manner will not be forgiven their transgressions. This is the desire of our Creator. To forgive. To do so against our human instinct is to understand more about our Creator than ever.

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Kingdom of God/Heaven

The ‘Kingdom of God’ is a much talked about place/thing/idea/realm. Without sounding cryptic with how I attempt to explain this for this devotion, let me just say that the ‘Kingdom of God’ is all those aforementioned things and maybe more. So how do we seek it? Jesus tells several parables in order to tell us what the “kingdom of heaven” is like. One that jumps out at me is found later in Matthew. In Chapter 13:45, Jesus tells His disciples this:

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it”

The image Jesus is painting for us is that the kingdom of heaven is more valuable than anything else we own. In this sense, it is an idea, certainly not a thing or place. And certainly, it is an idea worth exchanging everything for. The verse in Matthew 6:33 tells us, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you”. Jesus is reinforcing the idea that the kingdom of God is more important than food or clothes. Why? Because even though those things are important to us, they, like us, will decay and die. Why would the merchant care to sell all those things he accumulated in order to possess one pearl? This seems to be the only way we can assign value to something, by viewing it in terms of monetary worth.

The merchant in the story is, in many ways, like the average person seeking the path to ultimate living. Jesus points out that when he finds the most valuable thing he’s ever seen (something he looks for regularly) he immediately knows it’s worth more than all the things he’s ever had. Jesus never attempts to tell us where the Kingdom of God is, but many times tells us how important it is that we devote ourselves to it.

Jesus also tells us, “Unless you (we) become like children” we aren’t going to be allowed admission into this kingdom. “Those who do the will of My Father” are going to be allowed into the kingdom, not simply those who say Lord, Lord. In this sense, the kingdom of Heaven has boundaries; boundaries that must be crossed. We must actively obey God in order to enter into it. And Jesus has intimated that that is more important than anything else we could ever obtain. But Jesus also preached this kingdom at hand during His time. This kingdom is eternal and it is in operation as we speak. The only way in it is to do God’s will, and that is more important than anything else.

I pray we choose not to exchange this pearl of great value for anything in this world, because we are destined for a better place, where there is no decay or corruption. I’m reminded of the journey of Christian in Pilgrims Progress who faces many temptations and dangers along the way, but fights through them all in order to get to his destination. We have to place the kingdom of Heaven in that column of priority in order to understand how important it is in our lives.

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Fruit of the Spirit: Love

The Bible is Good!

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

‭‭Galatians ‭5:22-23‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/gal.5.22-23.esv

As part of a series on the fruit of the spirit, the first one I’ll post on is perhaps the most important, and listed first in this verse for a reason: Love.

I think the first thing we need to understand is why the author of Galatians is listing the “fruit of the Spirit”. In the earlier part of Galatians, Paul addresses the church there over some rumors that there had been someone infiltrating the assembly in order to “spy out our freedom we have in Christ” and then talking to them about circumcision as a requirement for salvation, or membership into the church. Paul urged the Galatians not to fall for this, and explains that Christ gave us freedom for the…

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Fruit of the Spirit: Love

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

‭‭Galatians ‭5:22-23‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/gal.5.22-23.esv

As part of a series on the fruit of the spirit, the first one I’ll post on is perhaps the most important, and listed first in this verse for a reason: Love.

I think the first thing we need to understand is why the author of Galatians is listing the “fruit of the Spirit”. In the earlier part of Galatians, Paul addresses the church there over some rumors that there had been someone infiltrating the assembly in order to “spy out our freedom we have in Christ” and then talking to them about circumcision as a requirement for salvation, or membership into the church. Paul urged the Galatians not to fall for this, and explains that Christ gave us freedom for the sake of freedom.

Paul then urges the church not to use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh. This means that Christ gave us freedom, to live in sin is slavery, don’t take the freedom Christ gave us in order to place yourself back into slavery to sin. That is where the fruit of the Spirit comes in. Paul essentially is saying, “rather than falling into slavery, walk after the Spirit”…Here is the fruit of doing so:

Love

Love is perhaps the greatest of all these fruit, and I will wrap up this series by again writing on love. So what is love, biblically? Love can be defined as denying ourselves, taking up our cross and following Jesus. Throughout New Testament gospels and epistles, it is heralded that Christ gave up His high place in the heavens in the Glory of the Father in order to live among us and make available the salvation that it was the Father’s pleasure to extend to us. Christ asks us to live sacrificially in order to pass along the salvation and the gift of the Holy Spirit that comes with our believing in Who He is, and submitting ourselves to His Lordship, which we have been freely given.

“So in order to love someone else, I need to put them before me?”

Precisely. Christ proved His love for us by putting us before Himself. And we couldn’t possibly look to a better example of love in all of existence. He literally poured Himself out for the sake of releasing us from our bondage to sin which Paul urges us not to return to. It can sound simpler than it is, and also more complicated than it is. It is likely the most difficult thing for us to place so many others ahead of ourselves, and yet, there isn’t anything else in the equation except this:

Love is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Sacrificial love is not something someone can acquire without the Spirit of God resting upon, in and working in our hearts and lives.

Next time…JOY

 

 

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Good Advice?

“Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future. Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.”‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭19:20-21‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/pro.19.20-21.esv

It is definitely a foregone conclusion that “good advice” will lead to success…if we heed it. But how do we know which advice is good? How do we know whether or not the advice we are given is best?

As rhetorical as this might seem, advice that leads to a good outcome can be good advice. We can look at what the desired outcomes are in order to get an idea as to what advice will lead us to the desired outcome.

There is something that needs to be said though. There is a best way to approach anything, including life. If there is a best way, there’s a worst way. That’s just the way things are.

But there is good news walking side by side with the previous revelation. That is that the best way to approach life can be found in this passage:

“And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭22:37-39‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/mat.22.37-39.esv

Who would ever dispute that loving God with everything we are, and loving others as if they were us is good advice? Hardly anyone right? From this passage we get the saying: “Do to others what you would have them do to you”:

“”So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭7:12‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/mat.7.12.esv

Jesus is summarizing the purpose of Old Testament scripture for those of us who may have a difficult time wading through passages that don’t seem immediately applicable. The purpose is so that we treat others how we want to be treated. Good advice? Or no?

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Why We Teach. Why We Learn

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It is my belief that the best method of education, according to Scripture, is to build/learn it on the foundation of this advice from Proverbs: “The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, to turn aside from the snares of death”[1] (Proverbs 13:14). The very good question of ‘why is it important to learn’ can be applied to anyone. According to Proverbs, the most basic answer is, so you don’t die. From the time we are born, we are subjected to potential dangers which are very obvious. Dangers like, cars, angry animals, fire, too much water, sharp things, not eating or being fed, to name a few. This is especially important in the early stages after birth, but still important for the rest of our life. It is safe to say that if we’ve reached a ripe old age, we’ve learned how to do some things for ourselves. But we don’t do many things outside of learning.

We may begin learning or teaching ourselves things from the very first day we are born. As mentioned above, some of those things we learn about are very obvious, and many things we learn from painful experience. But the author of the Proverb isn’t simply talking about the obvious things. The author is also talking about those things which are not obvious: Deception, hatred, greed, once again, just to name a few. These are things about which we must also learn a great deal in order to survive. We can be guilty of trusting the wrong person to our own demise. The world is no safe place for the uneducated.

I’ve recently been reading through the Pentateuch with my wife, and have finished the book of the Law which has many kinds of Laws in it that address many obvious snares, and some not so obvious snares. It is interesting to learn that this Law was responsible for the prosperity of the Hebrews early in their existence as a nation in the world with land given them by God so they could live as His people there. The second to last chapter in Leviticus is full of verses about the blessings and curses that are associated with either following this Law or not following it. We learn similar things in our own country when we begin school. Laws regarding safety and social laws like: ‘Don’t talk to strangers’ and ‘look both ways before you cross the street’. To not follow these ‘laws’ of life will end up risking one’s own opportunity for life, and so we must be diligent to teach each other in order to survive the wild.

As I mentioned before, though, there are many not-so-obvious things we need to learn if we are going to eventually live together in this world in peace and harmony. Those lessons indeed come from Jesus himself in a popular sermon called the Beatitudes (see Matthew 5). I think we mistakenly think He’s talking to those people who possess those traits, but He’s actually addressing all of us, and imploring us to become those people, so that we may obtain the blessings associated with living that life. In the Biblical narrative, there is no one better at teaching than Jesus, as He used many parables, which are more like allegories that possess a lesson embedded in a familiar story. But we can attach the purpose for learning these things back to the Proverb which Jesus would have known well, that teaches us that to learn is to receive the true gift of abundant life.

Jesus’ use of the parable was mostly exclusively used to teach spiritual gems of wisdom and prophecy while using imagery that the people of the day could process in order to obtain the treasure locked within. But it’s clear that even then, Jesus’s disciples continually asked Him to explain what he meant by these parables. Today, we have the benefit of commentaries in the form of Epistles from the disciples to teach us what Jesus represented to us, and what he taught through his life, as well as writing about some things in hindsight. But His disciples didn’t have that revelation to draw from. So Jesus began to explain what he meant, and that is where the teaching process was completed. He painted the image they could draw from, and then told them what it meant so that they could “see” what he was trying to teach them. Using these mind tactile senses, Jesus imprinted His word upon their minds, and by proxy, in their hearts. They used the written word to teach us those same parables, and by that, we have learned what Jesus taught His followers long ago.

So we have a purpose for teaching, and a proven method for teaching. It is for the spiritual lessons that we really learn how to grow, and it is the physical lessons we learn in order to use the wisdom we obtain in order to achieve our growth over generations. We can’t limit our learning to physical lessons, even though they teach us to pay attention to obvious dangers and opportunities, we must also learn the spiritual lessons so that we may learn how to notice the less obvious pitfalls in life which can ultimately lead to our physical death. It is on this foundation that we sit to learn anything at all. Our curiosity may just be the thing God knew we would need in order to pursue knowledge and wisdom, so that we might live for our appointed time, rather than carelessly walk ourselves into our own demise.

In conclusion, our purpose for learning is to stay alive, both physically and spiritually so that we may live the life that God has designed for us to live, as well as obtain the promises that God has chosen to give us in order to live in relationship with Him. There are many methods people use to teach, but imagery which is easily understandable seems to be the method chosen by the one ancients called “Teacher”, and His lessons have lasted millennia in order to teach us still today.

[1] All scripture from the NASB, Copyright 1995, The Lockman Foundation

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Humility

Isaiah 66

When I read this passage, I’m immediately confronted with my own pride. Have I set aside myself to the point that I no longer stand in the way of the “house” that God is building? Do I continually make “sacrifice” to God just so that I may continually live in the sin which He calls me out of? I have to honestly say that I may yet still be a selfish person. Who then can I look to in order to accomplish humility? Isaiah paints a bleak picture for those who boast in the Lord, yet do not revere Him. But God promises that He will not begin something that He will not finish.

 

9 “Shall I bring to the point of birth and not bring forth?” Says the LORD; “shall I, who cause to bring forth, shut the womb?” Says your God.

 

We are then invited to be satisfied by this child, this nation which God brought out of the labor of Jerusalem. This One whom Isaiah points to is worthy to build a house for the LORD. I am so thankful that I have been blessed with the good news. That I have been given a choice to believe in the good news. So many still have not heard, and Isaiah warns that time is running out. We can look to God’s Son for the humility needed in order to continue this work. My prayer is that the pursuit of a dollar will give way to the willful pursuit of Jesus, and His humility, and that people like myself will someday realize that I can’t take that dollar with me into eternity, but the harvest brought about by the spreading of the gospel will be eternal.

 

Prayer:

 

God, I am so guilty of continuing to pursue my heart’s interests, rather than yours. Grant me the change of heart that no longer finds myself a roadblock in the way to the kingdom, but a brightly lit sign pointing to Jesus. I recognize that I am still clay in the Potter’s hands, and You may decide the project isn’t finished until my final breath. My soul cries out: “I submit to your hand, and ask that you shape me for your purpose until You decide it is finished”, but my actions may yet prove unrelenting. Thank you for your grace and loving kindness which gently leads me into a deeper relationship with you. A relationship that will make you known to me, and will burn away the selfish pride, and self interest that has yet to fall away. I ask that my talents would be used for Your purpose and not my own, that You would use them to expand Your kingdom and if I have to dig them up and relinquish them to You in order to be used by You, I pray I am willing. May my life and heart glorify You, In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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The Beginning

The beginning of the Church can be marked by the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. I love the verse where it says:

6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”
We have to consider that what seems to be the beginning for the Greek or Non-Jewish people in relationship with God, was a turning point for the Jewish people along a quest they had been on for quite some time, which was having their promised land restored to them from foreign rule. They wanted their own king again; preferably one who wasn’t a Roman puppet. Jesus’ response to them was essentially, “Don’t worry about that right now. Do this work for me in the meantime…” The Holy Spirit came and empowered them to go about the work of spreading the gospel, and “being a witness to the world”.

We may have come into belief in Jesus hoping for a reprieve from the rigors of life, the impact of secular life, or a change around us, but the mission is: “Work towards My Goal, not your goal. I’ll empower you to that end.” Do we truly love what Jesus Christ is trying to accomplish through us MORE than what He’s doing for us? If so, will we totally submit to His mission?
Prayer:
God, we cannot thank you enough for intervening in our sinful lives. Without that, we’d still be oblivious to just how selfish, and caught up in the corruption and decay of life. Thank you for sending your Son to us to show us how you intended for us to live in community with one another, and to reflect you in our lives, so that the lost and dying world would see you and want you. May our lives reflect you continually, and we ask forgiveness for those times when things, once again, become soaked in our worry, or toil to save the decaying things of life. I pray we would listen for the Holy Spirit to guide and keep us focused on Your mission. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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Generosity

2 Corinthians 8:8-9

                In this passage the Apostle Paul is appealing to our sense of recognition that Jesus is the best of us, and that we ought to want to be like Him. So, in order to speak to the church in Corinth about their possible “claims” to have genuine love, he essentially tells them: “Here’s how we can measure that…”

8 “I say this not as a command but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.”

Paul then explains that Jesus possessed such grace that He stepped down from His place of wealth (not just any wealth, but heavenly wealth) to become poor so that we may obtain such heavenly wealth through His selflessness. I think we can mull over the implications of this passage and perhaps even weave a blanket of other possibilities as to what that means for us, but I think the gist of this message of generosity is that it’s one thing to talk about generosity, and another thing altogether to live by that principle. Paul points to Christ as the litmus test for generosity, and uses this to “prove” our love. It feels like a tall order, but we also should keep in mind that Jesus was fully man for His time as our Teacher. He sacrificed not only His heavenly wealth for a time, but also His body. When we consider this in light of our own contributions, we fall short every time.

So, what can we do? If we believe that God will equip us to carry out His will, why do we shy away from giving it 100% sometimes? All the time? Truly we can trust in His faithfulness, but do we doubt God’s provision? I pray that I will have the courage, to let go of my doubt, to be fully committed to the work God has given me to do, and to give everything I can to Him.

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