Spirit Fruits

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

Galatians 5:22-25 (NIV)

This is the time of the year when many fruits and vegetables are ripening and bring enjoyment to our tables. The melons, tomatoes and other garden vegetables enhance our meals. On a hot, summer day, a watermelon can seem to be a refreshing treat. The fruits add a nice, sweet taste as a snack or part of an after-meal dessert.

In the letter sent to Galatia, there is a conversation about fruits. The fruits here are not apples, grapes, or plums. The fruits discussed here are what the Spirit produces in human lives. These fruits benefit society and all people so there are no prohibitions restricting us from exhibiting these behaviors. Living within the Spirit, we are to practice these behaviors regularly instead of the selfish behaviors and desires we exhibited prior to our knowledge of Christ. We experience the fruits of the Spirit in our lives just as we practice them towards others.

Just As I Am

Today I ran across the lyrics of one of my favorite childhood hymns, Just as I Am. This hymn was written by Charlotte Elliot in 1835. One night before a fundraising event hosted by her brother who was a pastor, she lay awake, troubled by her doubts and fears regarding her usefulness and her salvation. The next day, still troubled, she sat down to write her understanding of the Gospel message. The verses which she wrote became the hymn we have today. (This history was found on Wikipedia.)

Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need in Thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because Thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, Thy love unknown
Hath broken every barrier down;
Now, to be Thine, yea, Thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Charlotte Elliot, 1835

The words of this hymn resonated with me as a young boy and at various times throughout my life. Elliot’s words remind me that I can, and should, approach the Lord exactly as I am. I do not need to hide any part of myself. I do not need to have it all together in some proper way. All I need to do is come. When I do, I am certain to find love, acceptance, forgiveness, healing, and cleansing. There is no reason to doubt, fear or struggle in the Lord’s presence.

Give It Back

20 Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be sincere. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said, so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor. 21 So the spies questioned him: “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. 22 Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

23 He saw through their duplicity and said to them, 24 “Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

25 He said to them, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

26 They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent.

Luke 20:20-26 (NIV)

There was a time when I owned an inked stamp which I would use to mark books when I purchased them. The stamp indicated who the book belonged to and I would stamp the book on the inside cover. I did this so that if I lent the book to someone or accidently left it lying somewhere, it could be returned to me. The stamp indicated the book was my property and should be returned.

In today’s passage from Luke’s gospel, we encounter a question about taxes and returning what belongs to someone. The Jewish leadership sent spies to trap Jesus in saying something which would anger the Roman authorities.They determined this would be a good way to get rid of Jesus. The spies ask Jesus if it is right for Jews to pay tax to Caesar. Jesus knows what they are attempting so he has them produce a denarius. He then asks them whose image and inscription are on the denarius. They indicate it is Caesar’s so he instructs them to give back to Caesar what belongs to him while giving God what belongs to God.

Reading Jesus’s response, we are confronted with our own sense of civic responsibility and our responsibility to God. On a civic level, we are bound to return a portion of our government-issued money back to the government to assist in our protection and the care of all of the citizens in our country. Look at any paper bill or coin used as money and you will see the inscription, “The United States of America.”

Our responsibility to God is of even greater importance. Considering God created EVERYTHING, there is nothing outside the scope of what should be returned. God, however, does not need our money or anything else which is placed in our care. When we tithe, present an offering of any sort, we do so as an act of gratitude. What God desires most is our love. By giving our love to God and all which God has created, we are returning what has been begun by God. God gave love to us and filled our lives with love along with the results of that love. Love belongs to God and should be returned to God.

Give to the government (Caesar) what belongs to the government, and give to God what belongs to God which is everything but especially love.

Entitled

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:6-8 (NIV)

There appears to be a pervasive altitude of entitlement in the world today. This attitude manifests itself in a common phrase such as, “I deserve (fill in the blank) because…” For a long time people lived according to the idiom, “earn your keep.” This idiom was first commonly said in the 1800s and was in reference to working for room and board which was common on farms. The understanding of earning what one received was prevalent even to the point of going too far at times. Whether one deserves or has earned something depends a lot upon perception.

Paul understands the concept of being deserving or undeserving when he writes to the Romans. As sinners, people who have not lived out God’s love, what is deserved is punishment. According to the covenant which God first established with humans, and then continuously renewed, the punishment for sin is death and full separation from God. Paul points out that humanity did not receive what was deserved because at exactly the right time Christ died for us so we may live. God’s love overpowered what was deserved and instead of death, we received life.

It is great to not receive what is entitled to us or even what we have earned through our actions. We have been given a great gift, grace, in Christ’s death and resurrection. The love of God remains present even when we do not live it in the world. Instead of waiting for us to stop breaking God’s love (sinning), God gave us the gift. Thank you  God for not giving me what I deserve!

Never Alone

Life has many uncertainties. No one knows what awaits them the next day, the next hour or the next minute. There are joys and challenges that fill our days. One certainty which is always present is that whatever is in store for us, the Lord is always present whatever may come. We are never alone.

1. When have you sensed the Lord’s presence in your life?

2. How has the Lord assisted you during a challenging time?

3. In what ways do you celebrate your joys with the Lord?

Water and Food

“Come, all you who are thirsty,
    come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
    and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
    listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
    my faithful love promised to David.
See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
    a ruler and commander of the peoples.

Isaiah 55:1-4 (NIV)

Many of us have not experienced what it means to not have food when hungry, or something to drink when thirsty. We may have had short periods of time when we have been unable to access food or drink but it never has become a life-threatening situation. There are people in our communities who have, and do, experience food and drink insecurities. Even today in the United States there are children and adults who are malnourished and facing life-threatening inadequacies. This is true in every nation on earth. For most of us, this situation is so far removed from us that hunger and thirst is only a hypothetical experience. Only if we open our eyes to those who society wishes to hide, or we are confronted by images on the television, are we able to acknowledge such a physical need.

The writer of Isaiah takes hunger and thirst beyond a physical experience to a spiritual one. In our passage today, the prophet speaks on behalf of God. God invites all to come to God to be satisfied. The thirsty will find water that quenches the thirst indefinitely. The hungry will be filled completely. No payment is required for what God offers. God offers all which is necessary for life within an experience of great love.

While the physical hunger and thirst may be a them-not-me experience for us, the spiritual hunger and thirst is often very familiar. We are born with a desire and need to be spiritually fed. When this need is going unmet, we search for spiritual food and drink just as our human bodies instinctively do the same. God created us in a way that both these forms of need and searching are part of who we are as beings. Only God can meet the needs of our spiritual being in a way which is long-lasting and completely satisfying. All others are temporary and eventually unfulfilling.

God extends an ongoing invitation, “Come all you who are thirty…” This is an invitation which Jesus repeats as well.  The invitation is for you.

A Rising

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.

Romans 8:9-11 (NIV)

The process of making food which includes a rising element has always been fascinating. Mixing together the correct ingredients which leads to the food item rising either before or during the baking process contains an element of mystery. Whether it is a type of bread or a cake, the rising is necessary for an enjoyable outcome. As an adult, I understand the chemical process which results in the rising but as a kid I was amazed by it. The key is that the right ingredients must be in the batter to make this possible.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he speaks of having the correct ingredient to produce a rising, the rising of our own mortal bodies after death. Paul tells the Roman followers that if Christ is in them, they are now in the realm of the Spirit and no longer the realm of the flesh. The body is still subject to death but the Spirit gives life. Because the Spirit is in us, we will have a bodily resurrection just as Christ had one.

The key ingredient for us is the Spirit living within us. This Spirit moves us from living just in the physical realm into the spiritual realm. It is the Spirit which is necessary for our physical bodies to be raised after death like Christ was raised. The Spirit lives in each of us, when we believe and acknowledge this, we accept the gift of the promised resurrection.

Choosing Correctly

13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Matthew 7:13-14 (NIV)

Growing up, I remember my parents using maps to plan out trips to new destinations. They would spend time determining the best routes. Today, we no longer rely on paper maps and atlases but use GPS and the maps on our phones. If you use Google maps, it will give you a few alternative courses to choose from. The shortest or quickest route is the main one which Google recommends. Choosing the correct route can be important as we maneuver through our journeys.

The passage from Matthew is part of a series of teachings given by Jesus which has become known as the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talks to the people about making a right choice. Jesus tells the people to pick carefully which gate and path they choose. One choice will lead to destruction, the other to life.

In our lives we face choices in regards to a variety of aspects of life. Some of these choices are more difficult because they may require more from us. It is a great temptation to pick what appears to be easier and less demanding. Yet Jesus’s words should cause us to pause as we make choices. The wide gate and broad road is definitely the easiest route but the outcome will be less favorable.

Kingdom Plants

26 He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”

Mark 4:26-29 (NIV)

A characteristic of a great story teller is being able to connect with people using imagery with which the receiver can relate. If a reader or listener is unable to connect elements of the story to their own life or experiences they are familiar with, they will become bored and disinterested in the story being told. A much repeated piece of advice to speakers, writers, and communicators is “know your audience.” By following this advice, the one sharing a message can personalize the message which leads to a more effective deliverance.

Jesus was a tremendous story teller. The Gospels contain evidence of this fact in the many recounts of stories which Jesus used to communicate all types of concepts and life lessons. Today we read one of Jesus’s stories. His audience was very familiar with the growth cycle and processes of plants. Jesus is providing images to explain the essence of the kingdom of God. The image of seed being scattered on the ground and becoming a mature plant creates the sense of mystery regarding growth within the kingdom. Jesus also tells the listener that a time will come when the plants will be harvested because they have reached full maturity. The listener understands that there will be a growth of the individuals in the kingdom and a time will come when a gathering will take place.

This story which Jesus uses to explain God’s kingdom provides imagery which allows us to see ourselves in the kingdom. We are the plants which begin as seeds. Our growth in the kingdom is not of our own doing but solely reliant upon God. There is mystery in how God causes this to happen. We grow up and mature within the kingdom. Then we await our gathering up by the Lord once we have fully matured.

Remove the Blinders

31 Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. 32 He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; 33 they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.”

34 The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.

35 As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. 37 They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”

38 He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

39 Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

40 Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?”

“Lord, I want to see,” he replied.

42 Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” 43 Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.

Luke 18:31-43 (NIV)

Have you ever seen a horse who has blinders on its head? The purpose of these blinders are to prevent the horse from seeing behind it and on the sides of it at times. This keeps the horse focused forward and prevents it from being easily spooked. The blinders also improve the horse’s ability to remain focused on whatever tasks are being expected. Another benefit the blinders provide for the horse is a reduction in stress. With all the activity around most horses, their natural instincts to avoid anything perceived as a threat or predator can lead the horse to become overly stressed. For horses, blinders have many benefits which promote their safety and the safety of humans with whom they interact.

In today’s reading, we hear about Jesus’s interaction with a blind man along the road. Jesus predicts his death and the events leading up to his death which will occur upon arrival in Jerusalem. As he and his disciples are walking to Jerusalem, they encounter a blind man sitting by the road. The blind man cried out to Jesus seeking his mercy. People tried to silence the blind man but he only shouted more. Jesus stopped to ask the blind man what he wanted Jesus to do. The blind man requested to see. Jesus restored his sight indicating the man’s faith had healed him. The man then followed Jesus, praising God.

We, like horses, can sometimes have blinders on us metaphorically. Unlike the horses, most of our blinders are a detriment and not a benefit. When our blinders prevent us from seeing where the Lord is leading, they have a negative impact. If these blinders prevent us from seeing Christ in others, they are a problem. Blinders which do not allow us to experience the fullness of God limit us. We are then like the blind man who was sitting by the road.

We do not have to continue to wear the blinders. As the blind man did, we can cry out to our Lord. Our cry and request for the removal of our blinders has already been heard. The Lord invites us to grow our faith. As our faith grows and expands, our blindness reduces. Our eyes can open to new possibilities, new understandings, and new visions of God’s active work in our world. We can obtain this faith growth by studying God’s Word alone and with others. Expanding of our faith will occur as we engage in serving others and sharing in fellowship. Time in conversation with the Lord will increase our faith. Then, just as the blind man experienced, we can hear Jesus say that our faith has healed us.