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.

Turning Things Upside Down

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?

Matthew 5:38-47 (NIV)

Have you ever watched a movie or read a book which has a complete plot switch towards the end? The story line may appear to be taking you in a certain direction but before the book ends, the plot winds up resulting in a completely opposite outcome. This can be shocking, frustrating or even disarming but for some reason there also exists some excitement when this occurs. The unexpected can create a thrill for the viewer or reader.

Jesus creates a plot twist in his teaching as recorded by the writer of Matthew. The people of his time, and we who are later readers, understand the social norms of how to react when we have been treated unfairly or have an enemy. But Jesus turns all of our understandings and social norms upside down. Jesus teaches that instead of an eye for an eye, we are to not retaliate when someone treats us wrong. Instead, we are to offer more than they demand from us. Jesus continues in teaching opposite reactions when he speaks of loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us. He calls us to be different from others who follow the norms of our society.

This is absolutely mind blowing. Surely Jesus really did not expect us to follow these teachings. Perhaps we should just skip over this passage. Perhaps it was an editorial addition which some scribe added during translation. If Jesus really did say these words, then we have to redirect our instinctual responses. We cannot seek revenge but instead we must offer more. We cannot seeth about and lash out toward our enemies and persecutors but extend love and pray for them. It is just like Jesus to shake up our view of what seems right. He even went further by demonstrating this as he was persecuted and hung on the cross.  Guess that he meant it.

Throne Room Vision

“As I looked,“thrones were set in place,
    and the Ancient of Days took his seat.
His clothing was as white as snow;
    the hair of his head was white like wool.
His throne was flaming with fire,
    and its wheels were all ablaze.
10 A river of fire was flowing,
    coming out from before him.
Thousands upon thousands attended him;
    ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.
The court was seated,
    and the books were opened.

13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man,[a] coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14 (NIV)

We do not speak much about visions these days. In fact, we are very skeptical when someone says they may have had a vision. The concept of having a vision seems to be something relegated to pre-enlightenment times when superstition and ignorance prevailed. However, we continue to share dreams we have had while sleeping the night before. Most of us can recall details of daydreams which we have had. Dreams and daydreams are the same as the visions recorded in the Bible. Visions continue today but we call them by a different name. We also respond to them differently, at least on the surface.

A vision is shared with us in the passage from Daniel. In this vision we are transported to God’s throne room. An image of God seated on the throne is detailed for us. Then the vision includes the Son of Man approaching the throne where he receives all power and authority as he begins his eternal kingdom.

Daniel’s vision is one which we eagerly wish to see played out before us. It is a vision full of hope and promise. The vision will be reality in God’s time. The day is coming when the kingdom is fully established forevermore. Our Lord will reign not only in our hearts but in every aspect of life for everyone. The reign will be one of love and peace.

The Challenge

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:5-11 (NIV)

Tonight is Christmas Eve. This is the night which we set aside to remember the incarnation of God. There are many stories told about the events leading up to the birth of Jesus. Some of these stories come from the words found in two of the Gospels. Most of what we hear about events surrounding Jesus’s birth are a combination of Gospel accounts, the Prophets and some folklore. All of this together creates a beautiful and cherished story. The accuracy of the story has no bearing on the truth of the story — God chose to become human in the person of Jesus.

In the letter to the church in Philippi, we are reminded of this truth. Jesus, the Christ, is God choosing to humble God’s self and assume a human identity. The profoundness of this is not duplicated in any other faith tradition. As a complete act of love, God chose to allow Jesus to die on a cross to remove the burden of sin and the power of death forever. This human was then exalted to the place of highest honor in God’s kingdom and given a name above all names to whom every person will bow and declare as Lord. This is the purpose of the story told on this night. Declaring the truth described in the portion of the letter to the Philippians, is why we set aside tonight as holy and combine the words of Gospel writers, prophets and human experience into a story of love.

The challenge we receive this night is to become imitators of Jesus, the Christ. We are to humble ourselves and become servants to humanity. Our words and actions are to communicate the love of God as Jesus demonstrated on the cross. Our lives are to point to the One whose name is above all names. The world should see us bow before and declare Jesus Christ as our Lord.

Facing These Times

The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And,

“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
    what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”[a]

19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

1 Peter 4:7-19 (NIV)

Life can be difficult at various times. There are times when a person can wonder if the effort is worth it. Many who are engaged in work which benefits others can easily become discouraged. Challenges can seem to abound and meaningful results can seem impossible to obtain. Health care workers, teachers, pastors, non-profit workers, emergency responders and other service workers can relate many stories of times when they have felt like throwing up their arms and walking away.

In Peter’s letter, he writes about the end and about the experiences of those working to live out the Gospel through their lives. First, Peter tells the followers that they should use prayer to prepare themselves for the coming end. The early Christians lived in great anticipation of the fulfillment of God’s kingdom on earth. There was an urgency in their understanding of the timing. Since they were certain this fulfillment would occur in their lifetime, they were anxious about being prepared. Peter instructs there to use prayer to assist them in being prepared.

Peter then turns to the suffering which they have been experiencing while doing the work of the Gospel. The believers had been engaging in acts of compassion as a demonstration of the love encompassed in the Gospel. They had also been sharing the story of the Gospel and what it is about with others. While engaging in these actions, they experienced ridicule, condemnation, and even physical harm. Peter informs them that this suffering aligns them with the sufferings of Christ. Their suffering witnesses to their bearing of the name of Christ.

Peter’s words spoke to the early Christians who felt like foreigners in this world but they also speak to us today as well. We currently live in very turbulent times once again. Uncertainty quickly overcomes us due to events and conditions throughout the world. We, like those who Peter wrote to, can feel unprepared and anxious. Peter’s advice can benefit us, pray. Prayer can calm our souls and bring us comfort. Prayer can open to us ways to prepare for what is ahead, even if we have no idea what that is or when it might happen.

The other perspective which Peter presents, the concept of enduring suffering for bearing Christ’s name, provides guidance to us. Whenever we serve others or share our experience with the Gospel, we open ourselves to frustration, alienation, ridicule and judgment. Remembering that Christ understands suffering for God since he suffered for this reason, we can find strength to continue the work. Our purpose becomes higher than earthly benefits. By demonstrating the love found in the Gospel through our words, work, and actions, we can witness to others and build them up in life. 

Final Words

49 Now the days drew near for Mattathias to die, and he said to his sons: “Arrogance and scorn have now become strong; it is a time of ruin and furious anger. 50 Now, my children, show zeal for the law, and give your lives for the covenant of our ancestors.

51 “Remember the deeds of the ancestors, which they did in their generations; and you will receive great honor and an everlasting name. 52 Was not Abraham found faithful when tested, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness? 53 Joseph in the time of his distress kept the commandment, and became lord of Egypt. 54 Phinehas our ancestor, because he was deeply zealous, received the covenant of everlasting priesthood. 55 Joshua, because he fulfilled the command, became a judge in Israel. 56 Caleb, because he testified in the assembly, received an inheritance in the land. 57 David, because he was merciful, inherited the throne of the kingdom forever. 58 Elijah, because of great zeal for the law, was taken up into heaven. 59 Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael believed and were saved from the flame. 60 Daniel, because of his innocence, was delivered from the mouth of the lions.

61 “And so observe, from generation to generation, that none of those who put their trust in him will lack strength. 62 Do not fear the words of sinners, for their splendor will turn into dung and worms. 63 Today they will be exalted, but tomorrow they will not be found, because they will have returned to the dust, and their plans will have perished. 64 My children, be courageous and grow strong in the law, for by it you will gain honor.

65 “Here is your brother Simeon who, I know, is wise in counsel; always listen to him; he shall be your father. 66 Judas Maccabeus has been a mighty warrior from his youth; he shall command the army for you and fight the battle against the peoples. 67 You shall rally around you all who observe the law, and avenge the wrong done to your people. 68 Pay back the Gentiles in full, and obey the commands of the law.”

69 Then he blessed them, and was gathered to his ancestors. 70 He died in the one hundred forty-sixth year and was buried in the tomb of his ancestors at Modein. And all Israel mourned for him with great lamentation.

1 Maccabees 2:49-70

If you knew that you were going to die tomorrow, what would you want to say to those who you will leave behind? Some individuals have this awareness. They may not know for sure the exact day or time but maybe because of a medical diagnosis they become aware of their soon approaching death. There are some individuals who would not know this type of information. Death is an aspect of life which so many people want to ignore or hide away. Yet even in death, we are given opportunities. A person of faith does not fear death for we know it is not an end but a transition. However, a person of faith still has a concern for those who remain after their death. So out of concern, what would you wish to say to those who remain?

The passage from 1 Maccabees, an apocryphal book of the Bible for all Christians except the Roman Catholics, is a recording of the words of Matthias to his sons as he prepares to die. Matthias was a Jewish priest who fled Jerusalem with his family and other faithful Jews. They had left Jerusalem because it had been captured by the Gentile King Antiochus. The king wanted all of his new subjects to abandon their faith and rituals in order to adopt his own. Matthias led those who chose to ignore the king’s decree to Modein and later into the hills to avoid being executed for noncompliance . As Matthias prepares to die, he reminds his sons of the characteristics of their ancestors who became great in their faith tradition. He instructs them to emulate these ancestors. Then he continues by telling them who to rely upon as they continue in their leading of the faithful. Matthias encouraged them to resist the Gentiles and remain faithful.

Matthias provides us with an example of what we should say to those who will remain when we die. We should recall to them the ancestors of our faith. Lifting up the characteristics which have made them noticed as being faithful. Then we should continue by telling them who can be relied upon in their lives. Those who will assist them in their own faith journey and those who will protect them in life. By doing this, we express our love and concern for those who will remain in this portion of life. Since few of us actually know the exact time and date of our death it would be wise to make this an ongoing conversation regularly.  What would you want to say?

Act of Love

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.

John 15:9-17

Today is Veteran’s Day in our country. This is a day which calls us to reflect on the service of men and women who have given to our nation through military duty. The date for this remembrance was set on November 11 because it coincided with the signing of the armistice which ended the first World War. We remember all who fought to preserve the freedoms and ideals of our democracy. We remember those who fought to protect those freedoms and ideals in other lands. We honor those who died in pursuit of those goals. For all who have served, even to the point of death, we humbly offer our gratitude and respect.

The passage chosen for today speaks of a call to love and demonstrate love through a willingness to sacrifice. Jesus is directing his followers to love one another. He reminds them that they are friends, friends with Jesus and one another. He tells them that the greatest act a person can do for a friend is to give her/his life for the friend. A foreshadowing of Jesus’s act of love for his friends, and enemies, is found in his words. Jesus reminds them, and us, that we are to love one another.

Being willing to give your life for another person seems pretty intense, especially if you do not know that individual. Yet, those who have stepped up to enter the United States military commit to do that if necessary. Over hundreds of years, through multiple wars and conflicts, both in our nation and abroad, women and men have paid the ultimate price for friends, neighbors and strangers. Those who have not lost their lives during service, have still sacrificed to defend and protect freedom and the rights of all humans. They have given their time, their ability to be with loved ones, and some even their mental and/or physical well-being as acts of love and service. Each of these men and women, and those who they left behind, have lived out Jesus’s words to love one another even to the point of laying down one’s life if necessary.

If you are a veteran, as was my dad, you have my heartfelt thanks. If you are the member of a family with a veteran, you have my gratitude for you have sacrificed as well. If you are currently serving in the military at any level, I pray for your safety. I call all of you friends and I commit to love as you have acted in love.

Let us love one another!

My Neighbor

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Luke 10:25-37 (NIV)

Like many in my age group, I grew up watching Mister Rogers’s Neighborhood on PBS. Fred Rogers was a Presbyterian pastor who became a television icon with a show which he began in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. The show featured puppets along with actors portraying various public servants you would encounter in your neighborhood. He even had famous guest celebrities who made occasional visits. Through this show, Rogers explored feelings children may have, difficult experiences a child may encounter and how to respond, and of course, who is our neighbor.

Jesus encounters a teacher of the Law who asks a question that leads to a second question Mr. Rogers could easily have answered. The man first seeks to find out how to obtain eternal life. Loving God and loving neighbor is the answer which Jesus coaxes out of this teacher of Law and Jesus affirms this answer. But then the man wants to know who this neighbor he is to love might be. Jesus responds by telling the story of a man who is beaten, robbed, and left beside a road. Two Jewish leaders, a priest and a Levite, see the man but refuse to offer help. A Samaritan man, whose ethnicity  makes him an enemy of Jews, stops and provides care for the man to the point of taking him to an inn. He even pays all costs related to his recovery. A definition of neighbor is provided followed by Jesus saying the teacher should live according to the Samaritan’s example.

For many reasons, our understanding of “neighbor” has been altered. I grew up in a small, Midwestern town. Our neighbors were the ones whore houses surrounded my own but also the approximately 850 other inhabitants of the town.  Everyone knew everyone and in times of need the whole town and surrounding farm families jumped into action. My definition of neighbor was broad even though my community was pretty homogeneous.

Today, we live in a global society. Modern transportation and the internet has greatly reduced the perceived size of our world. Yet, there seems to be a shrinking definition of the word neighbor. There are people who do not even know the names of the individuals living in the houses adjacent to their own. We have isolated ourselves for a couple of reasons. First, we isolate for safety since fear is continuously reinforced by frightening crime reports. The second reason is we perceive we do not have time to get to know our neighbor. Yet if we cannot even get to know the people living next to us and love them, how can we ever love our neighbor in the broader sense which Jesus parable implies.

We need to follow the wisdom which Mr. Rogers shared with us. A wisdom which is surely based on the lesson taught to the teacher of the Law and us by Jesus. We need to take the time to get to know others and show love by taking care of them when needed.