HOW WILL THEY KNOW US?

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. [Galatians 5:22-23a (NLT)]

pomegranateThe culture of the 1st century was agrarian in nature so the analogies used by Jesus and the evangelists often were those of agriculture – seeds, soil, fruit, and vines. For example, when writing about the characteristics in the lives of those who follow Jesus, Paul spoke of the fruit of the Spirit. But, if Paul were writing to modern industrial society, he might have used a different metaphor. Instead of the fruit of the Holy Spirit, we might have the Spirit’s toolbox. Rather than fruit, we’d have God’s tools to help us to build His Kingdom. The saw in the box would be God’s peace that cuts worry and fear out of our lives. The sandpaper would be kindness as it smooths out life’s rough edges. Protective gear like safety goggles and steel-toed shoes would be the self-discipline that protects us from sin. Duct tape and WD-40 would be as essential as love, a flashlight would shine our joy, and we’d have clamps to hold us tight to the faith. God’s word would be our blueprint and, instead of being connected to a vine, the power tools would be plugged into the Holy Spirit’s power. Regardless of the metaphor, the Holy Spirit provides us with what we need to be more like Christ.

My son has a variety of fruit trees on his property but, when he moved to his new home, he wasn’t sure what they all were. It wasn’t until the large tree with the pretty red-orange blossoms and shiny green leaves bore fruit that he knew it was a pomegranate and, until the bushes with the oval leaves and small white flowers bore their fruit, he didn’t know he had lemons. Just as a tree is identified by its fruit, a good builder can be identified by his house. Someone could claim to be a master builder but, if the shutters on his house are hanging from the hinges, the windows shattered, the roof tiles missing, the wooden steps broken, the paint peeling, and the walls collapsing, we’d know his claim was false. Just as trees are identifiable by their fruit and builders by their work, it is our behavior that should identify us as Jesus’ followers. The fruit of the Spirit should be evident in everything we do and say and in the attitude we have when we say or do it.

If you were a fruit tree, would anyone recognize the fruit you bear as coming from the Spirit? If you were a builder, would your work resemble that done by a Jewish carpenter’s son from Nazareth? Whether we think of the characteristics of a Christ follower as fruit or tools, the important thing is to let His Spirit make those characteristics a part of our lives so that we end up looking more and more like Jesus! That’s the way we can build His Kingdom!

You will know them by their fruits. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. … Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions. [Matthew 7:16,18,20 (NLT)]

 Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions. [Matthew 7:20 (NLT)]

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BONUS GIFT

Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is to you, to your children, and to those far away—all who have been called by the Lord our God.” [Acts 2:38-39 (NLT)]

dubbele late tulips "Freeman"

From the toy we found in the cereal box as kids to the televisions and cruises once offered by a car dealership north of here, everyone loves a bonus gift! When we were newly-weds, my husband and I collected glassware the gas station offered as a bonus for a fill-up. Those green glasses graced our table for many years as did the stainless-steel flatware we purchased with the S&H green stamps we’d gotten as a bonus from the grocery! I always wait until my favorite cosmetic brand offers a free bonus gift with a minimum purchase before restocking my moisturizer and DSW just offered a bonus tote bag with a minimum purchase. Restaurants like Outback Steakhouse frequently offer a $10 bonus card with the purchase of a $50 gift card. Even banks offer bonuses and Citibank recently offered up to $1,500 to customers opening a new checking account (to get that much, however, you had to maintain a $200,000 balance)!

I know of a bonus gift that is far better than glassware, a tote, or $1,500. No minimum purchase is required and we don’t have to spend money, go the mall, or change banks to get it. Although many bonus offers are exclusive for special customers, like those who’ve signed up for emails or spent a certain amount of money, this bonus offer is available to any who desire it. Unlike those restaurant bonus gift cards, there’s no expiration date on the benefits and there’s no fine print as there is for Citibank’s offer.

Since day one, mankind’s history hasn’t been good. It’s ranged from disobedience to deception, murder to theft, rebellion to jealousy, pride to cruelty, anger to revenge, and idolatry to avarice. Jesus was fully God but He also was fully human. Having encountered temptation, He knew the allure of sin and how tough it is to live in this fallen world. He had firsthand knowledge of disappointment, opposition, pain, loss, and betrayal and knew the dangers, pitfalls, and suffering of human life. Knowing how flawed we all are, Jesus didn’t want to leave us alone without a helper and so He gave us a bonus gift—the Holy Spirit.

The cereal toys of childhood were lost, the gas station glasses broke, S&H green stamps are no longer offered, and the kids took the stainless to college. Although the bonus lipstick and mascara are gone and the restaurant bonus gift cards are no longer valid, the life-changing Holy Spirit is forever! Like most bonus offers, however, Jesus’ offer comes at a cost but He is the One who paid the purchase price when he suffered and died on the cross.

We’ll often see an asterisk by the offered bonus and, if we bother to read the fine print, we’ll find there is a limited supply of gifts available. The Holy Spirit, however, is unlimited—there’s enough of Him to go around. Moreover, while most bonus offers have an expiration date, Jesus’ offer doesn’t. Instead, we are the ones with the expiration date which means we have a limited but unknown time in which we can claim His offer! The Holy Spirit is one bonus offer none of us should miss. Will you take Him up on it?

Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy.
Act in me, O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy.
Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit, that I love but what is holy.
Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy.
Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit, that I always may be holy. Amen.
[Augustine of Hippo]

But the helper, the holy spirit, the one the father will send in my name, he will teach you everything. He will bring back to your mind everything I’ve said to you. [John 14:26 (NTE)]

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A NEW HEART

pigsAnd I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations. [Ezekiel 36:26-27 (NLT)]

Last Friday, doctors in Maryland made history when they transplanted a genetically modified pig’s heart into a human in a last-ditch effort to save the life of David Bennett, Sr. A medical first, Bennett was too ill to qualify for a routine heart transplant or an artificial ventricular assist device. The 57-year-old’s prognosis is uncertain and it will be months before doctors know whether the transplant can be deemed a “success.” As with any organ transplant, the main risk is that of organ rejection and Bennett will need potent immunosuppressing drugs for the remainder of his life.

I remember how astonished the world was back in 1967 when Dr. Christiaan Barnard performed the first human-to-human heart transplant. The news that a surgeon had cut open someone’s chest, lifted out a diseased heart, and successfully replaced it with a healthy one from a dead donor was astounding. Although that first heart transplant recipient lived only eighteen days, today’s recipients have an 85% chance of living one year and a 69% chance of surviving five. The survival rate continues to decrease through the years with only 50% of heart transplant recipients living ten years and just 15% making 20 years. In spite of the risks, last year over 50,000 transplant candidates worldwide vied for the 5,000 hearts that were available. Sadly, there just aren’t enough hearts to go around.

54 years ago, the medical journals were wrong when they credited Dr. Bernard with the first heart transplant; God has been replacing hearts for ages! He takes our damaged hearts of stone, hearts unwilling to respond to Him, and replaces them with a new heart and spirit. After accepting His new heart, we have no need for immunosuppressive drugs because the new heart won’t be rejected. Unlike transplant candidates, we don’t have to meet specific criteria or put our names on a waiting list. Everyone qualifies and all we have to do is repent! The best news is that there’s no heart shortage and we don’t have to wait for someone to die; Jesus did that for us 2,000 years ago!

Even with a pig’s heart, Mr. Bennett won’t to want to live in a sty, cool off with a mud bath, snuffle in the soil, or start eating a mix of corn, soybeans, sorghum, and wheat. While his new heart will give him a new lease on life (at least for a short time), it will not change him. He will be the same man with the same favorite activities, world view, media preferences, attitudes, likes and dislikes, morals and principles he had before surgery. On the other hand, the new heart God gives us will make a huge change in us. We will have a new mind, new preferences, new spiritual gifts, new beliefs and morals, a new love for who and what we may have hated, and a new aversion to things we once might have loved. Rather than getting immunosuppressant drugs, we will receive an infusion of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control! Getting a new heart in God’s hospital also yields a far better survival rate—no death, only eternal life!

O Holy Spirit, descend plentifully into my heart. Enlighten the dark corners of this neglected dwelling and scatter there thy cheerful beams. [Augustine]

Repent, and turn from your sins. Don’t let them destroy you! Put all your rebellion behind you, and find yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O people of Israel? I don’t want you to die, says the Sovereign Lord. Turn back and live! [Ezekiel 18:30b-32 (NLT)]

I will give them hearts that recognize me as the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me wholeheartedly. [Jeremiah 24:7 (NLT)]

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METAMORPHOSIS

monarch metamorphosisJesus said to him, “For sure, I tell you, unless a man is born again, he cannot see the holy nation of God.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? How can he get into his mother’s body and be born the second time?” [John 3:3-4 (NLV)]

The being “born again” concept in Christianity isn’t an easy one to understand, yet we see it demonstrated whenever we look at a butterfly. Take the monarch, for example; it starts out as a tiny egg that hatches about four days after being laid. That’s its first birth. The caterpillar actually eats its way out of the shell before munching on the leaf where the egg was laid. Over the next ten to fourteen days, it eats and grows, shedding its skin every time it gets too tight. The full-grown caterpillar then spins silk and attaches its hind end to a leaf, hangs upside down and sheds its skin for the fifth and final time. When the new skin forms, it hardens and takes the form of a chrysalis. The monarch’s chrysalis is a beautiful jade green with little specks of gold and looks like a case that could be used to hold a jewel. Over the next ten to fourteen days, the caterpillar undergoes a metamorphosis. During this stage, the DNA that makes wings is switched on and something almost miraculous happens. When the transformation is complete, the chrysalis bursts open and out emerges a full-grown butterfly. It is born again! The new butterfly hangs onto the chrysalis for a bit, drying its wings and getting stronger, before taking flight and becoming the thing of beauty God meant it to be.

The monarch caterpillar looks and acts nothing like the monarch butterfly and it’s hard to believe they are actually the same creature but they are! The DNA sequence of the caterpillar is identical to that of the butterfly it becomes. The caterpillar, however, no longer exists—it has to die to become a butterfly, much as a person’s old self must “die” when he becomes a follower of Jesus. When we’re “born again,” like the butterfly, we have the same DNA of the person we once were and yet we’re an entirely different creature.

Unlike the butterfly, however, the change is internal not external. Moreover, caterpillars have no choice about whether or not they will become butterflies—they just keep eating and growing and shedding and nature takes its course. On the other hand, people do have a choice about whether they will experience their metamorphosis. They can choose to remain wrapped up in the dark chrysalis of unbelief, a hidden jewel than will never reach its potential, or choose to be reborn in Christ. While there is a scientific explanation for the near-miraculous transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly, science can’t explain the miraculous transformation that occurs when we are reborn, the Holy Spirit comes to live in our hearts, and we become the things of beauty God created us to be.

We know that our old life, our old sinful self, was nailed to the cross with Christ. And so the power of sin that held us was destroyed. Sin is no longer our boss. When a man is dead, he is free from the power of sin. And if we have died with Christ, we believe we will live with Him also. [Romans 6:6-8 (NLV)]

You have now become a new person and are always learning more about Christ. You are being made more like Christ. He is the One Who made you. [Colossians 3:10 (NLV)]

I have been put up on the cross to die with Christ. I no longer live. Christ lives in me. The life I now live in this body, I live by putting my trust in the Son of God. He was the One Who loved me and gave Himself for me. [Galatians 2:20 (NLV)]

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BUBBLING OVER

Words bubble up from waters deep within a person; a stream gushes from the fountain of wisdom. [Proverbs 18:4 (VOICE)]

Reichenback Falls - Switzerland“A children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story,” said C.S. Lewis. I agree and admit to enjoying the seven books comprising Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia both as a child and an adult. Even though the Narnia books take place in a make-believe world filled with talking animals, mythical creatures, and magic, there are Christian overtones to the entire series. For example, the first book calls up images from Genesis when Aslan, the Great Lion, sings Narnia into existence and evil is introduced to the land. In the second, Aslan willingly dies so that the sins of one boy are forgiven but comes alive again. In another book, Eustace, who had “greedy, dragonish thoughts” becomes a dragon. When Aslan strips away the boy’s scales and throws him into the water, the repentant boy is transformed and images of rebirth and baptism come to mind. Resembling the last book of the Bible, the final story in the series tells of a beast, a false prophet, Narnia’s fall, and a Narnian paradise (where sadness and weariness do not exist).

In spite of the Christian symbolism throughout the series, Lewis never set out to use his fairy tale as a way of writing a “Christian” book for children. “Everything began with images, a faun carrying an umbrella, a queen on a sledge, a magnificent lion. At first there wasn’t even anything Christian about them,” said Lewis. In fact, that image of the faun had been in his mind since he was 16, long before he became a believer. When Lewis began writing The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, he thought it would be the last in the series. He didn’t anticipate writing four more Narnia books and evoking the end times with the last one. How then did his books become “Christian”? The author explained: “That element pushed itself in of its own accord. It was part of the bubbling.”

Without deliberately meaning to do so, Lewis’ deep faith in Christ couldn’t help but bubble over into his work. As the tale solidified, Lewis found himself answering the imaginary question of “What might Christ become like if there really were a world like Narnia, and He chose to be incarnate and die and rise again in that world as He actually has done in ours?” The question, however, came after he’d begun writing the answer.

Lewis’ phrase, “part of the bubbling,” got me thinking. Gifted with a brilliant mind, C.S. Lewis has been called “one of the intellectual giants of the 20th century.” Nevertheless, I don’t think those stories sprang just from his genius; they came from the presence of the Holy Spirit! His genius may have put the words on paper but the spring from which they bubbled over was filled with Biblical truth, Christian doctrine, and love of God. Once Lewis became a believer, he couldn’t help but put Christian ideals and a Biblical worldview into everything he said or wrote.

None of us are likely to be called intellectual giants but, as followers of Jesus, I wonder if what bubbles out of us in our day-to-day existence reflects our faith the way it should. Instead of imagining what Christ would be like in Narnia, perhaps we should consider what He would be like in our world today and then make Him visible in our words and actions. What bubbles from our fountain?

There is but one good; that is God. Everything else is good when it looks to Him and bad when it turns from Him. [C.S. Lewis]

Do not slack in your faithfulness and hard work. Let your spirit be on fire, bubbling up and boiling over, as you serve the Lord. [Romans 12:11 (VOICE)]

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SAFETY FEATURES

Do not stifle the Holy Spirit. [1 Thessalonians 5:19 (NLT)]

painted lady butterflySince my 18-year-old grand is a new driver, I was surprised when her parents purchased a new car for her. Remembering the many dings, scrapes, and dents our teens left on their cars, I asked why they’d replaced the 15-year-old car on which she learned to drive with a new one; “safety features” was their simple and logical explanation. This new car offers things like forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warnings, lane-keeping assist, backup cameras, active park assist, rear cross traffic alert, and a whole variety of air bags (front, side, seatbelt, knee, foot, and curtain along with rollover sensors to deploy them.) Knowing that accidents happen to even the best drivers, damage to a new car is far more acceptable than any damage done to their daughter!

Although God doesn’t outfit us with safety features to warn and protect us, like any good parent, He wants to safeguard His children. To keep us safe and within His will, He gives us the Holy Spirit as standard equipment once we accept Jesus! Moreover, even though His technology hasn’t changed through the centuries, it remains state of the art.

As much as those various safety features will keep my grand safer, they can’t entirely protect her. Free to ignore their many warnings, she remains vulnerable to her own choices. Whether or not she abides by the speed limit, stops at stop signs, yields the right of way at roundabouts, or signals lane changes is entirely up to her. Like traffic laws, God’s laws set the standard for our behavior and help us know right from wrong. But, just as my grand may be tempted to use her cell phone while driving, our belief in Jesus doesn’t mean we’ll never be tempted to sin. Fallible beings that we are, we’re not capable of perfect obedience. Just as we tend to nudge that speedometer a few miles over the limit, we tend to push the limits when it comes to the rest of our behavior. Moreover, just as my grand may choose to ignore her car’s various warnings, we can choose to turn a deaf ear to the Spirit’s voice. That’s the problem with that pesky thing called free will—we know better but we often do it anyway!

Fortunately, unlike some car safety devices, we can’t disable or turn off the Holy Spirit. As our advocate, comforter, guide, and counselor, He always is present—teaching, guiding, encouraging, warning, and convicting us. Rather than sounding an annoying beep or flashing a warning light, He guides us through our conscience, with that still small voice, and in other subtle ways. His guidance is better than the most sophisticated GPS because He’ll never lead us into sin. May we always remember that true safety isn’t found in car technology or even the absence of danger; it is found in the presence of God!

But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you. [John 14:26 (NLT)]

And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. [Ephesians 4:30a (NLT)]

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