BEARING FRUIT (Part 2)

Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. [John 15:4-5 (NLT)]

concord grapesBeing the branches on the vine of Jesus means that we are extensions of Him and a good branch is one that produces fruit. In Galatians 5, Paul told us that fruit should look like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Our fruit doesn’t come by following guidelines or obeying laws; it comes from a relationship with God through Jesus Christ; it comes from staying connected to the vine.

My son lives in California and has several beautiful trees in his yard. Not an arborist, I didn’t know what kind of trees they were until I saw their fruit. It was only by the orange persimmons, yellow lemons, and dark figs that I recognized the trees. As with my son’s fruit trees, it is by our fruit that we are recognized as Christ followers. Our responsibility as Christians is to bear godly fruit and, if we’re not producing fruit that looks and tastes a whole lot like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, we’re not connected to the vine!

As with any orchard, it takes time for trees and vines to grow and fruit to ripen and mature. Moreover, being a Christ follower doesn’t mean we’ll never sin. Admittedly, in spite of the Holy Spirit, often my behavior is anything but Christ-like and, frequently, there’s a shortage of good fruit in my orchard. There will be people and situations that challenge our capacity to act as would Jesus. Things will try our patience, test our faith, cause us to question our ability to love our neighbor, and challenge us to curb our anger. There will be times we’re exasperated, irritated, distressed, offended or worried. We’ll fail to turn the other cheek, lose our tempers, and say things we shouldn’t.

Because our behavior in these instances is a clear indication of where we are in our faith walk and how connected we are to the vine, I call them our “Jesus meters;” a bad score on the Jesus meter tells us we’re not walking His walk! When that meter indicates rotten fruit (or none at all), we repent, ask forgiveness, take comfort in God’s grace, reconnect with the Holy Spirit, learn from our errors, and continue to grow on His vine.

Just as I know my son’s trees by their fruit, Jesus know us by ours. If we’re bearing the Fruit of the Spirit, people will see some of Christ in us. If there were a litmus test for Christlikeness, it would not be pious words, powerful preaching, grandiose gestures, or even extraordinary feats; it would be the presence of the Fruit of the Spirit. If love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control aren’t evident in our lives, we may be talking the talk but we’re clearly not walking the walk.

Being reborn takes only a moment but becoming a Christian, now that takes a lifetime. Every life bears fruit of some kind. The question for each of us is, “What kind of fruit is mine?”

When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father. [John 15:8 (NLT)]

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HIS FRUIT (Part 1)

So, I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. [Galatians 5:16-17 (NLT)]

fruit of the spiritFortunately, because God loves His sinful children, we are saved through our faith and God’s grace; that means He takes us soiled sinners just as we are. But, just because God accepts His immoral, angry, impatient, bad-tempered, anxious and selfish children doesn’t mean He wants us to stay that way. Those who’ve had children know we don’t want them to remain toddlers or even teens forever. When Jesus saved the woman caught in adultery, he told her, “Go and sin no more!” and, when He saves us, He tells us the very same thing! Unfortunately, sinning no more is far easier said than done.

We may be reborn when we accept Christ but, other than being forgiven, the new saved us is still a great deal like the old one. Accepting Jesus doesn’t instantly make us into loving, joyful, serene, patient, compassionate, virtuous, faithful, humble, and self-disciplined individuals. Writing to the Galatians, Paul reminded them the old sinful self was still there, relentlessly trying to assert itself. Satan doesn’t disappear when we’re saved and, just as he tempted Jesus, he’ll continue to tempt us. We mustn’t err by picturing the enemy as a cartoonish imp wearing a red suit and carrying a pitchfork; he is no cartoon. There’s a war going on for our souls and he whispers into our ears with words of envy, anger, spite, fear, jealousy, lust, dissension, despair, pride, irritation, worry and self-centeredness.

Paul gave the Galatians a long list of evils: everything from idolatry, sorcery, and drunken parties to things probably closer to home such as quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition and envy. Repeating his warning that anyone living that sort of life would not inherit the kingdom of God, Paul added these words of hope: “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] The good news is that God has not left us defenseless—which is where the Holy Spirit and His spiritual fruit enter in! When we become Christ followers, the Holy Spirit enters our lives and, along with a spiritual gift, He plants the Fruit of the Spirit in our hearts.

Planted by the Spirit in our hearts, the Fruit of the Spirit is a little like a Swiss Army knife with its numerous functions. Just as the multi-faceted pocketknife can provide us with two blades, corkscrew, screwdriver, bottle opener, scissors, wood saw, toothpick, tweezers, can opener, and key ring, the Fruit of the Spirit is an all-purpose tool providing us with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These characteristics describe Jesus and it is the presence of this fruit in our hearts that enables us to grow more like Him every day: to have His purpose, thoughts, words and actions be ours.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. … Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. [Galatians 5:22-23a,25 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

HIS GIFTS – OUR TOOLS

Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. [Romans 12:4-6a (NLT)]

white-tailed deerLike a good house guest, when the Holy Spirit moves into our lives, He brings us a gift. Instead of flowers or a potted plant, He brings a custom-designed gift just for us – a spiritual gift! Unlike a hostess gift, spiritual gifts can’t be purchased on Amazon and, unlike scented soaps or candy, they are expressly designed for each one of us. They’re a little like a custom-made Craftsman tool—meant to last a lifetime and to be used for building. In this case, our spiritual gifts are the tools given to us by the Spirit that enable us to build God’s Kingdom.

Unlike the natural abilities and talents with which we were blessed at birth, Spiritual Gifts are given to us when we’re reborn! Since God is not about to waste anything, they often line up with our natural aptitudes. Lists of these gifts are found in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4, but no two lists are identical and there are differences of opinion as to their number. From these three Epistles, there seem to be about twenty different Spiritual Gifts: exhortation, giving, leadership, mercy, prophecy, service, teaching, administration, apostle, discernment, faith, healings, helps, knowledge, miracles, tongues, tongues interpretation, wisdom, evangelism, and pastor. Mentioned elsewhere in the Epistles, are five other possible gifts: celibacy, hospitality, martyrdom, missionary, and voluntary poverty.

These Spiritual Gifts build God’s Kingdom in a variety of ministries including teaching, outreach, speaking, counseling, discipleship, serving, benevolence, practical assistance, visitation, shepherding, support and small group, and prayer. No gift is more important than another and all gifts are essential for the church. While the person gifted in service (the ability to see undone tasks in God’s work and get them done) is often unseen, the person gifted in hospitality (the ability to warmly welcome all people into home or church) may be front and center every Sunday at the church door as he welcomes people by name, introduces himself to visitors, and extends the hand of friendship by showing them around. The one gifted in pastoring (spiritually caring for, guiding, protecting, and feeding a group of believers) frequently needs those gifted in administration (the ability to steer people toward God-given goals by planning, organizing, and supervising).

Moreover, because He’s not a miser, in many cases, God blesses us with more than one gift and the lines often blur between one gift and another. The person gifted with knowledge (the desire to know as much as possible about the Bible) may also be gifted in teaching (the ability to instruct others for true understanding and growth). The gift of knowledge also might be combined with the gift of wisdom so that the person not only knows what God’s word says but also can see it’s application and relevance to real life situations. Since each gift is God-designed for each one of His children, it would seem that there aren’t just twenty or even twenty-five; there probably are as many gifts as there are people.

Just because we’re not gifted in something, however, is never an excuse for not doing it. Not being gifted with evangelism doesn’t mean we’re not called to share the Word or invite someone to church and not being gifted with hospitality doesn’t mean we don’t welcome visitors. We may not be gifted with intercession, but we still pray for one another and, while not gifted with giving,  we can still pack a Christmas box for Samaritan’s purse. In fact, it often is by doing God’s work that we discover what our gifts actually are.

Unfortunately, just because the Holy Spirit has given us a gift doesn’t mean we’ll use it; it can remain as unused as the bath bombs your last guest brought. Using our gifts is up to us. The important thing is to be a good steward of whatever gifts we’ve been given. As for me, when that last day comes, I hope to hear God say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. [1 Peter 4:10 (NLT)]

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IMMANUEL – PENTECOST

”And be sure of this,” He promised, ”I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” [Matthew 28:20 (NLT)]

oleanderMy mother’s father walked out of her life when she was a child and never made contact with her again. When I learned this as a girl, I couldn’t understand how someone could do that. How could he not care about the daughter he’d left behind? Didn’t he want to know the beautiful woman she’d become? I secretly fantasized that he would finally come to his senses, seek her out, and embrace both his daughter and his grands. He never did.

People come in and go out of our lives; some leave abruptly and others just fade away. We see that most clearly in December with Christmas cards. We remove names from our list because we stopped getting a card from someone we haven’t seen for twenty years or last year’s card was returned as undeliverable. Because of a death or divorce, some cards we receive are signed by only one when once there were two. In this world, people move, depart, and die and even our closest relationships are only temporary.

Relationships may be transitory, but there is one constant: Jesus. Isaiah called Him “Immanuel,” which means “God with us.” But, when Jesus lived as a man, He could be with only a few people at a time. Confined to a man’s body, even though he was God, He couldn’t be with everyone at once. When in Capernaum, He drove an evil spirit out of a man and healed both Simon Peter’s mother and the paralytic who came through the roof but He had to leave Capernaum to raise the widow’s son in Nain and heal the paralytic by the pool of Bethesda.

Because Jesus couldn’t be with people in Jerusalem, Gennesaret, Nazareth, Bethlehem, Cana, Bethany, Ephraim, and Samaria all at once, he journeyed from place to place. It’s estimated that He walked more than 3,000 miles during his three year ministry. Sadly, we don’t know what became of most of the people whose lives He touched. After Jesus left Samaria, did the woman He met at the well ever see Him again? Did she lose touch the way we lose touch with old friends? What of the ten lepers, the two blind men, Jairus, his daughter, or the bleeding woman? Jesus was with them for a time but then He left to preach and heal elsewhere. When confined to a human body, Jesus couldn’t be with both Martha and Mary in Bethany and with the disciples a day’s journey from Jerusalem. When He lived as a man, Jesus was only Immanuel, “God with Us,” to those who were near Him.

When Jesus died on the cross, he didn’t leave us alone the way the loved ones of so many of my friends have. When He ascended into heaven, Jesus didn’t move without a forwarding address, lose touch with us as happens with friends, and He certainly didn’t walk out on us the way my grandfather did to his family. Jesus died and rose and ascended into heaven but He never really left us. Because of His Holy Spirit, Jesus is truly with every one of us, all of the time, no matter where we are. Moreover, unlike my grandfather who never came back for his children, Jesus will. No longer limited by time or space, He is, indeed, Immanuel: God with Us.

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you. No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you. [John 14:16-18 (NLT)]

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PROPERTY LAWS

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. [Romans 3:23-24 (NLT)]

toddlerAlthough my husband attended law school, there is one law he never knew until he became a father: the Toddler Property Law. Starting out with the basic premise of “What’s mine is mine!” it then defines exactly what is meant by “mine.” The toddler defines “mine” as the following: it’s mine if I like it; if I think it’s mine, it is; if it’s yours, it’s mine; if I can take it from you, it’s mine; if I had it but put it down, it’s still mine; if you had it but put it down, then it’s mine; and, if it is broken, it’s yours.

If we ever doubted the existence of original sin, we only need to watch a few toddlers at play to see that we are born into this world with sinful natures. Granted, the toddler doesn’t exhibit vanity or pride or practice sorcery, watch porn, get drunk and disorderly or commit adultery, but he sure knows a lot about greed, selfishness, coveting, hitting, defiance, anger, and the attachment to worldly goods (especially if made by Fisher-Price or Melissa & Doug).

Since I have difficulty following the various theological arguments and isms regarding original sin, I’m not going to define it or expound on how it came to be. Nevertheless, I don’t need a theologian to tell me that it’s not necessary to teach a toddler how to be a selfish grabby little beast but we do have to teach him how to share. I don’t think we’re born defective; after all, we were created in God’s image. Nevertheless, we were given that troublesome thing called free will which means we have the capacity to choose between right and wrong. Simply put, we sin because we can.

C.S. Lewis posits that Satan gave Adam and Eve the idea that “they could be like gods” and “be their own masters.” Without the theology, that’s pretty much the toddler mind set; he thinks he’s the master of the universe, the world revolves around him, and all that he wants is his. Sadly, some of us never grow out of thinking that way.

I don’t think God is holding me responsible for Adam and Eve’s poor choices; He doesn’t have to! Long ago, I started making plenty of my own poor decisions. If we didn’t have a tendency or predisposition to sin, you’d think someone (other than Jesus) could have remained sinless in all of this time! One reading of Scripture, however, tells us no one seems to have been able to keep perfectly the moral standards and precepts set by God. For example, Abraham, a man who walked with God, was a liar and a coward and David, said to be “a man after God’s own heart,” was an adulterer and murderer. Under mankind’s own power, we don’t appear to have the ability to stop sinning even when we want to do so.

Christianity tells us that we are unable to overcome the power of sin without the power of the Holy Spirit. That power comes by turning to Christ and relying on his sacrifice to atone for our sins. It’s only when we admit that we are helpless in the face of sin and that our sin has separated us from God, that we see the need for a savior and understand why Jesus (the perfect sacrifice) died for us. It is only through God’s grace that we finally have the power to renounce the sin of the world.

The beautiful thing about God’s grace is that when we sin (and try as we might not to do so, we will), God has enough grace to shower us with His undeserved mercy again and again. He gives us yet another chance to grow in godliness and His Spirit will empower us to do just that.

Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous. [Romans 5:18-19 (NLT)]

He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds. [Titus 2: 14 (NLT)]

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WEAR YOUR OWN SHOES

Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. [Galatians 1:10 (NIV)]

Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load. [Galatians 6:4-5a (NIV)]

seedboxLast Thursday night’s Bible study had been as inspiring as Easter Sunday’s sermon. As we walked out of the building, I confided to my friend that there was no way I could follow such brilliant preaching. You see, our pastor was taking a much needed vacation and I would be doing the preaching for the next two Sundays. Afraid I couldn’t possibly fill his shoes or touch people’s hearts the way he does, I asked, “How can I possibly compare to him?” My friend wisely answered, “You don’t!” He reminded me to be myself and let the Holy Spirit do the rest.

As I continued to polish my sermon, the enemy kept reminding me that I could never fill our pastor’s shoes.  I thought of the Apostles after Jesus had ascended. I’m sure their preaching, no matter how heartfelt and inspired, was no match for that of Jesus. That no one could possibly fill His holy sandals, however, didn’t stop them from speaking and spreading the gospel message. Scripture tells us that many became believers and were baptized after hearing the Apostle Paul speak. Yet Paul’s vast knowledge and speaking skills never kept Timothy, Silas, Barnabas, Titus or others from sharing God’s word.

When whispers of doubt are heard, I find it best to turn to God’s Word, so I turned to Paul’s letters to Timothy. Telling him not to be ashamed of his testimony, Paul encouraged the young man by reminding him that God’s Spirit “does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” He advised the young man to let his teaching be shaped by his faith and love for Jesus and to teach others so that they could pass those teachings on to still more people. Reminding Timothy that the only approval he should seek was that of God, Paul’s instructions were simple: “Preach the word.” [4:2]

Granted, I felt a heavy responsibility. Ours is a growing young church and I didn’t want us to lose momentum or have the church flounder in our pastor’s absence. Then again, I suppose the people Paul left to pastor the churches he planted felt much the same way. Nevertheless, Paul’s words made me ask whose approval it was that I sought. Did I want to please God or the people? While I prayed that my words would manage to do both, I had to focus on pleasing God and trust Him to take care of the rest. The only approval I should be seeking was that of God.

My preaching, like my writing, is not about me; it’s about God. While I hope that it pleases people, the only one I need to please with my words is God. Saturday morning, my friend sent some more words of encouragement. He reminded me that I’m a child of God, gifted by Him in my own special way, and that all God asks of me is to be myself and “Preach the word.” That’s all God asks of any of us! None of us are expected to fill someone else’s shoes; we just have to wear our own and walk in a way that pleases God.

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord. [2 Timothy 1:7-8a (NIV)]

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. [2 Timothy 2:15 (NIV)]

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