Righteousness – Hunger, Thirst, & Persecution…Part 1

I am well aware that The Manofesto has been somewhat sports-centric lately. That tends to happen during football season. Rest cornassured however that I have not forgotten the mission of this little rest stop on the ol’ information superhighway to be a cornucopia brimming with the vast array of topics that frost my cupcake. And for anyone who might be following the progress of our concurrent examinations of The Sermon on the Mount and The Fruits of the Spirit that thinks things may be moving a bit slow…you are not wrong. For some reason God has not laid upon me the inspiration to complete these series in a prompt & timely fashion, and I have decided to follow His lead and go with the flow. At the moment though I am being guided to pick up the pen (so to speak) and take a stride forward.

 

Over the past couple of years we have looked into why The Sermon on the Mount tells us we’ll be happy if we mourn, if we are meek, and if we are poor in spirit. Our next step in studying is to define righteousness, something so important that we will be persecuted because of it. We’ll get to that, but first we are told that hungering and thirsting for it will make us happy.

 

Now I am pretty fortunate. I live in the United States, grew up in a solid middle class home, and throughout my adulthood have had DrinkingWatereatrelatively stable employment. I have always had a roof over my head and food on the table. I cannot identify with the folks we see on television in impoverished Third World countries who know true hunger. But when it’s been a few hours since my last meal and my stomach is growling, y’all best not be standing between me and wherever the food is stashed. And we’ve all had that parched, dry feeling in our mouths on a hot summer day or after any type of strenuous activity. Nothing feels as good as that moment when we finally get to pour an ice cold drink down our throat. But do we seek God on a daily basis like we hunt down the nearest pizza joint on a night out with friends?? Do we earnestly yearn for a relationship with The Lord like we desire that cold beverage??

 

The Hebrew word for righteousness is tzedek, which means integrity, equity, justice, & straightness. The root of tzedek is tsawdak, which means upright, just, straight, innocent, true, & sincere. To be called righteous in Scripture is a compliment. It means something akin to what we say when we call someone “a great guy” or “salt of the earth”. Righteousness is simply freedom from guilt or sin. It is following the ways of God. It is doing the right thing (according to God, not Spike Lee). However we tend to go about such things halfheartedly. We give lip service. Just like most of us have never experienced true hunger or thirst, we aren’t really passionate about living Godly lives. The book of Revelation says “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth”. Yuck. That sounds rather unpleasant, but it can be avoided. God is happy…and He promises that so are we…if we have a sincere hunger and thirst for understanding His Word and knowing Him personally. In the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John Jesus tells a Samaritan woman “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water.”  Righteousness describes the nature of God – justice, truth, mercy, and love. So here Jesus blesses those who hunger and thirst after…who deeply desire to identify themselves with…the nature of God.

 

It is extremely important to recognize a significant distinction made by Jesus. He says “blessed are those who hunger and thirstright after righteousness”…not those who are righteous. To hunger and thirst for righteousness is to hunger and thirst for Him and for transformation into the fullness of His image and likeness. Implied in this blessing is an understanding that we are being challenged to commit ourselves to a process, a journey, an ongoing reaching out for the righteousness of God. This blessing comes with a promise that we will be satisfied, we will be filled, and we will be transformed by his Holy Spirit. Thus it seems that as we hunger and thirst to identify ourselves with God, God’s Holy Spirit will honor that desire, fill us and transform us. Matthew 6:33 instructs us to  “seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness”. To thirst after righteousness means wanting to live according to God’s will instead of the world’s.

 

Both a physical and a spiritual appetite are normal for a healthy human being. Neither the body nor the soul is self-sustaining…both must be fed regularly. Just as physical hunger is a sign of physical health, so is spiritual hunger a sign of spiritual health. But while we instinctively understand that when we are physically hungry or thirsty that we need to eat food or get something to drink I am not so sure that we recognize or comprehend the spiritual appetite. Restlessness and longing are universal traits of the human heart. Gambling-The-Problemcollege-guys-drinking-300x200God has put eternity in our hearts and we have a wretched yearning. Many of us understand that there is something missing in our life…that too often we are unhappy, frustrated, anxious, unfulfilled, bored, angry, and discouraged. We try to solve those issues any number of worldly ways…spending money we don’t have on things we don’t need, climbing the corporate ladder, scenic vacations, accomplishments of creativity, stunning cinematic productions, national sports extravaganzas, illicit sex or pornography, drugs & alcohol, gambling, overeating, etc. But the longing remains. In Isaiah 55:2-3 we are asked “Why do you spend your laddermoney for that which is not bread and your labor for that which does not satisfy?”, but then we are given the answer: “Hearken diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in abundance. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear that your soul may live.” Why is that so hard for us to grasp?? The very first Psalm says “Blessed smoking-man-300x262is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.” Yet in our humanness we shun the opportunity to prosper, mostly because we think that walking in the counsel of the ungodly and sitting in the seat of the scornful is a lot more fun. The 37th Psalm tells us that “a little that a righteous man has is better than the riches of many wicked, for the arms of the wicked shall be broken but the Lord upholds the righteous.” I think it’s that “little” part that is our downfall. We want more. We are too bullheaded to grasp the fact that most of the time that “more” is temporary. Proverbs 10:2-3 says that “Treasures of wickedness profit nothing, but righteousness delivers from Michael_Dudash_Living_Water_700death. The Lord will not allow the righteous soul to famish, but He casts away the desire of the wicked.” We’ve all been told that “you can’t take it with you”, and we get that on a physical level. When you die your fancy car, nice big house, and whatever else you’ve collected in your time here on Earth won’t be buried alongside your body. But we need to wrap our heads around the fact that there is something more important than those possessions that we enjoy so much…our soul. And while we can’t haul a boat or a fat bank account into the afterlife we will be taking along our soul. It says that the Lord will deliver the righteous from death. We have the opportunity to live eternally in a place that’ll be a lot more fun and way more awesome than anyplace we’ve ever lived or visited in this world. As my new minister might say “ain’t that cool??

Stay Tuned!!

The Fruits of the Spirit – Faithfulness

“What makes an authentic disciple is not visions, ecstasies, biblical mastery of chapter & verse, or spectacular success in the ministry, but a capacity for faithfulness. Buffeted by the fickle winds of failure, battered by their own unruly emotions, and bruised by rejection & ridicule, authentic disciples may have stumbled and frequently fallen, endured lapses & relapses, gotten handcuffed to the fleshpots and wandered into a far county. Yet, they keep coming back to Jesus.” – Brennan Manning

 

 

 

fruitsThus far in our examination of The Fruits of the Spirit we have looked at love, joy, peace, longsuffering, and kindness/goodness/gentleness/meekness. And now we’ll take a closer look at what exactly God expects out of us in exhibiting the fruit of faithfulness. This one has been a long time coming and to be honest I’ve really struggled with writing what you are in the midst of reading. The words just haven’t come easily. I believe there is a reason for that. The other fruits we have discussed or will discuss (we will finish up with temperance…at some point) could…theoretically…be discussed on a purely human level. They are behaviors that deal with how we act toward ourselves & toward each other. Of course we know that from a Biblical perspective there is a deeper significance, but hypothetically we could be kind, patient, loving, etc. just because it’s the right way to treat people. However, being faithful is a whole new ball game. Why?? Because it deals with how we treat God. Faithfulness is authenticity, the power & motivation for Christian living. Faithfulness is the one fruit that we give to God, whereas the others are from the Spirit working in us. Faithfulness is both an attitude and an action shown toward God.

 

The word faithful means a variety of closely related things: loyal, full of trust, constant, steadfast, devoted, staunch, and firmly & resolutely sticking with a person, group, cause, belief, or idea without waver. These adjectives imply adhering devotedly to someone or something that elicits or demands one’s fidelity. Constant stresses uniformity and invariability. Steadfast implies fixed, unswerving loyalty. Staunch suggests unshakable attachment or allegiance. Biblically speaking faithfulness comes from the Greek word pistis, which at its root is about holding fast or steady. Pistis is considered one of God’s strongest personal characteristics. God is a covenant maker who is faithful to that covenant with us even when we don’t hold up our end of the bargain, which is all too often for most of us. Pistis was common Greek lingo for trustworthiness and is the characteristic of a person who is what we would call reliable. The Hebrew for faithfulness is emunah, which literally means firmness, figuratively means security, and morally means fidelity. Being faithful combines prioritizing what is important and being committed to those priorities. God wants to be the #1 priority in our lives and desires for us to remain committed to that priority. I don’t know about you, but in that regard I fail miserably.

 

I’ve never been to Yellowstone Park near the Teton Mountains of Wyoming. However, most Americans have heard of one of the park’s most famous features…the geyser known as Old Faithful. From what I have read about Old Faithful it isn’t the biggest or most powerful geyser, but it is the most reliable…the most faithful…erupting every hour or so. We tend to like our people as we like our geysers. Whether it is a friend, a spouse, an employee, or any other relationship humans engage in, we like to know who we can count on. One of the best abilities to possess is dependability. oldfaithfulTalented & smart are positive traits, but if a person isn’t dependable then those positives hold little value. Proverbs 25:19 says that “like a bad tooth or a lame foot is reliance on the unfaithful in times of trouble.” I used to be a supervisor at a teleservices company and one of the biggest issues we faced was retaining dependable workers, because it didn’t matter how skillful folks were at their job if they didn’t show up for work half the time. Of course we seek exceptional skill & talent in almost everything, from sports, business, & entertainment to our personal relationships, but faithfulness…reliability, loyalty, and the ability to have priorities in their proper order…is a bedrock prerequisite that, at the end of the day, outshines everything else. Afterall, what good is marrying the prettiest gal in town if she’s just going to end up breaking your heart?? Obviously God understands that much better than any of us, because while we are oftentimes led astray by superficiality, glitz, false promises, & emotion, God doesn’t care about any of that silliness.

 

What God also doesn’t care about is our own shallow, worldly take on faithfulness. In the holiday classic A Christmas Story the narrator tells us that “Some men are Baptists, others Catholic. My father was an Oldsmobile man.” We all have a particular level of allegiance to certain things. My friend The Owl has knowledgeable opinions about who makes the best guitars and other assorted musical equipment. My friend Greg has manufacturers of photography equipment that he prefers. I have been a diehard fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers for almost four decades. All that is fine, but it must be understood that the kind of faith we are speaking of here goes much deeper and is far more FGN02medimportant. What we are dealing with is faithfulness to one thing and one thing only…God and His guiding principles. Without faith in God and faithfulness toward God nothing else matters. Even Confucius instructs to “hold faithfulness and sincerity as first principles.” So why then does it seem to be so darn difficult for us to manage this first principle?? Faithfulness is based on what we value as important and our commitment to those things. We must love Christ above all else. If we are not willing to put Him before earthly possessions & earthly friends and obey Him above e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g else (including our own carnal desires) then our attachment to Him is tenuous at best. Faithfulness is love hanging on. It is love saying, “I will not quit. There may be misunderstandings, there may be disappointments, there may be discouragements, but I will not quit.” Being faithful requires personal resolve not to wander away from commitments or promises and requires trust in God. Humans can show a powerful capacity to be faithful to what we believe to be important, be it a spouse, friendship, employer, school, athletic team, or a brand of particular products. Where we often fall short is in translating that level of commitment & loyalty to God. Doubt, distrust and misplaced anger are the opposite of faithfulness, and they cause us to lose our trust that God is in control. When we are not exercising our faith we will be consumed with doubt & distrust. We use God as a kind of vending machine to get what we want then lose our patience with Him when things don’t go our way, but we have it all backwards. Proverbs 28:20 tells us that “a faithful man will abound with blessings.” In other words, God doesn’t have to prove anything to us…we’re the ones that have to prove our faithfulness to Him.

 

Deuteronomy 7:9 says to “know that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments.” Psalm 101:6 says that “My eyes shall be on the faithful of the land, that they may dwell with me. He who walks in a perfect way, He shall serve me.” In Matthew 24:35 Jesus says that “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away.” Psalm 100:5 says “The Lord is good & His love endures forever. His faithfulness continues through all generations.” 2nd Timothy 2:13 says that “If we are faithless He remains faithful. He cannot deny Himself.” Jesus told His disciples before He ascended to Heaven that “I will be with you always, even to the end of the world.” Hebrews 13:8 instructs that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” So you see God is faithful to us…always. All He asks is that we return the favor. But how??

 

We are studying the Fruits of the Spirit, right?? As I’ve mentioned, if we are doing things right we will bear visible fruit much like one can clearly see apples or oranges on a tree. If we are being faithful to God & His way there should be some proof.

 

Faithfulness means being selfless. Contemporary culture goads us in to asking “What’s in it for me? What are my needs, my ambitions, my desires, my goals, my hurts, my values, my profit, my benefit?” God says faithfulness is proven by giving our life away, by looking at others rather than concentrating on our own self. How can a person be faithful to God when he loves himself more treethan God? How can a person be faithful to God when his own gratification means more to him than pleasing God? We live in a world in which selfishness is promoted as the way to go. Television, movies, & music promote instant gratification – why wait, why deny ourselves, why sacrifice, why not go along with everyone else??? The occasion to sin, the incentive to do so and thus sin’s frequency & intensity are at their highest levels since just before the Flood. In other words, the environment to commit sin more easily grows ever more amenable, and human nature takes advantage of it. We have been born into an environment in which it is exceedingly difficult to remain faithful. Hollywood sells adultery & fornication as acceptable as long as the people involved are attractive and somehow oppressed thus “deserving” of a “better” relationship. We constantly hear, “Indulge yourself because you deserve it.” This isn’t really all that surprising. The apostle Paul saw this coming hundreds of years ago when he wrote in 2nd Timothy that “in the last days perilous times will come, for men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power.” But 1 John 2:15 urges us to “not love the world or anything in the world” because “if anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.” Romans 12:2 says that we should “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” So when the world tries to persuade us to be self-centered and have a Me First attitude we need to remember that faithfulness requires the direct opposite.

 

Faithfulness means living by the correct values and making sure our witness has integrity. A faithful person knows what’s important and what isn’t important in life. A faithful person can differentiate the significant from the trivial and considers what kind of testimony they have with unbelievers. It is more important to ponder what unbelievers think about you and how they see you than what fellow believers think. Christians should have an impeccable reputation of being dependable and keeping their word.

 

Faithfulness means good stewardship. How you handle your money is a test because the way thattithe you handle your worldly wealth affects what God is able to do in your life. We spend all our lives earning & accumulating money, saving it, and spending it. If we haven’t been faithful handling worldly wealth, who is going to trust us with true riches?? One should always ask “Do I pay my bills on time? Do I live within my budget? Am I consistent in tithing? How does my giving compare with my spending? How does my spending compare with my saving?” Luke 16:10 says that “he who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much, and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much.”

 

Faithfulness means developing & using our gifts and talents. If you are not using the spiritual gifts God has given you people are getting cheated. Just because we can’t do the spectacular doesn’t excuse us from doing nothing. Faithfulness is based on what we do with what we have. The old hymn Victory in Jesus says that “He sought me and he bought me with His redeeming blood”. God has made an investment in our lives and He expects a return on it.

 

bible11350Faithfulness means obeying God’s Word. God defines faithfulness as obedience to the commands of Christ. 1 Corinthians 4:1 says that “Men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God.” A Christian is responsible to be a good custodian of the truths God reveals and to minister these truths in a reliable manner to those who will be taught. But how are you supposed to obey something you know nothing about?? You’re going to have to become familiar with the instruction manual. Romans 10:17 says that “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.”

 

Faithfulness requires us to look inward and ask some difficult questions. How do I exhibit faithfulness in my daily life? What can I do to develop a better attitude of faith? What hinders faithfulness from working and being exhibited in me? How can I make faithfulness function better, stronger and faster even in times of uncertainly and stress? We all have our stumbling blocks. We all face temptation. Holding true to the course God has laid before us is difficult amid this world’s many alluring distractions clamoring for our time and attention. Being faithful necessitates identifying our weaknesses and overcoming them. Jesus tells us in Luke that “no servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other.” We must commit to God and make Him our priority. Easier said than done?? Perhaps. But an apple tree doesn’t stand out in the middle of an orchard prayer-end-of-the-age-intercessionsaying, “Now how do I develop apples?” An apple tree produces apples because that’s what apple trees do. And when we are Spirit-led Christians, when we are a branch attached to the vine who is Jesus Christ, then we produce fruit because it’s the natural thing to do. We don’t have to sit around & think about it & analyze it. We just have to be careful that our branch is never detached from the vine. 2 Timothy 1:13-14 implores us to “hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus, that good thing which was committed to you keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.” Author Oswald Chambers said that “faith is deliberate confidence in the character of God whose ways you may not understand at the time”, and that is true. But the more we pray & study the more apt we are to understand. Actor & evangelist Kirk Cameron says that one should “Put your nose into the Bible every day. It is your spiritual food. And then share it. Make a vow not to be a lukewarm Christian.” We are pressured on every side to develop negative habits, tempted to be unfaithful in church attendance, in prayer, & in studying the Word of God. But if we prioritize and determine to serve God faithfully then people will be able to count on us. We’ll be consistent, trustworthy, & reliable. Hebrews tells us to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” We need to seek the Holy Spirit’s reinforcement in developing regular, positive, spiritual habits. We must cultivate these habits so that they become automatic. And when Satan tempts us, we can be prepared because we’ve grown the fruit of faithfulness.

 

 

 

 

The Fruits of the Spirit – Kindness, Gentleness, Goodness, Meekness

A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.”     –       Proverbs 15:1

After much too long of a hiatus it is time to get back on track. We last looked at The Fruits of the Spirit just over one year ago. As usual, I have no explanation for why I take these little breaks, but I have learned not to question and just go with the flow. Not surprisingly God’s timing, unlike ours, is absolutely perfect. So at a time in my life when I haven’t been feeling all that nice for various reasons related to general frustration and the flaws & foibles of numerous human beings with which I come into contact on a regular basis God has…of course…lead me to write about kindness. That God, He’s an ironic fella.

 

Depending upon which translation of The Bible one chooses, the terms kindness, gentleness, goodness, and meekness are used somewhat interchangeably in reference to The Fruits of the Spirit, to the point that it becomes confusing. The NIV, New King James, and New American Standard use, in order, kindness, goodness, and gentleness. The King James keeps goodness but substitutes gentleness for kindness and uses meekness in place of gentleness so that the order is gentleness, goodness, meekness. The American Standard uses kindness and goodness but also subs in meekness for gentleness. It can be quite perplexing. So what I have decided to do is examine these terms together because in common everyday use they have close enough meanings that I believe it might be instructive to look at them all at once in order to understand the subtle differences in a Biblical, Godly context.

 

First things first. As most everyone knows The Bible was not originally written in English. Therefore it can be rather enlightening to dig around and find out what the original words used were and what they meant, which obviously sheds some light on God’s intent. Not surprisingly one Greek word covers kindness, gentleness, & meekness. That word is chrestotes, which means moral goodness, integrity, usefulness, benignity, and beneficence, or the sympathetic sweetness of temper which puts others at ease and shrinks from giving pain. The Greek word for meekness is praos, which pertains to not being overly impressed by a sense of self-importance, and can also mean the state of being gentle, humble, courteous, and considerate.

 

I think this little ditty has taken me awhile to write partly because there is just so much to say and so many different directions from which the topic can be approached. However, from the moment I launched The Manofesto I made a promise to myself and my readers that I would always try to avoid being too verbose and keep things readable. One reason I wanted to combine these terms into one entry was because I feared that four different pieces would become tedious and repetitive since much of the same ground would be covered. For example, I already wrote about “The meek shall inherit the earth” in the series about The Sermon on the Mount. Jesus was a pretty straightforward dude. His teachings aren’t complex, just difficult to put into action. Therefore in pondering and praying about all the angles of kindness, goodness, gentleness, and meekness I figured out that it comes down to two things…what is inside and what is outside. What kind of attitude is in your heart and mind, and how do those thoughts & feelings manifest themselves in your deeds??

 

Let’s work from the inside out, because everything starts with the intellect & emotions. Utilizing our two terms chrestotes and praos we understand that we must begin with humility, integrity, and a benevolent temperament. Humility is the opposite of self-importance. Humility is being able to laugh at one’s self and be comfortable with your own imperfection. Humility is gladly being a team player and not needing to always be in the spotlight. Humility means not being rude or arrogant, and having respect for rules and boundaries. Humility means humbly submitting our lives to God because we know we can’t do it right on our own. Integrity is simply honesty and adherence to moral principles, i.e. following in the footsteps of Christ. Benevolence means the desire to be charitable and kind to others. Benevolence means giving people the benefit of the doubt and not rushing to judgment or taking pleasure in crushing them like a bug. Benevolence is the opposite of an all too prevalent need to seek vengeance or step over whomever is in the way of what we want. On an intellectual level most will understand these things, but if we are brutally honest with ourselves we often fall short of the mark. How often do we not feel these positive things in our heart?? How often does our attitude stray toward malevolence, arrogance, frustration, selfishness, disrespect, and being judgmental?? I cannot speak for the masses and only know my own heart, and I can say with all sincerity that most of the time I not only fall short, I fall WAY short. The attitude we harbor within our heart has a direct correlation on how we react to and treat others, but is it possible to be polite and courteous to peoples’ face while harboring harsh feelings inside?? Sure…we do it all the time. But there are two things wrong with that scenario. First, eventually…someday…the truth comes out. As the old saying goes “you can fool some of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time”. When our true feelings come out we just end up looking deceitful and manipulative. Second and more importantly, no matter how often we might be able to put one over on some folks here & there we can never trick God. He knows our heart, and there is no escape from that. I’ve never understood why that one fact doesn’t sufficiently blow peoples’ minds.

 

Therefore, if we are able to master genuinely feeling kind, gentle, good, and meek within our heart & mind it stands to reason that it will be reflected in our actions and external attitude. I don’t know about y’all, but I feel like I can usually spot a sincerely kind and gentle soul fairly quickly. It is difficult to explain, but they just seem to have a glow, a positive aura. Such individuals reek of goodness. Meekness pours out of their spirit effortlessly. But here is where I struggle: that type of person is all too rare.

 

I mentioned at the outset that I don’t feel like I have been all that nice lately. Me and The Golden Rule have kind of been on civil but not exactly friendly terms for awhile now. The Golden Rule, for those of you who may reside in the general vicinity of Wyoming County, WV (the 10% of that population that may be literate anyway), states that we are to “do unto others as we would have them do unto you”. Sounds great. It’s a very nice idea. But when a person…like your humble Potentate of Profundity…so often feels overlooked, underappreciated, disconnected, forgotten about, lost in the shuffle, irrelevant, taken for granted, and screwed over it becomes increasingly difficult to treat others just dandy while they treat me like a big pile of dog doo. For most of my life I feel like I have embodied most of the positive traits we are discussing here. I feel confident in saying that without a shred of arrogance simply because I give all the credit to how I was raised by my parents and the things I was taught by people in my family, community, and church. I was taught to be considerate, humble, and courteous. I have always tried to have integrity, to be a team player, and to put others at ease. I get no pleasure out of causing others pain. However, it seems to me that, more & more, those who go in the complete opposite direction…arrogant, mean-spirited, condescending, dishonest, judgmental, disrespectful people…are somehow the mice that always get the cheese. My reaction hasn’t been…thankfully…to become as self-centered & nasty as others, but rather to disengage from society as much as possible. And to be honest I am not really sure that is the right answer.

 

So what is the answer?? How do we become genuinely kind, good, gentle, meek people in our hearts so that those traits will sincerely manifest themselves in our actions and daily lives?? How do we ignore the nastiness of others and treat them as we would have them treat us rather than how they are actually treating us?? How do we make Luke 6:27-31, which says “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you”, more than just empty sentiment?? How do we “be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32) ??

 

Well obviously I am the wrong person to offer a solution since it is a conundrum with which I struggle so mightily, to the point that I question the validity not of my faith but of the earthly demonstration of that faith by the masses. I am too easily wounded by those who don’t seem to realize I exist, even though their actions aren’t always malevolent and usually just oblivious and unintentionally insensitive. We all want to feel like we matter, to feel like we belong somewhere, and for most of the past 5 years of my life I have felt like I don’t matter and don’t belong. Am I still kind & gentle?? Yes…on the outside. But oftentimes I can barely conceal my rage, disappointment, and indignation, clearly indicating that I do not feel genuinely good & meek inside.  I recognize the problem but have no concrete answers.

 

The only answer that I can come up with just muddies the waters further. I am familiar, on an intellectual level, with the concept of being “in the world but not of the world”. But it’s kind of the same deal as with The Golden Rule…much easier said than done. I, like many folks I am sure, try my darndest to not be “of the world”, but the fact is that I live here for now and it is pretty hard to ignore the things that go on all around me and affect me on a daily basis. This whole kindness thing has really had me flummoxed for awhile now because I just don’t know very many truly meek & gentle people. The general populace has bought into the idea of The Rat Race, getting ahead, “success” (whatever that is), and stomping on whoever & whatever is in the way of accomplishing goals. So what am I supposed to do…get stomped on until Jesus comes and be happy about it?? That’s not an approach I am comfortable with, even if it could possibly be the correct answer.

 

So at the end of the day my general methodology has become retreat. I still try to be nice and helpful whenever possible, but I also avoid putting myself in situations where I know disingenuous individuals are just going to disappoint me over & over. I spend a lot of time alone in my apartment reading and hanging out with my puppy. Sometimes that’s my choice, other times it’s a choice that is forced upon me by the indifference of others. The unfortunate conclusion that I have come to can best be made by using a football analogy. There are 11 people on a football team. The team can sustain one or two people making a mistake, but if I am the lone person trying to advance the ball down the field and the other ten players are heading in the opposite direction I am going to get mauled. So rather than get mauled I mostly just choose not to play the game, which is sad because I love football and want to be involved.

 

 

 

The Fruits of the Spirit – Longsuffering

Patience-Roger-Smith-CEO-American-Income-LifeI was once given the advice “Don’t pray to God for patience because He will give you plenty of opportunities to practice”. Notwithstanding one’s opinion of that particular directive, I have decided for now to write about it rather than pray for it.  As you may have guessed, I am not examining The Fruits of the Spirit in any particular order or with any sort of overriding structural theme. I think they each tell their own individual stories that guide us down the correct path when viewed collectively.

 

Longsuffering is an interesting word. It certainly isn’t common terminology we utilize in everyday conversation. It comes from the Greek word makrothumia, meaning long-tempered…the opposite of short-tempered. Longsuffering can be defined as forbearance, patience, steadfastness, self-restraint in avenging wrongs, and the ability to endure adversity, persecution, provocation, suffering, & ill will with no thought of retaliation or punishment. Longsuffering is the antithesis of anger and is associated with mercy. It is being mild, gentle, and constant in all circumstances.

 

There are many shades of anger. I do not consider myself to be violent. I have never beaten anyone up or made any type of legitimate threats. I don’t brandish weapons, and I don’t generally go around causing mayhem or destruction. But…..I am easily annoyed, tend to hold grudges, and have an overall sense of resentment against people, situations, and entities that I perceive to have caused me harm or even mere inconvenience. This acrimony, more often than not, fruitdoes not manifest itself in any tangible way. Most who interact with me personally and professionally would consider me to be kind, polite, and even-tempered. Only those few with whom I am most comfortable ever get a glimpse of the animosity simmering just beneath the surface. And even then I have the ability to spin things with wit and a modicum of charm. But does the fact that my frustration with those things that fall short of my standards and expectations doesn’t lead to any corporeal damage make it okay?? Jesus tells the Pharisees in the 16th chapter of Luke that ““You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”  In other words, I have some work to do.

 

However, I suspect that I am not alone. Our society can be rather aggravating. Between job related stress, the pressures inherent with raising a family, economic woes, inescapable socio-political divides, technology that is both awesomely wonderful yet sadly fragile, and a dog-eat-dog fast paced world where we all want to keep up with the Joneses to the point that even a vacation can cause strife…well, as Kevin Costner says in Bull Durham, “We’re dealing with a lot of stuff”. It isn’t uncommon to hear people wistfully hearken back to a simpler time, where they perceive life was better. But that is a mirage. Life may not have been as fast paced a hundred years ago…no automobiles or super highways, no televisions, no Internet, no video games, not as many “everyone else is going there” tourist traps…but economic conditions were even tougher, people had to work much harder for much less, living conditions and illness meant shorter lives, and the world was far smaller and less accessible. In other words, throughout the ages humanity has had issues to face and burdens to endure. There has only been one constant over all the years, and with all due respect to James Earl Jones, it isn’t baseball. The 13th chapter of Hebrews tells us that God will never leave or forsake us and that Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.

 

faithWhich leads me to the first key point we need to ponder in relation to longsuffering. One does not have to look any further than the example of Christ to understand the essence of the fruit we are to bear. No greater demonstration of longsuffering can be found than that shown by God toward man. Everyone knows John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” We know it so well and it is a verse that is so often quoted that I sometimes fear its meaning has been watered down or atleast taken for granted. Do you know anyone who would literally die for you, or anyone who you would die for?? We all have close family and maybe a few good friends. It is likely that most parents would answer yes to the question in regard to their children. But honestly…and I am truly trying to put aside my cynical tendencies here…how many people would REALLY die for another human being?? I suspect the honest answer is “not many”.

 

Have you ever done a favor for another person?? I am sure most everyone has at some point in their life. How did the person react?? They probably said thank you, or maybe they went so far as to buy you a nice gift or treat you to dinner. However, have you ever experienced a person for whom you have done a favor say to you “I owe you one”. I have…many times. And let me tell you what usually happens…they never get around to actually doing anything about it. I think that is how we treat The Lord. He made the ultimate sacrifice for all of humanity, and how do we repay Him?? By not being even one thousandth of one percent as patient and understanding with our fellow man as He is with us. Our life is 100% in His hands. Every breath we take is a gift from Him. All that is asked of us is to be a mirror image of Christ, to bear the fruits that we are discussing in this series. Yet every single day…multiple times during the day…we carelessly ignore our responsibility and casually disregard the favor that was done for us…that is done for us every moment. If The Lord was an impatient with us as we are with everything and everyone none of us would last 5 minutes. But 2 Peter tells us that “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” If we make an honest effort to live life in a Christ-like fashion one of the first things we need to do…that I know I need to do for sure…is to shed much of the frustration and resentment that we allow into our daily lives. 1 Timothy says that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting”. If we want the gift of eternal life we need to use Jesus as the pattern and show others the mercy that He shows us daily. Another verse that we tend to use as a cliché without actually giving it the consideration it deserves is found in Matthew 7:12, which says “whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them”. Of course we refer to this as The Golden Rule…but do we follow it?? More often than not we tend to bend it into “do unto others as they have done unto you” or even “do unto others before they do unto you”. But those twists are the result of Man’s brokenness and the damage that sin has wrought on the world, and following those rules will get us nowhere except our very own extremely warm corner of Hell.

 

The second point that needs to be touched on is the question of how to bear the fruit of longsuffering. It is not a skill that one can learn in a six week correspondence course or that will magically develop overnight. It takes effort. It might seem rather obvious, but the only way to become more Christ-like is to develop a relationship with Christ and study His holy teachings. In one of my previous places of employment when a new supervisor was hired one of the first things they did was “shadow” an experienced supervisor for a number of weeks. We need to “shadow” Christ not just for a few weeks or months, but every day for the rest of our lives. Spend time with Him in prayer, study your Bible, and surround yourself with fellow Christians who you can learn from and emulate. This last part is admittedly a delicate balancing act because we are not to shut ourselves up in church and only associate with fellow believers. We are to be “fishers of men”. Jesus said “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners”. On the other hand, we need the support and relationship of other believers in Christ. A relationship with Christ is pretty much the whole ball of wax…it is what everything boils down to. And I think as we grow in that relationship we can’t help but become more and more the person that we are meant to be, which in part means bearing fruit. This holds true for all the Fruits of the Spirit, but I believe it is especially important in regard to longsuffering, as it may be the one we struggle with the most yet is most easily put into practice if only we make the effort.

 

When we accept the free gift of salvation we are to be “born again”. Galatians 2:20 says “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Once saved we are a new person. Ephesians instructs to “no longer walk as the rest, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart. If indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus, that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness”. Furthermore, according to 2 Timothy we are to “flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will”. It is important that we bear fruit not only as proof of our maturing relationship with the Lord, but so that we may also be a guiding light for others.  The same chapters tells us that we are to “Preach the word. Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching”. Anyone who has ever tried to teach anyone anything, whether it was one on one or in a group setting, will understand the need for patience in such a setting.

 

The final point I want to emphasize about longsuffering is…well…suffering. Afterall, it is part of the word, right?? Many new Christians come to the Lord through a “mountaintop experience”. They hear an especially powerful sermon, attend a large gathering like Promise Keepers, or go to an old fashioned fire & brimstone revival. In situations like that it becomes easy to run to an altar and “make the decision” for Christ. Please don’t misunderstand…I am not questioning the authenticity of salvation received in these settings. I myself gave my heart to The Lord following a performance of the drama Heavens Gates and Hell’s Flames. But my concern is what comes afterward. The next day one must go back out into the world…work, school, friends, family, and dealing with the general public in everyday situations. This is the true test. Contrary to popular belief life does not suddenly become sunshine and roses just because one said a prayer and asked Jesus to forgive their sins. Salvation is not the end, it is the beginning. Relationship and growth must follow, and it is my sincere belief that it is during this lifelong process that Satan will come after a person with a full court press. The question is how will you react to these tests of your faith?? Make no mistake…they are not graded on a curve and a C is not acceptable. Life is pass/fail. Our response to the difficulties we face is an excellent barometer of where we stand in our relationship with Christ. And I am not talking about the big stuff. I think most people have a tendency to call on the Lord in times of real trouble…severe illness, death, and other significant calamities. But how do you react to the “ankle biters”…the little aggravations and roadblocks we encounter every day?? James 1:2-4 counsels us to “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” It may seem a bit odd that we should rejoice when we’re in trouble, but that is exactly what we are supposed to do. Remember, Christ DIED for our sins…so is it really too much to ask that we endure annoying co-workers, bad drivers, slow checkout lines, thoughtless friends, overbearing in-laws, rambunctious children, and all the other obstacles life throws in our path??

 

The 103rd Psalm says “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever”. God is complex. He is love, and He shows us infinite mercy and patience on a daily basis, yet one day we will all face judgment. How can we hope for a free pass that we do not deserve if we do not bear fruit?? Why do we assume and expect God’s continuous patience with us in light of our sins but not show the same understanding toward others ourselves?? I cannot sum up the expectation God has of us any better that Colossians 3:1-5 – “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him. Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful”.

 

 

 

 

The Fruits of the Spirit – Joy

joyLast summer I began a series on the Fruits of the Spirit, but did not get very far before getting distracted with other things. The truth is that those other things are usually either easier or more fun to write, or spur of the moment musings brought on by something that has inspired me in my daily life. Something like a close examination of a lengthy and important Biblical passage takes a bit more research and prayerful consideration and therefore becomes a bit more of a task. However, circumstances have converged in a way that has aroused my desire to pick up the mantle. A general malaise and feeling of dissatisfaction with my life has somehow coincided with the writer’s block that hits me on occasion lifting. So rather than write a bunch of stuff that would only be of interest to disciples of Sylvia Plath, Ernest Hemingway, and Kurt Cobain, I have decided to write about joy. Oh how I dig irony.

 

Most may assume that we have a firm grasp on what joy is, but do we really?? Joy is defined as great delight, gladness of heart, keen pleasure, elation, glad feeling, and festive gaiety. Oftentimes the terms joy and happiness are used interchangeably, but is that accurate?? I think not. The author CS Lewis pondered the question thusly: “I sometimes wonder whether all pleasures are not substitutes for joy. Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is”. We can follow that up with this musing from another author, Ralph Waldo Emerson: “You shall have joy, or you shall have power, said God; you shall not have both”. I think one would be correct in stating that happiness is much more akin to pleasure, and therefore happiness and joy are not the same. Lewis is right…happiness is usually within our power. It doesn’t take all that much to make the average person happy. The possibilities are endless and depend on one’s own individual preferences. Personally I am happy reading a good book, when my favorite sports teams win, playing with my puppy, eating good food, and whenever I catch a favorite old movie on television…just to name a few. Others have spouses and children that make them happy. Some folks travel. Others play music. The problem, however, is this…as easily as we can be happy we can also quickly become unhappy. Anger, bitterness, and frustration are byproducts of being fallible human beings and dealing with others just like us. Happiness is all too temporary. Those things that make us happy may only last mere minutes or hours, and then it is right back to the inherent unhappiness in a world fraught with sin.

 

We spend our entire lives in the constant pursuit of happiness and pleasure. “The pursuit of happiness” is even written into the United States Declaration of j2Independence as an unalienable right endowed to men by God. The Founding Fathers almost had it right…but not quite. What we tend to find is that this pursuit of happiness is exhausting and ultimately empty. At the very least we are limited by time, money, and other responsibilities. In extreme cases we see people who tried to find happiness via alcohol, drugs, illicit sex, and other assorted illegal or unhealthy activities have their lives destroyed or even ended prematurely. St. Thomas Aquinas once stated “man cannot live without joy; therefore when he is deprived of true spiritual joy it is necessary that he become addicted to carnal pleasures”. Now I am not saying that we should stop having good clean fun. To be honest I get aggravated with Christians who unwittingly put a bad spin on the faith because they are uptight wet blankets that will not allow themselves to loosen up. However, what I am suggesting is that we put fun/happiness/pleasure into its proper perspective and understand its fickle nature. What we truly need to pursue is joy, and that cannot be found in a bar, as an ingredient in any drug, on television, at the mall, in any food we eat, or in the seemingly intimate embrace of another human being.

 

Romans 14:17 tells us that “the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”. At the end of the day the pursuit of happiness will always leave a void remaining within us, but true joy in The Lord is eternal. That joy will enhance the highs of life, but it also assists in riding out the low points…and there WILL be low points. One of the problems we run into is that we don’t like feeling sad, lonely, angry, disappointed, etc. In order to avoid those bad feelings we pursue more happiness, which in turn eventually lets us down again. We are like a cat chasing its tail, and it’s a game we cannot win, a most vicious cycle. What we need to do is change the game. Life does not have to be like golf or tennis…us against the world. Life is a team effort, but we not only have to accept the help of our teammate, but we have to make Him the captain of the team. Psalm 16:11 says “You will show me the path of life. In Your presence is fullness of joy. At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore”. The only way we can grow from the meaningless, vacant pursuit of happiness into having joy is to put our ego aside and let Him lead.

 

Now one thing we do have to understand is what I mentioned about those low points. I truly believe that the closer we draw to God the more it ticks off Satan and the more he tempts us in an effort to force us into sin. And while it is a certainty that we will still sin on occasion, we can lessen the impact if God is our team captain. I don’t want to plunge too deeply into the topics of salvation and grace, not only because it is straying from the purpose at hand but also because those subjects deserve their own focus. Suffice to say that if we are covered in the blood of Christ our sin is washed away and we are assured eternal life. But more germane to the present issue, if we have full joy in God then we can better weather the storms of life that are sure to come along. Habakkuk 3:17-18 says “Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; Though the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls— Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation”.

 

Also, if we are experiencing true joy in our life then we are better equipped to witness to others. Mother Teresa once said ““joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.” And isn’t that part of our mission?? We are to be “fishers of men”. I am certainly not an expert fisherman, but I know enough to understand that it is a lot easier and one will catch more fish with a net.

 

for_joySo how do we find joy?? I am not sure I am qualified to answer that question, as I am still figuring it out myself (and, to be quite honest, not doing such a great job lately), but I know a few things. I know that we are to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling”. One needs a personal relationship with Jesus Christ…that is the foundation for everything. I know the basic rules, i.e. The Ten Commandments, and other teachings of Jesus and that we are to strive to be Christ-like. I know that I am “in the world but not of the world” and that we (Christians) are to be “peculiar people”.  And I know that, as Ecclesiastes tells us, everything else is vanity. But there is a difference between knowing and doing. Famed 19th century minister and author Henry Ward Beecher said that “There are joys which long to be ours. God sends ten thousands truths, which come about us like birds seeking inlet; but we are shut up to them, and so they bring us nothing, but sit and sing awhile upon the roof, and then fly away.” We are so busy pursuing temporary, meaningless, and sometimes carnal and sinful pleasures that we overlook the eternal joy within our grasp. Stopping the cycle of futility is an ongoing battle. Much like an alcoholic is never truly “cured”, we need to fight for our joy every day, resisting empty temptations and turning instead to our Father in heaven. “Rejoice in the Lord always. Let your gentleness be known to all men. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;  and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” – Phillipians 4:4-7.

 

 

 

 

The Fruits of The Spirit – Love

An old Saturday Night Live sketch (the one with the annoying head bobbing guys in rayon suits) used the (equally annoying) song “What is Love?” as its theme. The answer to that question must be answered if we are to understand the importance of love within the framework of The Word of God and why it is a Fruit of the Spirit, and the answer is complex. I cannot possibly say everything that should be said on the subject here, but I will say what I feel is important and hope that it is sufficiently fascinating to spur independent study.


For guidance we will use the Greeks as a jumping off point, one that seems valid since the Greek language was one of the three languages used to write the earliest translations of The Bible. The Old Testament had first been written in Hebrew and Aramic, while The New Testament was done in Greek.


Greek distinguishes several different senses in which the word love is used:

Agape is the verb “I love” and generally refers to a pure, ideal type of love, the love of the soul, of intelligence, of reason and comprehension coupled with corresponding purpose. It represents the divine love of God toward His Son, believers, and human beings in general and is vastly superior to any other form of love. It is used to depict the outwardly focused love God expects believers to have for one another. Agape is charitable, selfless, altruistic, and unconditional. We can agape others only if God has first filled us with His agape. All the other forms of love need a reaction, something in return, but agape comes from God and those that are full of it do not need a confirmation from others, being fully satisfied in the agape of the Lord.

Eros refers to sexual, erotic love or desire.

Philia means “to have ardent affection and feeling” and includes loyalty to friends, family, and community. Philia is a human response to something that is found to be delightful. It is the root of philadelphos, meaning brotherly love…..hence the nickname “City of Brotherly Love” for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It is a feeling that finds attraction in another person and expects a return.

Storge is the natural affection felt by parents for offspring, which is why babies are said to be delivered by the stork.

Xenia means hospitality and was an extremely important practice in Ancient Greece. It was an almost ritualized friendship formed between a host and his guest, who could previously have been strangers. The host fed and provided quarters for the guest, who was expected to repay only with gratitude. The importance of this can be seen throughout Greek mythology, the best examples being Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey.


Eros, xenia, and storge aren’t really utilized in The Bible, so we can put them on the shelf and concentrate on the other two: agape and philia. That simplifies things to the point that when we study The Word of God we just have to ask ourselves which one is being referred to in a particular passage. This is made even easier when we realize that agape is used 90% of the time and philia is used the remaining 10%. Logic would then dictate that agape is the type of love that we need to truly have a firm grasp on, although it can’t hurt to have an understanding of philia as well.


The word “God” appears in The Bible over 4000 times, the word “man” over 3000, and the word “sin” over 1000. By comparison, love or some form of the word is mentioned just over 600 times. But I don’t think the numbers paint an accurate picture. For one thing, the perfect example of God’s love is His Son Jesus Christ, who didn’t come along until the New Testament. Secondly, without explicitly saying so, many of the other expectations God has of His creation (such as the other Fruits of The Spirit that we will eventually discuss) have love as a foundation. It is difficult to forgive or honor, have faith, and be good, kind, patient, and gentle without love. Without the love of God there is no true peace and joy. So if one looks at all the other verses in The Bible in which various virtues are talked about, it should be inherently understood that love is being discussed as well.


Christ put such an emphasis on love that he told His apostles this: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you lovealso love one another.  By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Two things must be highlighted from this verse. First, “to love one another” as Jesus loved us is a commandment, meaning it is on par with The Ten Commandments. In other words, as obvious as it is that we should not kill, steal, or commit adultery, it should be just as clear that we need to love. Most average folks in their right mind don’t go around shooting people or pilfering others’ stuff, and if one does do those things there is a legal and societal consequence. Why then is it so easy for us to feel malice in our hearts toward so many of our fellow human beings, to act on a daily basis with such selfishness, malevolence, and general disregard?? Secondly, Christians need to show our love because it is how we are recognized as believers, how we are set apart from “the world”, how we glorify God, how we “prove our metal”. Anyone can call themselves anything, but the proof is in the pudding. As I mentioned in the introduction to this series, one thing about fruit is that it is tangible evidence that differentiates one type of tree from another. If we don’t bear fruit…..in this case, if we don’t shine the light of God’s love…..then we’re just another tree that will eventually be chopped down and burned up.


Studies have proven that pets (who provide unconditional love and companionship) can help lower blood pressure, ease loneliness, and help children overcome allergies. Heart attack patients with dogs are eight times more likely to be alive a year later than people without dogs. So if a dog or cat or bird can have such a positive effect on people, how much greater does a mutually loving relationship with God affect a person?? That’s not to say that Christians have it made in the shade, not by a long stretch. But “with God all things are possible”. I’ve never heard as good a review about what’s possible without God.


Two aspects of love that most of us really struggle with (I know I do), are the directives to “love thy enemies” and “love your neighbor as yourself”. Let’s face it…..we tend not to love anyone quite as much as we love ourselves, no matter how noble we seem. And we really resist the whole enemy thing…..the concept of forgiveness may be one of the most difficult to master. Ghandi once said that “it is easy enough to be friendly to one’s friends, but to befriend the one who regards himself as your enemy is the quintessence of true religion. The other is mere business.” I couldn’t possibly state it any better. The question becomes “how do we truly forgive and love others as much as we love ourselves?”. I won’t lie…I’m still figuring that out myself on a daily basis and cannot honestly say that I am anywhere close to where I need to be. But I know a few things. I know that the aforementioned relationship with God is a necessary starting point. One doesn’t just get a PhD right out of the gate…..grade school, high school, a bachelor’s degree, and then a master’s are building blocks. We live in a drive thru society that desires an instant fix, but the truth is there are steps. We must develop a relationship with God, understand on some basic level His love for us, and show our love for Him before we can begin to love our enemies and “forgive those who trespass against us”. These are essential steps. The book of Matthew plainly states that “If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.”


God speaks to us through parables and miracles and various other means, but sometimes He just lays it on the line. One such case is the well known 13th chapter of Corinthians, commonly referred to as The Love Chapter. In that chapter Paul clearly articulates an easily understood definition of love:

Love is patient

Love is kind

Love does not envy

Love does not boast

Love is not proud

Love is not rude

Love is not self-seeking

Love is not easily angered

Love keeps no record of wrongs

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth

Love always protects

Love always trusts

Love always hopes

Love always perseveres

Love never fails

Just reading that list pierces my heart. I know I am not always kind and patient. I can be too prideful. As polite and mannered as I was raised to be I can still be rude. I am most certainly easily angered. I too often keep a record of wrongs. In other words, I’ve got some work to do…..how about you??


Paul prefaces that list by saying this: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” That is a very powerful statement. “Love” may not be mentioned as often as some other terms, but the passages in which it is mentioned pack a powerful punch.


Which brings me to my concluding point (and the crowd goes wild!!). Of all the verses and chapters and books in The Bible, there is one that packs such a punch that it is well known by people far and wide, whether they are Christians or not. John 3:16 says “for God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life”. That is the essence of love ladies and gentlemen. We were made by God, in God’s likeness, for the express purpose of glorifying God and having relationship with Him. Adam and Eve messed up in The Garden as bad as anyone has ever messed up. Did God hold a grudge?? Did God give us the cold shoulder?? Did God seek revenge?? Did God destroy us forever?? No. God did what only someone who truly loves can do…he forgave us and gave us a second chance. And not only that, but he sacrificed His Son in offering us that reprieve. If you are reading this and have children, look at them right now. If you don’t have children think of your most prized possession. If someone asked you to throw that child…or car, house, heirloom, or whatever else you may value most in your life…into a fiery pit in order to save the lives of not only loved ones, but strangers, and even those who have hurt you deeply, would you do it??


I’m a Trekkie, and Spock always espoused the maxim “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one”. But that’s a television show, pure fiction. Enjoyable and interesting, but fictional nonetheless. We humans tend to invert Spock’s maxim, focusing on the needs of the one fruit-aisle~s600x600(ourselves), then the few (close family and possibly a few friends), and maybe, on the rare occasion when we are feeling magnanimous and the sacrifice isn’t too harsh, there’s a chance we may care about the many. However, God’s word tells us that we shouldn’t differentiate, that we should love freely and without expectation. God’s instructions about love illustrate that Spock’s words of wisdom aren’t fiction at all.


We began with a song so we will end with one. The 80’s band The Cars had a song that said “I wanna know what love is…I want you to show me”. God has told us and shown us exactly what love is…..all we have to do is pay attention and follow his example.


An Introduction to the Fruits of the Spirit

There’s a great bacronym of BIBLE…..Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. It fits.


Now I’m a guy, which means that I typically disdain reading the directions…..but for The Word of God I make an exception. The Bible really is God’s instruction manual and OldWornBible_200x250we’d all be better off if we would follow it as closely as possible. I know that is easier said than done, but that does not mean it isn’t the truth. As The Doorknob says in Alice In Wonderland, “read the directions and directly you will be directed in the right direction.”


My minister is fond of saying that The Bible is an all-or-nothing proposition…..you either believe all of it or none of it, you cannot just cherry pick the elements that you like and ignore the parts that are a rather inconvenient hindrance to self-indulgence and an “if it feels good do it” lifestyle. The entire volume is essential…..every verse, chapter, and book. However, I do believe that there are highlights within The Bible, certain stories and passages that stand out, and not by accident. One of those snippets of scripture is Galatians 5:22-23, which says (taking into consideration small variations in translation) “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness (or gentleness), goodness, faithfulness, gentleness (or meekness), self-control (or temperance)”.


I’m not intimidated by studying symbolism, analyzing allegory, translating parable, or interpreting prophecy. The Bible isn’t meant to be an easy read. A breathing organism that is intended for us to incorporate into our daily lives, it needs to be actively studied. But occasionally it’s nice to cut to the chase, to have information imparted in as direct a fashion as possible, for the meaning to be easy and straightforward.  Galatians 5:22-23 is about as clear as clear can be.


What we have in this scripture is a simple laundry list of attributes we as Christians should emulate if we are to, as Romans 8:29 suggests, “be conformed to the image of His Son”. They are qualities that should become part of our character if we take Galatians 2:20 to heart: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” We tend to overanalyze what it means to be “crucified in Christ”, to “be conformed” into a reflection of Jesus. The ideals of Christian faith are so beautiful in their simplicity that we find them difficult to embrace. It seems like the rules should be more burdensome and complex. But what has dawned on me with the wisdom and experience of the years is the fact that the ideas, the foundation, the demands themselves are uncomplicated because the execution of them is so very very tough to successfully pull off. Of course that’s where grace enters the picture.


But I digress. I want to focus on the subject at hand, which is the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness/gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness/meekness, and self-control/temperance. My intention is to look at each one of these individually over the course of time, so stay tuned. The current discussion is designed as an introduction to the larger task.


The first thing that must be said is fairly obvious, but well worth pointing out. These are the fruits of the Spirit…..more specifically The Holy Spirit. In John 14:15-17 Jesus tells the disciples “If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever. The Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.” The Holy Spirit is an often overlooked part of the Trinity, but it shouldn’t be. It’s the part that dwells within us, the part that God left behind to guide us after Jesus ascended into Heaven. These 9 fruits are, or should be, the result of that guidance if we make the choice to pay attention.


So why are these characteristics called fruits?? Think about when you see an apple tree. How do you know it’s an apple tree?? There is evidence there…..the fruit. Without the fruit it’d just be another tree. We have a choice…..do we want to stand out, make it obvious who we are and what we stand for…..or do we just want to blend in with all the other trees in the forest?? And if we make the choice that we want to stand out, how do we want to do that?? In modern society people do all kinds of bizarre things and come up with increasingly obnoxious ways to celebrate their individuality. But the Word of God has handed to us on a silver platter a set of directions on how to set ourselves apart from the crowd. Why go to all the trouble of piercing and tattooing, listening to loud and unbearably vulgar noise (or what the kids refer to as “music”), poisoning the body with booze and drugs, stepping over anyone and everyone to climb the corporate ladder, or any of the other myriad ways folks draw attention to themselves when what God really wants us to do is be loving, joyful, peaceful, good, kind, gentle, faithful, moderate, and patient?? One other thing to consider about fruit…..it is generally sweet. Sweetness has been maligned in 21st century America as an undesirable and weak quality. But God doesn’t see it that way. These fruits are the essence of God, and He is allowing us to share in a part of His divine nature by allowing His Holy Spirit to convey these nine divine qualities directly into our soul and personality.


Also to be found in Galatians chapter 5, just before The Fruits of the Spirit are conveyed, there is another laundry list, the antithesis of The Fruits. They are behaviors that God is repulsed by and will cause one to lose that vital relationship. Galatians 5:19-21 says “the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness (or lasciviousness), idolatry, sorcery (or witchcraft), hatred, contentions (or variance), jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions (or emulations), dissensions (or seditions), heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” I may or may not cover each of these individually in the future. However, I believe it is important to mention this passage here. It’s 200908-omag-supermarket-220x312another clear indication of what is expected of us, only it’s saying what we are expected not to do. I don’t like to make assumptions or sweeping generalizations, but I suspect that the average person (like me for example) has engaged in nearly every one of these “works of the flesh”, many on a nearly daily basis. The world we live in, a fallen world where Satan reigns until Christ decides He’s had enough and makes His return, fosters and even encourages these behaviors. In contrast to the difficulty of exhibiting and living according to The Fruits, exhibiting the works of the flesh is easily done. It’s so easy that we engage in these activities without a second thought. Little effort is required to wallow in sin. But again, this is where the pure genius of God, who offers us the free gift of grace through the cleansing power of the blood of His Son Jesus Christ, comes in mighty handy.


I look forward to examining each Fruit of the Spirit individually. It will be an insightful journey, hopefully for both writer and reader.