May 14: Fruit from the Vine

Read Galatians 5:1-26

If many of us were honest, we would likely have to admit that the Holy Spirit is the member of the godhead least familiar to us. In fact, we may find ourselves giving mere lip service to His existence.

The Bible, however, teaches that the Spirit of God is instrumental in our coming to repentance and faith in Christ (Jn. 16:7-11). It is His cleansing and renewal that give us new life in Christ (Titus 3:5). He indwells believers at the point of salvation (Gal. 3:2; Rom. 8:9). And, if we choose to walk consistent with His indwelling and empowering presence, our lives are different. The fruit of our lives is transformed.

That fruit lies at the heart of today’s reading. Before we came to Christ (and even today if we fail to respond to the Spirit) our lives were characterized by the “desires of” or the “works of the flesh” (vv. 19-21). But the fruit resulting from the Holy Spirit’s presence stands in stark contrast. This fruit includes godly virtues like “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (vv. 22, 23). Those are qualities that we cannot, merely by our own will, tie onto the branches of our lives. No, they flow from the Spirit.

These virtues of godliness should be on the grow as we are developed into fully devoted followers of Christ. And they will be the focus of our attention over the next several days.

But before we close today, we must ask, “Do I have a personal responsibility in seeing these supernatural virtues manifested in my life?” Or, stated otherwise, “If this is the ‘fruit of the Spirit,’ do I just have a passive role in seeing them manifested?”

Clearly, Paul understood that we have responsibility. We are to “live by the Spirit” and “keep in step with the Spirit” (vv. 16, 25). In fact, he instructs us to “sow to please the Spirit” (Gal. 6:8).

We all know that water is key to fruit production. Which garden of your life are you watering through the focus of your attention and thoughts and even through your entertainment choices? The garden that is causing your natural desires to grow? Or the one that is fueling the growth of the fruit that God wants to produce through His Spirit?

Water the right garden and you’ll produce the right fruit.

sbk

September 23: Self-control

Read Titus 2:1-15

Core Virtues . . . Being Godly

SELF-CONTROL — I am able to control myself through Christ.

For the grace of God . . . teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives . . . (vv 11-12).

The gift God gave when Jesus gave His life, shed His very own blood in our place, that gift is not just a one-time thing. Sure, when we ask Him to forgive us and to be our Lord, when we trust Him as the Savior of our forever lives, at that moment He forgives and changes our status from “dead in sin” to “alive for real and forever.” But God’s gift of grace continues in us. He uses it do work in our souls. God uses His grace to teach us how to really live, the way He designed us to.

The very grace of God, the grace that sent Jesus Christ the King of Life to sinful, dirty, dark earth for 33 years, continues on. In these Holy Spirit-inspired words, the Apostle Paul lays out instructions for the church about how to behave, how to follow God’s ways so that His way of life becomes our own. And it is this grace, this undeserved gift of Jesus Christ and real life, that transforms us into godly people who live godly lives. Godly people whose living is controlled by the Spirit Who lives inside of us. Righteous living that shows off Who God is to the dark, sin-infested world full of people who don’t yet know this real life through Jesus. The grace of God instructs His people to live in a way that reflects His choices, His life, His righteousness. This is self-control.

The word in the original Greek is sophronos. King James translates it as discreetly. It means “living soberly, with moderation, prudently reflecting the radical-balance birthed within by faith from the Lord.” (You can check that out here: http://concordances.org/greek/4996.htm) You see, through the power of the Holy Spirit, every single Jesus-follower has it within them to live self-controlled lives. So when we are faced with the want to go on some crazy spending spree but we know we don’t have the cash, we have the strength to say no. And when we want to throw a temper tantrum because something didn’t go like we wanted it to, we have the power to calmly deal with the disappointment and avoid looking like a two-year-old.

The thing about self-control is that it comes from the power of the Holy Spirit alive in us. It grows in us as we know Him and follow Him more intimately, relying on His power within us.

brw

September 22: Gentleness

Read John 8:1-11

Core Virtues…Being Godly

GENTLENESS – I am thoughtful, considerate and calm in dealing with others.

Probably you have witnessed someone in your life “go ballistic” before. By “ballistic” I mean the opposite of gentle. Maybe you can even point to times where your own response wasn’t quite at the ballistic end of the spectrum but it sure wasn’t at the gentle end either. Most of us can.

Well, pay attention to Jesus in today’s reading. His response was certainly a gentle one. Better said, His responses were certainly gentle ones (plural). That’s right, there is not just one person on trial in this story. Jesus was not only responding to the woman and her sin. She was just a means to a greater end for the scribes and Pharisees. In those early morning hours, her sin gave them opportunity to place Jesus on trial. Verse 6 describes it like this:

“They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.”

In reality, then, Jesus had to respond to two different groups/people. There were the scribes and Pharisees known for their strict, legalistic attention to rules and their convenient loophole lives that sometimes excused them from observing them. It would have been easy to blow these people out of the water in anger…especially when they were trying to catch Jesus.

Instead, He responded gently. He wrote a few things in the sand…perhaps statements from the Law of which He knew them to be guilty. And then, He reminded them of their own sin. No evidence here of high volume or of low blows. He just thoughtfully, considerately, calmly, gently, and yet clearly communicated…with those who opposed Him.

Of course, Jesus also responded to the woman. She was as guilty as the day was long. Caught in the very act, she didn’t even attempt to deny the accusations. Imagine the irony. She, an adulterous woman, was standing in the very presence of the holy, righteous Son of God! If anybody could chew her up one side and down the other, it was Jesus.

But His gentle response was two-fold. First compassionately forgiving: “…neither do I condemn you..” Then lovingly directing her: “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

That’s gentleness!

The Spirit of God makes those same kinds of gentle responses possible for you and me.

sbk

September 21: Faithfulness

Read Luke 19:11-27

Core Virtues . . . Being Godly

FAITHFULNESS — I am consistently and perpetually loyal.

Not everyone in this guy’s hometown believed in him. In fact, some of them really despised him and took great measure to let him know it. But he was to become king of the land, this man born into nobility, so he took the necessary steps toward kingship and went away to procure the appointment, that he might return with his “I am the king of this land” papers.

Apparently, the trip was a long one, the powers that be lived a long way off, so the soon-to-be-king nobleman took precautions to ensure the continued growth of his finances. He chose 10 of his servants and gave them each some money, to keep the business up as they saw fit.

The servants, having been entrusted with their master’s cash, went to work. Well, most of them did, anyway. They went to work because they knew that their master would one day be king, and they wanted his kingdom to prosper. They conducted business with their master’s money in a way that grew his riches even more. Because they believed in their master, unlike those in the kingdom who opposed his rule, and they believed in his success.

You see, faith in their master was the root of the servants’ faithfulness. The servants’ faith in their master led them to be faithful with what he had given them.

When Jesus delivered His parable on faithfulness, He knew that His followers held expectations about His own Kingship and Kingdom that couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, many of those closest to Him believed that as soon as He arrived in Jerusalem (where He was headed), He would take the throne and overthrow the Roman government right there and then. They had no idea that He would instead conquer a much bigger kingdom, the one called darkness, with its death and sin. Those with Jesus right then didn’t know that He would first return to His Father until the appointed time. Only then would He return and physically rule His kingdom on earth.

When Jesus spoke the words of this parable, He knew that His followers’ faith in Him would be tested by severely unfulfilled expectations. So He called them to faithfulness. He wanted them to know that there was much work to be done on His behalf. He wanted them to trust that He would return. He wanted them to see that their trust in Him needed to go deeper than their own expectations.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we can include ourselves in the audience of those to whom He told this parable. Because He wants nothing less than our faithfulness. Because we, too, contribute to His kingdom using the gifts He gives us.

brw

September 20: Goodness

Read Matthew 5:13-16

Core Virtues…Being Godly

GOODNESS – I am a person who makes things and people around me better.

You are…

  • The salt of the earth.
  • The light of the world.
  • A city on a hill.

Salt, light, and a city…Those three comprise an interesting and seemingly unrelated trio. And yet, Jesus used those three to make a single emphasis. What is it that they have in common? All three, when they are present, should be obvious. Salt without a salty taste is useless. Light under a bowl is senseless. A city on a hill can’t be hidden.

By design, we, as followers of Christ, are to stand out.

Not in the wrong way. Like the person who draws attention to his generosity by announcing it with trumpets (Matt. 6:2) or to his prayerfulness by praying on the street corners (Matt. 6:5) or to his fasting through his haggard appearance (Matt. 6:16). Not that way.

I suppose it could be said that we end up standing out…not because we intend to…but as a byproduct. We are obvious because of the good we do. Christians are marked by good works (Matt. 5:16; Eph. 2:8-10, Gal. 6:10). By design, we are to make things and people around us better. A public restroom that’s a bit cleaner after you leave. A discouraged soul whose heart is lifted as a result of your brief conversation. A kind gesture on the roadway that allows another traveler into your lane. A door held for someone. A small gift left behind.

By making things and people around you better, your presence is made known.

People often respond to those kinds of gracious acts by drawing attention to you; putting you on a little pedestal head and shoulders above others. While that may make you feel good, make sure that they realize the source of your goodness. The city on a hill they saw in your life is a glimpse of the New Jerusalem where Christ reigns. The light they observed in you is a reflection of Jesus, the ultimate Light of the World. The salt they may have detected is a reminder that they can taste and see that the Lord is good.

As that salt, light, and city make your presence known. Make things and people around you better today.

sbk

September 19: Kindness

Read Zechariah 7:1-14

Core Virtues…Being Godly

KINDNESS – I am helpful and beneficial to others.

Spiritual disciplines can be a very important part of the Christian life. By “spiritual discipline,” I mean certain things that you and I do routinely in order to enhance our intimacy with God. Some of you reading these lines are participating in a “spiritual discipline” right now. Daily…perhaps at nearly the same time…you pause to read God’s words and these brief commentary thoughts. Spiritual disciplines include such things as Bible reading, prayer, fasting, and giving. These can play a vital part in your development in Christ.

In Zechariah’s day, the people knew the importance of such disciplines. In fact, some of them sent representatives to the priest, essentially asking, “Hey, are we still on with the annual fast this year?” While the Old Testament law outlined specific fasts to be observed, the Jews had, over the years, added others. This fifth month fast was one of those…and one they hadn’t missed for 70 years. But it had become just a ritual to be observed. They fasted for the wrong reasons.

That’s when God pointed them again to a discipline more obvious and foundational than fasting…the discipline of kindness:

“Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other.” (vv. 9, 10)

While they were more focused on fasting, God was more concerned about how they related to others. You see, they were to be helpful, beneficial, encouraging, and compassionate to one another.

If you have some familiarity with the Bible, this should be no surprise to you. Remember the Great Commandments? Love God with all your heart…Love your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22). Remember the man who illustrated what it was to love your neighbor? It was the man who demonstrated kindness by administering first aid and providing lodging and care for an injured man (Lk. 10). Your kindness is a mark of your maturity in Christ.

Don’t miss the boat today! Thankfully, you are engaging in an important spiritual discipline of Bible reading. As you head into the rest of the day and week, you can engage in the all important discipline of kindness.

sbk

September 18: Patience

Read James 5:1-12

Core Virtues…Being Godly

PATIENCE – I am slow to react negatively, especially in frustrating situations.

“…developing fully devoted followers of Christ…” That is our church’s mission statement. It is inherent to the commission Christ gave to His disciples before His ascension. The idea of full devotion resonates with our hearts. That’s what we want to be, but exactly what does that look like?

In our current Bible reading / devotional series, we are defining full devotion in terms of 24 core elements. These include 8 core views that affect what we know. There are 7 core values that impact what we do. There are 9 core virtues that address who we are. Those 9 virtues are captured in Galatians 5:22, 23 in the fruit of the Spirit…patience being one of them.

“Lord, give me patience, and give it to me now!” People have laughed at that kind of statement for years because they have likely personally experienced the irony of it.

Meanwhile, did you pick up on the irony of those verses from James? James admonished the rich of his day for “hoarding wealth in the last days” (v. 3). Just a few verses later, he writes, “…be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.” (v. 8) It is almost as if he is saying, “Hang on! Be patient! Christ’s coming is just around the corner. Don’t accumulate wealth. Don’t selfishly mistreat others in greed. Don’t grumble about others. Don’t take justice into your own hands. Don’t compromise in suffering. Just wait because Christ is coming soon!”

The irony is found in the fact that you and I read those same words nearly 2000 years later. Christ hasn’t returned yet. I thought those were the last days! I thought His coming was near then! Clearly, God’s eternal perspective on time is different from ours!

But the admonition remains. Be patient. Christ is returning. Don’t greedily live as if you are establishing your own kingdom in this temporal world. Don’t mistreat others. Don’t get torqued at others. Don’t let difficult times get you bent out of shape.

Your challenges won’t last forever. Patiently anticipate Christ’s return.

sbk

September 17: Peace

Read Psalm 16:1-11

Core Virtues . . . Being Godly

PEACE — I am free from anxiety because things are right between God, myself and others.

No worries because God, the very LORD of all directs all I have, all I do.

LORD, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure.

Always before me, and with me, and next to me, the Lord God is in charge.

I will not be shaken.

No fear of what might happen, for my future is secure. The very God, sovereign and almighty, gives me all that I need for every right now, every tomorrow.

Grasped by the very hand that created me and put me where I am, I know I am upheld no matter what. Even when all around me feels crumbly and breaking. Even when all I see falls apart.

I used to pray for peace when circumstances got hard. Please Lord, give my friend peace in the hardship and the difficult. Or God, please, give me Your peace for this seemingly impossible. But the truth is, when I asked the very God of life to rule mine, He gave it to me. The truth is, I already have peace. The truth is, because of Jesus Christ, because He died in my place and gave His blood for my righteousness, He gave me His peace, real peace. The truth is, when Jesus Christ conquered death and sin on that cross those many years ago, He secured our peace, for everyone who calls Him Lord and trust Him as such. Through Jesus Christ, God gave us right-standing with Himself.. He made everything right that was important — He gave us wholeness, security, true and real life without reason for worry.

And that wholeness is really all we need for standing unshaken. The wholeness of God, the kind that He gave us through Jesus Christ, secures our standing, secures our feet, secures our hearts so that when all around us quakes and crumbles, we still stand. Whole and unbroken in Him.

brw

September 16: Joy

Read Philippians 4:1-13

Core Virtues . . . Being Godly

JOY – I am content and grateful without regard to the circumstances surrounding me.

It doesn’t come by willing it. We can’t get joy through sheer desire or strength of will, nor can we attain it by merely thinking happy thoughts. For joy is much deeper than happiness.

I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want (v12).

The Philippians had just read through Paul’s discussion about his very great human accomplishments, of which he had many. We can read it in chapter 3, where he writes that all these things were but a loss to him now that he had found solid hope, the only real kind of living and joy, in the truth of what Jesus Christ gave him – righteousness and citizenship in heaven. So as the church in Philippi turned the page to chapter 4, they knew how to “stand firm in the Lord (v1)” – with clear hope in eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ alone.

When Paul wrote this bit about rejoicing, about living and rejoicing in God always, he sat in prison, incarcerated for sharing the truth about Jesus Christ, the very God in Whom He wrote,

Rejoice . . . always (v4).

That fact alone emboldens his words. I mean, really? Rejoice? Even in the midst of injustice, darkness, unfairness? You see, if Paul needed circumstances to fill him with joy, he would certainly not have written this book called Philippians. In fact, what Paul needed, and what each one of us needs in order to live out the virtue of joy, was to live according to the truth he believed.

I can do everything through him who gives me strength (v13).

This everything-power that Jesus Christ gives, this knowing that only through His strength can we live fully and really, this is how Paul could say “Rejoice!” This is how he could write “Do not be anxious . . .” This is how he could live out the virtue of joy.

Joy comes from a solid foundation of faith in God. A faith that can only come through trusting the blood that Jesus Christ shed for forgiveness and life. Yes, the virtue of real joy can only come through Almighty God Himself. A gift that Almighty God gives when we trust Him for our living. For our joy.

brw

 

September 15: Love

Read 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Core Virtues…Being Godly

LOVE – I am sacrificially and unconditionally loving.

“For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men?” (1 Cor. 3:3)

Hardly impressive…far from the kind of godly interaction that you would hope to witness or experience between believers. Nevertheless, the Corinthian church was punctuated by envy and arguments. Some of them related to each other the way those outside the church relate. They were like people who had never been impacted by the unconditional, sacrificial love of Christ. It wasn’t pretty.

They fought over spiritual leaders. But spiritual leaders are like farmers with different roles. Ultimately, it is God who causes the harvest (1 Cor. 3:1-9). There was no reason for division based on leadership loyalty!

There were feelings of inferiority/superiority based on spiritual gifts. But Paul reminded them it was the Spirit of God who distributed them as He saw fit and, ultimately, for the good of the whole body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:1-30). There was no reason for arrogance or inferiority!

Still, even with the rational, cognitive understanding about these important issues in place, there was still something missing. That something was love—the kind of sacrificial and unconditional love modeled by and experienced in Christ. That is the kind of love that believers are to have for one another. It is to characterize the relationships between sisters and brothers within the family of God.

Without love, spiritual gifts, biblical insights, miraculous abilities, incredible sacrifice, and even acts of martyrdom are of no value! (vv. 1-3)

Here is the way that Eugene Peterson summarizes part of this passage in the Message Bible:

  • Love never gives up.
  • Love cares more for others than for self.
  • Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
  • Love doesn’t strut,
  • Doesn’t have a swelled head,
  • Doesn’t force itself on others,
  • Isn’t always “me first,”
  • Doesn’t fly off the handle,
  • Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
  • Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
  • Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
  • Always looks for the best,
  • Never looks back,
  • But keeps going to the end.

Are you sacrificially and unconditionally loving?

sbk