The Fruit of the Spirit

fruit,spirit, jesus, devotion, peace, patience, kindness, self-control, goodness, faithfulness, love, galatians 5

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Galatians 22-23

The Fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Many times these attributes have been seen as a check-list for Christian character. We often compartmentalize them as separate attributes that must be attained. I often hear people say things like, “I know God wants me to be more patient… have more joy… be more loving… etc.” But is that the message that Paul is trying to give in Galatians 5? Is he saying that in order to be good Christians we must be good, faithful, and kind?

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”  Galatians 5:1

The heart of Paul’s words is not to encourage good moral character. In context, the point he is really trying to get at is freedom. In verse one he states that it is for freedom that Christ has set us free, then goes on throughout the rest of the chapter talking about the flesh and the spirit. Paul is writing to the Galatians in order to remind them of what it means to be in Christ. The fruit of the Spirit is not a list of requirements for acceptance, it is a list of incentives for an invitation.

Paul reminds us that it is for freedom that Christ has set us free.

He sets us free from our sin and all the consequences of it without any condition. He does it so that we can be free in him to receive all that comes with being a child of God. If we have been set free by Jesus Christ we are made new in him and have access to bear the fruit that only comes from God. Verses 22-23 are assurances that when we belong to Christ our lives and our character reflect his own. The fruit of the Spirit is a description of God’s character and only when we are in Christ can we reflect his nature.

Too often we strive to achieve upstanding moral character thinking it will get us right with God. We are called to be more like Jesus, to follow him, but it is an impossible task without him. God does not place this impossible burden on us. He wants to set us free from the one we already have placed on ourselves, hindering us from living a life of true freedom. He wants to set us free from our self-righteousness and the shame of our human failure.

Let us humble ourselves before him, allowing the desires of our flesh to be crucified with Christ and let us be raised in freedom in newness of spirit with him.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”   Galatians 5:16-18
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The Way to Self-Discovery

discovery, Jesus, Identity, truth, life, way

We are obsessed with identity. We crave to understand ourselves and know what place we have in this world. Because of this, we go on journeys of self-discovery and even work to create new identities. But identity is not something that is far lost or yet to be built. It doesn’t even depend on our own abilities or decisions. The truth of our identities is plainly laid out in the Bible. We either find ourselves in Christ or we don’t. If it really is that simple then why do we try to find our identities within ourselves or in the world? Our dissatisfaction with our identity in Jesus Christ lies in our denial of what that reveals to us about ourselves. If we have to admit who we are in him, we also have to admit who we are without him.

Outside of the life of Christ and the love of God we are sinners. We are shameful, broken, selfish, prideful to our core. So, instead, we work to search for or create better identities. No one enjoys spotlighting our most shameful selves. So we run and hide and pretend. But deep down we hopelessly desire to be accepted for those true selves, our darkest selves. The question is can God receive and accept us for who we are? The answer: No. But this is why Christ’s atonement is so crucial. He takes our true selves, every sin, all of our shame, and covers it in his redemptive blood, making us acceptable and holy.

So, how do we embrace our true identities?

Let’s not shy from the truth of who we are as human beings; fragile, fleshly, depraved. Remember that the truth shall set us free. When we embrace that truth we are able to see who we are in Christ. Our identities are made known in who God declares himself to be. So then the solution is not to go searching for our identities but looking to Jesus’.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus makes seven “I am” statements that are metaphors declaring the truth of his identity. Every statement he lays out about himself is followed by a statement of what that means for those who are in him. When we focus on who God says he is, the truth of who we are in him satisfies our souls and long desire to know and understand our identity.

I Am the Bread of Life

“Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” John 6:35

I Am the Light of the World

“Again Jesus spoke to them saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

I Am the Door of the Sheep

“So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, Truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:7-10

I Am the Good Shepherd

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” John 10:11

“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” John 10:14-15

I Am the Resurrection and the Life

“Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die…” 

John 11:25-26

I Am the Way, the Truth, and the Life

“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

I Am the True Vine

“I am the true vine and my Father is the vinedresser.”  John 15:1

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

We search for ourselves when we should seek the one whom our true identities reside. When we find God he enlightens and sheds truth on who we are, in our state without him and who he redeems us to be.

Searching For Hope

hope, jesus, search, tired, hopeless

Hope can be a hard thing to find these days. The world can seem to be a dark place and we often find ourselves wondering where we can find relief from all the troubles we face. We search for things to hope for in order to satisfy us. 

Looking for something to put our hope in can be exhausting. We jump from one shallow thing to another, desperately wanting it to satisfy us in some way. We look to people, entertainment, drugs, food, money, etc. But instead, these things eventually leave us more empty and hungry than we were before. Even worse, these things push us away from what should truly put our hope in. 

When the storms come, when the fears set in, when we are tired to the bone, what do we have left to hope in? What can we look to that will leave us satisfied?

We often hope in the things of the world because it seems like the easiest fix. But it actually takes more work than we think. We have to search, we have to fight, we have to work for every temporary fix. And then we are left with nothing when they fade, except more frustration, exhaustion, and hopelessness. We are left wandering, floating in search of the next thing to satisfy us.

But the Bible tells us that hope in Christ never fails us. Hoping in Jesus leaves us stronger, comforted, and satisfied. Why? Because it is not temporary. It is the only thing we can hope in that is everlasting.

“…we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.  We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”      Hebrews 6:18-20

Hebrews tells us that we have a sure hope set before us and it is a steadfast anchor of the soul. What an encouraging picture that paints! A hope that can finally weigh down our troubled and wandering souls. A hope that gives us rest and peace in a world of chaos and destruction. A hope that can only be found in Jesus Christ. 

And what exactly is this hope that we can find in Jesus? He died and was raised to life on our behalf. In him, we know that we have peace. He pours out his love to us, the love that was proven on the cross. And we find our hope in his promises, that we may have eternal and abundant life in him.

 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,  through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”      Romans 5:1-5

 

Have you been found hopeless? Are you exhausted from wandering and searching for something to put your hope in? Something that will not fail? Hope in Jesus. He does not keep us searching for him. He is not something to work for. He hands us our hope freely and easily and with everything he has promised it to be.

 

The hymn, In Christ Alone, perfectly exemplifies our hope in Christ and what it leaves us,

In Christ alone my hope is found;

He is my light, my strength, my song;

This cornerstone, this solid ground,

Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.

What heights of love, what depths of peace,

When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!

My comforter, my all in all—

Here in the love of Christ I stand.

 

The Way to Wait

waiting, Jesus, God,Patience, Self-Control, Glory, Steadfast

I hate to wait. I hate waiting in lines, I hate waiting for information, I hate waiting in traffic. I like to do things on my own time and when things don’t happen the way I think they should (or how I want them to), I get frustrated. Over the years, I have gotten better at waiting but there are still times when I walk into the post office or bank, look around, and walk straight back out because of the incredibly long line.

The world tends to encourage us to not practice waiting. We are obsessed developing ways to not have to wait. We have become dangerously accustomed to having our food, information, and entertainment whenever and however we want it.  Over time, we have gotten worse at waiting. And, unfortunately, we think it’s a good thing.  We’ve adapted to our impatience and we think that it is doing more. We can get more done if we get to wait less. But we achieve so much more when we learn to wait.

Jesus has so much in store for the process of waiting. It is a hard thing to do, especially when we are called to have patience in suffering but we must know that God has a purpose for our waiting and gives us the tools to help us do it.

All throughout the Bible God tells us that we must learn patience, steadfastness, and self-control. In a world where we can have anything we want and when we want it, it is extremely difficult to apply these virtues to our lives.

I want to point out that the act of waiting, or lack thereof, has the ability to reveal to us things about God and our spiritual well-being. In waiting, the depths of our hearts may be searched and a multitude of truths about ourselves revealed. When we refuse to grow in patience and self-control and refuse to wait, we are really exhibiting our lack of trust in God. Everything seems better when we take things into our own hands. It also reveals our pride, in that we refuse to humble ourselves to God’s plans.

However, when we do wait and exercise patience and self-control, we are able to have God revealed to us.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.”  
Romans 8:18-19
“Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”
James 5:11

Waiting is excruciatingly painful but it is not meaningless. What makes waiting worthwhile is what we are waiting for. All of life is waiting and when we do not see the end of our wait or a worthwhile end, then our suffering seems to be in vain. But there is a meaning in our waiting and we find it in what we are desperately waiting for.

When I stand in line at the bank, post-office, or grocery store, I find it unbearable to wait unless there is something that I am willing to wait for. If I stand in line not knowing why, I have no reason to remain there. But if I know what I am waiting for, what I am hoping for, then the wait is worthwhile.

The problem is that most of us do not know what we are waiting for. Sure, there’s that promotion coming up, a vacation, retirement. But then what?

The Bible encourages us that there is much more to wait for:  We are to wait on the Lord. Jesus is what is worthwhile in our waiting. Even more so, God is with us in the wait. He is our strength in weakness, patience in suffering, and light in the darkness. Waiting is not a time of doing nothing. It is a time of preparation. It is a developing of trust in God and deepening of love and relationship. What do the things we are waiting on reveal about our hearts? Are we waiting for things that will leave us unsatisfied? Are we impatiently refusing to seek God in every situation because our pride tells us that we know better? Or do we see the glory awaiting us and the satisfaction we can only find in Christ? 

 “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage;  wait for the Lord!”  
Psalm 27:14

 

The Key To Being Needy

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We live in an “I want” society. The greatest songs, movies, and books all contain characters that are trying to achieve something, whether they get it or not. We live in a world where we encourage others to seek their hearts desires, to get their piece of the sky, to win and obtain what they truly “deserve.”

When I was younger my sister and I had a game we would play when watching television. Whenever our show would go on commercial break we would intensely wait for what great toy would be advertised. The first of the two of us who could yell, “Mine!”  the fastest would “get” that toy. Of course, we would never actually get whatever we claimed. The appeal of it was the wanting. It was exciting to see if we would want the same things and even more exciting when one of us got a claim on what we wanted. It didn’t really matter that I never got what I wanted. There was always something else that I wanted more. Commercial after commercial, my sister and I would fight to claim toys and we always wanted the next one even more than the last. I’ve come to realize that I and many other people live their entire lives this way. We are always in want.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want”

-Psalm 23:1

Psalm 23 is very popular passage but the second part of verse 1 has always confused and honestly made me feel a little uncomfortable. What exactly does “I shall not want” mean?  Does it mean that I shouldn’t have any desires? Any goals? Any aspirations? That’s obviously not true. God doesn’t expect us to have meaningless, purposeless lives. He wants us to pursue fulfilling and completely satisfying lives. Psalm 23 simply expresses what truly brings that satisfaction.

I have lived a lot of my life in want. And when I had achieved that want, I simply move on to the next thing that my heart had been longing for. We all think that achieving the things we want will satisfy us. That the better car, house, job, or boyfriend/girlfriend will finally make us happy. But we will soon find that they just make the holes we are trying to fill bigger. All it does is make us want more.

The Bible tells us that God is the true way to satisfaction. He is able to fill our every need and desire. But if Jesus is the way to a meaningful and purposeful life, why are we still desperately seeking satisfaction elsewhere? It is pretty difficult to be fulfilled by God if we are constanly filling ourselves with other things. We get stuck in a cycle of achieving what we think we want and being disappointed when it leaves us empty again, so we move on to the next thing. And the cycle continues… Unfortunately for many, it never ends.

But God wants to satisfy us and to never have us be empty again. The funny part is that to be filled and satisfied with God, we must become empty. We must be needy in order to receive. We must be broken in order to be restored and we must die to ourselves and the world to truly have life. God can provide everything in Jesus Christ. Psalm 23 does not mean that we are not to have any desires, it means that every desire has already been filled by the goodness of God.

Psalm 23

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.”

 

The Two Ways to Weigh Down your Soul

Burden, Heavy, Jesus, Cross, Rest, Yoke

Life presents us with many heavy burdens. Some experience immense pain and suffering in this life, some experience momentary strife.  We all have felt or will feel heaviness at some point. That feeling when life is just too much and it weighs you down.

God does not shy away from telling us the reality of this world. We will face tribulation. Life gets difficult.  He never tells us that our lives in this world will be easy or trouble-free. He warns us of its difficulty. But he also tells us of a solution. He offers a promise in Jesus.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

In Jesus, we find the only way to know God and receive rest from our heavy burdens. But the solution Jesus offers as a way to be burden free seems counteractive. To receive rest we are to take on the yoke of Christ. A yoke is a piece of wood placed on two animals that were used to plow or pull a heavy object. Jesus is telling us that in order to be burden free we are to take on another burden, his.  It seems strange that in order to be free from something Jesus wants us to carry another burden. But the key is in his next statement in Matt. 11:30- “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Some of the burdens we face in life are out of our control. Some are the kind we place on ourselves. Whatever the case, Jesus offers a new way to bear the heaviness of life. He tells us to take his yoke upon ourselves. His yoke is light because he has taken on the ultimate burden. In reality, we are taking on a yoke that he is solely carrying. He has taken on the heaviness of life. He has taken on sin, shame, pain, and suffering for our sake. We are anchored down by the cross. Hebrews tells us that the hope and promise of God is an anchor for our soul. It weighs us down in a way that the world does not. It sets us free in a beautiful paradox. Jesus sets us free and relieves our burden by placing on us a new one that he has already taken. He replaces heavy burden with heavy hope. We are able to receive rest, an easy yoke, and a light burden when we are able to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ and allow it to anchor our souls.

“We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”    Hebrews 6:19-20

 

 

 

The Nightmare Before Christmas

 

nightmare before Christmas, Disney, Christmas.s, Jesus, Darkness, Light

 

It may not be the most conventional Christmas movie but The Nightmare Before Christmas is one of my favorites that helps me get into the Christmas spirit. The story is about a skeleton man named Jack who lives in a town where it is Halloween all the time. The townspeople are full of iconic monsters and creepy creatures that love everything scary and dark. Jack is admired and loved by all for his ability to be scary. They crown him the pumpkin king every year on Halloween and he basically is the town celebrity.

Jack has everything, yet something is missing. All that he has does not satisfy. After all the Halloween celebrations are through, he sings a song called Jack’s Lament where he admits the empty feeling he has despite his seemingly perfect life.

 

“But who here would ever understand that the Pumpkin King with the skeleton grin would tire of his crown, if they only understood he’d give it all up if he only could. Oh, there’s an empty place in my bones that calls out for something unknown, the fame and praise come year after year does nothing for these empty tears” 
-Jack’s Lament

He eventually stumbles upon these doorways in the woods that lead to different towns focused on a certain holiday. He enters the entrance into Christmas Town where it is Christmas all the time. When he discovers Christmas he finally feels his emptiness being filled. He is changed and wants to share the good news of Christmas with everyone. But he doesn’t quite understand it. When he goes back home he isn’t able to bring the same experience to his friends. He becomes obsessed with trying to replicate Christmas. He studies everything about the holiday, even comically running experiments on ornaments and toys. He almost ruins all of Christmas in the process because of his obsession and frustration with failure.

His experience changes his life and motivates him to do whatever it takes to have and share Christmas. What makes Christmas so impactful for him?

“The sights, the sounds they’re everywhere and all around. I‘ve never felt so good before this empty place inside of me is filling up. I simply cannot get enough. I want it, oh, I want it Oh, I want it for my own. I’ve got to know, I’ve got to know. What is this place that I have found? What is this?”
 What is This

Even as a Christian I sometimes struggle to keep up with the desire to celebrate Christmas. Even when it is focused on what it really should be about (Jesus), I find myself dreading the season.

Maybe you’re like me and get overwhelmed or annoyed by the commercialism and extra burdens that come around this time of year. Maybe it is a hard time for you and you can’t  seem to find much celebrate about. Or maybe you adore Christmas; the lights, food, and the warm and loving family moments. Either way, Christmas will never impact you in the way it should unless you recognize something.

Christmas affected Jack the way it did because of the nightmare that he experienced beforehand. All Jack knew was darkness and it was that darkness that made him realize the wonder of light and love. He gives everything to have it but he was missing what made Christmas what it is (the movie never takes us to this point): Jesus. Christmas is about the light (Jesus) coming into the world and overcoming darkness.

Some time ago I realized why the miracle of Christmas sometimes didn’t touch my heart in the way it should have. It wasn’t because I didn’t know Jesus or that I wasn’t making him the “reason for the season.” It was because I didn’t fully grasp, experience, or reflect on the darkness that was there before he came. The darkness that exists before we know him, before we are saved by his redeeming love and grace. If we don’t see the nightmare before Christmas, we can’t experience its fullness and power. If we don’t see that that Jesus is the light that has come to save us from darkness, then Christmas becomes empty and every feeble attempt to celebrate with lights, decorations, gifts, and loved ones eventually becomes meaningless.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it… The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.”         -John 1:1-5; 1:9

Jack never discovers what makes Christmas so special but he knows that there is something real that goes deeper than all of the things we think makeup Christmas.

“I’ve read these Christmas books so many times. I know the stories and I know the rhymes. I know the Christmas carols all by heart. My skull’s so full, it’s tearing me apart. As often as I’ve read them, something’s wrong. So hard to put my bony finger on. Or perhaps it’s really not as deep as I’ve been led to think. Am I trying much too hard? Of course! I’ve been too close to see. The answer’s right in front of me. Right in front of me:
It’s simple really, very clear
              Like music drifting in the air
                     Invisible, but everywhere
                                    Just because I cannot see it
Doesn’t mean I can’t believe it”
                                                                                              -Jack’s Obsession