Fruit of the Spirit (Part 2): Joy

I have several friends who are battling depression right now so I know it is no coincidence that the next Fruit of the Spirit is Joy.

It was only a few years ago that I went through a long period of depression. Prior to that time, I saw depression as a spiritual issue, and I still believe it is.  I saw another side, however, and that is that no matter how much I made myself look at the positive, it did not make me feel better inside. I fervently prayed for God to restore my joy or take me Home. Thankfully He answered that prayer by filling me once again with joy and a sense of His presence. Sure, there are still bad times but God’s grace is there, walking with me every step of the way.

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I do not know how people who don’t have the Lord get through life because truly it is often the joy of the Lord which is my strength. If you do not have that joy right now, don’t stop asking for it and fighting to receive this important fruit. Once you receive this joy unspeakable and full of glory, you will be able to share it with others.

In closing, let me remind you that tears may endure for the night but joy comes in the morning. Don’t give up hope. Everything happens for a purpose to those who love God. He will complete the work He’s begun in you if you will surrender and allow Him to do so.

Fruit of the Spirit (Part 1): Love

For a couple weeks now, I have been planning to write a series on the fruit of the Spirit. As I was reading Galatians 5:22-23 and thinking about what I would write, I found it fitting that I start this week with the first fruit mentioned, which is Love.

There is so much I could say on this topic, as there are different types of love which we show to different people; however, I would like to focus on the greatest commandments: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself.

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These two really go hand in hand. John tells us in 1 John 4:20: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.

One of the most popular passages of Scripture which talks about love is 1 Corinthians 13: “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

It can be easy to “sacrifice” in the name of “love” and, yet, real love is giving of ourselves on behalf of others–loving them in tangible ways. We need to know our friends and family so well that we know what will bless them. They will be able to tell if our actions are token or if they come from the heart.

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Not everyone is easy to love but Jesus went so far as to tell us to love our enemies and do good to those who persecute us. Love is not an option. Jesus gave us the greatest example of love, and we are to follow that example: “Greater love has no man (or woman) than this, that he (or she) lay down his (or her) life for a friend.”

Truly, friend, if you don’t have Love, you don’t have anything. Everyone wants to receive love but we also need to be willing to give it: to those we like and to those we don’t.

It bothers me that many never know how much they are loved. Once a person dies, people line up to share how much that person means to them but the person being talked about never hears the kind words that are spoken. How much more important is it to tell our friends and loved ones how much they mean to us now, while we are still walking this road of life together. If you’re not used to saying, “I love you,” it can be really hard at first but I encourage you to begin to tell people. As you do, it will be easier, and you may find yourself loving more deeply and better able to genuinely serve because it is no longer about yourself but about those you love.

Marriage or Divorce?

In some ways, I hesitate to write on this topic because I’ve never been married and I worry that some may think me unqualified to share on this subject, but I am so grieved lately, as several people I know have divorced their spouse and quickly found another and, even more appalling to me, they are finding acceptance in the Church. Marriage is no longer sacred. Some people change spouses like they were socks: easy come, easy go. This really breaks my heart.

I know it is not easy living with someone day in and day out. Maybe your wife is a nag or your husband snores or doesn’t clean up after himself. Maybe you’re just tired of looking at him or her but, friends, when God created marriage, He designed it to reflect the relationship between Him and His Church. Now that I think about it, maybe that’s the problem. Just as many in the Church have left their first love, husbands and wives are doing the same thing.

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“And this second thing you do. You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. But you say, ‘Why does he not?’ Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless” (Mal. 2:13-16).

When a woman marries a man, she feels secure. She believes that he loves her and she, in turn, loves him. Over time, the “feelings” of love and emotion may wane. This is when a couple will either fall apart or begin to work on keeping their love alive. If you are led by emotion instead of by the Spirit of God, you may choose to give up the mundane for something that seems more exciting but let me remind you that sin seems pleasurable for a time, but it will end in spiritual death. Every decision you make needs to be lined up against the Word of God.

I struggle to write this because I know a lot of people who have been divorced and are on second or third marriages. Some of these people are very good friends of mine. My purpose in writing this is not to heap condemnation on those who have already gone through this. I am also not naive enough to think that everyone who becomes divorced wants the divorce. If a spouse is determined to leave, there is often nothing to do but let him or her go. I do hope, however, that someone will read this, who may be thinking about leaving his or her family, and they will remember that God gave him or her their life partner to have and to hold, to love and to cherish, in good times and bad times, through sickness and health, whether wealthy or poor. There were no stipulations on those vows you made. Love is not a feeling; it is a choice. Maturity comes when you choose to love someone who maybe isn’t always easy to love or live with and yet you know God put this person in your life and you determine to bear with them anyway. You agree to let God continue the work that He’s begun in you so that your whole family can better grow in Him.

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I hope you can hear my heart. My parents divorced when I was eight, so I know how painful it is when two people who once loved each other decide they can no longer live under the same roof. I am not trying to heap condemnation on anyone. That is not my job anyway. But I do beg those who are in a turbulent marriage: do not leave divorce as an option. If there really is no way you can continue to live with your spouse and you choose to move out, continue to pray for your spouse and ask God to bring reconciliation. That is His heart. I know a lady whose husband moved out to have an affair with another woman. His wife never stopped praying for him and, one day, several years later, he finally came to the place where he was willing to humble himself and repent and go back home. God’s hand is never too short, no matter how hopeless a situation seems.

It seems like there is still a lot of the “If it feels good, do it” mentality going on today, but I want to remind you that everything we do needs to be measured against the Word of God. If the Bible condemns an action, there is nothing you can say to justify it.

Don’t buy into the world’s thinking, that there are better “fish in the sea.” Begin to see your wife as the beautiful person that God put in your life to teach you how to love. Take time to look at your husband and see the man of God that he could be if he had a wife who was willing to love and encourage him in his endeavors. If you have been married a while, you may have developed some very bad habits, such as cutting each other down or being self-serving, but habits can be broken and must be if your marriage is to survive.

In case there is a single person who actually took time to read this and is still hanging in, let me encourage you to make sure that the person you marry is the one that God has for you. Once you say “I do,” you will need to go back to that assurance from time to time when things begin to get rough and your spouse turns out to be harder to live with than you ever dreamed possible when you saw him or her through eyes of love. I also believe that love does not have to wane. God can put a love in your heart which is new every morning. The key is having a servant’s heart. Instead of marrying for what you can get out of the relationship, look for the things you will be able to give. If you stay in that mode, it will go a long way in ensuring a happy marriage.

God Resists the Proud

One sin that I am convinced almost every human on the planet deals with to some degree or another is the sin of pride. It may exhibit itself in different ways but the root is there just the same. Years ago, I thought of pride as arrogance, and I did not think that described me, so it was easy to feel pretty good about myself. It wasn’t until I read Irresistible to God that I was reminded just how much God hates pride and exactly how one can begin to see the proud areas of his or her life in order to change into the humble son or daughter that God requires.

First Peter 5:5 tells us that God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. I don’t know about you but the thought of God resisting me makes me tremble. I can’t imagine kneeling before His throne to make my petition known just to see Him turn His face and refuse to even look at me. That’s at best. Resisting also means turning against. That is even more scary! I need God on my side so I must endeavor to become humble.

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In Proverbs 6, you will find a list of things God hates. Pride is the first thing in that list, along with “hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked imaginations,” and several other things. If God hates it that badly, I want nothing to do with it.

Unfortunately, after 40+ years, it is not easy to just be humble and get rid of all pride. I have a lot of habits and patterns that are a part of me, which I must rely on God to help uncover bit by bit. As I see my pride flare up, I do have the responsibility to kill it though. I do not want that to define my life.

If you have never considered pride as a bad thing, I encourage you to do a study and see what else God has to say about it. My prayer tonight is:

Change my heart, O God
Make it ever true
Change my heart, O God
May I be like You

Walk in the Spirit

I am going through The Walk of Repentance Bible Study for the second time and have been focusing a lot on Galatians 5:16: “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.” Galatians 5 goes on to list the lusts of the flesh versus the fruits of the Spirit. There is no doubt which list I would like to define my life but I am very aware that, without the Spirit, I will be doing those things that I do not wish to do.

As Christians, we cannot use the excuses so many do, such as “God knows I’m human” or “Nobody’s perfect.” God does know those things but He also gives specific commands as to how we should live. They are not suggestions. He tells us to be holy as he is holy (Lev. 11:44, referenced also in 1 Peter 1:16). Probably the most sobering portion of Scripture is Matthew 7:21-23: “Not every one that said to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name? and in your name have cast out devils? and in your name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess to them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity.” Those verses alone are enough to send me to my knees crying out to God to remove the sin in my life that displeases Him and replace those areas with His Spirit so that I don’t hear those dreadful words.

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If it were easy to be a Christian, everyone would be one. Unfortunately, the world sometimes has more of a handle on how Christians should act than those who profess to be Christ’s followers. If you are truly following Him, you will be like Him. You may not be perfect but you will fight the good fight, you will fall on your face in repentance when you do things that grieve Him, you will see your sin as He does. In the words of the old song, “It’s a battlefield, Brother, not a recreation room. It’s a fight; it’s not a game.”

I plead with you today: do not hold on to the sin that is pleasurable for a season but will end in spiritual death. Cling to the One who gives you life and that more abundantly. Let nothing be more important than pleasing Him and being a Light on this earth so that others can know Him as well.

Life is short. You never know when it may be your last day. Don’t waste your remaining time on earth living for self. Decide today to follow Jesus. No turning back. No turning back.

Accidental Discipleship

Change. All of us want to – need to – change in some way. We try all sorts of tactics, theories, imagesand drugs. All of which are shortcuts, focused on defeating the desires of our flesh. Too seldom do we seek God’s wisdom, thinking His way takes too long, requires too much effort.

But change is the wrong goal. It’s what the flesh wants and it’s a shortcut that will lead to disappointment or destruction. Knowing Jesus is the correct goal. In Him we are complete (Colossians 2:10). Whatever change is truly needed in our lives will be wrought by the Spirit of God if we abandon our plans for self-justification and pursue Christ. Not improvement, not change for the better, not relief from our pain; just Jesus.

Pursuing the wrong objective – a better life, defeating a habitual sin – is like attacking a heavily defended fortress (a stronghold) with toy weapons. We will be defeated. When we focus on the enemy, the sin, the stronghold that assails you – you are drawn away from the narrow path that Christ calls His brothers to walk. Only by keeping your eyes focused on your Guide can you keep from straying from the narrow way.

Christ is more than our goal. He is our creator, example, savior, teacher, brother, and King. All battles against sin will be – and can only be – won by making a determined, get-up-when-you-fall, faith-based pursuit of Jesus the Christ. When you or I fail to pursue Him, we grow complacent and disenchanted with Him. The allure of the flesh entices (James 1:14 & 15) and we fall – or jump – into sin. Why didn’t God stop us? Why didn’t He prevent it? He gave us His Spirit and His Son – and the choice to walk in Him or walk in the desires of our flesh. He gives us the promise that if we walk in Him, we will not fulfill the desires of the flesh (Gal 5:16). The flip side of that coin is also true: if we walk in the flesh we will not fulfill the desires of His spirit, but of our flesh.

Seek to know Him. Paul told the church at Corinth, “I determined not to know anything among you, except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2) Christ alone – good enough for the Apostle Paul. Is He enough for you? If not, it’s not because He is lacking – it’s because you and I choose wrong and fail to be thankful for Him. Choose Christ – above all else – regardless of your emotions.

As Jesus was deliberate in coming to Earth (Philippians 2:5 – 11) to seek and save you and me, we who are redeemed by His blood must be deliberate in seeking His will, His Word – Him.

If a man expects to drift into spiritual obedience or maturity, he is mightily deceived. This is what Satan would have God’s children believe – that we can mature to Christ-likeness by going with the flow.

Remember: The path of least resistance makes both men and rivers crooked. Choose to pursue Christ and he we will make your path straight. (Psalms 27:11)

Servanthood

This is another trait that I do not excel in but I love watching it in action. It seems to me to be the epitome of Christianity. Jesus said that He came to serve, not to be served. I personally like to be served but that is not why God put me here on earth. It is not all about me.

I was talking with a lady yesterday who is always opening her home to others, organizing gatherings, etc. She mentioned that no one ever offers to help; they just comment on how this lady and her family do such a great job. This happens way too often in the Church. It’s easy to leave hard work to the pastor or church leaders because, after all, that’s their job or it’s what they are paid to do. Servanthood is not a gift, however; it is a calling for every Believer.

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You may deal with insecurity as I do, thinking that there is no practical way you can serve others or maybe you feel like everyone else is better at doing things than you are. I guarantee you, though, that if you ask God to show you ways that you can be more of a servant, He will show you and teach you how to do so effectively. Don’t underestimate the blessing that you can be if you will lay aside your inhibitions and allow God to use you. Most people are not going to criticize genuine works of love, even if not done perfectly. And as you begin to serve in small ways, you will begin to be more confident and see more ways that you can practically serve others.

If you are one who tends to sit back and let everyone else do all the work, begin to pray about a place of servanthood that you can fill. If you are one who is getting burnt out because you are always the one pouring out, don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s possible that others are willing to help; they just haven’t considered the fact that you need help or they may be afraid to admit that they don’t know what to do. Some just need a mentor to guide them.

I am not an expert on this topic and, as I mentioned, this is an area that I definitely need to grow in but I am trusting God to open my eyes to things I can do and to help me to grow in this area. I trust that you will pray about this too.

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