Sunday, September 27, 2009

Tending the Garden for a Good Harvest: Peace

Isaiah 54:10 “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you.

Galatians 5:22-23: But the Fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. Against such things there is no law.

As we’ve been looking at the Holy Spirit over these past three weeks, I wonder something: are you any more loving and any more filled with joy than you were before? Part of being filled with the Holy Spirit is when you are, He brings about the Fruit. He brings that love and joy that we talked about over the past couple of weeks.

One of the side effects of speaking on the Holy Spirit is that the devil doesn’t like it. He would rather you serve a distant impersonal God. He would rather you not know that your very body is a temple of the Holy Spirit – that the Spirit of God resides within you with power! He hates when you are growing more in love with the Holy Spirit. That is something that is horrifying to the devil and often not understood or truly believed by people.

When Jesus says things like, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), the devil wants us to think “that’s impossible.” Because in our own power, it is impossible. But remember that “What is impossible with men is possible with God” (Luke 18:27). And if God Himself, in the Person of the Holy Spirit, lives within us, then these things are possible. If you are making strides toward the Holy Spirit, you’ve probably experienced difficulty even the past three weeks. I beg you to take heart; it’s not easy, but it’s absolutely worth it.

Today we are looking at the third aspect of the Fruit of the Spirit: peace. If I asked you to define peace, we would probably have as many definitions as we have people. In a time of war, most would probably define peace in terms of war – or, better, absence of war. In fact, this was a main thrust of Old Testament usage of the word peace. Israel was constantly at war, and they looked forward to a time when they wouldn’t be fighting. They expected a Messiah who would decimate Israel’s enemies in order to bring lasting peace to Jerusalem.

Who wouldn’t want this? Who wouldn’t want fighting to stop? I pray for our troops to come home safely from Iraq and Afghanistan, and I struggle with my personal feelings on those wars and admit that sometimes what I think our country ought to do does not match with what I believe the church is called to do. It’s one reason I pray for President Obama and his advisors to make wise decisions, especially with regard to foreign relations. I most definitely want peace in the world.

But what does this peace look like? In the time of the OT prophets, they looked for a Messiah who would bring Israel back to supremacy. They didn’t just want peace with their neighbors; they wanted to overrun them. Peace was peace through power. It was “peace for us” but what about “them”?

This kind of peace wasn’t God’s peace, however, because God loves “them” too. Thus the Messiah turned every notion upside-down with his talk of “love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.” God’s peace is bigger than all of this. God’s peace is best understood through the Jewish concept of Shalom which covers health, prosperity, security, friendship, and salvation. It could also be spoken of as “wholeness.” This peace is only present because of God’s own presence and his favor toward his people.

The pithy saying is this: No God, no peace. Know God, know peace. But it’s more than just knowing of God; we can only experience this kind of peace when God’s Holy Spirit fills us. This is the kind of peace that someone can experience when situations are at their worst. In Isaiah 54:10 we read the words of God: “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you. This is one of those sayings that we should pick up on: God is using a rhetorical device; he’s using the ridiculous to prove a point. Though the mountains be shaken and hills be removed? They aren’t. But even if they were, God’s unfailing love and promise of peace will not.

What does this mean for us? Psalm 34:14 tells us to Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. We can’t just sit back and expect peace to happen. Much like repentance means turning 180 degrees and going the opposite direction, seeking peace doesn’t mean we sit passively. The psalmist tells us that we have to pursue peace. 1 Peter 3:10-11 likewise tells us Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it.
This applies to every one of us. We are called to seek peace. This peace comes on various levels; we often focus on peace with others, (Romans 12:18: If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone) but before we can have peace with others, we have to first have peace with God. There is only one way to have peace with God. This is through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Colossians 1:19-20 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

And Romans 5:1 tells us Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. God offers this peace to everyone, but it’s only through Jesus that we can have peace with God. This peace means we’ve been forgiven. Every wrong we’ve done in the past has been erased.

And as we seek inner peace, know that (Isaiah 32:17) The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever. If we live in right relationship with God, which is only possible through Jesus’ gift on the cross, the natural fruit of this right relationship is peace.

Romans 8:6 tells us that The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace. This is the key to peace. A mind controlled by the Spirit. This is why peace is one aspect of the Fruit of the Spirit; true peace only comes by the Spirit. This is why we see this scene in John 20 where Jesus has risen from the dead and appears to his disciples. (John 20:19-22). On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit.”

These two events are one in the same: Jesus pronouncing “Peace be with you!” and his giving them the Holy Spirit. This is how they received peace. He had already told them that he didn’t give the same kind of peace that the world gives (John 14:27: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.). He had already told them that they would have troubles in this world (John 16:33 I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.). But in giving the Holy Spirit, he gives a peace that is beyond anything of this world.

He doesn’t force this on us, however. He made it clear that our response to him makes a huge impact. In Matthew 10:32-33 he says this: “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.

This means that our lives here have a huge impact on the peace we experience. And before we can have this peace, we must accept that He is the source of all peace. In our hymnal is a song called Let There Be Peace on Earth. Its main chorus says “let it begin with me.” Peace never begins with me. Peace begins with God. I know this isn’t the real meaning behind the song’s lyrics; they were meant to point us toward ourselves – if we want peace in the world, we can’t just hope that someone else makes that peace. We have to actively be peacemakers. But to do that, we can’t start with ourselves. We must start with the Holy Spirit, because He is the one who makes peace.

That said, it’s important to recognize that our peace brings peace to others.

In Romans 15:13, we read this benediction: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. I love that word: overflow. It means that it just pours out. And who really controls where something overflows? It pours out all over the place. Just like we don’t choose who to love – God’s overflowing love pours out on us and fills us to the point where it overflows to all others, so too does His peace overflow. We don’t get to choose who to make peace with. Peace is a gift of God that must be experienced and shared in human relationships. Jesus called his followers to live at peace with one another (Mk. 9:50b) and he empowered them to bestow peace on those who are worthy (Mt 10:13).

This is important, because now we don’t just have peace, but we give it, too. Jesus calls us to be peacemakers, calling the peacemakers blessed, and declaring peacemakers “sons of God” (Matt 5:9), but even He admits that peacemaking is sometimes unsuccessful (Mt 10:34-36). Jesus said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn 'a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law - a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.'”

We have to remember that peace is more than just an absence of fighting and that true peace only really comes from the Holy Spirit; often there is much more going on than what we can see on the surface. We can never be fully at peace with those who are actively fighting against the Holy Spirit. When someone has allowed Satan to have a stronghold in their lives, often it will demonstrate itself through ones’ relationships. And if you are in relationship with people who do not have the Holy Spirit, you can be certain that they don’t have the Holy Spirit’s peace. Therefore, they cannot be expected to live fully at peace with you if you are a vessel of the Spirit.

Paul reminds us, however, that our enemy is not that person. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 5:12). We’re not fighting against them; we’re fighting spiritual battles. Remember that when you have conflict with someone; that it might be something bigger. Putting on the full armor of God is key – I just don’t have time to dwell on it, but for details you can go back and check out my previous sermons ( on the left column, go down to where you see “armor of God” as a heading and click on it; that will take you to all of the sermons on this topic).

Truth is what holds it all together, and we must acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. A right relationship with Him guards our hearts. The Good News of peace makes our feet ready to share. Faith protects us from Satan, extinguishing his flaming arrows. Our salvation through Jesus Christ protects our head, and our main offensive weapon is the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God.

Strange to be talking about fighting when our goal is peace, but remember that we are in a fight, not only for our lives, but for the lives of others as well. And remember that our fight is against Satan and his minions.

This is a good time to remind you that Peacemaking is costly. It involved a cross for Jesus and it involves a cross for us (Mt. 10:37-39). “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

This is something none of us should take lightly. To have His peace, we must follow Him. To do so, we have to be all in. No “partial” followers or “Sunday-only” Christians allowed. You have to be willing to go to your death for him, to give everything up for him. This is not for the faint of heart. But Matthew 11 follows Matthew 10, and in Matthew 11, we read these words from Jesus: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

So, how do we experience this peace? Philippians 4:4-9 tells us to
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Here are the keys to peace: First accept that it only comes from the Holy Spirit. Then we accept His peace by rejoicing, even in times of difficulty. Keep your eyes on Him. Look for reasons to give thanks, thinking about and meditating on scripture, on Truth and goodness. Do not be anxious, but give everything to God, and God will give you peace as He guards your hearts and minds.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Tending the Garden for a Good Harvest: Joy

Galatians 5:22-23 But the Fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

What brings you joy? I asked that question on Facebook and got a lot of personal responses: friends and family, especially one’s children bring joy. One of my high school classmates responded that when her daughter comes to her and says, “Mommy, I love you” when she doesn’t want anything: that brings her joy. Others told me that life itself brings joy: when we consider how fortunate we are, it brings joy. Still others responded that serving others brings joy. And finally, there were two responses that struck me because I knew their situations. One friend, whose sewers had backed up and filled their house with raw sewage, forcing them out (with three children, including a newborn), said, “knowing that God will take care of me.” Another friend, whose mother just lost her battle with cancer, responded “the end of suffering brings me joy.”

Joy can be defined this way: 1: the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires : delight 2 : a state of happiness or felicity : bliss 3 : a source or cause of delight

As I thought about joy, something struck me. How joyful are we as a society? According to Charles Barber in his book Comfortably Numb, “Sales of Prozac hit $2 billion dollars in 1998. By 2002, more than 11 percent of American women and 5 percent of American men were taking antidepressants, which amounts to about 25 million people.” We as Americans believe that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are inalienable rights; we should be free to chase after joy in whatever way we need to. The Bill of Rights doesn’t guarantee us the right to happiness; only to pursue it.

Although we are absolutely free to pursue happiness, why are we such a joyless society? Why doesn’t joy grow easily in our gardens?

Here’s a problem: we seek after well-being, success, good fortune, and the prospect of possessing what we desire, but we have defined all of these things selfishly. What is well-being? What is success? We seek after what we as individuals want, but is that really what we need? Will that really ease the ache in our hearts?

As many of us suffer through a joyless life, let me first differentiate between a lack of joy and depression. Depression is often a medical condition requiring professional and often pharmaceutical treatment; the quote about Prozac was in no means meant to demean or belittle people who are working their way through depression. We would never belittle someone who is on medication for diabetes or high blood pressure; we’ve got no right to do so with someone who is clinically depressed.

That said, there are many who suffer from something worse than depression: these are those for whom their only joy is circumstantial. Now we all know that circumstantial joy is great. We all have those joyful moments when everything works out right. One of my favorite memories was a sudden-death win in the U16 soccer championship in Kokomo: I can still vividly remember my coach charging on the field to bear hug me. Most of us have had those wonderful moments, but unfortunately they don’t last. That coach died two years ago after a long struggle with bad health. The circumstantial joy died long before.

You can liken circumstantial joy to a wedding day: everything is sunshine and roses on that day and then there’s a wonderful honeymoon, but then comes day-to-day life and it’s not nearly as easy as you thought it would be and loving in sickness, in poverty, and in the tough times isn’t as easy as it looked from the standpoint of premarital counseling.

When our only joy is circumstantial, we are in for a rude awakening.

You see, we all have deep longings that will not be fully satisfied in this world. Remember what I said about our pursuit of happiness? Many of us don’t know how to truly pursue joy because we don’t know the source of joy. So instead of pursuing joy, we pursue “feel good.” You know what that’s about. You do everything you can to avoid any unpleasantness. You drink to mask your inhibition because it’s too unpleasant to be socially awkward. You keep busy because it’s too unpleasant when you slow down enough to introspectively look at your life. We were made for God – and until we are face-to-face with him, our longings will not be fulfilled.

Or have you gotten to the point of life where you aren’t even pursuing joy anymore? And, even worse, instead of full of joy, you’ve made it your mission to be a killjoy. If you were here for the awesome Peter Mayer Group concert, he sang a song about “The Onion” – the person who sucks every bit of joy out of any room. Maybe you just want your way. Maybe you just want control. Maybe you just want to pursue happiness – your own happiness in whatever way you want to. Maybe you’re just so unhappy and you won’t be happy until everyone else is as unhappy as you are.

If this is you, I submit this to you: the Fruit of the Spirit is not optional in the life of a Christian. None of it is. So are you full of joy? What would others say if they were asked that about you? If I asked your spouse? Your children? Your neighbor? If you are not, then you might want to evaluate your relationship with Jesus.

The truth is this: we are all thirsty; some of us are just moving in the wrong direction in response to the thirst. And as Dr. Larry Crabb says in his book Inside Out, “There is no worse pain for fallen people than facing an emptiness we cannot fill.”

Did you hear that? We cannot fill that emptiness. But Jesus does. He says “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of Living Water will flow from within him” (John 7:37-38). Then there is this parenthetical note: By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. Now we have been given the Holy Spirit, and He is within us a spring of Living Water, the source of joy.

Jesus’ words require something of us, however. We have to admit our thirst. We have to admit that we want more! He said, “If you are thirsty…” We have to admit that the joy we find in circumstances doesn’t satisfy our souls. We have to also acknowledge that we have deep longings in our souls that will never be fully satisfied until heaven.

Can you face the hidden sin in your heart that makes it clear how thoroughly undelightful you are? Can you face the pain of disappointed longings and the guilt of terrible sin, and instead of letting it crush you, admit that you are thirsting for more? Let that thirst “drive you to consider the gospel of God’s grace in a new way. Only then will Christ enter your life deeply and change you from the inside out, instilling in you a growing awareness of His relentless, unfailing love and a sustaining hope for a better day” (Inside Out).

You see, there is more than circumstantial joy, and circumstantial joy is only a tiny taste of true joy, the joy that is a Fruit of the Spirit. That joy is an eternal joy, a joy that is above and beyond all circumstances. In Luke 6:22 & 23 we read these words of Jesus: Blessed are you when men hate you… 6:23 rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets. This isn’t circumstantial joy; it is joy in the face of the circumstances. The Apostle Paul wrote the book of Philippians when he was imprisoned. In it, he says again and again, “rejoice in the Lord.” (“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again; Rejoice!” Philippians 4:4). And he wrote this while in chains.

This is what we sing of when we sing, “The joy of the Lord is my strength” (which comes from Nehemiah 8:10b). This joy is what sustains us, even in horrible circumstances. Because no matter what the circumstances are, God never changes. Psalm 16:11 You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. Because of who God is and how His love overflows for us, we can be certain of the eternal reward He has for us, completeness in His presence. And that presence is a joy-filled presence. Did you ever wonder how God can promise a eternity in which “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4). How can he promise that? Because being eternally directly in His presence will fill us with joy!

But this isn’t to say that joy is out of our reach right now. Larry Crabb gives us this morsel: “Consider what is available in this life: a change of character that enables us to taste enough of God now to whet our appetite for the banquet later.”

The Holy Spirit’s presence in us necessarily changes us, changes our character from one that follows the sinful nature to a person who looks like God the Father. And as we experience this transformation, we begin to taste little bits of God, which should just point to how wonderful it will be to experience Him in His fullness.

All of those things that bring us joy? Family, children, even the end of suffering? They are only tiny foretastes of God’s eternal joy. And Psalm 19:8 tells us that The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. Following God is the recipe to experience His joy, because as we obey his commands, we become more like Him – more Christlike.

1 Peter 1:8-9 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Salvation is the goal of our faith; what does it look like? It looks like joy. Unspeakable joy like you’ve never even experienced before. Even the greatest joy you’ve ever experienced pales in comparison. Again, if you don’t have the Fruit of the Spirit, either the God of the universe who raised Jesus from the dead isn’t powerful enough to overcome your problems, or the problem lies with you. Maybe nobody ever told you that you’re supposed to be the vessel of the Holy Spirit, that God himself is supposed to live in you. Maybe you didn’t know that He has power to overcome. Maybe you’re wigged out because you came from a pretty conservative church background where you’re always wary of televangelists who seem to use the Holy Spirit or you’ve seen reports of some really weird stuff. I’m here to tell you that we’re not going there! There are some things we can know for certain about the Holy Spirit. We know that He is a Person, and He is characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

But this Fruit isn’t only for us. We don’t just receive joy just to make us feel better in bad circumstances. It also brings God joy. A major reason for our joy is to bring God joy! When God created the world, he pronounced everything good. But he pronounced humanity “very good.” We brought him great joy. He sees us as creatures of great worth, he loves us, and we bring him joy.

And in 3 John 1:4, John writes this: I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. It hurts to know a friend, neighbor, or co-worker who doesn’t know the Lord, who doesn’t have the hope of heaven. Even worse is to be unsure of the salvation of your child. One of the hardest parts of being a pastor is doing funerals for people who don’t know Jesus, and I can’t imagine how a family member gets through it. But here on earth there is no greater joy than to know that your children are walking in the Truth.

This is God’s attitude about us. It brings Him great joy when we walk in the Truth. In Luke, Jesus puts it this way: there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents (Luke 15:10).

How can we feel joy? This is all about the Holy Spirit. Some of you have never really experienced joy because you have never let the Holy Spirit indwell you. You’ve experienced circumstantial joy, of course, because God is always calling to you, showing you that there is something more, there is something good and pure and perfect out there. That’s part of His Prevenient grace, grace that goes before Him. Think about it, though. The God who created everything… the God who walked this earth in the Person of Jesus Christ, who lived a perfect life and died on the cross for our sins and rose again… that same God, in the Person of the Holy Spirit lives within us! How awesome is that?!

When Jesus was about to be crucified, he tells his disciples that soon God will send them the Holy Spirit. In John 16 this happens: 17Some of his disciples said to one another, "What does he mean by saying, 'In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,' and 'Because I am going to the Father'?" 18They kept asking, "What does he mean by 'a little while'? We don't understand what he is saying."

19Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, "Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, 'In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me'? 20I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. 21A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. 22So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. 23In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 24Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

It all has to do with the Holy Spirit. We often just want to pull out the Holy Spirit whenever we need him, especially when we want him to do something for us, to help us on our way. We’ve got our way mapped out, and we just need a little Holy Spirit to get us over the hump. That just doesn’t work. And that’s not living a Spirit-filled life. And that’s no way to receive joy. But when we not only know the Holy Spirit but are also controlled by Him, then we will ask in Jesus’ name. Every desire of ours will match with God’s desire; our hearts will look like His – and when that happens, God will joyfully say, “I’ve just been waiting for you to ask!” This is what it looks like when we are led by the Holy Spirit. And (Romans 15:13) May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Tending the Garden for a Good Harvest: Love

Matthew 22:34-40

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Galatians 5:22-23 The Fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Here is a link to the video I used to introduce the message.

If we believe Jesus, love is the most important commandment of all. If we believe the Apostle Paul, love is the first aspect of the Fruit of the Spirit. If we believe our culture, love is confusing.

Anyone here confused about love?

Today we are looking at the first aspect of the Fruit of the Spirit –what it looks like when we’re led by the Holy Spirit. Remember that we’re not talking about nine different fruits that we can pick and choose from; we’re talking about nine aspects of the same Fruit. I told you I am a husband, father, pastor, son, athlete, musician, reader, friend, and hiker, I am not just one of these things; they are all aspects of me. Likewise with the Fruit of the Spirit.

That said, it’s important that we first look at love, because that’s the aspect that in one word best describes. In 1 John 4, John twice tells us (verbatim) that God is love. In fact, he tells us that when we love, we look like God. Listen to what he says.

1 John 4:7-8 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

Did you get that: God is love. And not only is God love, but love comes from God. This is the first and most important point this morning; that God is the provider of love. Love doesn’t come from anywhere else. This has huge ramifications in our lives. When it comes to love, it doesn’t just flow from trying to love more. It doesn’t come because someone has done something for you. You don’t inherit it. Love comes from God.

Sometimes we get caught up in the world’s thought process when it comes to love. First of all, we frequently only focus on one aspect of love, where in Greek there are multiple words to describe it.

The first word is storge, which means fondness through familiarity, especially between family members or people who have otherwise found themselves together by chance.

The second word is philia, which is a bond existing between people who share a common interest or activity.

The third word is eros, which is what we often think of when we say “love” – this is the sense of ‘being in love’ with someone.

Finally we get to the word that Paul uses to describe the Fruit of the Spirit: agape. This is unconditional love which is independent of any lovable qualities of the object of love. This is God’s love; remember what John said about God? God is love. God is so full of love that God is incapable of not loving. God’s love overflows so much that He can’t help but love us.

This is the love that the Holy Spirit fills us with. John Wesley called it perfect love. In fact, if you did not exhibit this kind of love of God and neighbor, John Wesley would consider you to be an “almost Christian.” This was for him the litmus test of one’s relationship with Jesus Christ.

What does this kind of love look like? Paul describes it in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. We often read this scripture at weddings to remind us of the love a husband and wife have for each other, but Paul’s audience is the church. Specifically, he is addressing a divided church, telling the church that unity is paramount, that because of our differences in the church, we should work together as the Body of Christ, using all of our diverse Spiritual gifts. Then he says, “And now I will show you the most excellent way. He goes on to say that no matter what we do, if we aren’t full of love, we’re just noisemakers. Even if we preach and teach and have awesome faith, if we commit all kinds of self-giving acts of charity; if we don’t have love, we’re nothing.

4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8Love never fails.

Does this describe you? Are you patient and kind? Do you envy? Do you boast? Do you hold a grudge? Are you selfish? If the answer is “no” then what kind of fruit is growing in your garden?

In his book The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis compares this kind of love with a garden. Our acts of compassion and love are the gardening utensils, and the lover is the gardener, but God is the elements of nature. Our gardens won’t grow without rain, and neither will our natural love grow without God’s love and guidance. Without these, our love will wilt and die.

What does this mean in practical terms?

There are two major weeds that overgrow our love gardens. Selfishness and apathy. They grow intertwined and if left unchecked, will strangle love. Our selfishness dictates who we want to love; only those who love us or who have something to give us. This, my friends, is not love!

Contrast that kind of selfish love with God’s love as described in 1 John 4:9-10. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Jesus was the only One who never sinned, yet He was the one who gave Himself for our sins. Romans 5:7 poses the scenario: Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. That’s the normal state of affairs. But Paul goes on to say this: But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Real love is never selfish and is always sacrificial.

The other enemy of love is apathy. I remember a fraternity on my campus who had t-shirts made up that read, “Loved or Hated, but never ignored.” They wanted you to know that everyone took notice of the “sig eps.” In the book of Revelation, Jesus says to the church in Laodicea, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:15-16). You see, the true opposite of love is “I don’t care.”

Do you really love your neighbor? Do you care about them? Do you care about their eternal salvation? To plant a garden of love, you have to pull out apathy. In German, we have two words that mean “to know.” Wissen means to know something intellectually, but kennen means to know personally. Do you know of your neighbors, or do you know them? To know someone, to really know them, you have to stop long enough to listen to their story. Stop long enough to notice.

My grandmother grew up a product of a different era, an overtly racist era. She didn’t care for Black people. But as she grew older and ended up as a shut-in, there was an African American woman who kept coming over to check up on her and to make sure she was OK. At first, Grandma would refer to her in racial terms like “that colored woman” but one day I noticed that Grandma was calling her by name. She ended up calling her “my friend.”

1 John 4:19-21 We love because he first loved us.0If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.

Are you a Christian? Then you necessarily love with Christ’s love! Now that we all love our Christian brothers and sisters, are you ready to take this to a whole new level?

Jesus said that we’re not just supposed to love our friends and fellow believers. Here’s what Jesus has to say in Matthew 5:44-46: You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?

You might be wondering how that is even possible. Not only does God call us to love the people we like, to love the lovable people in our lives, but Jesus specifically tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.

You see, we usually try to control love: we want to love who we want to love, and nobody can tell us any different. But here’s the thing: Jesus tells us something completely different, utterly counter-cultural, revolutionary, even.

Love our enemies.

The picture that comes to my mind here is Pope John Paul II forgiving his would-be assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca in prison.

I know this isn’t just some easy command. I just re-read my prayer journal from a few years back, where I had written this: If I’m going to live a truly Christ-filled life, I’ll have to forgive. That means forgiving (and then I included some names of two people who had betrayed me). Lord help me to forgive. Did I want to forgive them? Did I want to love them? No. But I knew that God wanted me to love them.

So how do we love unlovable people?

Let’s be honest; we just don’t do this kind of love. It certainly doesn’t come naturally. It’s not one of those things that just flows from us. But as Jesus reminds us in Matthew 19:26b With God all things are possible. This kind of loving is the Holy Spirit’s work. This is why it’s known as an aspect of the Fruit of the Spirit! It’s because this is the Holy Spirit’s job!

And 1 John 5:3-5 tells us that love for God is to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

Did you notice that? Everyone born of God overcomes the world! You don’t have to stay stuck in the worldly trap of hate. God sets you free! God breaks the chains! But it’s only through the Holy Spirit that this happens.

Know that I’m not talking about fake love – you probably know someone who pretends you’re their best friend to your face and talks trash behind your back. Most of us can see through that, especially if we see that person trash-talking about someone else.

Romans 12:9 tells us that love must be sincere. Then Paul goes on to tell us (in Romans 12:10-19) what steps to take toward that sincere love.

1. Hate what is evil; cling to the truth.

2. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.

3. Honor one another above yourselves.

4. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.

5. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

6. Share with God’s people who are in need.

7. Practice hospitality.

8. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

9. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

10. Live in harmony with one another.

11. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.

12. Do not be conceited.

13. Do not repay anyone evil for evil.

14. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

15. Do not take revenge.

If you want some practical steps to loving more, here are three.

Seek them out. You can go through your whole life never even noticing people who need your love. You can run and hide when difficult people come your way. You can put things in your way so you never have to interact with people you don’t like. Or you can seek them out.

Pray for them/for yourself. Knowing that we aren’t the originators of this love is helpful – and if this love comes from God, then why don’t we allow God to be the one who loves? Why don’t we accept that overflow of God’s love that He has to give? To do this, we have to cover the whole thing with prayer. Prayer that we will be able to love (that God will do the impossible through us and will transform us into loving people). Prayer for that person, for their real needs (not just “make her nice”). Spend some solitary time praying and fasting for the ability and the will to love.

Serve them. Praying for someone is one thing. Telling someone you love them is another thing. But if you want to really love someone, God calls you to serve them. In Luke 6:35, Jesus tells us Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind of the ungrateful and wicked.

Live a life of service, not just to people you already like, but to people you don’t like. In Romans 12:20, Paul quotes King Solomon (Proverbs 25:21): If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.

He goes on in v. 21 to say Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. The path to overcoming? Being filled with the love of God. This is tending God’s garden for a good harvest of love.

May God Himself, the God of peace sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls us is faithful and he will do it. 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

As He overflows with love for us, may we overflow with love for others.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

What's Growing in Your Garden: Fruit of the Spirit Introduction

Galatians 5:16-26

Last week we took a critical look at the prevailing religion among American teenagers, MTD – Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, which at its heart, tells its followers to be good: don’t do bad things. Last week we looked at Jesus’ words where he boiled it down to this: avoiding sin isn’t good enough. Instead of simply stopping doing bad things, we have been called to turn 180 degrees and to do good. On our own, we aren’t capable of it; we keep on doing bad things. But we’re not called to do it on our own.

1 Thessalonians 5:22 tells us Avoid every kind of evil. But Paul continues: May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.

Our calling is by a God who fills us with His Spirit. We cannot get to today’s scripture without understanding this. We are told to live by the Spirit – we can’t live by the Spirit unless we are filled with the Spirit. We can try to live out a holy life on our own, but in the long run, it just doesn’t work.

So often I have heard people talk about the Fruit of the Spirit as if those are goals we strive toward. If you do this, then you can achieve that. If you try hard enough to love people, then you’ll exhibit the spiritual fruit: love. If you put on a happy face, even in the midst of troubles, then you’ll eventually have joy.

It doesn’t work. Did you notice that Paul makes a contrast: he contrasts the sinful nature with the Spirit (Galatians 5:17) For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.

He goes on to delineate some of the acts of the sinful nature, that is, what we do on our own, with the Fruit of the Spirit. The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21).

The contrast is this: these are the acts of the sinful nature, but the Fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23).

Notice that there is more than just the contrast between bad deeds and good deeds; all of the acts of the sinful nature are certainly bad deeds that each of us is completely capable of doing, but the alternative isn’t just good deeds! The alternative scenario is the Fruit of the Spirit! This fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, isn’t fruit that comes by us just working harder to be more loving, patient, gentle, etc. It comes from the Holy Spirit!

Think of it this way: if you want fresh apples off a tree, would you stand around looking at your maple tree, just willing it to bear apples? Would you staple apples on the maple tree? This, my friends, is not how you get an apple tree! You get an apple tree by planting an apple tree. In Romans 11:16b, Paul tells us If the root is holy, so are the branches. The Holy Spirit is the holy root who makes His branches holy, who bears fruit of the Spirit.

In Matthew 12:33, Jesus talks about fruit trees: Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. What does your fruit look like? Does it look like the Holy Spirit or not? Remember, you are recognized by your fruit.

The Holy Spirit is the only One who can make a tree good. He does that by totally transforming it, replacing the root and grafting the rest on to Himself. The only way that we are able to do good deeds at all is by the grace of God. After Jesus tells his audience that a tree is recognized by its fruit, he goes on to say in Matthew 12:34-35 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.

This is key – the Holy Spirit is the one who grows the fruit. It’s not because of us or who we are; it’s all about God. This leads me to the next important point: the purpose of the Fruit of the Spirit. We already see from the scripture that against these things there is no law. And who can argue against love? Who doesn’t want joy and peace? We seem to inherently know that kindness is a good feature.

But the purpose of the Fruit of the Spirit is not just to make us feel good. The Holy Spirit does not cultivate this fruit in us just to make us happy. If we want to know its full purpose, we have to look a little more deeply at the analogy.

What is the purpose of fruit? If you answer “to eat” you’re only part right. The purpose of fruit is to protect and carry seeds, to reproduce itself. God was really creative when He created fruit-bearing plants. They have these attractive and extremely edible parts on them, and people and animals naturally eat them. In the middle of the fruits are… seeds. Think of a bird who eats its fill of raspberries. What happens next? Well, the seeds pass through the bird’s digestive system unscathed, and then they return to the ground where they grow more raspberry bushes.

The purpose of fruit is to reproduce itself, to make more fruit trees. Likewise with us. Our mission statement, as United Methodists, is to “Make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” This isn’t just all about our work in designated disciple making ventures; it’s about the natural harvest of a life lived and controlled by the Holy Spirit. For when we exhibit such attributes as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, then people stand up and take notice. These aspects are absolutely counter-cultural. They aren’t the way our country runs. Our culture prizes lust over love. Dissatisfaction over joy. Anxiety over peace. Right now over patience. Look out for #1 over kindness & goodness. What have you done for me lately over faithfulness. Ruthlessness over gentleness. And our economy is based on a lack of self-control.

And when we as Christians live out these cultural values, we will bear no fruit. Last year Arnie and Lori Dupler brought us a whole bunch of delicious peaches from their trees. They were so good! We made peach pies and we canned peaches; they are so good. We were looking forward to having more peaches this summer, but unfortunately the late freezes killed them all. We didn’t get any peaches.

Friends, when we live out the values of this culture instead of living by the Holy Spirit, it’s like a freeze that kills our fruit. It kills our ministry to those who don’t yet know Jesus Christ when they see us living like the world. Do you want to know why the United Methodist Church is in decline? Because we’ve lived like the world for years and years and years. We have not lived by the Spirit. We have not been characterized as those filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. And because we have not exhibited that fruit, we have not made disciples, and we have not transformed the world. And that is a sad state of affairs.

Over the next nine weeks, we will look in depth at the Fruit of the Spirit, one aspect at a time. But understand that these are different than spiritual gifts. When we talk about spiritual gifts, the Holy Spirit gives every Christian gifts. We usually receive one or two primary gifts with several others as secondary. These are gifts like preaching, teaching, evangelizing, helping, administrating, healing, prophecy, music, arts, and so forth. When we are talking about the Fruit of the Spirit, they are not separate gifts, but rather, they are all facets of the same Spirit, and therefore all of them should be present in the life of all Christians.

So even though we will look at them separately, they are not separate. They all work together. As we grow in the Holy Spirit, these will grow in us, and the more they are present, the more we will look like Jesus Christ, and the more we look like Him, the more others will take notice.