Walk In One Spirit

Image result for fruit of the spirit

We have one divine spirit, the Spirit of God’s exclusive love(agapaō). All other types of “love” can be captured by our mortal enemy.

For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “YOU SHALL LOVE(agapaō) YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” (Galatians 5:14)

That’s it! It’s the key to God’s plan, for here and for eternity.

It’s that simple? Simple because God spoke the universe into existence. Simple because He gave us His Word. Simple because the Fruit of God’s Spirit is simple.

If you want your life filled with God, you need to bear God’s Spiritual Fruit. If you don’t want God in your life, take your chances with cruel fate.

God’s Simple Fruit

But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. (Galatians 5:18)

God’s domain rises infinitely higher than any given law. If you want wordly law, enjoy its bad fruit.

The Fruit of God’s Spirit is just one fruit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

It’s singular, ie the fruit. It’s not one kind of fruit called love, another called peace, a third called patience, etc. Singular fruit may have many characters, like sweetness, tartness, tenderness, scrumptiousness(getting a bit carried away). Also like fruit, it might be dry, grainy, tough, or other unflavorful characteristics.

This essay would become impossibly long if I covered the whole list. Instead, I will try to do a good attempt at each time I deal with it.

To be continued …

The Deeper Side of Christmas

This morning no gifts beckoned me from under my Christmas tree. For one thing, the Christmas tree belongs to my room mate, and any gifts there belong to his two little kids. And the other reason no gifts awaited me is I’ve sort of outgrown the commercial side of, “the Holidays.”

I received my greatest Christmas gift ever forty-odd years ago when I accepted God’s gift to me, “For God so loved [you and me] (so much) that He gave His only Son after His own kind (the physical embodiment of His eternal Word), that anyone who believes (accepts and places his confidence) in Him should not perish (see perdition or destruction), but have (possess permanently) [Jesus’] eternal life.” There’s a mouthful that you can take to God’s heavenly bank.

Those who believe this promise, and many others we find in God’s revealed Word, will feel a level of joy like none other. But those for whom Christmas has morphed into, “the Holidays,” get to enjoy a warm family time … after a month of chasing the perfect presents around the shopping malls and big box stores … and worry about paying for all the excess over the other eleven months. Amazing how heavy those little pieces of plastic can get, isn’t it?

Now that the rush is over, maybe you can flop into your favorite chair and contemplate what Christmas means to God. Think of what it would feel like to give your own child as ransom for the captives who hate you, for the ungrateful multitudes who have killed your messengers, despoiled your home and reviled your name. Most of them would reject your beloved child and suffer the consequences, but you would receive and embrace those few who love and embrace him and the freedom he bought for them.

May the deeper meaning of Christmas bless you now and forever.

A Most Unexpected Blessing

O LORD, our Lord, How excellent is Your name in all the earth, Who have set Your glory above the heavens! (Psalms 8:1 NKJV)

As I was reading my son-in-law’s excellent book1 about worship, a nearby explosion concussed the air and resounded throughout this end of the city—this was Independence Day—and drew my attention outside my window. What I beheld nearly took my breath away. A storm cell had recently passed directly overhead and left the most spectacular, sunset-lit cumulus clouds in the distance. Then the clouds took on a deep, red glow, as if filled with fire. They were literally glorious. If not for the annoying fireworks, I would have missed the amazing scene, and an opportunity to spontaneously praise God.

As my amazing son-in-law Kenneth pointed out in his book, if we’re walking daily with God we don’t have to wait til Sunday to worship Him. Neither do we have to rely on an emotional worship service to draw tears of joy from our eyes. Whether or not we feel His presence, He is always with us and in us, if we have relinquished our lives, including all of our works and rights, to Him through His eternal Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

I pity the millions who find wonder and gratitude welling up in their souls, but don’t know who to thank. Those who aren’t completely jaded by intellectualism may know it all has something to do with God, but most of them don’t have a personal, conversational relationship with Him. To most people, God is the big Codger upstairs who can’t busy Himself with our daily joys and concerns, except to grab a nearby lightening bolt to zap those who get out of line. What a tragic misunderstanding, both for their material life, and for their eternal life—and make no mistake; one way or another there is eternal life.

Whenever I think of God’s goodness and His love for His creation, especially for us unworthy humans, my emotions are split between the unexpected blessings that are just a precursor to eternity in heaven, and regret for all those whose pride prevents their admitting they are not God, and need the Savior.

Father, open our eyes to Your glory, whenever it occurs,
and lead us to spend at least a moment in spontaneous praise.

1Kenneth J. Spiller, Journey of a Worshiper (Bloomington, IA, Oxbow Press, a division of Thomas Nelson and Zondervan, 2016)

Prayer Is an Attitude

Surrender to God in prayer, even though you have nothing but yourself to give.

I am only human. Moments of weakness come upon me, weakness that Jesus paid for on “the place of a Skull,” where the Roman soldiers dropped his cross into a socket dug in that hard earth. I know even as I choose to ignore God’s principles that, though He is grieved, His presence is none-the-less with me, and upon my confession and contrition, that sin-guilt is washed away(1 John 1:9).

In view of my chronic weakness, I have a prayer ready at a moment’s notice:

O Father, please prevent my taking Your grace for granted, and keep me from bringing a reproach upon You.

Two Kinds of Prayer

The two ways of living are: self-centered, and God-centered. The same applies to prayer: Self-centered prayer makes demands of God, usually under the guise of claiming His promises and expecting Him to give us what we want. And yes, we can take that attitude even when praying for others, when our confidence lies in the power of prayer rather than in God’s sovereignty.

God-centered prayer takes the attitude that we are both subservient and submissive to Him. He owes us nothing, and only by His grace may we stand, kneel, sit, or lie prostrate before Him in prayer.

God-centered prayer confesses our sin and expresses our gratitude and praise for His forgiveness, before we enter into our shopping list of petitions.

God-centered prayer echoes Christ’s words in Gethsemane, “Nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.” We must never take the arrogant attitude that just because we want something it is automatically aligned with His will.

God-centered prayer expresses sincere gratitude for His action regarding our prayer—and everything else for that matter—whether or not we get what we want. “Everything else” means just that, even when we don’t see the immediate blessing.

Pray Without Ceasing

See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:15-18)

Verse 17, “pray without ceasing,” stands out to me because simply praying for fifteen minutes, let alone continuously, is a challenge. I see it as maintaining a mental attitude that allows me to pray spontaneously, without having to clear my conscience of unconfessed sin, before I can come boldly to the throne of grace.” (Hebrews 4:16)

Will you receive a “Holy Ghost blessing” every time you pray? No, and don’t expect it or you will become disillusioned. Once in a while, though, if you concentrate on Him, God will make this promise real to you: “Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.” (1 Peter 1:8b)

It Comes Naturally

Even this couldn’t stop the people’s murmuring.

The greatest personal challenge I find in Scripture happens to have been authored by my namesake. Most Bible students would agree that Author James didn’t mince words when dealing with the essential issues of daily life in Christ. The coincidence of our given names has nothing to do with my interest in his letter to the scattered churches. Rather, it is the practical nature and authority of his instructions to God’s people.

And he leads with a powerful right cross to the mouth.”

James launches into his instructions like a boxer throwing a violent first punch to the enemy’s weakest point: his mouth. Satan relies on our natural human penchant for spreading negativity.

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2-4)

Satan sows discontentment when the church encounters opposition, “various trials,” or simply when some don’t get their own way. It begins with murmuring and griping, and progresses to outright rebellion, much like God’s people Israel in the wilderness.

Joy? Under trials? It just ain’t natural, and that’s the point. It separates God’s true children from the wannabes and pew-sitters who seek just enough religion to get that righteous feeling once a week.

Beware of brethren* who accost you after church with statements like, “Hey, what’d ya think about Pastor’s sermon today? I mean, …” Chances are what follows will be critical and mean-spirited.

And then a jab to the solar plexus.”

The next few verses never fail to knock the wind out of me.

James 1:5-8 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. (6) But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. (7) For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; (8) he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

Verse five qualifies the promise that follows. Fine and dandy, but the condition that follows the promise describes me perfectly. Yes, I ask in faith, or I at least summon all the faith I can muster. Unfortunately, I’m a “What I see is what I get,” kinda guy, so when I ask for godly wisdom but keep making the same bone-headed gaffes, I can only conclude one thing; my faith is either insufficient, or it isn’t true.

Yes, sometimes I am driven and tossed by the wind. And yes, sometimes I am double-minded and unstable. All this uncertainty grieves my spirit, and in my more depressed moments, causes me to wonder if I’m truly one of God’s people. Yet, that very grief tells me that I do belong to God. If I didn’t, wouldn’t all this be a non-issue?

Lord, I believe, …”

One of the most encouraging accounts of Jesus’ ministry is … click here and I’ll let author Mark tell it.

So verse 24 has inspired the desperate prayer of my life.
Lord Jesus, I know You want me to become like You, and for that to happen I must believe that it will. Like the possessed boy’s father, I believe. I know that You can transform me into Your image. But I need to know that you will transform me. Deal with my unbelief, Lord, so I can become truly like You. Thank You Jesus, by faith, for Your plan for my life.

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* “Brethren” is the archaic form of today’s “brothers.” It meant, “brothers and sisters,” but those with “sexist” issues take exception. Many modern translations render the word, “brothers and sisters,” but that seems awkward, so I’ve chosen to use the archaic form to include both male and female Christ-followers.

More Tears of Joy

Abundant Supply

Today’s Our Daily Bread reminded me once again of my Savior and Creator’s endless, boundless love for me. If you haven’t read it, click on the link above. It’s a true page-turner, even though it covers one scant page.

Glimpsing God’s personal love for me never fails to exercise my tear ducts. The only times I’ve been let down are then I’ve tried to accomplish things in my own strength, which seems to be most of the time. And I should know better—I have precious little of that commodity.

That’s the positive side of our glorious, unspeakable joy in Christ, but those sweet tears are always mixed with a touch of bitterness; His perfect, absolute love also humbles me, even grieves me when I think of my imperfect humanness. Or I should have said my perfect humanness, because humanity’s best (altruism) is terribly imperfect.

Thank You, Father, for resolving to love humanity, even though You knew when You formed Adam that we would need a Savior to complete us, and what that act would cost You. King David’s prayer complements my own:

Psalms 36:5-7
(5) Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.
(6) Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; your judgments are like the great deep; man and beast you save, O LORD.
(7) How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

Amen!
BTW: Those in the know realize the photo at the top of this page portrays an unwise practice. We’re not supposed to feed any wild critter, even birds. Though we love to watch them eat, and think we’re doing them a favor, it spoils their God-given, natural foraging behavior. If you must feed something, feed the needy and the homeless, ’cause we humans are already spoiled.
You’re welcome.

The Fruit of the Spirit is …

One fruit, many nuances of flavor.

Sometimes I feel condemnation when I read God’s Word, because I fail to measure up. I realize what Romans 8:1-7 tells me, but the qualifier prevents me from easily claiming the passage and applying it to myself. It is a promise, “to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” Can I claim to walk according to the Spirit? The problem is, I just don’t know. If I truly bore the Holy Spirit’s fruit, would I have any doubt?

According to Galatians 5:22-25, the foremost flavor of God’s Spiritual fruit, indeed, its very essence, is love. Where is my love? What does it look like? Loving those who love me is easy, but what of those who despise me and everything I stand for? Do I truly love them?

God’s word doesn’t tell me to feel loving toward such haters, but it does tell me to treat them well, to meet their needs, to show them grace, because that is the way Jesus treated His enemies. Do I go out of my way to show that sort of love to those who refuse to receive it? I don’t want to admit my honest answer to that question.

So, what about joy, the second flavor of the Spirit’s fruit? When I feel loved, or experience good fortune, I feel joy, and that’s only natural. But therein lies the problem; it is natural joy, and not joy from God’s Spirit. Is the joy I feel simply an emotional response to some favorable stimulus? If I don’t feel loved, but feel threatened, insecure, angry, inpatient, or doubtful, what of the Holy Spirit’s joy then? In the Holy Spirit’s context, joy must underlay all other emotions, whether negative or positive. In the flesh, that is impossible.

Like joy, the Holy Spirit’s peace must transcend all human emotions. This peace is not simply a lack of conflict, as the world defines it. The Holy Spirit’s peace comes from reconciliation with God. When I know that He no longer recognizes my sins, but has chosen to forget them completely, as if they never happened, peace overwhelms me, and all that inner conflict about falling short of His expectations just evaporates away. That’s the peace that defies understanding(Philippians 4:6-7).

Another flavor of the fruit of God’s Spirit is longsuffering, or patience, as the more contemporary versions translate it. Personally, I prefer the longer word, not because it’s longer, but because it paints a more vivid picture in my mind. Apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 13:4, tells us that love, “suffers long,” and I love that idea; love is willing to suffer(endure, not passively, but passionately), and to keep on suffering indefinitely. God expresses that idea most strongly in Psalms 27:14, where He tells us twice to wait on the LORD.

Kindness goes right along with the first four flavors combined in one sweet fruit of the Spirit. I think these five could be characterized under one label: grace, both God’s grace toward us and our grace toward those around us. Even if the fruit of God’s Spirit didn’t go any further, it would be the most beautiful of produce. But it does include more flavors, and each of the following four could stand alone under the category of Christlike character.

Jesus said, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but One, that is God.” (Mark 10:18) Obviously, then, goodness is a “God thing.” Yet, the fruit of God’s Spirit includes goodness demonstrated in us. That fact, as much as any other, tells us that God must live within us if we are to bear His spiritual fruit.

In the same way as goodness, as God is faithful, we must be faithful as well if we are to bear His fruit. That means consistently being good to our word, truthful and honest. I’ll be the first to admit that such faithfulness is unnatural behavior for me, and is a tall order in this unfaithful, lying and dishonest world. Yet, we are not of this world, are we? (John 17:16)

The next flavor of God’s Spiritual fruit is gentleness. Am I wrong, or is each new characteristic becoming more challenging? God’s church has picked up the idea that we must stand militantly for our beliefs. After all, Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 9:33, “as it is written, ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.'” So there you go; God told us to be as offensive as needed to get our point across. Right?

Wrong! Jesus is the Stone of stumbling and Rock of offense, not individual Christ-followers. If we are to bear the true fruit of God’s Spirit, we will behave with gentleness of spirit and mildness of disposition. In other words, meekness, just as Jesus did when he faced the kangaroo court of religious Jews.

But wait, it gets even harder; the last flavor of God’s Spiritual fruit is self-control. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I have no natural self-control. But if it came naturally, it wouldn’t be from God, right? That means, at least for me, when I demonstrate self-control, as sitting at this keyboard for hours writing this stuff, I must be demonstrating the fruit of God’s Spirit. And the fact that you’ve sat reading this far demonstrates a good deal of supernatural self-control as well.

So that ends this particular list. I dealt with the fruit of God’s Spirit because the preceding few verses of this chapter reveal the works of the flesh (Gal 5:19-21), and I much prefer dealing with positives rather than negatives.

Remember, “against such things (the fruit of God’s Spirit) there is no law.” Oh, one other thing: Matthew 12:33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit.”

C.S. Lewis on the Problem of Evil

Lucifer, the proud archangel.

“God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong, but I can’t. If a thing is free to be good it’s also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata -of creatures that worked like machines- would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they’ve got to be free.

God simply cannot satisfy the people he made after his own image. Along with giving us his greatest creative gift of free will, he gives us his wisdom, first in his law, and now in his Son. Still, we complain about his judgment when we choose to go against his infinite wisdom.

THE INVASION — A Review

I just watched THE INVASION, another BODY SNATCHERS-type movie.

Oliver Hirschbiegel and James McTeigue directed Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig et al. in a reasonably entertaining and gripping tale of alien spores attaching themselves to a space shuttle and causing it to crash to earth, spreading the spores half-way across the United States in a swath two hundred miles wide. As those hardy buggers weren’t in the least affected by either the cold of space or the heat of reentry into the atmosphere, they invaded human bodies and began changing them into dispassionate, purpose-driven beings who looked exactly like the people they infected. And their purpose? To turn Earth into a Utopian society with none of the social problems we’ve learned to live with.

That scenario affords a glimpse into the world’s perspective on being reborn in God’s Spirit; they see spiritual rebirth as an invasion of our personhood, changing us into something that we are not. In a way I can’t blame unbelievers for arriving at that conclusion, considering Bible passages and preaching that speaks of being filled with God’s Holy Spirit and death to self. But for one significant error in that reasoning, I could easily buy into it. That error is the assumption that we evolved into what we are through random mutations and natural selection (survival of the fittest), with no higher purpose for it all. Of course, the truth is God created us for a very specific purpose: to be the recipients of his love, and to voluntarily submit to his Lordship. Thing is, God will never override our free will, as he gave it to us in the first place. He doesn’t forcibly invade our bodies with some bland, unfeeling entity. In fact, just the opposite is true: He allows us to become the people he created us to be, and to enjoy the supernatural peace and joy that he affords.

In short, THE INVASION is good movie with a false moral. But what else can we expect from Hollywood.

C.S. Lewis on Suffering

Refiner’s Fire

My title for this post sounds like a total bummer, but Uncle Jack’s contribution is just the opposite.

The Christian doctrine of suffering explains, I believe, a very curious fact about the world we live in. The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment, He has scattered [freely]. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and [obstruct] to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.
From C.S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain

I doubt there’s a better explanation for our suffering. Besides that, the greater our suffering in this world, the greater will be our joy when we meet our Savior face-to-face.

Sin produces suffering, but not in a direct proportion. Sometimes the relatively innocent suffer greatly, while truly evil people seem to get off scot-free. Once again, that isn’t God’s fault, as due to God’s gift of free will, and the sin that flows from it, suffering is anything but proportionately distributed. Yes, to those who are not Christ-followers it seems terribly unfair, but justice and fairness are not related. Christ-followers take the fact that God is ultimately just by faith, even though we may not see the short-term justice of any particular situation.

How can we “blindly” place that kind of confidence in a Being that we can’t see? Because we can see what he has done in and for us, and we love him because he first loved us. Christ-followers are the most fortunate people on earth, since we perceive all beauty with gratitude, as a blessing from God, and if we have our heads on straight, we even perceive all suffering with gratitude, as a refiner’s fire allowed by God.

Admittedly, suffering isn’t fun, but thanks to God’s perfect wisdom, it will amplify our blessings in this world, and the next.