Living the Fruit of the Spirit: Peace

 

“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.” John 14:27

In the list of fruit which will be evident in our lives as we submit to the Holy Spirit, peace is mentioned third in line. But that doesn’t mean we should master love and joy before we can have peace. The Spirit begins working all fruit in us as soon as we give our lives to Christ and decide to follow him.

If you’ve read my thoughts on Love and Joy, you might begin to understand that we don’t ‘tackle’ them as if striving to exhibit the fruit. Jesus says these are for the taking when we’re surrendered to his will. After a while, peace is our natural state of being. In my experience, agreeing with God about his purposes and the way he does things has proven to be a pretty good idea.

“Great peace have those who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble.” Psalm 119:165

When Jesus healed a woman who had suffered bleeding for twelve years he told her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.” (Luke 8:48) Likewise, a local woman known for her sins crashed a party and poured expensive perfume on Jesus, washing his feet with her hair. While others criticized her, Jesus affirmed her. “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” (Luke 7:48, 50)

When a Jew talks about peace, the word means ‘shalom.’ Shalom encompasses more to a Jew than a state of mind and body. To wish someone this kind of peace is to also wish them prosperity and wholeness. I think it’s significant that Jesus also recognized the faith they had in him. Trusting God completely will bring that kind of peace.

“And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

From the moment Christ’s birth was foretold, peace defined him. His character and attributes never suggest chaos or unrest. His wholeness, peace, love, and joy become ours. The peace the world offers is fleeting and often based on emotions, but God’s peace is based on the faith we have in him. It’s based on his gifts of unconditional acceptance and unconditional love. With the peace of God, our condition can be calm and not anxious, regardless of what’s happening around us.

“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 minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

Do you know someone who seems to always be at peace? What can you learn from them about living a life of peace? How do you respond when your circumstances challenge your inner life?

Jesus, we offer ourselves to you and trust you. Thank you for sending your Holy Spirit to grow us and mature us in the grace you give, a never-ending grace. Your peace is what we need. We ask you to not remove us from the world, but protect our hearts from the anxieties we see there. We come to you for rest and worship you as our Prince of Peace. Amen

Living the Fruit of the Spirit: Joy

“The joy of the Lord is your strength.”Nehemiah 8:10

Joy is a gift. Like the other fruit of the Spirit, it’s not something we conjure up. It’s present in our lives because it’s the joy of our Lord. For instance, when Jesus sent 72 of his disciples to spread the gospel, on their return, he got super excited about the results of their efforts.

“At that time, Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.” Luke 10:21

If Jesus could be filled with joy ‘through the Holy Spirit,’ why would anyone turn down a gift that creates spontaneous worship?

Joy is a permanent possession, but happiness is fickle and fleeting. While it may be hard to distinguish between joy and happiness, I like to think of joy as something I simply can’t explain. My happiness is usually expressed as something I have or don’t have. For instance, if I say “I’m not very happy today” or “I’m so happy right now!” you might ask me what’s causing my happiness or lack of it. I’d probably be able to tell you why. If I can’t tell you exactly why, it’s most likely joy.

If you look up the word joy in a dictionary, you’ll see descriptive words like exhilaration, delight, sheer gladness. When defined like this it can result from a great success or a very beautiful or wonderful experience like a wedding or graduation. But this definition of joy, one that most people understand, is from a whole different perspective. I’m here to tell you, it’s not nearly as amazing as the joy I experience from knowing God.

The joy we experience as we follow Jesus can feel a little overwhelming. It can be confusing because we’re joyful and, like I said, we can’t explain it. Sometimes I will try to figure it  out. And when I do that, what I usually find is oodles of gratitude for the grace God gives. But my little brain can’t figure out that kind of grace so anymore, I don’t even try.

Because I’m experiencing the joy of the Lord I don’t fret over things much. I’m certainly concerned about important things; I just don’t lose sleep over stuff like I used to. Experiencing joy lets me lead a simpler life. My life is more full because God has emptied me of most of the extraneous stuff I used to think was important. That sort of change in my life has brought me peace and I more easily trust God that things will eventually be okay.

“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.” Romans 15:13

Joy comes from contact with God and availing ourselves of His love. When we know our identity in Christ, joy naturally follows. That’s a joy we want everyone to experience, so we take the story of Jesus to everyone as often as possible.

On the night he was arrested, Jesus took his closest disciples to a private place and prayed for them. It gives me great joy and brings me to tears when I learn that he also prayed for the people they would reach with the gospel. People like you and me. He prayed that we would know God as he knows God and to be filled with his glory. He prayed for our protection. He prayed that we would know the unity he and his Father know. He prayed that we’d have his joy in all things.

“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.” John 17:13

When Jesus says “full measure,” he means it. “Full measure” will be another thing–like joy–we’ll probably never be able to explain. Because if God is eternal, how much is “full?”

I don’t know, but it sure does make me happy!

Dear Father in Heaven, remember your promise that your joy will be in us and that our joy will be complete. We praise you in our joy for your faithfulness to complete the work you’ve begun. Help us to walk in the Spirit and show evidence of you that others will see, then come to know your joy as we do. Amen

 

Living the Fruit of the Spirit: “Love”

 

Isn’t it wonderful that we don’t have to work hard at creating the fruit of the Holy Spirit? God gave us his Spirit so that we’ll be filled with fruit and exhibit that fruit by his grace. For that matter, isn’t it wonderful how often we see that God ‘gives’? As we follow Jesus and are obedient to Him, we naturally bear fruit just as a tree blossoms, then produces fruit. The tree doesn’t strive to create fruit; it does what it was created to do. When we become the new creation, likewise, the Spirit works in us.

“His divine grace has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” 2 Peter 1:3 (NIV)

If by God’s grace we’re given these things, it’s a comfort to know he’s growing us up in Love. The fruit of the Spirit means just that: fruit produced in us that we don’t create ourselves. We can consider it a comfort and a relief that we aren’t required to work so hard at being loving, joyful, at peace, patient (and the rest). The Message translation for Galatians also uses this analogy.

“But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.

Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified.

Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives.” Galatians 5:22-25, The Message

That said, we have a responsibility to keep our eyes on Jesus and our hearts tuned to the Spirit. Even as God is creating fruit in us, we’re better equipped to live out and preach the Gospel when we remain ‘in him.’ A branch that’s come loose from the tree stops creating fruit.

“For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself.” Galatians 5:14

“Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.” John 13:34-35

“I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. John 15: 11-15

“Now that you’ve cleaned up your lives by following the truth, love one another as if your lives depended on it” 1 Peter 1:22

We love because he first loved us and they will know we are his disciples if we love one another.

Be a blessing to someone today.

(Unless otherwise noted, scripture references are from The Message)

 

Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life: a book review

Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life by Henri Nouwen; copyright 2013; Harper One; 256 pp. (audio 7 hr. 14 min.)

Nouwen wastes no time in his story before he defines his conception of discernment. To him, discernment is finding the spiritual answers that help us live our lives from day to day. Even more, he says–and this seems to be his purpose for writing–discernment is listening to the voice of God to find a purpose for our lives.

God speaks to us, he says, directing us as we discover what we’re passionate about. And once we’ve determined what we’re passionate about, God directs us to fulfill our purpose in His Kingdom. Vocation, however, is not the same as passion, according to Nouwen. Work can be anything we do to accomplish tasks. When we’re fulfilling our purpose, the work comes so easily and is so gratifying, we come away not even feeling like it was work. It becomes ministry at its best. Because it’s ministry at its best, it also means it’s service to others. And as we so often say, it’s “not about us.”

In fact, Nouwen makes the case that the attitude of humility helps us discern God’s meaning in things more correctly. Conversely, discerning God’s meaning brings humility.

Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest who spent nearly twenty years as a professor, also lived the Trappist life for a short time and worked with the poor in South America. But he discovered his purpose according to God’s will at L’arche Daybreak community in Ontario. Here, he worked with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

So, according to Nouwen, the idea is to listen. To God, to mentors, to those who’ve gone before us, and to the rhythms of our lives. Nouwen often quotes Thomas Merton, apparently a role model for him. It sounded like Nouwen felt kinship with Merton because their pilgrimages were similar. Both struggled with finding where they belonged if they were to serve God the way they hoped to. For me, hearing some of Merton’s ideas was a bonus because I enjoy his works as well.

Nouwen is considered among the mystics; at least I’d put him in that category. He talks a lot about his experiences in learning discernment, and for the most part, the stories are pertinent to the narrative.

Since I was reading an audio book, which he narrated himself, my mind would wander because he tends to ramble as he drops little gems of wisdom. But I want this to be a go-to book so I’m probably going to buy a copy. Then I’ll be able to mark it up and take notes in the margins. There’s meaty content and wisdom here I want to experience a second time.

Happy reading and be a blessing to someone today.

16 Questions to Ask a Friend

The Bible teaches us that friendship is almost like lifeblood.

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” Proverbs 17:17

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

When we have close friends around us, our burdens are lighter because they have our back. They support us emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually.

Sometimes we find it difficult to make friends because we’ve been hurt. But we can rely on some simple tips to make friends and stay somewhat safe. We start slowly. Even small talk can help. While some of us eschew it, finding out the ways that people relate in those initial conversations helps us to move on to more intimacy.

The graphic here has some fun questions to ask to get acquainted. Naturally, we don’t want to use it as a template as if we’re interviewing someone for the job of friend. But the questions can spark fun conversations with unexpected ventures into your own desires. When you ask questions like these, you find out how you and the other person ticks.

Not every person we come in contact with becomes a close friend. Some will remain simple acquaintances. That’s okay. A friend of mine referred to a few of the people at church as “Hello Friends.” She had the type of relationship with them that, while not intimate, was pleasant to have nonetheless.

A goal of mine this year is to make a new friend with at least three women at my church who have been only “Hello Friends.” They’re people I’d like to get to know better. Kathy and I have talked about trying out a restaurant we’ve never been to so we can get better acquainted. She seems like a fun person, someone who can help me understand more about God. Or at least challenge my thinking.

She may or may not become a close friend, but I have the feeling she’s the type of person, along with her husband, Larry, who would have my back if I needed that. Besides, I’d sort of like to know what kind of dinosaur she’d choose to be.

Maggie and I have become Movie Buddies and we usually like the same type of movie. She also is keen to watch the credits with me. Not many people are that patient to indulge me, but since we watched several of the Marvel superhero movies together, it always paid off.

Friendships within the Body of Christ will be some of the ones we treasure most.

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25

Have a fun time with a new acquaintance or a longtime friend. See what happens. While you’re at it, spur that person on, encouraging them like you would your children. Meet together often and don’t let your relationships drift.

You know what? God also enjoys the conversations with him that we set into our busy day. He’s the best Friend you could ever have. He always has your back.

Father, guide us to people who, like you, can teach us more about ourselves. Help us to understand the value of friendship. Holy Spirit, we welcome you as the link between us and God. We ask you to link us to the people God wants us to connect with in our walk here on Earth. Thank you for being everything you are and for being the best Friend we have. Amen.

Acting on Affirmations

next-life-chapter-cropRead this quote all day until you have it memorized. Repeat it to your friends any chance you get. Type “amen” in the comments because you believe it’s true. Print it out and post it on your fridge. Do all those things if you want. But…

I’ve discovered we have to deal with whatever is in the former chapters of our lives and get over what’s hurting us. Those hurts can include resentment, regrets, and open wounds because we won’t forgive. Real and meaningful progress doesn’t occur if we don’t deal with those things.

Affirmations are okay. But an affirmation is only something positive we tell ourselves which doesn’t become real for us until we’ve acted on it. Take for example one I found on a list for Christians:

“I see others as God’s gift to me.”

Sounds nice, doesn’t it? I believe this so-called affirmation is true. But if, in my daily walk-about, I don’t treat everyone as the gift I believe they are, my words are hollow.

God’s promises are the same. He offers so much to us that we don’t have to work for. However, even though many of those promises are a faith matter, even the most recognizable work in our lives can be accompanied by his “Now, go.” There’s usually something he wants his disciples to do so they will receive the full benefit of the gift.

Read about a man who was born blind in John 9:1-34. He wasn’t healed simply because Jesus put mud on his eyes. Jesus put the mud there. That was God’s part. Then Jesus told the man to go wash his eyes in a pool and he’d be healed. When the man acted on Jesus’s instructions, he went home with the gift of eyesight.

A friend of mine says, “God feeds the birds, but He doesn’t throw the worms into their nests.” Quite often,  God doesn’t just come through with our need and that’s it. On the contrary, we’ll discover that there’s work for us to do which coincides with the work he’s already doing for us.

Go ahead and read your “last chapter.” Then ask God how he’d like you to deal with it. I’m guessing that for you, as it was for me, he’s expecting you to do something. Listen with humility to what he’s saying to you.

Then, “Go.”

And be a blessing to someone today.

Praying for Yourself With Humility

She prays this earnest prayer when she realizes she is prone to behaving like, as we used to call it, a ‘fuddy-duddy.’ I believe the prayer fits no matter what our age is.

Lord, you know better than I know myself that I am growing older and one day will be old.

Keep me from the fatal habit of thinking I must say something on every subject and on every occasion.

Release me from craving to straighten out everybody’s affairs.

Make me thoughtful but not moody; helpful but not bossy.

With my vast store of wisdom, it seems a pity not to use it all; but you know, Lord, that I want a few friends at the end.

Keep my mind free from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point.

Seal my lips on my aches and pains, they are increasing and love of rehearsing them is becoming sweeter as the years go by.

I dare not ask for grace enough to enjoy the tales of other’s pains but help me to endure them with patience.

I dare not ask for improved memory, but for growing humility and a lessening cocksureness when my memory seems to clash with the memories of others.

Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be mistaken.

Keep me reasonably sweet. I do not want to be a saint, some of them are so hard to live with, but a sour old person is one of the crowning works of the devil.

Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places and talent in unexpected people, and give me O Lord the grace to tell them so. Amen

Anonymous Nun, Seventeenth century

Be a blessing to someone today

Our Responsibility: The Image of God

“Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:26-27

“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Genesis 2:7

Of everything God created, we are the only creatures designed in His image and His breath is the breath we breathe.

We guard the image of man by respecting our bodies and respecting the image of God in others. We make decisions about right to life and quality of life based on what God sees and expects. We understand that, from conception to death, all human beings are people God loves. We know the things of God because we know His character.

We guard the image of man through our worship of God.

“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.”

Praising God requires our breath–His breath. When we give honor to God we’re cherishing our own bodies, spirits, and souls.

God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’” Genesis 1:28

In the beginning, God had a plan. His plan, which included you and me, was for a world where we live as stewards of everything He made. Ruling over God’s creation means being the authority. With that authority we undertake the responsibility of care. Caring includes listening, so we’re attentive to the needs of others created in God’s image.

We’re attentive to the needs of everything God created. “Every living creature that moves on the ground.” To ‘subdue‘ in Hebrew means to conquer and hold in bondage. We make it our servant. However, we must remember that God always saw harsh treatment of anyone in bondage as sin. Hence, while we may conquer Earth and everything in it, we respect those things that are under our control. We answer to God for that.

When the idea is a simple one, God is speaking. If we’re in tune with God, guarding the image of man and caring for everything he gave us becomes second nature. Implementing The Golden Rule in reference to our planet and in regard to others is the solution to our questions every time.

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you,

for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12

Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of Living: a Review

by Reuben P. Job, copyright 2007, Abingdon Press, 77pages

This book is based on John Wesley’s three simple rules: Do No Harm, Do Good, Stay in Love With God. The editor, Reuben P. Job, says in his preface that these three rules “have the power to change the world.” I’m a Wesleyan and am familiar with the Discipline, so the book had some attraction for me when I first picked it up.

It’s a book which can be read perhaps in one sitting, but I believe it needs to be read more slowly so the reader may chew on the wisdom of Wesley. For instance:

“When I am determined to do no harm to you, I lose my fear of you; and I am able to see you and hear you more clearly.”

While “Three Simple Rules” is intended for a general audience, I believe the message is especially relevant for leaders. Emphasis, in my opinion, should always be on staying in love with God. When I do that, I’m more likely to remember the greatest commandments. Then it follows that I’ll “do no harm” and “do good.”

This tiny little book includes a Daily Guide to Prayer and sheet music for “Stay in Love With God,” which is adapted from words by John Wesley. Epigraphs for each of the three chapters are taken from Psalms and the New Testament.

I keep reading this book over and over again because it’s like a guidebook. There’s so much to learn and apply. Certainly it will take a lifetime for me to be true to its principles.

Jonah and a Big-Mouthed Fish

While waiting for my appointment with a doctor, I picked up a Highlights magazine from the table beside me. I don’t often read magazines for children, but this one caught my eye because of a cover blurb.

“Whoa! Whale Sharks,” it said.

The article in the February 2015 issue was fascinating. As I read it, I began to wonder if perhaps this huge fish wasn’t of the species God chose to swallow Jonah. When I was growing up, our Sunday school teachers gave us flannel graph lessons and explained this reluctant prophet’s story as “Jonah and the Whale.” But ‘whale’ isn’t the animal name given in the Bible. (Jonah 1:17, emphasis mine)

The King James Version says, “Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah.”

The New International Version reads: “Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah.”

Yet another version, the New Revised Standard Version, says “But the Lord provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah.”

Even more interesting language comes in the English Standard Version: “And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah.”

I guess, even aside from the verb used to say how the fish came into the story, it’s obvious that this is not a whale, but a fish. Whales are mammals; fish are not. Scripture also makes it clear that God caused this to happen.

Basic information about whale sharks is agreed upon from research which scientists have done on them. Science describes and provides “everything you ever wanted to know about” whale sharks. For perspective, a whale shark is about the size of a school bus so it could easily hold a man in its belly.

Most of us were captivated by the story of Jonah when we were children. It’s even captivating when we’re adults with the very idea that someone survived inside a fish for three days and three nights.

Some people don’t believe the story is true. But God never answers all the questions we have about what happens in the Bible. Scripture includes lots of mysteries.

Perhaps the mystery of what kind of great/huge/large fish swallowed Jonah will never be known. But I think it’s nice to have whale sharks as a possible answer to where Jonah spent three days in the dark as he came to his senses and decided to obey the Lord.