Sunday, July 31, 2011

Juicy Fruit, Patience - Galatians 5:22

10 second dead air.
That was about 10 seconds of dead air and it was torture wasn't it?  It's so hard to be patient.  After 3 seconds you're already coming up with scenarios:  ok the pastor had a stroke, call 911.  Maybe he's expecting somebody else to do something.  Maybe he's just an idiot.  Somebody say something!  Just 10 seconds. 

We are in Galatians 5:22 this morning and today's fruit of the Spirit is patience.  Let's read that verse.  Galatians 5:22.   

We are going through the fruit of the Spirit and obviously we have made it to "patience".  The first 3, love, joy and peace, are all so wonderful to have in our lives.  Everybody wants more love in their life.  We crave to have joy.  We pray that God will bring peace.  But patience, not so much.   

The thing that is different about patience as opposed to the first three is that there is nothing pleasant about patience in and of itself.  It's not pleasurable to attain it and there is no pleasure in exercising it.  We get love by showing other people love.  We get joy by showing others how to be joyful.  You don't have to do much of anything to get peace except be still and know that he is God.  But patience...You know how you get patience?  The hard way! 

Nobody is born patient.  Babies are never patient.  They want something and they want it now.  They don't care how little sleep you had.  They want it now.  Some of us haven't changed much.  I saw a funny video the other day.  This guy brought 4 year old kids one at a time into a room with a hidden camera and had the child sit at a table with a marshmallow on it.  The child was instructed that if they didn't eat the marshmallow for 15 minutes, they would be given another marshmallow and then they could eat both.  Just wait 15 minutes and you could have 2 marshmallows. 

How do you think that went?  2 out 3 ate the marshmallow before the 15 minutes was up.  Some lasted a couple of seconds.  Some lasted longer.  One of them last for 14 minutes and 30 seconds and then scarfed up the marshmellow.  They would sniff of it, poke it, eat the middle out of it.  Some of them didn't even try.  The guy wasn't out of the room good and they would eat it. 

How patient are you?  Would you say that you would qualify as being called "patient"?  Some of you just want me to give you a marshmallow now and be quiet.  When is it most difficult for you to be patient?  What are your pet peeves?  My pet peeve is somebody talking when I am trying to talk.  It's hard for me to be patient when that happens and as I lose my patience, it's interesting to note that my love, joy and peace fly out the window about the same time.   

We all talk about patience but what is it really?  The original Greek word used here by Paul is "makrothumia", macro meaning long and thumos means temper.  It takes a long time to get mad, basically.  But again, like the other fruit we have seen so far, a definition doesn't do it justice so I want to show you what it looks like and also what it doesn't look like. 

Who better to start with in showing what patience looks like than the author of Galatians himself, Paul?  Before Paul wrote Galatians we see him in the book of Acts in prison for driving a demon out of a slave girl.  If you have your Bibles turn to Acts 19-25.  Read.  Paul and Silas never responded to the crowd.   They had every right and every reason to be complaining and protesting their treatment but instead they were praying and singing "Amazing Grace".  Don't those two guys just make you sick?  They do me.  They make me look so pathetic with my wimpy little problems that I want to complain about all the time.  Praying and singing, nanny, nanny, nanny!  He was talking while I was talking, nanny, nanny, nanny! 

So not only do we see they had patience but we also looked at this situation as an example of peace and joy.  And this wasn't a fake patience either.  We've all been in that situation.  Maybe you are getting in trouble at work or school.  Your spouse is nagging.  Your neighbor is wasting your time.  And you just sit there and grin and bear it on the outside but on the inside you are fuming.  When difficulties come, we can plaster on a smile and play the brave Christian, even if inside we are just building up our resentment.  But a mature and growing faith will be learning the perspective of the farmer.  Let me read to you a passage from James 5.  7 Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. 8 You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.
The farmer knows he is working for a reason; the harvest is coming. When others let us down, we can grit our teeth and suppress our irritation, even if inside we are seething. But a mature and growing faith is learning to see the faults of others in the light of the future. God will make all things right, both judging evil and rescuing us from it. If He can save an evil person like me, He can certainly be counted on to deal with everyone else as well.  So true patience comes from having that perspective.
We've seen a good example of what true patience looks like and what fake patience looks like.  Now let's look at an example of not having any patience.  Turn to I Samuel 13.  We will look at verses 8-13 and as you turn there I will tell you what is going on here.  Saul is the king of Israel and he is about to go to battle with the Philistines but he is seriously outnumbered.  Samuel the prophet told him to wait for him.  He would be there in 7 days and would offer up the sacrifice.  Saul waited and waited, all the while the Philistines got closer and closer.  Time was running out and Saul's troops were running off.  Everybody was scared.  So Saul takes matters into his own hands and let's see what happens.  Read 8-13.
Saul missed out on a huge blessing.  He just knew that he had to do something and now he had to pay the price and was replaced as king by (my friend) David.  Now I want you to catch all this...David knew about God's blessings.  He writes in Psalm 86:15, "But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness."  Did you catch that?  God 's blessings include being slow to anger.  God Himself is patient!  He is patient and wants to bless us and He will bless us when we, like Him, are patient.
We have talked in our Sunday School about Jeremiah the prophet being patient and longsuffering.  He prophesied for years and never had a convert.  James also talks about prophets in James chapter 5.  As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful. (James 5:7-11)
Every week we see that these fruit of the Spirit, when they are mature in a believer, make that person more attractive to non-believers.  And the reason they make you look more attractive is because it makes you more like Jesus.  Jesus could have won the kingdoms of this world at the Temptation, but He waited.  He could have established His kingdom when He rode into Jerusalem, but He waited.  He could have condemned those who crucified Him, but He waited.  He could have called legions of angels to defend Him, but He waited.  He could have returned yesterday, but He waited.
Why is He so excruciatingly patient?  Because the greater the investment in His people-in both time and spiritual maturity-the greater the benefit in the eternal scheme.
This is a mean and nasty world in which we live.  It's hard to be patient with people sometimes.  A big joke in almost any kind of business that involves people (retail, sales, health care, churches) is that this job would be great if it weren't for the people.  It's because people are hard to get along with.  We've all experienced that.  And it's not going to end.  There will always be people who try to use you for their own agenda.  They will take advantage of you.  They will say mean things.  They will overreact when you do something not quite right.  They will take you for granted.  They will kick you when you're down.
God can't surely expect us to be patient with those kinds of people, can He?
I want you to think back to Paul and Silas in prison.  Praying and singing, it says.  That's the same Paul that just a few chapters earlier it says was breathing out murderous threats against members of "The Way", dragging them out of their homes, putting them in prison or even having them killed.  And now we see him, after being beaten himself, praying and singing, full of joy, peace and patience.  What's the difference?
I'll tell you what the difference is not.  This is not someone who just turned over a new leaf in his life.  It's not someone who is trying real hard to be a good person, whose good deeds outweigh his bad deeds.  It's not someone who has started going to church or was baptised or whose mother always went to church.
This is someone who has had a life-changing relationship with the Creator of the universe.  Someone who has agreed with God that he is a sinner and understands that the wages of sin is death and that Jesus Christ died on the cross to pay that price.  He understands that Jesus died but rose again after 3 days and that it is only by grace and through faith that he is saved.  And now after asking God to be Lord of his life, the fruit of the Spirit starts to ripen and mature, making this man attractively patient.
The exact same thing can happen in your life today if you just accept it.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Juicy Fruit, Peace - Galatians 5:22

How do you  like these boots I'm wearing?  For those of you that can't see them, no, I didn't get a new pair of boots.  In fact, these are old and worn but they have steel toes.  Any idea why I would wear steel toed boots; ugly, old, worn out steel toed boots?  Because I'm going to be stepping on them a lot this morning. 

My first mistake was not being prepared this week for what happened.  I've stood up here several times and warned you to be prepared for the cycle.  You know, that cycle when 1) We are obedient then 2) God blesses then 3) Satan attacks.  You can expect it to happen just as sure as the sun coming up in the east and going down in the west.  I knew it but I wasn't prepared. 

I have thoroughly enjoyed studying for this message.  Well, I was enjoying it earlier in the week as I sat at the computer reading and researching.  I had some music playing softly.  I was thinking about how peaceful it was as I studied about peace.  All was right with the world...until I got the email.  And quicker than you can say "no peace" that email Pearl Harbored my peace.  It wasn't from a church member but I completely lost whatever peace I had and Satan got a big ol' belly laugh out of it. 

I banged out a quick response telling this person everything I wanted to say in no uncertain terms and letting them have it with both barrels.  Nothing I said was untrue and I had wanted to say it for a long time.  I also had every right to say it.  And in saying it, I completely lost not only my peace and my joy but also I may have damaged my witness.  And I realized all of this the instant I hit the "send" button.  Have you ever thought that the "send" button should be renamed the "regret" button? 

So, after a long talk with the Lord, I sent another email and took a big bite of crow and somehow managed to patch things up.  It wasn't easy and it wasn't fun but when I did I felt that peace that Paul talks about in Galatians 5:22 come easing back.  And like so many other things you don't miss it until it's gone.  So, while some of this message may come from my own experience I really wanted to know what the Bible says about peace; what it is, how to get it and how to keep it. 

Turn to Galatians 5:22.  Read

We will look at those 3 things:  what it is, how to get it and how to keep it but first I want to point out something.  You may notice some similarities among the first 3 fruit of the Spirit.  You may notice that you get them and use them and lose them very similarly.  They also build on one another.  There's no joy without love and there's no peace without joy. All of that's on purpose.  The first 3 are all characteristics that describe our inward state.  The next three, patience, kindness, goodness, are characteristics that describe our outward state toward other people and the last 3 are characteristics that describe our expression toward God. 

Instead of trying to define the word peace, let's see what it looks like.  To get a good picture of what peace looks like, you have to go all the way to the front of the Bible to Genesis.  Gee, Todd, why do we have to go back that far?  Well, what was it about the time in Genesis 2 that was most different from today?  Let's think about it.    The Garden of Eden was a perfect place, beautiful in every way.  Adam and Eve were created perfect.  They had perfect work.  They even got to stroll through the garden in the cool of the evening and have perfect fellowhip with perfect God enjoying perfect peace as they had that perfect relationship with God.  For a while. 

Then what happened?  Sin.  Sin.  It ought to be a four-letter word because it is so nasty.  It messes up everything!  Having trouble with a relationship?  Blame it on sin.  Having trouble at work?  Look close enough and the problem will be sin.  Got weeds in your garden?  You can ultimately blame it on sin!  So, when you lack peace.  Look for the sin.  When you have a close, perfect relationship with the Father through His Son you will have peace and when you have peace, it's because of that relationship.  They go hand in hand better than chips and hot sauce. 

Everybody wants peace.  Everybody talks about peace.  You can win peace prizes.  You can read thousands of peace books.  You can take medicine to get it or you can go on vacation to find it.  And if you want to win a beauty contest you have to want it for the world more than anything.  But all of that is peace that the world gives and that kind of peace is fleeting.  How do we get and keep real peace? 

A preacher once preached a sermon that was just not making sense to the people.  He was trying to use big words to impress them and speaking in the original Greek and Hebrew to make them think he was smart.  Talking on and on about stuff they just didn't understand.  Afterward, a woman came up to him and told him the message reminded her of the peace of God.  "Really?  That's great!  Why is that?"  She said, "Because it passes all understanding."

I want to read that passage that talks about the peace that passes understanding.  It's found in Philippians and I want to read chapter 4, verses 4-7.  4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

I mentioned earlier that these fruit build on one another.  Look at how Paul starts off by saying, "Rejoice in the Lord!" and then slides right in to peace.  But in between he brings up something else.  Don't be anxious (that's peace) but pray about everything.  Why would he say that we are to pray?  Because it works.  If karma was effective, I would pray to karma.  If luck could be counted on, I would pray to the god of luck.  If positive thinking worked, I'd be a millionaire dating a supermodel but none of that works.  None of that has proven itself.  But I have peace because it is given to me by my friend Jesus with whom I can converse any time I want and should converse with when I don't want to and who has proven Himself faithful and trustworthy over and over and over again! 

Now I hear what you're saying.  Oh, sure Todd, that worked for you when you got a nasty email.  I'm sure the next time I get a hangnail or somebody cuts me off in traffic that I will do just that.  I'll offer up a little prayer and that will take care of it.  But you're not in my position.  My marriage is on the rocks.  My boss just fired me.  I just found out my spouse has cancer and my kid is on drugs.  I'm about to lose my mind!  

Well, you're right.  I'm not in your position.  My kids are not on drugs.  I don't have cancer and I haven't lost my wife or job in months now.  But my friend knows how you feel.  In John 14:27 He says, "Peace I leave with you;  my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Do not be afraid."   My peace I give to you, He says.  Do you remember when Jesus said this?  Remember what was going on?  He was in the upper room just hours before He was to go to the cross and be brutally executed for crimes He didn't commit.   

He goes on to say in chapter 16, "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."  Then He went and prayed in the garden and it says later in the Book of Hebrews that for the joy set before Him He endured the cross... 

If Jesus prayed and had joy and peace do you think it will work for you?  Has He proven Himself to you?  I want to know when.  Tell me how God has proven Himself faithful to you.  Anybody. 

He has for me.  He reminded me just this past week of His provision and His providence to lead me out of certain situations which led me here.  I'll admit something else about that email problem I had.  I actually prayed as I was typing out my response.  I was praying, God help me to know what to say.  But God knew my heart and knew that what I was really saying was, God help me to know how I can win this argument and put this person in their place.  What I should have been saying was God, I need more of you.  I want to be more like you.  I want to worship you right now and later maybe I will respond to that email.  If I had done that I wouldn't have to be wearing these ugly boots and I would have continued to have peace that passes all understanding.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Juicy Fruit, Joy--Galatians 5:22

Can you name all of the fuit of the Spirit?  Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Of all of the fruit of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5, most people would probably pick joy as being the one they want the most.  If this was a buffet and they could pick just one fruit for themselves most would pick joy.  How do we get it, how do we keep it and what does it look like?

I want to start by giving you an example of what joy is.  I got to go golfing this past week with a preacher buddy of mine and we had a great time.  We talked and laughed and cut up all day.  Then about half way through, he was just about to chip up on to the green when we both noticed a funeral procession driving by.  My friend stopped right in mid-swing, took off his cap, held it over his heart and bowed his head in reverence as the hearse drove past.  I told him that was a remarkably nice gesture.  I was impressed.  He said, "Well, we were married for 25 years."

Some people have more joy than others, it's obvious.  But he's a good example of someone who doesn't let circumstances define how much joy he has.  In fact, that's the difference between joy and happiness.  Joy is a gift of God and we will talk more about that but happiness is dependant on our circumstances.  There is nothing wrong with wanting to be happy, but just realize that happiness is fleeting.  It can come and go with the wind...or the heat...or the lack of rain like we are having. 

I hope you have your Bibles.  If you don't have yours you can find one close by.  Turn to Galatians 5:22.  Let's look again at the fruit of the Spirit.  As you turn there I will remind you that this passage is about fruit.  Not fruits.  These are characteristics of every Christian that God gives as a bunch like grapes not like apples and oranges.  Paul says in the previous verses that when we live by the Spirit we will manifest these characteristics.  In John 15, Jesus says that He is the vine and we are the branches and branches can't bear fruit without the vine.   

So let's read Galatians 5:22-23. 

Last week we talked about love.  It's no coincedence that love is mentioned first.  Jesus said that the law could be summed up in that word.  Paul said that love was greater than faith or hope.  But we will also see that the others build on love.  Joy has a lot in common with love as far as how to get it, keep it and recognize it.  In fact, the secret to getting both is not trying to find them but trying to give them away but more about that later. 

So, let's talk about joy.  I want us to look at 2 basic things.  What is joy?  How do we get it? 

First, let's look at what it is.  The dictionary definition of a word is not always real helpful in fully understanding a word like this.  Webster says joy is a feeling of great pleasure or happiness.  We've already talked about how joy is different than happiness and we can all understand that joy is a feeling of great pleasure but I found it interesting when I looked it up in the original Greek.  The word "chara" actually means to jump up or spin around. 

  Have you ever seen a little kid open a present on Christmas and it is the very thing he has wanted for all of his 4 long years on this planet?  What does he do?  He gets excited and may very well jump up or spin around.  He doesn't care what other people think.  Football season is just around the corner and while you will not see me jumping around when somebody makes a touchdown, a lot of folks will be.  They are not drawing attention to themselves.  They are celebrating.  And if they can celebrate like that over some kid running down a field with a ball then how much more should we celebrate God's good and perfect gifts? 

We learned in our Bible study on Wednesday that David will reign at the right hand of Jesus in Heaven.  That's not a bad promotion from shepherd.  David knew about joy.  When he sinned he wrote, "Restore to me the joy of my salvation".  Ps. 30, "...but joy comes in the morning... and you have turned my wailing into dancing."  Ps. 32,  "Shout for joy!"  Ps. 71, "My lips shall greatly rejoice when I sing to you."  Ps. 100,  "Make a joyful noise!" 

Some of you are saying, "Oh, great, Todd's gone charismatic on us."  No, but I'll be honest.  The older I get the more I dislike the idea of saying that because I am a Baptist I can't do this or that.  I want to know what the Bible says about it not what church people say and when it comes to joy it shows over and over again that it should be evident when people see us that we are different.  How can we tell somebody that God gives us joy in difficult times if we look like we are going through difficult times all the time?!  That's not very attractive to people. 

Some of you may be thinking, "How do I get that kind of joy?"  You may even be a Christian but you just don't feel like celebrating ever.  "I understand what it is.  I see what it looks like.  But I don't really have it."  Well, joy is there for us but sometimes our way to it seems blocked and it usually gets blocked by sin in our life.  I said before that these fruit of the Spirit are given to us by God when we abide in Him as the vine and we are the branches.  Sin chokes off that relationship and blocks our joy and it is not until we go to God like David did after Bathsheba-gate and say, "God forgive me and cleanse me and restore the joy." 

Much like true love, true joy doesn't come at the expense of someone else.  I told you earlier that you don't find joy by looking for it.  In fact, just like love, you find joy when you give it away or when you give yourself away.  Instead of praying that God would give you more joy, pray that God would reveal someone else that needs joy that you could help and see what happens.   

The bonus to doing that is that when you help someone else it not only brings you joy but it also makes you more spiritually attractive to other people.  In Acts 16 Paul and Silas are in prison for preaching the Gospel.  Yea, imagine that.  But what sets those two guys apart from all the other prisoners is what it says in verse 25, "About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God..."  They were vocal about their joy.  They made it known from where their joy came and do you remember what happened?  The jailer and his whole family came to know the Lord.  Because Paul and Silas gave up their right to be angry and sad, because they gave up their right to complain and be bitter a whole family's eternity was changed! 

Joy is a gift and I have a gift for someone.  Dollar bill.  It's free.  Just come get it.  When was that gift yours?  When I gave it to you?  No.  I was giving it to you well before you came to get it.  It was only yours when you got up and walked down here and took it.  Now it's yours.  Joy is the same way.  It's there for you to take.  But you have to accept it.  Salvation is the same way.  God has been offering you salvation forever but you can only get it by accepting it by faith in Jesus.  You don't work for it.  You can't deserve it.  But when you agree with God that you are a sinner and you can't do anything to deserve heaven, that it's not because your good deeds outweigh your bad, it's not because you go to church or are kind to animals or anything else. 

Salvation comes through a relationship with God through His Son Jesus when we admit that we are sinners and believe that Jesus died for our sins and rose again on the third day to pay for those sins and that it is by grace and through faith that we are saved and can have joy everlasting.  Makes me want to shout!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Juicy Fruit-Love Galatians 5:22

I started to bring some current popular health magazines with me this morning to illustrate a point but decided against it.  I didn't want to spend the money nor did I think it would be appropriate to buy some of that stuff.  We've all seen the magazines at the checkout stand in the grocery store.  Some of them are just pure trash but others can have some benefit I'm sure.  There is a common theme that runs through almost every one of those magazines.  You will always see at least one article on how to lose weight, how to get rock hard abs, what clothes you should buy and how to style your hair.  Believe it or not, I don't subscribe to any of those mags. 

The theme that flows through all of those publications is how to be more attractive.  Everybody wants to be more attractive.  Nothing wrong with that.  Some of us older guys would do well to take some of their advice.  This morning you will be glad to know that I am not going to talk about how to be more physically attractive (who's going to listen to that?) but I am going to talk about how to be more spiritually attractive.  The even better news is that just like becoming more physically attractive, becoming more spiritually attractive has benefits for you as well as other people. 

I started our series on the fruit of the Spirit 2 weeks ago with an overview of the whole list and for the next several weeks I would like to focus like a laser beam on each one.  I have to say real quickly here how much I appreciate Bill's help with last week's worship time.  When he came to me a few weeks ago with the idea of a God and Country service I thought, sure, we can sing a few patriotic songs, no big deal.  4th of July typical stuff.  But last Sunday was a powerful worship time and I am very grateful for Bill's leadership for that. 

How many of you, without looking at your Bible, can say all of the fruit of the Spirit?  Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Turn to Galatians 5:22.  -read-  9 words that should describe every Christian.  These are not really gifts from God in the same sense that people are gifted to do certain things in the church as needed.  If you are gifted to preach or teach or in the area of hospitality or administration, you should be producing those spiritual works.  The fruit of the Spirit is the harvest that is gleaned from living a life close with the Lord.  And the closer you get the more mature the fruit becomes.  And the more attractive you become to others. 

We have talked a lot lately about reaching our community so we can start to change the world.  Have you ever had a bad experience with the people in a church?  I went into a church years ago for the first time, by myself, and found a seat on the end of an aisle.  The man next to me told me that if anybody else came in, I would need to get up and sit somewhere else.  I told him I would make room for them right now and got up and left. 

I was not feeling the fruit of the Spirit in that place.  Especially the fruit we are going to talk about today which is love.  But when someone comes into our church and sees that our church exudes love and joy and peace and all the rest, we will have to build a wall around this place to keep Runaway Bay out!  Because that is attractive to people.  That is what they are looking for in their lives.  They can get entertained at home in front of the TV.  They can gossip about the neighbors at the country club.  They can go to Dos Chiles to get something to eat but what they really want is a life of peace and joy when hard times come.  They want to go somewhere where there is faithfulness.  They would kill for some gentleness and self-control! :) 

But nothing is more attractive than a person who truly loves.  Nothing.  You can have all the gifts in the world.  You can be gifted in the area of preaching, teaching, administration and everything else but nothing is as attractive to a non-believer than a person who loves.  I Corinthians 13:1-3 

My grandfather said there is no better explanation for a scripture than another scripture so turn to I Corinthians 13.  Let's continue to read in that passage about love. 

As you turn there I want to read some definitions of love to you.  Read definitions from kids. 

Love means lots of different things to lots of people but the love we are talking about today is agape love.  Agape is the Greek word for the kind of love that God gives us.  In fact, if you read I Corinthians 13:4-7, you can substitute the name Jesus for love.  Read passage.  The question is can you substitute your name for the word love?  If you do that is it going to sound ridiculous to those who know you best? 

Jesus tells us in John 13:35, "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."  Do we truly love each other to the point where we want the other person to look good even if we don't?  Do we truly forgive or do we keep a record of wrongs?  "Yea, I forgive you but you hurt me one more time and I'm gonna..." 

I hear what you're saying out there.  Todd, I love people but at some point I have to draw the line.  If they keep doing me wrong I can't continue to let them use me as a door mat!  I understand that.  I struggle with that myself and I'm sure I'm not the only one.  So, let's be clear about some things.  If someone is beating you over the head with a hammer, love doesn't mean you have to stay there and smile.  But are they really beating you over the head with a hammer?  Or are they making you uncomfortable?  Are they taking your place?  Are they doing things that you wouldn't do and taking advantage of you and your good nature?  Maybe they're even talking about you behind your back!  Maybe they are even causing you physical or emotional stress!
The men who were guarding Jesus began mocking and beating him.   They blindfolded him and demanded, “Prophesy! Who hit you?”   When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform a sign of some sort. 9 He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10 The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him. 11 Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate.  Not long after that he said, Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.  Luke 22 and 23.
John 15:13 Jesus says, Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
The world says, "I just want to live a little!"
A Christian says, I just want you to live a life that is abundant like it talks about in John 10:10 so I will lay down my life for you and show you Jesus even if it means I have to lay down my rights.  Even if it means I have to lay down my dreams and my goals and what I think you ought to be doing and just show you Jesus.  And I do that because as I John 4:19 says, We love because he first loved us.
The thing about this kind of love is that it is impossible.  It is.  In and of ourselves, it is impossible for us to love like that.  It goes against our very nature and against what makes sense and against what any good counselor would tell you.  But the great Counselor says through Paul in Galatians 5:13-16,  You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. 16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
How do we love like Jesus?  By walking with the Spirit.  How do we walk with the Spirit?  It starts by having a relationship with God through His Son Jesus, by agreeing with God that you are a sinner.  By accepting the fact that Jesus died for your sins and rose again on the third day and that it is only by grace and through faith that you are saved and can go to Heaven.  That is the only way we will ever love like that and the only way we will ever be attractive to our community.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Juicy Fruit, Galatians 5:13-26

Would you rather be free to do what God wants you to do or would you rather be enslaved to do what you want to do? 

Would you rather pay for temporary pleasure or be given everlasting joy? 

It's your choice. 

We've talked alot about the BOOCOD (benefits of obedience and the consequences of disobedience).  It seems like every week I stand up here and say you have to be obedient to what God tells you to do.  Some of you will be glad to know that we are starting a new series on the fruit of the Spirit that Paul talks about in Galatians and obedience is not really one of the topics.

But you know how your computer sometimes runs a program in the background and you don't really see it but you know it's there?  Obedience is running in the background of these passages.  You can make the choice to have freedom or slavery and pleasure or joy but behind those choices is BOOCOD.

In the Melanesian islands of the South Pacific during WWII, the natives watched closely as the American and British engineers came in and built airstrips. The islanders were amazed to see that when the airstrips were completed, planes began to arrive filled with cargo: food, building materials, machinery, even vehicles. This, they decided, was something they wanted in on.

The Melanesians deduced, that if they built airstrips, then planes would come to them, too, likewise bringing cargo. They accordingly hacked makeshift runways out of the jungle and built mock-up control towers out of grass and mud. They put fires along the sides of the runways, and put a man in the grass-hut control tower, with two coconut halves on his head for headphones--he’s the controller--they rigged antenaes out of bamboo and then they waited for the airplanes to land. As far as they could see they were doing everything right. The form was perfect. It looked exactly the way it was supposed to. But it didn’t work. No airplanes ever came. (John Derbyshire, National Review Online, June 14, 2002 "It’s All America’s Fault: The cargo-cult mentality."and Richard Feynman From a Caltech commencement address given in 1974 Also in Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!)

In the world that you and I live in today cargo people are commonplace. The cargo that people are looking for is not food and machinery but love, joy, peace, patience and all the other things that our text this morning describes as the "fruit of the Spirit." Rather than building runways for the cargo planes to land on, those who seek this precious cargo seek to order their lives in a way that looks religious. "Surely", the thinking goes, "if my life looks spiritual, then God’s blessing will follow." What they are missing, like the Melanesian islanders, is the fact that cargo comes not because of runways and control towers but because of a relationship with the one who sends the cargo.

Love, joy and peace and all the others are not the result of adherence to a set of Christian standards, rather they grow out of a relationship with God born of faith in Jesus Christ.

Paul wrote the book of Galatians to dispel the myth that had been going around there that to be a follower of Jesus one had to continue to follow the Law of Moses.  He argued that it was not about rules, it was about relationship and that out of that relationship came a changed life and out of that changed life, as we will see, the blooming of the fruit of the Spirit comes and we will see what that means.

read 13-26

Paul is basically saying that there are two ways to live.  You can walk in the sinful nature or you can walk in the Spirit so I have two points in this sermon.  You have the freedom to:

1)  Reap the consequences or

2)  Receive the blessings

Almost sounds like BOOCOD but we're not gonna go there.

In verses 16 and 17, Paul talks about living by the Spirit and living in the sinful nature.  The word he uses is in the present tense meaning to go on living or a continual action of doing so.  This is not to say that Christians won't sometimes slip and fall into one of the sins of the sinful nature or that a non-Christian can't ever be kind or good.  Even a blind pig finds an acorn every now and then.  But the lifestyles are at war with each other. 

Before I had the 3 dogs I have now I had one dog named JD.  Lotsa good JD stories.  He was a great dog.  Beautiful Australian Shepherd.  Well-behaved.  Friend gave me a male bulldog.  Very expensive but ugly and mean.  Fought with JD.  I obviously could not keep both so instead of the ugly mean dog I kept the beautiful sweet dog.

It's the same with these lifestyles.  You will either have one or the other.  You will not have both.  Now I could have tried to make the bulldog look like JD.  I could put a similar collar on him and called him JD and told everybody JD had just ran into a wall.  But nobody would fall for that very long.

So it is with the sinful life.  Paul says in v. 19 that the acts of the sinful nature are obvious.  You can make the choice to live that lifestyle but I warn you that you will reap the consequences.

vv. 19-21 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.

There’s a couple of important points here. First of all note with me the diversity of this list. Most of us do all right with the acts of the sinful nature that really do seem obvious: sexual immorality, debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; fits of rage, and orgies. What becomes more troublesome are those that seem a little more mainstream: impurity, hatred, discord, jealousy, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness. These are more problematic for us, but the message is clear, they are not separated into first tier and second tier, they are woven together and put on the same plane. Drunkenness is no more acceptable than witchcraft, jealousy is no less toxic than sexual immorality. All of these are the works of the flesh, the cargo natural to the life unchanged by grace. These are the desires that Paul says we will not gratify if we are living by the Spirit.

Also note that Paul is quite strong here in his condemnation of all of this type of behavior. Those who live this way, he says WILL NOT inherit the kingdom of God. That is the consequence that you reap.  Play semantic games with what that means all you want, but the bottom line is Paul is saying if you live a life that produces this kind of fruit, you are not saved. He’s saying if you are saved you won’t live this way.

And I think the wording is important, he doesn’t say that those who do these things will not inherit the kingdom. He says that those who live this way will not inherit the kingdom. That’s not to give permission for occasional backsliding, but simply to recognize the power of the Spirit that brings us along gently in a process of grace, molding us into the image of Jesus. God isn’t up there with a stick ready to pound your head at the first mistake, but there clearly is a divine expectation of a changed life in response to and in cooperation with God’s grace.

But if you choose to live that way you will reap the consequences.  Now let's look at how we can receive the blessings. 

vv. 22-25 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. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

The first thing that leaps out at me here is the contrast between the types of things that Paul lists as being the fruit of the Spirit and those that he lists as fruit of the flesh. The fruits of the flesh he describes as "acts of the sinful nature" and they are just that--actions, behaviors, things people do.

The fruit of the spirit on the other hand are character traits. They are ways of being, of course it goes without saying that these will manifest themselves in behavior consistent with the life of the Spirit, but it’s important to note that the transformation is first internal. Does the behavior change? Yes, but it is the person that changes first and the behavior changes as a result of that.

And it is this internal change that we as human beings are really intersted in. Like the Melanesian islanders building empty runways we can attempt to build the Christian life based on externals but the real cargo never arrives when we do it that way. A life of external purity in itself will lead only to frustration because we cannot forever maintain that facade, but a life rooted in faith in Jesus will lead both to an a life filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, AND to a life that is externally pure. The very next verse says "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires".

All that being said, the key to unlocking these blessings of the Spirit is getting closer to God.  Instead of seeking more of the fruit, we must seek more of the Spirit.  When we think we need more love or more patience, instead of asking God for more love or patience, we should ask God for more of Himself in us.  The more we abide in Him the more of this fruit we will have.  When we lack certain ones it is because we lack the fellowship with the Spirit who gives them.
This isn't a buffet where we can pick and choose what we want from the list.  I'd like a little love, lotsa joy but hold the patience please.  It says fruit not fruits.  As we mature and get closer to God the more ripe that fruit gets and the more like Jesus we become.  And that is the real blessing.