Galatians 5:16-26 – Let the Spirit Guide You

“Be guided by the Spirit and you won’t carry out your selfish desires…. the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against things like this.  Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the self with its passions and its desires.  If we live by the Spirit, let’s follow the Spirit.  Let’s not become arrogant, make each other angry, or be jealous of each other.” (Common English Bible)

I’m the youngest sibling in my family.  So, I know what it feels like to be a third wheel with things.  When I was a kid, it seemed as if everyone believed I was too young to do anything or engage any of the real fun stuff, like watching “Mannix,” “Sanford and Son,” or “Love American Style” past my bedtime. Although now, I understand why I couldn’t watch those shows, the fact remains, I was often a third wheel.

At times, we treat the Holy Spirit of God like some third wheel. We pray to Almighty God. We pray in Jesus’ blessed name. And what of the Holy Spirit? Seems the Spirit gets the short end of the stick, getting treated like a younger sibling in the Trinity family. In fact, I’ve been in some churches where it seems their understanding of the Trinity is Father, Son, and Holy Bible – the Spirit is nowhere to be found.

Truth is, we never quite know what the Spirit might do. Heck, we aren’t even sure what pronoun to use for the Holy Spirit. It? He? She? They?  Because the Spirit seems so mysterious and ethereal, because the Spirit is so unpredictable, we send he/she/it off to some metaphorical bedtime so that we can watch TV and do whatever we want. 

Or perhaps we really are diligent about the Christian life. We strive, work, and wrestle to live a good life. Yet, somehow, we far too often fall short and feel like a failure. Why is that?

Could be that we’ve looked at the Holy Spirit as the third wheel. We believe in the Spirit. We have faith the Spirit is there. Yet, we don’t have any idea how to relate. God is big and sovereign. And Jesus has a real body and blood. But the Spirit? Well, the Spirit’s out there, man – like, too cool for school, or like one of the characters on “The Mod Squad,” or something. 

How do you have a relationship with someone or something (many often refer to the Spirit as a “thing”)? How do we relate with a person (after all, the Spirit is fully a person) who is so crazy and seemingly other than you and me?

The Holy Spirit is the power source of the Christian life.  Without the Spirit, we can easily degenerate into all kinds of illicit thinking and behavior – including immorality, moral corruption, doing whatever feels good, idolatry, substance abuse, casting evil spells, hate, fighting, obsessive behaviors, violent anger, competitive opposition, conflict, selfishness, group rivalry, jealousy, drunkenness, or living for the party.

It is the Spirit who helps, comforts, provides strength, and enables us to replace old habits with new ones, and dead practices with solid spiritual action. The Christian virtues which flower and produce the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control occur through a close intimate relationship with the Holy Spirit. 

The Spirit helps us in our weakness when we pray and act.  The Christian enjoys such a close affectionate association with the Holy Spirit that it is as if we are a like a sacred temple with the person of the Spirit taking up residence within. 

By means of the Holy Spirit, God is always with us and continually, at this moment, working within us to make our redemption in Christ an actual real-live encounter. In other words, the Spirit gives us feet to walk among this world, armed with the implement of God’s love.

I’m going to make a simple observation about our New Testament lesson for today. All the spiritual virtues mentioned are the “fruit” of the Spirit, not “fruits.”  The nine ethics are a package deal.  When you have the Spirit and spiritual fruit, you possess all nine Christian values. 

If we look at the list and say something like, “Well, I’m pretty good at kindness and goodness, but I don’t have much peace or patience,” what that really means is that we are probably doing kindness and goodness from a different place than by means of the Holy Spirit. Because when the Spirit is manifested in us, we exhibit spiritual fruit. We cannot separate the nine spiritual virtues any more than we can separate the Trinity. They’re all one spiritual fruit, cultivated and produced within the inner person by the agency of God’s Spirit.

Maybe we need to consider the shadow side of our lives. It could be that, for example, we are far more driven by our anxiety about most things than about genuine altruism and love. The results of our actions and words might look the same, but the motivation might be far from truly altruistic. It simply will not last if our actions are generated from a place of worry – because it is not of the Spirit.

So, what to do about it?  We must mortify (put to death) the deeds of the sinful nature. You have been crucified with Christ and you no longer live but Christ lives in you by means of the Spirit He has given to us (Galatians 2:20).  If we have C-clamped our hearts so tight that the Spirit cannot get in, then it’s high time to loosen the grip and enable God to do some gracious and merciful work within us.  It’s the only way to experience genuine transformation of life.

The spiritual life can be scary. Letting go of control is hard for many people, including me. But the results are worth it. The Spirit is competent. The Holy Spirit might work in wild and crazy ways and might show up on “Saturday Night Live” where you least expect to discover her.

Jesus said that the work of God is to believe in the one he sent (John 6:29). The Spirit always points us to Christ, the one who has delivered us from the realm of sin and brought us forgiveness. This work of Christ enables the work of the Spirit, who now makes our deliverance a practical reality in daily life.

The Holy Spirit is not a third wheel, but the real deal. Whenever we open our hearts to the Spirit, we experience the wideness of God’s mercy. And when the Spirit is working inside of us, it makes the car chase scenes in “The Streets of San Francisco” look a lot less dramatic.

May the Spirit of the living God be with you now, and forever.  Amen.

Revelation 7:13-17 – Your Tears Will Not Last Forever

One of the elders asked me, “Do you know who these people are that are dressed in white robes? Do you know where they come from?”

“Sir,” I answered, “you must know.”

Then he told me:

“These are the ones
who have gone through
    the great suffering.
They have washed their robes
in the blood of the Lamb
    and have made them white.
And so they stand
    before the throne of God
and worship him in his temple
    day and night.
The one who sits on the throne
will spread his tent
    over them.
They will never hunger
    or thirst again,
and they won’t be troubled
by the sun
    or any scorching heat.

The Lamb in the center
of the throne
    will be their shepherd.
He will lead them to streams
    of life-giving water,
and God will wipe all tears
    from their eyes.” (Contemporary English Version)

Suffering Before Glory

There is a day coming when followers of Jesus will come before the throne of God, serving the Lord day and night. And he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. It will be a glorious time of unending peace, harmony, and rest.

But first, before this permanent Sabbath rest, there will be trouble, hardship, trial, and even martyrdom.  There will be suffering before glory.  Sometimes the difficult circumstances of life seem to have no end.  Yet, they will eventually pass, and we must continually keep this in mind.  There is a day coming when God’s pastoral presence will forever guard and keep our lives if we endure to the end.

Running Before Finishing

Perseverance, endurance, and pushing through hard situations are necessary to realizing the finish line.  We cannot just sit here on earth in some sort of holding pattern waiting for the end.  Just as an athlete must go into strict training to run the race well, finish strong, and cross the line, so we as Christians are to be in training. Believers possess at their disposal an array of spiritual practices that will fortify their souls to keep going and finish the race. 

The book of Revelation was a vision of the Apostle John given to suffering Christians in grinding hardship. Those ancient followers of Jesus had a great need of patience and perseverance. God graciously gave the believers a glimpse of the glorious ending to come. It was one way of helping them endure their present adversity and live for Jesus Christ.

Indeed, it is future hope which gives shape to the Christian’s life in the immediate here and now. Hope is what sustains us and helps us move through the difficulties of our current existence. Knowing there is a time coming when our tears will be personally wiped away by a loving God enables us to endure our griefs and sorrows.

Partial Before Total

God is with us. What we must continually keep in mind is that our salvation is assured – yet will not come in its fullness until the end of the age. So, we read Scripture portions like Psalm 91 with the understanding that ultimate safety and security is not found in this life but in the life to come…

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
    will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
This I declare about the Lord:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
    he is my God, and I trust him.
For he will rescue you from every trap
    and protect you from deadly disease.
He will cover you with his feathers.
    He will shelter you with his wings.
    His faithful promises are your armor and protection.
Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night,
    nor the arrow that flies in the day.
Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness,
    nor the disaster that strikes at midday.
Though a thousand fall at your side,
    though ten thousand are dying around you,
    these evils will not touch you.
Just open your eyes,
    and see how the wicked are punished.

If you make the Lord your refuge,
    if you make the Most High your shelter,
no evil will conquer you;
    no plague will come near your home.
For he will order his angels
    to protect you wherever you go.
They will hold you up with their hands
    so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.
You will trample upon lions and cobras;
    you will crush fierce lions and serpents under your feet!

The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me.
    I will protect those who trust in my name.
When they call on me, I will answer;
    I will be with them in trouble.
    I will rescue and honor them.
I will reward them with a long life
    and give them my salvation.” (New Living Translation)

May God’s peace and hope fill you with inexpressible joy at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Patient God, you tediously work until your plans and purposes are accomplished.  As you are slowly bringing your kingdom to the world, strengthen me so that I do not give up.  Help me to persevere, living and loving like Jesus, to his glory.  Amen.

Proverbs 9:1-6 – Lady Wisdom’s Invitation

Divine Wisdom by Shiloh Sophia McCloud

Wisdom has built her house
    with its seven columns.
She has prepared the meat
and set out the wine.
    Her feast is ready.

She has sent her servant women
    to announce her invitation
    from the highest hills:
“Everyone who is ignorant
    or foolish is invited!
    All of you are welcome
    to my meat and wine.
If you want to live,
    give up your foolishness
    and let understanding
    guide your steps.” (CEV)

Wisdom is personified as a wise woman calling out to us. Her message is a passionate appeal to take the path of insight through God’s revealed will. She encourages us to leave our simple ways and walk in the way of insight. 

The word “wisdom” in Scripture is the careful application of God’s Word to concrete situations in our lives. During our daily life, paying attention to wisdom and following her instructions is vital to experiencing success in the Christian walk, and in all of life.

Obstructing the ability to listen for wisdom’s call is the fact that too many people are downright impatient. The deliberate ways of wisdom take far too much time for them. They want the bottom-line, the skinny on wisdom. However, to let wisdom teach us her ways, we need to slow down enough to hear, accept, and engraft wise practices of living. Working and living harder and faster when we encounter difficulties only betrays our great need for Lady Wisdom’s instruction.

It is the immature simpleton who refuses to wait on the lessons that wisdom wants to impart. Wisdom cannot be gained quickly. Her teachings are learned slowly with careful application over time. Wisdom is something of a marinade, and if we don’t allow the proper time, we are unable to live well. We will then, at best, be bland and dull, and at worst, be an unsavory presence in the world.

Another foolish obstacle to receiving wisdom is the search for simple solutions to complex problems. Wisdom calls us to leave such ineffective and short-sighted ways and take the high road of consultation, collaboration, and humble learning.

Rather than always rush to Google for answers to our questions; instead of allowing another person to make decisions for us; in place of implementing sheer pragmatic plans, please allow wisdom to penetrate the mind and heart so that what comes out is thoroughly godly and biblical. 

Where is the place to start? Reverence of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is insight. There is no substitute to committing oneself to the regular and daily regimen of reading God’s Holy Word and seeking to put it into practice.

All-Wise God, the One who is never in a hurry, create in me a wise mind and heart.  Help me to sit still long enough for wisdom to bring biblical and spiritual maturity to my life, through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

2 John 1:1-6 – Love Must Have It’s Way, or It Isn’t Love

Heart painting by Ivan Guaderrama

My dear congregation, I, your pastor, love you in very truth. And I’m not alone—everyone who knows the Truth that has taken up permanent residence in us loves you.

Let grace, mercy, and peace be with us in truth and love from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, Son of the Father!

I can’t tell you how happy I am to learn that many members of your congregation are diligent in living out the Truth, exactly as commanded by the Father. But permit me a reminder, friends, and this is not a new commandment but simply a repetition of our original and basic charter: that we love each other. Love means following his commandments, and his unifying commandment is that you conduct your lives in love. This is the first thing you heard, and nothing has changed. (MSG)

An Absence of Love

It seems no matter where we look there are groups of people with entrenched ways of looking at things. And so, their solutions to the great problems of community, nation, and world narrowly focus on one way of thinking. Those answers rarely consider John’s message. The fix usually involves the belief that one group of folks know better for every other group. It is pride, condescension, and selfishness all rolled up into a tidy package of hate to be distributed to all who oppose the sanctified plan.

Good grief. We need a bit of humility to consult voices on the margins of society – to be open in finding understanding in remote places. Sometimes, the answers to significant issues are tucked away somewhere nobody looks. The brief letter of the Apostle John to the Church is nestled in a place within the New Testament where few believers ever peek. 

Perhaps love itself has become a forgotten virtue among the very people entrusted to uphold its beauty and grace.

It is my unshakable conviction, based upon the consistent witness of Saint John the Evangelist, that everything in the Christian life rises and falls with love. Even to say this with such brash boldness is a gross understatement. That’s because love is more than an idea, a feeling, and a practice.

God is Love

God extends loving words and actions because love is the stuff that God is made up of. The very character of God is love, through and through. There is never a time when God is not loving. God’s anger and wrath are expressions of love – for God is opposed to all that which is unloving. Therefore, God extends justice and confronts sin so that love will freely flow once again amongst humanity and all creation.

John is known as the Apostle of love. He consistently espoused the primacy and permanence of love whenever he had the chance. Truth and love go together, always. John says to the church, “We love you because the truth is now in our hearts, and it will be there forever.”

The true muster of the Church and of individual believers is their love. It doesn’t matter how right or important the cause is. If the strategy to implement that cause leaves love out of the equation, it is a fool’s errand.

A profound lack of love is the litmus test that belies a faulty and heretical doctrine of Jesus. The absence of love is always the clue there is going to be some impure teaching behind it. The real enemy of Christ is the one who claims Christianity but does not love in either word or deed. If we really want to love God, we will love one another, and vice-versa.

Love and Truth Always Go Together

To embrace truth is to love a group of people wherever they are. It is to see them, listen to them, then act on their behalf. Far too often Christians are known for their hubris in superimposing on others what those others need – believing they already know the truth of both Bible and them.

Love abides with the truth of a people. Genuine love seeks the truth and responds accordingly. Love is willing to find out what the issues are of a people. Assuming others need our money, our plans, our service, or our solutions assumes we already understand their situation apart from hearing from them.

Love is longsuffering. It is willing to sit with folks for as long as it takes. Love orients itself around the patient and careful application of biblical truth to the truth of a people. And that takes a great deal of time and effort. There are no shortcuts to love. Love must have its way, or it isn’t love. Since God is love, God must have his way in us first.

Maybe we need to come back again and again to the great ode to love expressed by the Apostle Paul. After all, the consistent witness of truth throughout the Bible is love.

Love, the Motivation of Our Lives

If I were to speak with eloquence in earth’s many languages, and in the heavenly tongues of angels, yet I didn’t express myself with love, my words would be reduced to the hollow sound of nothing more than a clanging cymbal.

And if I were to have the gift of prophecy with a profound understanding of God’s hidden secrets, and if I possessed unending supernatural knowledge, and if I had the greatest gift of faith that could move mountains, but have never learned to love, then I am nothing.

And if I were to be so generous as to give away what I own to feed the poor, and to offer my body to be burned as a martyr, without the pure motive of love, I would gain nothing of value.

Love is large and incredibly patient. Love is gentle and consistently kind to all. It refuses to be jealous when blessing comes to someone else. Love does not brag about one’s achievements nor inflate its own importance. Love does not traffic in shame and disrespect, nor selfishly seek its own honor. Love is not easily irritated or quick to take offense. Love joyfully celebrates honesty and finds no delight in what is wrong. Love is a safe place of shelter, for it never stops believing the best for others. Love never takes failure as defeat, for it never gives up.

Perfect Love

Love never stops loving. It extends beyond the gift of prophecy, which eventually fades away. It is more enduring than tongues, which will one day fall silent. Love remains long after words of knowledge are forgotten. Our present knowledge and our prophecies are but partial, but when love’s perfection arrives, the partial will fade away. When I was a child, I spoke about childish matters, for I saw things like a child and reasoned like a child. But the day came when I matured, and I set aside my childish ways.

For now, we see but a faint reflection of riddles and mysteries as though reflected in a mirror, but one day we will see face-to-face. My understanding is incomplete now, but one day I will understand everything, just as everything about me has been fully understood. Until then, there are three things that remain: faith, hope, and love—yet love surpasses them all. So, above all else, let love be the beautiful prize for which you run. (1 Corinthians 13, TPT)

Amen.