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The Fruit of Love: The Royal Command

In March of this year a young woman walked in to a Tennessee church’s school and shot and killed three 9-year old children and three adults.  She was described as  “transgender” and a person with emotional problems.  If you weren’t already aware of this terrible tragedy you are now.  And my question is, as a Christian, how will you do in loving her?  In showing her mercy and forgiveness?  I can be honest in saying it wasn’t my first or even second reaction.  As I was working on this new series about the fruit of the spirit I was challenged, however, to do just that – to love someone who seems unworthy of that love. 

You may be familiar with the stories of Jesus and the disciples coming face-to-face with what were called “demon-possessed” people.  Here’s one such story from Matthew 8:

“28 When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way.29 “What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?” 30 Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding.31 The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.”32 He said to them, “Go!” So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water. “

You notice the line: “They were so violent that no one could pass that way.”  I imagine the townspeople hated and feared these men.  Yet, Jesus healed them.  He loved them, just as He loved the townspeople who didn’t know Him and were so frightened of His abilities they sought to drive Him out of town.  He loved these two men just like He loved the disciples standing next to Him.  These vile, dangerous, murderous men.  He loved them enough to not leave them sick and imprisoned with whatever demons had infested their brains.  He freed them to live the life God intended.  And although I cannot have hope for the Tennessee shooter’s soul – because the actions led to her death – I can grieve out of love that her heart, mind and soul had been twisted by this world.

As the vitriol around the world has increasedI can’t help but see the fertile ground we have tilled for Satan to blossom.  For modern demons to take root in people’s minds and hearts.  The angry faces on the news, the destruction of property, the glee people express when someone they don’t like is “brought down” – it’s all symptoms of a world turning toward fleshly pursuits rather than the eternal.  And love?  Even love has become distorted. 

“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” Luke 6:35

Loving our enemies has become, instead, love whatever people do and whatever they desire.  On the contrary, Jesus’ reaction to every single person He met, whether murderous or not, was that living sinfully led to eternal death.  The wordly version of “love”—do whatever feels good — was never His message.  When we hand out needles to drug addicts we aren’t loving them, we are helping them destroy themselves.  When we turn a blind eye to fellow Christians living sexually immoral lives, we aren’t loving them, we are giving them a fast track pass to slavery.  

This challenge to love one another as Jesus did faces us Christian almost daily.  What does this love look like?  How can we love a person who kills innocent children and adults, at a church, no less?  It seems too impossible.  And it is.  

I recently heard Pastor Wayne Barber say, “True faith, real faith results in an obedient person of God.  The obedience is the bloom, the fruit.” That fruit cannot be created by us just as I cannot make the lettuce grow in my garden.  God creates the seed, the soil, the water, the sun and the mystery of how it all comes to together.  All He asks of me is to plant what He provides.  To water it and then enjoy it.  As with all the fruits of the Spirit in us it’s a melding of the work the Spirit does in me and the actions I choose to take in order to fully enjoy those fruits.  Or put it this way: to do the one thing I have available to honor God’s provisions in my life – to glorify Him with my daily actions and worship.  So how does the impossible become possible?  This week we will look at three ways to live fully in bloom with the fruit of love.

Firstly, as a Christian seeking to do God’s will and live a life in full bloom, we need to accept this concept of love is not a choice.  It is a command.  It is the Royal Command from Jesus.  

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. John 13:34

Jesus loved Judas.  Need we say more?  He loved the pharisees who hated Him.  He loves you.  Yes, you, who sins on a daily basis.  You grieve the Holy Spirit probably every day in some way or another.  Either by ignoring that person in need, holding on too tightly to your treasure, having an inner hatred for someone, not forgiving that relative, taking the Lord’s name in vain, being selfish, and more.  Yet He loves you.  You’ve stepped on His foot more times than He would want to count.  You’ve disregarded Him.  Ignored Him.  Falsely testified about Him or maybe even pretended you didn’t know Him.  And He loved you.  He loves you and me enough not to want us wallowing in our sinful chains but rather seeking Him to blossom and live in freedom.

I tell you my friend, the opposite of love is hatred.  And hatred kills.  It imprisons us.  It creates an ugliness that permeates into every pore of our being.  It is that hatred or anger I came to realize, along with my  pride, being the root of a very bad habit — my cursing.  I’ve tried for many, many years to stop.  It wasn’t until I realized the Spirit was already in me and I was fighting against it that the seedling of love for others began to sprout.  The Holy Spirit, sent to guide us until Jesus’ return, is living in every one of us who has accepted Jesus as our Savior.  It is there, showing us, guiding us, admonishing us.  It’s the tap on our shoulder saying, “Be kind.  Forgive her.”  It’s the great battle of whether we let the outer world rule our hearts or the inner world of the Holy Spirit take control.

When considering this command to love, especially those who have harmed us or others, take a moment to consider Saul. He hated the Jews and especially Jewish Christians.  He was murderous, feared and downright despicable.  He terrorized and destroyed communities.  And on his way to Damascus to do more damage, oblivious to God’s love for him, Jesus sought him out.  He brought light into the darkness of Saul’s heart.  The conversion of Saul to the ever-faithful disciple of Christ, Paul, might be the greatest love and rescue story in all history.  He was loved even in his blackest days.  Loved enough to be sought after by Jesus.  He didn’t have to accept this change – because the life path set before him would be the most difficult he would ever face.  But he did.  In doing so the Christians around him were also faced with a difficult decision – to love him as Jesus did.  To love him even though.  Imagine Paul coming into a community he had torn asunder.  They stood at the edge with a decision to make.  To show the world what real faith looks like or to turn their backs on God.

I once read that God is love.  He made us from His love to enjoy this world along with Him.  When He sent His Son for our final cleansing He was telling us, “I know you’ve messed up beyond belief.  I want you to be made righteous to stand next to me in all eternity.”  An eternal bond of love, never to be broken again.  He’s asking us to mirror that for all the world to see.  To live in the hope that Jesus can cleanse a blackened heart.  And in doing so the owner of that heart may take his or her place next to us as children of the One Most High.  So today, think of who you seem unable to love.  Ask God, ask the Holy Spirit to cleanse your heart and bring about a tender sprout of love.  Have faith, real faith, without doubting.  I know hard it sounds.  I’ve done it.  I love a few people who don’t seem to deserve it based on the world’s rules.  When I did as Jesus commanded it changed my life completely.

Coming up: Hatred breeds the weeds in our heart.

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The Christian Life In Full Bloom

She said it with a slight sadness in her voice yet behind it was also feeling of joy and hope.  “I only became a Christian three years ago,” she spoke in a confession-like tone.  We all sat back in confusion.  This woman, this seemingly long-faithful daughter of Christ, who grew up in church and even worked for years at a church, was revealing something so personal and at odds with her religious past.  

“But you accepted Christ as your savior a long time ago,” I maintained.  “Yes, but it wasn’t until three years ago that I began to understand what it meant and what the life He wants for me looks like,” she declared. 

I call that her “Claritin Clear” moment.  You might have seen those commercials for the allergy medicine where a person miserable with allergies sees life through a foggy, sneezy lens.  And upon taking the medicine, the foggy lens is peeled away, revealing a clear view look at life.  Unfortunately for Christians, it’s not as easy as taking a pill to finally get to this moment.  But when you do, you’ll find yourself feeling like you’ve entered another realm, peering back through the foggy looking glass which shows chaos, hatred, unforgiveness, immorality and more blackness.  The brokenness that God never intended for our lives.  The danger could be to regret how long it took you to get to the other, clearer side.  But that would only mean you still have one foot left to drag over.  Because, my friend, the life Jesus wants for us looks nothing like regret.  Nothing like chaos, only joy and peace and forgiveness.  It looks like freedom

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

John 8:36

I was listening to the amazingly smart pastors over at The White Horse Inn podcast the other day and as usual they nailed this concept.  In their discussion about The Law and our Christian understanding of it, they pointed listeners to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5).  Starting at verse 21 Jesus seems to make being a “good Christian” an even more difficult task than just following the basic 10 Commandments:

 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. 

Yikes!  Here I was thinking, “well, I haven’t murdered anyone to date and I’m good about going to church and praying so I must be doing swell.”  Yet, Jesus ups the ante.  Because I don’t know about you but I was pretty angry with someone just last night! Pastor Bob Hiller goes on to reveal in the podcast that Jesus doesn‘t want to just change our behavior but our heart, thereby freeing us.  And heart-change can only happen in partnership with Him and the Holy Spirit.  If you have ever tried not getting angry at someone who has clearly done you wrong, and instead with true grace and forgiveness turned your cheek, you know how difficult it can be.  

A few months ago, I realized my consistent prayers of trying to fix a bad habit – cursing – were focused on the entirely wrong problem.  Cursing was simply a product of a wrong heart, an angry heart, a prideful heart.  When I had that “Claritin Clear” moment my prayers changed to reflect the great blessings Christ left with us when sent someone in His place to be with us, the Holy Spirit (John 14:15-17).  This Spirit of Truth, the Advocate, our Teacher, shows us the true life God wants for us while we walk on this earth.  It’s a life of love, a life of peace and mercy, of freedom, a life in full bloom.  It’s a journey of sanctification so that our behavior can reveal the good work He is doing in us.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23

When I took a step toward Christ saying, “I don’t want to live in anxiety, anger and chaos” the Spirit showed me the other side of that looking glass.  It’s a place I want to live the rest of my days.  How about you?  Please join me on this 9-week journey as we look at A Christian Life in Full Bloom starting May 1. Be sure to follow the blog to receive your weekly Full Bloom post!

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Peace-Creating Discipline

For lack of discipline they will die, led astray by their own great folly. Proverbs 5:23

Charles Spurgeon, one of the most prolific pastors of all time said just a few weeks before his death, “I look back, and remember what I might have done and have not done; what opportunities of usefulness I have not seized; what sins I have allowed to pass unrebuked; what struggling beginners in grace I have failed to help.”  A man who had spoken to millions.  Who brought the good news of Jesus’ healing lights to so many, this man in all humility felt he could have done more.  

How many of us can say we have used our time as wisely for the Lord?  How many of us have instead placed so many other activities ahead of helping others out of their darkness?  Of allowing the Holy Spirit to help us out of our own darkness?

When we hear the words “Christian discipline” it may cause us to cringe or to worry about what will be required of us or what we will have to give up.  It sounds harsh and monk-like.  Our thoughts on it may be borrowed from what the world may think of Christians – joyless, rule followers.  However, we are told throughout Proverbs that God’s idea of discipline is actually a lifesaver, peace creator, and joy maker.  

Because God loves all of us – believer and non – He yearns for us to live on the disciplined path.  One that seeks to keep us from the darkness of sexual immorality, greed, self-importance, violence, and more.  

Christian discipline includes these aspects: spiritual, social, physical and mental.  Each, when practiced close in hand with Jesus, is intended to live the full, beautiful, peaceful and joy-filled life God wants for us.  When we stay in His Word and prayer, when we are careful and loving with our relationships with others, when we are good stewards of our bodies, and when we keep our thoughts free of lust, greed and self, we will find our paths simpler.  Our decisions about life get easier.  That’s not to say we won’t encounter push back from the world or even trials.  But in the midst of all that life will throw at us, our Christian discipline will keep the path forward clear.  

Heavenly Father, help me to develop a disciplined life that aligns with your Word so that I may become more like Jesus and experience the life you intend for me.  Amen

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His Mercy

“It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.” Proverbs 25:2

Heavenly Father, King above all kings, you know my sinful heart and yet you love me.  You know my sinful ways yet you love me.  You know my idolatries that I struggle to get out from under yet somehow you forgive me and love me.  I reach out to you Lord in all your mystery and glory and thank you for the mercy only you can give.  Amen

I was asked in a study to write down all the reasons why I pray.  I listed thankfulness, requests, intercession, praise and repentance.  I was then asked to circle the reason that comes up most in my prayer life.  I have to admit “repentance” wasn’t one of them.  Thankfulness is probably the most frequent expression I find in my prayer life.  And it’s usually related to blessings – not for keeping me from the fires of my sinful ways.

A few years ago, I finally grasped the concept of God’s mercy with this helpful saying, “Mercy is when you don’t get what you deserve and grace is when you get something you don’t deserve.”  Boy, should I be constantly thanking God for His mercy!  

"Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions." Psalms 51:1

The problem is we sometimes lack of awareness of our destructive swaths we create through sin.  Realizing that, we should find it even more amazing that God gives us believers His mercy.  He doesn’t always save us from earthly consequences but we know that when Jesus returns to judge the earth we won’t be thrown into the fire.  What a glorious and loving God!

God has not asked us to wander bewildered by our transgressions and consequences.  From beginning to end He has set the stage for our success.  Through first giving us the Law, therefore defining sin, then sending Christ to teach us about God, how to live the Christian life and best of all, cleansing us of eternal punishment, He has taught us how to align ourselves with His ways.  The Holy Spirit, which He left to dwell in us, provides us a daily conduit to keep us on track.  

Friend, He thought of everything because He is our Glorious God!  His mercy is our safety net.  He knew we would struggle, and boy do we ever!  Maybe you, like me need to tune in better to the Holy Spirit before we pray today.  Ask Him to search our hearts and minds, like only the King of Kings can do.  Have Him show us those corners of our life that seem blind to us.  Let His glorious light shine to cleanse you.

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The Well-Worn Path

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. Psalm 91:1

In the mid-1800s hundreds of thousands of pioneers left the comfort of their eastern homes beyond the Mississippi River and traveled West toward what we now call Oregon.  The result of those courageous pioneers is hundreds of miles of well-worn wagon wheel ruts.  In some places the gouges from the wagons extend four feet deep in the rock.  It became a symbol of being on the right path when your wagon wheels found the ruts for which to follow.  And because they were so deep it meant your wheels would stay true to that path.

And there lies the idea behind “being in a rut.”  A well-worn path that, in some cases, is a good place.  So often, however, the result of creating those paths in our lives leads us down roads we long to escape.  I wonder how many of us Christians find ourselves in a well-worn path that either isn’t to our liking or to God’s?  

The last few weeks we’ve looked at ways Christians are expected to stand apart, be held to a higher standard, and stand resolutely with Christ, not the world.  But for many of us that means climbing out of that four foot deep rut.  The rut of going along to get along.  The rut of living in half-truths such as only expressing love without truth or vice versa.  The rut of an unintentional life.  The rut of sitting in a church where you aren’t convicted or spurred to share the message of eternal life.  The rut of any number of sins.

If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,” and you make the Most High your dwelling,no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent. Psalm 91:9-10

The Apostle Paul was in a rut.  He followed half-truths taught by the Pharisees and then he, himself, passed those false truths along with a vengeance.  It wasn’t until Jesus abruptly entered his life and yanked him out of that four foot hole that he realized his state.  And when he did, he took the message in Psalm 91 to heart.  He pressed on and on staying close to Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  He trusted that although perils would befall him it would not stop him from his mission.  And thank God.  Because he, like you and I, was just a man.  A regular flesh and blood human.  A person filled with sinful ways.  Without his trust in God, without his life of intentionally following Jesus we wouldn’t have his wise words to guide us.  He was like Jesus in a sense that God wanted us to have a fleshly example to model.  Jesus clothed Himself in skin so he could endure our earthly life.  And endure it with full trust in God.  

“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. Psalm 91:14

Because He loves me just as much as He loved Paul, I know that I can live a bold life in the name of Jesus.  I know that even when hands come against me or when words try to hurt me, I will receive the ultimate promised prize.  And when we live a life in worldly ruts – cowering before our accusers, afraid of speaking our faith, staying in the shadows not helping pull our fellow travelers from the flame – we are saying to God, “I really don’t trust you to work all things for my good.”

The ruts we need to seek are the well-worn paths of the saints, not the sinners.  The paths that Jesus has laid out for us are so clearly defined in His Word.  We need to look for them as parents, as spouses, as co-workers, as sisters in Christ, as citizens.  

He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation. Psalm 91:15-16

We can’t do this alone my friends.  Through praying in the Spirit (not the flesh), through Christian fellowship, good teaching, and constantly living with God just ahead of us as our pioneer guide we can accomplish everything He asks of us.  And He will satisfy us with salvation and the glory of heaven.

Friends, what well-worn worldly paths are you living in?  Is it your parenting style?  Or maybe you’ve flipped the script in your marriage.  Are you in too deep with equating your faith with your politics?  Have you forgotten that God sees and knows every word you speak, every emotion that lies in our heart?  Are you taking advantage of God’s promised salvation and disobeying Him without repentance?   It’s time to stop in our tracks and look up to the edge of the rut.  Stick out your hand and ask the Holy Spirit for a leg up.  You can do it, we can do it.  You are not alone.

Join me starting November 1-30 for 30 Days of Thankfulness!

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Our Quarrelsome World

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25 Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will. 2 Timothy 2:24-26

There’s certainly been a lot of “quarreling” the last 20 years in the United States and the world in general.  These last few years have seen a steady rise in conflicts.  Conflicts used to be among countries.  The most troublesome trend seems to be that now more than ever they are among neighbors.  

We live in a world where all bets are off when it comes to social niceties.  One article I read reminds us of some of the following “old fashioned etiquette rules”:

  1. Don’t point
  2. Don’t curse
  3. Dress to impress
  4. Stick to tasteful topics
  5. Cover your mouth when you cough
  6. Avoid private conversations in public

All of those, plus the others I haven’t listed, are to allow for a calm and peaceful and respectful social environment.  But a cell phone video I saw the other day is just one example of how we’ve thrown so many of these out the window.  

The video, taken by a woman shopping at Target, shows an older man following her and pointing at her.   He has a mask on and a sticker stating, “I’m vaccinated.”   His issue with her? She isn’t wearing a mask.  Now, this post is not about the pros and cons of mask wearing. And in this instance wearing a mask was not mandated in that store.  It’s about his approach and her response.  This man had many choices prior to harassing this woman.  If he was really worried about getting sick he could 1) stay home and order on line or 2) avoided being near the woman.  Interestingly enough he didn’t seem to be doing any of his own shopping.  It appeared he was there to “catch” people without a mask.  

What does this have to do with being a Christian?  What does it have to do with being resolute in Christ?  Our choices each and every minute of the day define what type of Christian we have chosen to be.

In our verse today we are reminded to be kind to everyone.  To teach gently without resentment.  We are all most likely familiar with the term being a “Karen.”  That’s someone who is a tattle tell, a modern day Pharisee.  This man was being a Karen.  And he certainly wasn’t succeeding in teaching anyone anything positive.  Yet the new social norms say this is ok.  We are to vilify those with whom we disagree.  We may not all be Westboro Baptist Church members standing outside the funerals of homosexuals with messages of hatred but how many of us in the last year have made disparaging remarks about people who 1) don’t wear a mask or do wear a mask, 2) aren’t vaccinated, 3) voted for a different candidate, 4) don’t like shutdowns or do like shutdowns, and on and on. I’m not talking about private conversations with friends or family members.  I’m talking about in public and social media.  I’ve clicked on people’s profiles who have written horrible things and they proudly state they are Christians.

And the woman?  She wasn’t successful either.  She just kept arguing with the man.  She could’ve 1) smiled and moved on since he wasn’t physically threatening her 2) put a mask on to make him feel better 3) left the store and come back later 4) called security 5) invited him over to talk.   So many choices for both.  But they chose the least peaceful route.

I, myself, have gotten wrapped up in issues and have deleted comments I realized were not in keeping with my desire to walk well in my faith.   And so, I reflect back on that cell phone video taken in Target.  I ask myself which person in that video am I?  The Harasser?  The Victim?  The Bystander?  In fact, I’ve been all three.  But as a follower of Christ, I’m learning He wants something completely different of us.  He wants us to be the peacemaker.  He wants us to do things so different that it shocks people.  Our Jesus–directed actions in this quarrelsome world need to be set apart.

When we get annoyed, outraged, hurt, abused, Jesus tells us to respond differently.   He first wants us to be responsible for our own words and actions (James 3:6).  He then wants us to be gentle, not angry and resentful.  Truth doled out without love will never be received how we intended.  

I picture myself the subtle Karen, rolling my eyes at people wearing two masks as they walk outside at a park and I need to stop and have compassion for their fears.  I imagine myself in a store being spoken to harshly by a customer for not wearing a mask and instead of responding in kind, draw on the Holy Spirit asking for peace.  This isn’t just about these current large issues.  It’s how we respond in all life’s situations.  Do we lash out, with uncontrolled emotions, seeking to justify how we feel?  Or do we use wisdom and compassion to guide us?

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.  James 1:19-20

The temptation is so great to join this new quarrelsome social environment.  It’s easy to blast a comment at someone.  The devil loves an angry Believer.  But if we remember that Jesus stands by our side, we can be resolute in living the Christian life He expects of us.