Month: November 2020

Could it be you?

Could it be you?
Cayela Moody

Have you ever been on a mission trip? That feeling that washes over you as you do the work God intended for you, is almost indescribable. It is the great commission in action and living the new commandment: Love God, Love People. Sadly, it always comes to an end. We come home, we go back to work and the day to day grind. We know God has us where he needs us, but our hearts long to go back and crave that feeling again. So we commit to another week next year, because that is what the mission field looks like for us as Americans.

I have struggled with this way of life for years. I am not called to full-time missions, but yet I still want to live on mission. My church tells me to love my community, to bloom where God has planted me. But if I am being honest, I don’t know how. I didn’t know where to start. So we donated food to pantries so we could feed the poor. We packed Christmas boxes for children so that they could learn more about Jesus. But, my soul needed more.

So what was I missing? The answer was relationships. Because, at the heart of all of this is a relationship. I can read my bible everyday and do amazing deeds and be one of the greatest “Christians” ever known, but without a relationship with Jesus, it is only filthy rags.

So what is the next step? How can I develop these relationships? It seems so easy, but this part is tricky to put into action. Did you know there is a system already set in place? You don’t have to find people who need served, they are already asking for your help. It has been around since our nation was founded and was more formalized over one hundred years ago. With a heavy heart, I fear it has been neglected by the church for far too long. This mission field exists in our nation’s foster care system.

Before you stop reading because you can’t be a foster parent, let me reassure you that God may not be asking you to play that role. His word says:

But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

1 Corinthians 12:18-20

Once again, you ask. How can I help if I am not fostering? Over fifty percent of foster parents will quit within their first year alone. But ninety percent will stay with much needed support. Locally here in Jacksonville, Florida, Fostering Hope stays busy daily meeting needs. We need your help. Because, honestly, we can’t continue without you. The needs are just too great. And there are foster care ministries all over this country that feel the same. You can be the hand and feet of Jesus when someone needs you the most and build relationships where the Holy spirit leads you.

Every day, Karen and I wake up and we say, “God, where will you take me today? What are your plans?” This is the very heart of living missionally. Some days we are hoisting car seats and diapers into a dump truck, because the woman who drives it took her nephews into her home to keep them from going into the system. Can you imagine, waking up one day and going to work as usual, then getting a knock on the door with a one and two-year-old standing there needing a home?

Some days, we just cry with people on their doorstep.

Everyday, we pray… a lot. We even prayed for you today. We prayed that God would raise an army to love the marginalized and vulnerable in our society. Because in a city the size of ours, it is going to take an army. We get requests almost daily for tangible items that are needed. Can you donate gently used clothing to a foster closet? We can’t keep cribs or car seats because they go out as quickly as they come in.

What if my children are grown and I no longer have these items? When Susie Foster Mom picks a newborn up at the hospital, we can provide the diapers, formula, and some freezer meals to sustain them until they can get situated and get to the store. We need people to drop them at their door. The look of relief on her face will say it all. And, chances are, you will want to help again tomorrow. Because loving others in Jesus’s name changes everything.

Maybe you truly don’t have the time, but the Good Lord has blessed you financially. There is a grandmother across town who needs minor home repairs so that she can take her grandchildren. God designed the family. It is His heart to keep it intact. Could you help keep this family together? We can help make that connection for you.

Statistically, if ten percent of churches are involved in some sort of foster care ministry, there will be more than enough beds for foster children in your town. There will be more than enough adoptive homes for every child who needs forever. God is stirring his Bride. I can feel it in the air. If God is moving in you to start a foster care ministry in your church, we would love to share ideas and support you. Even if it starts small, God will multiply the work of those who desire to care for the orphan and the widow.

The mission field is here and the harvest is plenty. We just need some good workers.

Could it be you?

Advent Day 02 – The Fullness of Time

When the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a virgin, born under Law….” Galatians 4:4

 Time.  We’re obsessed with it.  I noticed as I was thinking through this article while driving that I had immediately available access to four different time-keeping devices.  In the days of my youth, the song “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” by Chicago was playing continually on the radio.

When the Bible speaks of time it does so using two different words.  One word, “chronos,” is the common definition of time.  It is linear time.  Time in increments, measured in seconds and minutes and hours and days and weeks and months and years. It is time that we all live with, or live enslaved to in our culture.

But there is a second word also translated “time” in English.  That word is “kairos.” That word is “pregnant” time.  It is a word filled with expectancy.  The difference is the difference between “moment” and “momentous.”

We actually live with both.  “Chronos” is something we are aware of constantly.  “Kairos” is something we can miss.  “Kairos” is our opportunity, a chosen season that God selects to do something momentous through us or for us.  It is the “pregnant” pause or the moment about to give birth to something new.

That was the word the Apostle Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit to use in describing Christ’s coming.  When time was fulfilled, when the moment was right, when the expectancy of Christ’s coming was about to give birth… that was “the fullness of time.”

It takes no faith to live with “chronos.” Time does, indeed, march on (ahem, check the mirror) whether we cooperate or not.  But “kairos” takes eyes of faith to see what God is up to in our days on earth.  At Christmas, “chronos” and “kairos” intersected.  The eternal Son, sent from God, became human, and lived under “chronos” time in our flesh for thirty-three years.

Don’t waste “chronos” is always good counsel.  “Live as wise people… and redeem the time (chronos).  But while time should not be wasted, make certain you don’t miss the “kairos”… the opportunity God brings to begin something new in your life.

“For now is the appointed time…today is the day of salvation.”  2 Corinthians 6:2

 

Advent Day 01 – The Right Time

“When the time was right, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman; born under the Law.”   Galatians 4:4 NLT

By now, you doubtless have finished up seconds… and thirds… of Thanksgiving meal. The pumpkins and fall decorations are now being tucked away to await the next arrival of autumn. And now, ON TO CHRISTMAS! Decorated homes and bright lights are beginning to dot our neighborhoods, and Christmas shopping lists are being made and checked off.

I’ve heard more than one person say, “I can’t wait for Christmas this year; it means we’re almost finished with 2020!” Maybe you have felt the same. It’s been a hard year… the hardest for many. And as much as I would wish turning the calendar from 2020 to 2021 means all of this difficulty would fade into history, I am doubtful it will.

The people alive when Jesus arrived in Bethlehem around 2,020 years ago were, like us, eager to see better days. Political unrest, riots in some areas and persecution in others, injustice, illness and poverty riddled their daily lives. Old men would gather and discuss in whispered tones about the coming one. Jewish synagogues were filled with conversations and questions about the arrival of Messiah.

They were expectant. And suffering. And weary. It was then that the Bible says, “When the time was right, God sent forth His Son….” When the time was right? What could that possibly mean? Was God oblivious to what was happening in the world? Didn’t He know people were hurting?

Or could we allow that God doesn’t see things as we see them? The prophets had promised for hundreds of years prior that “a child would be born” and “a light would shine forth in the darkness.” And now, “the time was right.” The darkness was now dark enough. Light was on its way!

God knows right where we are today. And no, He isn’t oblivious or calloused to our pain or our cries for help. In fact, it was in the midst of His people’s pain and hopelessness that our Lord first entered the world. Can we await expectantly in these dark days and believe that He will not leave us nor forsake us? Can we wait with hope in spite of the challenging days we are living in and believe that Light will come?

Perhaps we’ve never needed the hope of Christmas… or the promise of a Savior… more than now.

Keeping In Step With The Spirit

KEEPING IN STEP WITH THE SPIRIT

Galatians 5:22-26

It is our nature as Christians to produce fruit.  Spiritual fruit.  We don’t strain to do it—we don’t go to “fruit bearing” seminars.  We can’t learn to produce fruit watching a self-improvement or personal growth videos on YouTube.

We just do.  IF… our inner nature is truly the life of Jesus.    But let’s explore what this fruit is, that every believer in Christ should be bearing.  What does it look like as it is lived out?

“Fruit is the result of a long organic and living process.  The process is complex and intricate.  Fruit is not something made, manufactured, or engineered.  Fruit is the result of a life of faith created by God.  We do not produce fruit by our own effort.  We do not purchase it from another.  It is not a reward for doing good deeds, like a merit badge, a gold medal, a blue ribbon.  Fruit is simply there.”

Let’s review for a few moments what we said last week about fruit:

The fruit of the Spirit is SINGULAR, not PLURAL.  Not “fruits” of the Spirit.  All the fruit grows out of the same tree and root system.  The fruit of the spirit is more like a bouquet of beautiful flowers than just a sprig of daisies here or a rose there.  It’s symmetrical.

2). The fruit of the Spirit is AVAILABLE, not AUTOMATIC.  Just because it’s there in potential doesn’t mean we always avail ourselves of it.  There are certain conditions that must be met, just as we fertilize and water and keep the plant in sunlight.   “Keep in step with the Spirit.”

3). The fruit of the Spirit is VISIBLE, not UNSEEN.  If the Spirit of the Lord is in you, if you are “abiding in the vine,” “keeping in step with the Spirit,” then these characteristics will be evident in your life.  They will be seen by you and by others.

4). The fruit of the Spirit is GRADUAL, not SUDDEN.  No botanical or biological growth is sudden in nature.  You maybe suddenly NOTICE it, but it’s been coming on for a while.  And let’s be clear.  Like fruit or vegetables or oak trees, you can’t see the growth until it’s there.  It’s a mysterious process.  Be careful about judging your own fruit production or another’s.  Let me also say that the fruit of the Spirit doesn’t save us.  We are saved by grace through faith, not fruit.  But it’s equally true that a fruitless faith doesn’t save us either.  A true Christian will produce fruit.

5). The fruit of the Spirit is ORGANIC, not ARTIFICIAL.  The fruit of the Spirit is simply the character and nature of Christ being reproduced in you.   The purpose of the Holy Spirit is to point people to Jesus.  So, the work of the Holy Spirit is to form Christ in us and give expression of Jesus through us.

These character traits cannot be forced.  We are never commanded to “bear fruit” although every one of these characteristics is commanded somewhere in the Bible!   But it’s not something you can make happen.  This is not multiple choice, nor is it a self-help program.  If you are bearing spiritual fruit, it is evidence you are connected to the vine.  And if not, it’s because you are out of step with the Spirit.

When you set up your Christmas trees this year, there is one thing you will not do.  You will not examine your artificial tree for fruit, will you?

Why not?  It looks like a tree.  You may even spray it with something that makes it smell like a tree or hang ornaments on it that look like apples or oranges.  But it’s not real.  My Mom used to have some plastic shiny fruit ornaments that she’d put on our artificial tree.  (pic). But we knew they didn’t grow out of the plastic tree.   Only a living, organic tree or plant has that capacity.

THE FRUIT OF THE FLESH

We sometimes produce rotten fruit.  We detailed that last week.  Let’s remember that we are to live with our flesh crucified, and our lives in step with the Spirit.  If either of those are not true, if we are living to gratify ourselves, then this is how we know.  This is an ugly list.  They are characteristics that destroy life and destroy relationships.  And if we are seeing these rotting, fleshly things as characteristics or hanging on us as a normal part of our life, it should serve as a huge warning sign to us.

THE PROOF OF SPIRITUAL FRUIT

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Love, Joy, Peace:    Godward

This has to do with how we relate to God, and how He relates to us.

We start with the fruit of LOVE, which, I believe begins the list because all the other fruit flows from love.  We are to love one another.  We love because He first loved us.  The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts.

But then we come to joy.  Joy is actually irrational and comes independent of our outer circumstances.  Happiness has to do with our circumstances being in a good place around us.  Joy comes despite those.

A man told about his friend who was a believer and had been hospitalized for a brain tumor.  One of his attending PA’S came into the room to speak to him, and wrote on his chart, “The patient seems to be inappropriately joyful.”  Isn’t that awesome!  “Inappropriately joyful!”  The joy of the Lord makes no sense to a lost world. “The joy of the Lord is our strength.”

And after the fruit of love and joy comes peace.  If there is a woman listening named “Irene,” you were given a Greek name.  Your name means “peace” or “peaceful.”  That might have been the intent of your parents who named you, hoping you would live up to your name, “Irene: peace.”

Do you have peace?  Most of this world doesn’t.  Most of the world simply has stress.  Stress as a condition was only identified by psychologists in the mid-1950’s.  Before that, the term stress meant something entirely different.  But now, it’s the common condition of most people: “You stress me out.  I’m so stressed.”

Having inner peace is a prized condition to find.  How much would most people give just to have peace?  We look for it our whole lives, but right here is the answer we need.  God will give us the peace we are lacking.  “We have peace with God…and peace from God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  We have peace with God, that was brokered for us at the cross of Jesus and by the payment of His blood.

The problem with humanity is simply the “a-b-c’s:” We are ALIENATED from God, BROKEN because of our sin, and in CONFLICT inside of ourselves and with everyone else because we have no peace with God.  But one of the fruit borne by the believer is this “peace that passes understanding,” that guards of our hearts and minds.

All of this comes about as we relate to God.

Patience, kindness, goodness:  External fruit (toward others).

This is the social dimension of the fruit of the Spirit.  It has to do with how we relate to people around us.   We relate, first, with patience.  Patience is long suffering toward those who aggravate us and frustrate us.  You don’t need to have patience for people who don’t aggravate and frustrate you do you?   “Love suffers long…”  It’s more than simply “grinning and bearing it”

The patience being described here is a God-given grace that the Holy Spirit puts in us and marks us by it.   Some people seem to be more patient externally, but inside they are seething while they’re smiling on the outside.  That’s patience as humans practice it.  It’s just a mask.  The patience that is the fruit of the spirit is far more positive.

Then there’s kindness, which is really a disposition of attitude.  There was a sense in which Jesus was kind to people and they saw that kindness flow from Him.  It attracted children to Him.  The opposite of kindness is crankiness, irritability, a critical attitude, or complaining.  Kindness is welcoming of people.  By nature, we are not kind.  We push people away.

While kindness is an attitude, goodness is an action.  It’s words we speak and actions that are consistent with what is right and good.  The word “good” is actually derived from “god.”  When you tell your kids to “be good” you’re actually telling them to be like God!  To be “good” is to reflect the kind of things that God would do.  Goodness has to do with behaving ethically, righteously, and justly in line with God’s description of what is good and right.

One of the ways we are “good” is when we forgive those who wrong us.  (Woman caught in adultery—Jesus’ disposition was kind and He was good to her).

This fruit pointed toward others seeks their best and puts up with their worst.  Only God can produce that capability in us!

Faithfulness, Gentleness, Self-Control:  Internal fruit

This third grouping of fruit is the quality and grace that allows us to live out a godly life.  Remember again that none of these nine qualities are something we self-produce.  God by His Spirit produces them in us, and as we “walk in the Spirit” or “keep in step with the Spirit” they will flow naturally from us.

“Faithfulness” is the quality of being a person who can be depended upon, whether that is faithfulness in your marriage, or just the integrity of keeping your word.  Faithfulness keeps you showing up because you said you would!

“Gentleness” is sometimes translated “meekness.” But it’s actually the ability to restrain strength.  We have a brother who works with our preschool children who spent his career in construction as a carpenter.  He is physically strong, but his strength is restrained and the children are drawn to his gentleness.

“Self-control” is the ability to restrain those urges that would cause you to veer off into sin if you “let go.”  Every person has characteristics that need to be constrained and controlled; every person has temptations that you have to continually say “no” to expressing.

This fruit is the grace God gives us to align our lives with the life He wants us to know and gives us strength to say NO to the wrong thing even when it’s very tempting to us.  We are no longer slaves to our sin.  We have the grace of self-control.

IN CONCLUSION

So, we don’t have to live a life consumed by the pursuit of things that never satisfy.  We can live a fruitful life, that attracts a lost world to us.  But it begins by (1) SURRENDERING to God and then (2) SUBMITTING to the control of the Holy Spirit in our lives. (3) STAYING in step with the Holy Spirit.  “Walk in the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”

The Ultimate Proof

There are many today who claim to be living a spirit-filled or spirit-led life, and they demonstrate it by some sensational or remarkable and sometimes even miraculous means.   But IS THAT THE GOLD STANDARD… the ultimate proof that a person is really being controlled or moved along by the SPIRIT of God?

Actually, it is not.  The ultimate proof does not even lie in a demonstration of the gifts of the Spirit, whether that is tongues or healing or prophecy or others as the Bible defines those.  In 1 Corinthians, a body of believers who were apparently demonstrating works done by the Holy Spirit were critiqued by Paul as not showing a true Christian character and lifestyle.

No, the ultimate evidence that a person is being controlled by the Spirit is not sensational acts.   It’s not even something that a TV ministry would be built around.

Quite simply, it’s fruit.  Is there fruit?  Jesus said clearly you will know His authentic followers by the fruit demonstrated in their lives.  Fruit is not attendance numbers, or numbers of converts, or social media followers.  Largeness in a ministry is sometimes a blessing from God, and sometimes not.

And make no mistake.  Jesus gave an unbelieving world the RIGHT to judge the followers of Christ using this metric:  Does their personal and private character match the character of the Savior?  If it doesn’t, this person is to be rejected as deceptive at worst or inauthentic or maybe self-deceived at best.  “By their fruit you will know them….” (Matthew 7:20)

Spiritual fruit.  The fruit proves a connection to the Vine, who is Jesus.  Far too many gullible Christians are swept up in a search for sensational signs and wonders, whether or not the person performing the miraculous signs demonstrates evidence of this fruit.  We would save ourselves heartache and the church much dishonor if we would take this simple test seriously.  No fruit… no follow.  It’s that easy.  No matter how much charisma, or popularity, or charm the individual may have.  Whatever it is it is not from Jesus if fruit is not also in evidence.

You have every right, and in fact, a responsibility to examine those who are in positions of spiritual leadership for evidence of that fruit.  And you have every right to call any leader out who is showing signs of being out of step with the Spirit and living a fruitless life…

…even the one writing this to you!

Fruit-Filled

In 2006 we moved from Switzerland to our house in Fruit Cove.  It was early spring when we moved in, and a full crop of oranges hung off our only fruit tree.  And each year after,  hundreds of ripe oranges filled it.

Two years ago, the crop was a little more sparse.  McCail and I enjoyed throwing the hard and mostly rotting fruit over the fence into the woods behind my house to feed the deer.  But this year… nothing.  Just ugly, gnarled sticks and a few sprigs of leaves.  Now it’s ugly… and fruitless.  And it illustrates the question made by a man about a tree in one of Jesus’ parables:  “Why cumbereth it the ground?”

So this year, my orange tree will be cut down and thrown into the fire.  It’s not even a pretty tree.  It’s just… fruitless, and the odd orange that does show up is not edible.  I’m not going to allow it to “cumbereth” the ground.  Now no doubt I killed it… don’t send me links to information on how to grow fruit.  I’m gettin my fruit the normal way… in a bag from Walmart!

But it’s kind of sad isn’t it?  To have a tree that is supposed to bear fruit but doesn’t?

Something of this sorrow is captured in the Old Testament when God refers to Israel as a vine He planted but when He came to examine it, there was no fruit or at best, sour grapes.

“Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes....For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!”   (Isaiah 5:1-2, 7 ESV)

Jesus picks up the imagery again in John 15:1-5

“”I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.   Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

(John 15:1-2, 4-5 ESV)

We are the branches that are supposed to be connected to the vine and “abide” (stay connected) to it.  If we aren’t, we’re just taking up space.  God looks at us when we don’t bear fruit like I look at my dead fruit tree in the backyard.  He’s disappointed.  Even heartbroken.

We are meant to bear fruit.  One writer explains it this way:

“Fruit is the result of a long organic and living process.  The process is complex and intricate.  Fruits are not something made, manufactured or engineered.  They are the result of a life of faith created by God.  We do not produce fruit by our own effort.  We do not purchase it from another.  It is not a reward for doing good deeds, like a merit badge, a gold medal, a blue ribbon.  Fruits are simply there.”

Fruit is outward evidence of an inner, invisible power and reality.  When we are fruitful, we are giving external proof that our profession of faith is the real thing.  We have the Holy Spirit living in us, working the fruit out.  As I told you last week, what you are inside will come out of you.  Especially when you get squeezed.  Whatever your cup is filled with is going to come out when you get tipped over.  The pressures and problems of life are opportunities to prove what you possess within you.  This is why we are reminded to be “filled with the Spirit…”

The question this leaves before us  today is an important one:  ARE YOU?

RESET: The Holy Spirit

How many of you have ever had to learn to march in step?  Some did in the military; some of us did in band.  I learned in the band.  8-5…eight steps every five yards.  Start with the left foot.  Ankle to the knee… I weighed 145 pounds in my junior year of high school.  I carried a brass sousaphone on the marching field…it weighed around 40 pounds.  I had to make a strategic decision in marching season:  continue standing up while holding the sousaphone, or actually play it.

But I also got yelled at…a lot…for being out of step.   Again, I was focused on breathing…not marching.  We’d watch game day films of our performances and I would get called out for being out of step…a lot.  Hard to hide when you’re carrying a tuba!  The band was no place for a renegade, I quickly learned.

I want us to look at a section of the Book of Galatians over the next few weeks together.

It’s kind of a teaser for a larger study we’ll do in the spring.  But today I want us to look at what it means to “keep in step” with the Holy Spirit, as we think about RESETting this topic.

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”

On the whole, we have an uneasy relationship with the Holy Spirit as Baptists.  Ever fearful that we’ll be mistaken for charismatics or Pentecostals, we have gone in the opposite direction of just not dealing with this One Who is the Third Person of the Godhead.

And yet the Bible just won’t let us sidestep this subject.

In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit was referred to as the “ruach,” which is Hebrew for “wind” or “breath” or “breeze.”  It was the “ruach” of God that was brooding over the face of the deep in the creation account in Genesis 1.  It was the “ruach,” the “breath” of God that was breathed into Adam at creation.

And it was the “Ruach” of God that blew on the Day of Pentecost as 120 disciples in Jerusalem were filled with the Spirit and began speaking in languages they had never learned.

In the Old Testament, the “ruach” of God would fall on certain people chosen for a task.  Kings or priests or prophets would have the Holy Spirit for a time, but they could lose the Spirit by their disobedience.  This prompted part of David’s confessional prayer in Psalm 51 when he pleads with God to “take not your Holy Spirit “ruach” from me.”

As Christians, the Holy Spirit (Spirit of God, Spirit of Christ) indwells us when we come to Christ for salvation and the forgiveness of sins.  The Spirit of God lives in us, (regeneration) and we become “temples of the Holy Spirit.”  And because of Christ’s work on the cross on our behalf, the Spirit of God never forsakes us, even if we fail.  We can “grieve” the Spirit or “quench” the Spirit, but we cannot lose the Spirit.

“All who are children of God have the Spirit of God.”   ROMANS 8:14-15

In 1 Peter 2:21 we are told that we are to “follow in the steps” of Jesus. Now this is not suggesting that we just try really hard to imitate Jesus’ life.  We do not live the Christian life by imitation, but by identification.   When we trust Christ as Savior, the Holy Spirit then baptizes us into Jesus…identifies us with Him in His death, burial and resurrection.  We then receive His power, His presence that allows us to live out the Christian life.

And so, we are to “walk in the Spirit.”  This means “keep in step” with the Spirit in every part of our life.  We are told elsewhere to do the same.  The Christian life is a walk with Jesus…every day and through every experience.  Sometimes the word “walk” means the actual movement of our feet and legs and arms, representing our daily activity.  But here it means “to keep in step, follow a leader or follow a rule.”

The Holy Spirit actually does four things in us:

The Spirit of God helps us to overcome

We CAN NOT overcome our sinful nature by keeping the Law.  Now the Law is good…it reveals God to us and reveals our need for salvation.  Earlier in Galatians Paul writes, “The Law is our schoolmaster leading us to Christ.”  But the Law…your own good efforts…is powerless to save you.  When we come to Jesus, we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit Who comes to live inside of us. And it is then that we can begin to overcome the flesh.  Every Christian has a civil war going on inside.  We are continually in a war between our old person and the presence of Jesus Christ in us.  As Carl Sandburg said, “There is an eagle in me that wants to fly but there is also a hippopotamus in me that wants to wallow in the mud.”

There is a spiritual presence in you if you’re in Christ Who wants you to fly like an eagle, but the old hippopotamus still lives inside.  The Holy Spirit wants to let the eagle fly.  Your flesh still wants to hang out with the hippo.  The reality is, you now have a choice about what you choose to do if the Spirit of God lies in you.  A person without the Spirit lives for the desires of their flesh, and they’re in slavery to it!  But through the Holy Spirit, we can OVERCOME the flesh.

The Spirit of God guides us. 

Jesus said, “When He, the Spirit of Truth comes, will guide you in all truth.”  Through the Holy Spirit, the Bible suddenly makes sense.  He opens our eyes to things we’ve never noticed and never understood about the Bible.  But He also leads us in everyday decisions, and He leads us to do His will.  “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.”

Have you ever simply said, “Lord, whatever it is, whatever it costs, I just want to do your will.”  In 1979, I knelt beside my bed in an apartment in Williamsburg, Ky and prayed that prayer.  For some reason I vividly remember praying that.  It was on New Year’s Eve.  Pam was working that night.  I was alone.  I was struggling with God’s will for my life.  But it was almost like God said, “OK.  I hear you.”  I felt a tremendous sense of relief when I did that.  And I remember it like it just happened, 42 years later.   God wants to lead you if you’ll follow.

The Spirit of God reveals the presence of sin in us: 

The Spirit will convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgement.  When the Holy Spirit is living in us, He points out when we get “out of step” with the Spirit.  We are given a list of what a life “out of step” with God’s Spirit looks like.   We’ll take this list on in more detail next week, but for now let’s allow The Message paraphrase to bring it home for us

“It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on. This isn’t the first time I have warned you; you know. If you use your freedom this way, you will not inherit God’s kingdom.”

Galatians 5:19-21 MSG

By no means an exhaustive list, but certainly an exhausting one!  Those who live this way find death and despair, defeat, and depression all the while being deceived by the flesh into thinking “this is really life!”  But the Holy Spirit tears the scales off our eyes, so we can see that this kind of behavior leads to death, not life.  You may find yourself getting out of step every now and then, but the Holy Spirit prompts you and reminds you “hey, you’ve been here before and you were miserable…why are you back rummaging through the garbage again?”

It’s like you going to the grocery store, hand-selecting the best organic meats and dairy products and produce, making fresh bread but you have a child that keeps slipping away from the table and going out to the garbage can, tearing open the bags and eating spoiled meats and drinking soured milk.  You would immediately be aware that there’s some problem, right?

But spiritually this is what we do when we prefer the rotten fruit of the flesh life to the fresh fruit God provides us.  And we are warned, if you keep “practicing” that, you’re going to die: “You will not inherit the Kingdom of God.”

The Spirit of God produces the righteousness of God through us

By their fruit will you know them…. (Matthew 7:20)

The fruit the Spirit produces:

What you are inside will come out of you.  Especially when you get squeezed.  The pressures and problems of life are opportunities to prove what you possess.  When you are treated spitefully but you respond with love, well you know that’s not you doing that, right?  When things are not going well but joy comes out…. when the storm is raging but you have peace…

Now we don’t go to an apple tree and expect to find watermelons.  It’s the nature of the apple tree to bear apples.  What’s inside the tree will come out.  “By their fruit…”  You don’t need to try and bear fruit.  You just will if your inner nature is home to the Holy Spirit.  If it’s not…well, you’ll know.  And so, will everyone else.

(SPECIAL NOTE:  So grateful for ideas provided by some messages preached by my friend Stephen Rummage and a classic book by JI Packer entitled “Keeping in Step with the Spirit.”)

Pure Religion

There is a “religion” that is pleasing to God, according to The Letter of James. It is characterized by caring for (“visiting”) the orphan and widow in their affliction and second, to “keep ourselves unspotted from the world.

He describes both an outward activity (not religious ritual or even faithful attendance at worship), but caring for those marginalized by society.

Then, inwardly, we are to guard ourselves from worldly pollution.  Both are necessary to be accepted by God.

STAND Sunday is an opportunity for us to demonstrate the integrity of our religion through our commitment to caring for children in foster care or in need of adoption.

You will meet many families in our church who have done that.   You will be given opportunity to move in that direction yourself if God so leads.

But above all else, we will be about STANDING with those who have moved to embrace children without families who can care for them.  And on this day we will be called to STAND together with those who are of special concern to the Father.

I look forward to seeing you on this special day!

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”  James 1:27 ESV

Don’t Afraid

My friend Nik Ripken tells a story about a flight he took on Ethiopian Airlines.  The flight was a leg going deeper into Africa, and was not a large plane.  After several bouts of turbulence and some equipment rattling, he asked the flight attendant if everything was ok.  They replied in broken English, “Don’t afraid.  Everything ok.”  From then on everything of concern was answered with “Don’t afraid.”  Dr Ripken decided that “Don’t afraid” must have been the official motto of Ethiopian Air!

We have a similar assurance that comes from God’s Word and from Jesus Himself.  We too are to live our lives and “don’t afraid.”  In fact, the Bible contains some 365 admonitions for us NOT to fear, not to be afraid.  And when God tells us not to be afraid, He also tells us why….some 365 times!

With this post, I am adding eleven verses that give us reason not to fear, even in days where COVID and a volatile election dominate the headlines.  As the people of God, “don’t afraid” should be our motto too!   And because Jesus lives, WE DON’T HAVE TO LIVE IN FEAR!

Take one of these each day as your own personal verse for the next eleven days, and see if your fear will not subside and your anxiety begin to fall away.  Child of God, we don’t have to live in fear.  Jesus promised!


Deuteronomy 31:6

“Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”

Proverbs 3:23–24

“Then you will walk on your way securely, and your foot will not stumble. If you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.”

Isaiah 41:10

“…fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Hebrews 13:5–6

“Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’”

Psalm 112:6–8

“For the righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered forever. He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord. His heart is steady; he will not be afraid, until he looks in triumph on his adversaries.”

Psalm 56:3–4

“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?”

Psalm 91:4–5

“He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day.”

Psalm 46:1–3

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.”

Psalm 27:1

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”

Psalm 23:4

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

Psalm 34:4–5

“I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.”

DON’T AFRAID!

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