Tag Archives: Apostle Paul

Understanding Paul, part 1

Read Galatians 5:22-26

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived! (2 Corinthians 5:17 CEB)

St.-Pauls-GrottoWhen asked the question, “who is the most influential figure in the founding of Christianity?”, I think most people would answer that Jesus of Nazareth was. Actually, I would say that the most influential figure in the founding of Christianity is the Apostle Paul. Granted, I do not think that Paul meant for some of his letters to be interpreted as they have been; however, there can be little doubt that it was Paul’s letters and his work as a missionary that sparked the transformation of a little, obscure Jewish sect into the major world religion that it is today. The question is how many of us in the Church actually read Paul, let alone understand him? I just finished a devotion series on the Fruit of the Spirit and I found that, perhaps, some of Paul’s words, allusions and illustrations fall flat for many of us who are far removed from his time and his culture.

For instance, in Galatians 5:22-26, we read about the Fruit of the Spirit. Paul ends his listing of the fruit with this, “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 be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.” (Galatians 5:24-26 NRSV) But what does he mean by this? What does it mean that “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh?” Paul couldn’t possibly mean that the only way to follow Jesus is to be crucified like Jesus was, could he?

In order to understand this, one must understand Paul. Paul the Apostle was born as Saul of Tarsus and was raised as a pious and devout follower of Judaism. He was so devout that he actually studied and memorized the Torah and became a Pharisee. This means that Paul not only knew the Law of Moses and the Scriptures, but he was an authority on them. At first, Saul did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah, and he did not agree with the new teachings of this supposed Messiah’s followers. So he hunted them down and persecuted them; however, that would all change when Jesus appeared to Saul and chose him to be an apostle to the Gentiles…meaning that he was to bring God’s covenant to the non-Jews.

Once Paul had that vision, he took his knowledge of the law, his belief in Christ’s death and resurrection, and his personal experience with the Risen Christ to the Gentile world. He preached to them, he lived with them, he built church communities with them and, on more than one occasion, he nearly died doing so. Saul of Tarsus, both metaphorically and spiritually speaking, had died. His hatred for the Christians along with all of his flaws had been, again metaphorically speaking, been crucified or put to death. He was now Paul the Apostle, chosen by Christ to be a servant-leader of the Gentiles.

As far as Paul is concerned, this is true for all believers. We are born and raised by our parents, we have our own desires and things that we want to grow up to be. We begin to live our lives according to what we see to be our future; however, at some point, God appears to us and shows us something greater than we could have ever imagined. When we experience that, we cannot help but be changed. When we experience that we cannot help but realize that the old has passed on and something new has begun. If you have yet to experience this, God is waiting for you to open yourself up to God’s presence. Once you’ve experienced it, there is no turning back and no telling the kind of signs of the Kingdom God will work in and through you!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Being a Christian is more than just an instantaneous conversion – it is a daily process whereby you grow to be more and more like Christ.” – Billy Graham

PRAYER
Lord, show yourself to me. Reveal your purpose for me and transform me into a new creation. Amen.

FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT: Self-Control

Read Galatians 5:22-26

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“A person without self-control is like a city with broken-down walls.” (Proverbs 25:28 NLT)

In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “The Fruit of the Spirit.”

FruitOsp_Self-ControlFRUIT OF THE SPIRIT: Self-Control. When we think of the fruit “self-control”, we often relegate it to one’s ability to control his or her behavior. For example, we’ll often hear something such as the following: “Joe Smith was a person who had great self-control. He never got angry at people, he always behaved himself in the classroom, and he never got caught up in the party scene.” Or we might hear this: “Johnny had gotten over-weight, but with his great self-control, he was able to stop overeating and was able to lose all of it.” I, for one, get the latter a lot. People will often chalk my weight loss up to my steel-like will-power and my incredible self-control. God knows, neither my will-power or my self-control is fully functioning. I am human after all.

But self-control really goes beyond just behavioral patterns and/or abilities; rather, as I see it, self-control is at the core of faithfulness. Jesus exhibited great self-controls; however, if we read the Gospels, we do not see in Jesus someone who was always in control of his emotions or someone who ALWAYS said and did “nice” things. If we have read the WHOLE of the Gospels we see Jesus get angry, we see him curse people out (literally…just check out Matthew 23…yikes), we seem him display violent anger in the temple (Matthew 21:18-19,12-13; Mark 11:12-18; Luke 19:45-48; John 2:13-22), we seem him curse fig trees (see previous references), and proclaim to entire towns and cities that Sodom was better off on the day of judgment than they were (Matthew 10:15; 11:23-24; Luke 10:12; 17:29).

Yet, no one exhibited more self-control than Jesus. He showed an immense amount of self-control throughout his life and his ministry. He never lost focus, he never gave up, and he never changed direction, even though he know the ultimate direction he was going in. Self-control is really likened to what we call “disciplined.” Jesus was well disciplined because he knew who he was, whose he was, and what God was calling to do.

Christians are called to have discipline and/or self-control. This doesn’t mean that we should sit back and just accept the abuse of others, never getting angry, and/or always saying “nice” things to people in order to not “hurt their feelings”. Sometimes, as Jesus well knew, people need their feelings hurt. I think it is important to stress that; however, we should not overreact emotionally to things either. We should always pause and reflect before responding. We should not aimlessly live life, but have the self-control to be disciplined and to follow through with our commitments. We should have the self-control to avoid doing things that are bad for us and the self-control that compels us to take better care of our bodies, take better care of our minds and take better care of our souls. Reading the Bible, going to church, and allowing the Holy Spirit in to shape your life into Jesus’ life. That all takes the fruit of self-control. Therefore, self-control is vital to the life of the Christian.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“God has equipped you to handle difficult things. In fact, [God] has already planted the seeds of discipline and self-control inside you.” – Joyce Meyer

PRAYER
Lord, fill me with your Holy Spirit so that I may bear the spiritual fruit of self-control in my life. Amen.

FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT: Gentleness

Read Galatians 5:22-26

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out all the people buying and selling animals for sacrifice. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves.” (Matthew 21:12 NLT)

In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “The Fruit of the Spirit.”

FruitOsp_GentlenessFRUIT OF THE SPIRIT: Gentleness. In a recent trip to California, I stopped by what used to be the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove. On the grounds of that beautiful work of architecture is the memorial garden in which stands two statues of Jesus. One is of “The Lost Sheep”, with Jesus holding a lamb on his shoulder and sheep looking eagerly toward him. The other is of “The Smiling Jesus,” with Jesus playing with children. While these were both familiar and beautiful images of our Lord and Savior, does the “Gentle Jesus” image show us who Jesus really was?

I think the honest answer is both yes and no. We like to think of Jesus’ Gentleness in idealistic ways. One of the ways we do this is by picturing Jesus in such ways that match up with the images illustrated above. Then when we get angry, we often guilt ourselves because we view that anger as not being of God. We view it as the antithesis of gentleness. Yet, when we look at the big picture of Jesus’ life, he was not always grinning and gentle either. Just look at the “Cleansing of the Temple” account in Matthew 21 and also to Jesus’ reaction to his opponents in Matthew 23-24. Even Jesus, sometimes, got angry and he certainly was not ALWAYS gentle.

Yet, the moments where he was not gentle also have a context to them. They were moments that called for righteous anger and Jesus used it both to stop what was happening, to hold people accountable, and to teach them a better way. With that said, Jesus had a gentle nature about him overall. He loved all people, he cared for people who needed care, he instructed people who would be his followers, and he saw the image of God in all people.  Even when he was angry and/or displaying anger, he was always doing so with the intent of instructing, as well as with the intent of putting an end to the harm he saw certain people inflicting upon others. So even his anger was driven by his gentle heart.

It would be easy for me to simply say that we are to “strive” to have Jesus’ gentleness; however, that would be inconsistent with Paul’s understanding of the fruit, which by now I am hoping you can see for yourselves. Jesus didn’t strive to be gentle…HE WAS GENTLE by the nature of his relationship with God. He was filled with the Holy Spirit and gentleness (along with the other fruits) were born through that relationship. The same is true for us. If we have a deep and committed relationship with God, if we are receptive of and filled with God’s Holy Spirit, then we will bear the fruit of God’s gentleness. This is nothing we earn or strive to do on our own power…but something that happens as a result of the power of God in our lives. If you are not gentle and do not bear the fruit of the Spirit, then it is time to check where you are in your relationship with God. We all fail to maintain that relationship, and none of us are perfect in it, but those of us who have a relationship with God and are receptive to the Holy Spirit, are being perfected in God’s love and are bearing the fruit that comes from that.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength.” – St. Francis de Sales

PRAYER
Lord, fill me with your Holy Spirit so that I may bear the spiritual fruit of gentleness in my life. Amen.

FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT: Faithfulness

Read Galatians 5:22-26

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I decree that everyone throughout my kingdom should tremble with fear before the God of Daniel. For He is the living God, and He will endure forever. His kingdom will never be destroyed, and His rule will never end.” (Daniel 6:26, NLT)

FruitOsp_FaithfulnessIn his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “The Fruit of the Spirit.”

FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT: Faithfulness. When I think of the fruit of faithfulness, I think of the prophet Daniel. If you remember the story of Daniel, he was one of the Jews who were exiled to Babylon as a result of the corruption of the Kings of Israel. During exile, Daniel rose to prominence in the Babylonian Court under King Nebuchadnezzar II. There the King learns that Daniel had the ability to interpret dreams and he employed Daniel to do just that. Daniel faithfully served Nebuchadnezzar until the king went mad, something which Daniel predicted would happen.

The king’s successor was even more foolish than his predecessor and ended up losing his kingdom to the Medes and Persians. King Darius of Persia took notice of Daniel and eventually elevated him to high office; however, out of jealousy, court officials tricked King Darius to pass an edict that prohibited the worship of any god or man for a 30-day period. Out of faithfulness to God, Daniel refused to obey such an edict and prayed to God three times a day while facing in the direction of Jerusalem. Of course, it wasn’t long before Daniel was caught in the act and accused before King Darius who was forced to punish his favorite official…by his own decree.

Thus we come to the story of Daniel and the Lion’s Den. Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den as punishment for his faithfulness to God. He did not let anything get in the way of his relationship with God, not even the threat of punishment or death. And it was in his faithfulness that Daniel witnessed to God’s faithfulness as well, for the lions lay down and do not eat Daniel! In reality, it is not that God just became faithful or that Daniel just noticed. Neither of those are true. Daniel had known God’s faithfulness all along, despite being exiled from his homeland and being under the oppression of foreign rulers.

When reflecting on faithfulness, we really have a three things to consider. First, when we think of faithfulness we cannot over look the example of God’s faithfulness with us. We need to be open to it, to see it in all of the blessings we enjoy, and to even see God’s faithfulness in the trials and tough times we face as well. The latter part is particular challenging for us as we tend to question God’s faithfulness when we are going through tough times. Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that questioning God is ever a bad thing. It is not; however, it is a good discipline for us to struggle in the midst of those questions to see how God has blessed and been present with us in spite of the trials we’ve endured. God is always with us. God is always faithful.

Second, we should live our lives in faithfulness as well. Faith begets faithfulness. If we have faith we will remain faithful to God. We will not compromise our faith or our relationship to God…no matter what the world (our friends, our country, etc.) is calling us to do. Finally, when the holy spirit nurtures faithfulness within us, we will be faithful in our human (and animal…yes they count too) relationships as well. We cannot be faithful to God if we are unfaithful in our human relationships! You may be wondering, “who could ever live up to such a standard?” On our own, none of us could; however, as Paul states from the very beginning, this is the fruit that the Spirit-filled life will bear.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“By faithfulness we are collected and wound up into unity within ourselves, whereas we had been scattered abroad in multiplicity.” – Augustine of Hippo
PRAYER
Lord, fill me with your Holy Spirit so that I may bear the spiritual fruit of faithfulness in my life. Amen.

FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT: Generosity

Read Galatians 5:22-26

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“A generous person will be enriched, and one who gives water will get water.” (Proverbs 11:25 NRSV)

In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “The Fruit of the Spirit.”

FruitOsp_GenerosityFRUIT OF THE SPIRIT: Generosity. It is often said that the United States of America is a generous nation full of generous people. According to nptrust.org, 95.4% of households within the United States give to charity and the average household gives an average of $2,974 per year. What’s more, Americans gave $358.38 billion in 2014. Corporations gave a total of $17.77 billion in 2014 and foundations gave $53.7 billion. As can be seen in the statistics above, Americans give billions of dollars a year to charity.

Out of our wealth, generally speaking in comparison to much of the world, there is no doubt that we Americans give a ton of our money away; however, that is not the only measure of generosity. The Apostle Paul is not merely meaning that we Christians should be financially generous, throwing tons of money at charitable organizations; rather, generosity is a way of being and it involves much more than just our money. Generosity includes how we view and treat others. It includes mercy, justice, humility, and meekness as well.

If we truly want to look to someone to show what it means to be generous, why not look to Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. He was somebody who did not have a whole lot of money to give, but was about as generous of a person one can think of. Where he lacked in money, he was rich in many other things. He gave of his time, his talents, his heart, his energy, and his life. Jesus took the time to listen to people, to have compassion on them, to spend his days and nights caring for them and teaching them to do the same. He healed people, sought justice out for them, engaged people (even if they were out to entrap him), and he forgave people for inflicting harm against him. In one short but totally true pronouncement, Jesus gave it all. He spared no expense, including the expense of his own blood, in order to see the arrival of the Kingdom of God through.

Paul is teaching us that, if we are filled with and guided by the Holy Spirit, we will be just as generous as Jesus was. We will learn to give our all so that others might experience the hope, healing and wholeness that we experience. If we are truly generous we will not only give our money to things, but we will be deeply engaged in the seeking out of social justice, we will be deeply engaged in loving and showing mercy to others, we will be deeply engaged in spending our time with others and invest ourselves in ushering the same Kingdom that Jesus opened the doors to nearly nearly 2,000 years ago. Be filled and be transformed with God’s Holy Spirit so that you might bear the spiritual fruit of total generosity in your life.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“True generosity is an offering; given freely and out of pure love. No strings attached. No expectations. Time and love are the most valuable possession you can share.” – Suze Orman

PRAYER
Lord, sow the seed of radical generosity within my heart so that I may bear that fruit in my life. Amen.

FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT: Kindness

Read Galatians 5:22-26

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Never let loyalty and kindness leave you! Tie them around your neck as a reminder. Write them deep within your heart.” (Proverbs 3:3 NLT)

In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “The Fruit of the Spirit.”

FruitOsp_KindnessFRUIT OF THE SPIRIT: Kindness. I once heard a comedian tell a joke that truly resonated with me. While I don’t remember which comedian it was, there was a definite truth behind what he was saying. The joke went something like this. “The other day I needed coffee and so I stopped at the local convenience store to pick up coffee. The cashier was rather rude to me as he clearly didn’t feel like working that day. That really irked me and set me off. I paid for my coffee, got back in my car and drove off. I just could believe that guy, I fumed to myself as I hit the gas pedal. Some lady got in the lane in front of me, so I angrily honked my horn at her and proceeded to pass her. She, clearly upset, gave me the middle finger. And that’s how it happens folks. You see, that woman in her anger wasn’t paying attention and got into an accident with the car in front of her and died. That rippled to her family, and then rippled to the friends of the family, it ended up rippling to through the town, the state, the country and eventually found its way to the Middle East. Right now, another war has broken out as a result of a rude cashier.”

While this is certainly hyperbole and clearly exaggerated for humor’s sake, there is a measure of truth in there. We are often so caught up in our own worlds that we forget that there are others around us that have feelings too. We get irritated, frustrated, angry and we are ready to scream at the whole world to let them know just how bad our days, our lives, and/or our world is! Eventually, our bad attitudes end up affecting other people in negative ways. All that ends up doing is spread negativity around a world that is filled with negativity.

Acting in such ways is not bearing the fruit of the spirit. The spirit is not irritable, it is not mean, it is not nasty. The Spirit is, rather, kind and loving and compassionate. I have heard it said that “nice stinks.” But that is not true. Being nice…being kind…is the fruit that the Holy Spirit nurtures within us. We can be honest with people, we can hold people accountable for things in order to build them up into better disciples; however, we can do all of that with kindness in our hearts and in our words.

I am not naive to think that we can always be kind. I do recognize that there are times when NOT being kind might be called for; however, by and large, kindness rocks and I find that if you are kind to others they will more often than not be kind back. Lead by example and be kind to others. Show them what it means to have the love of God in your heart and win them over with the kindness the Holy Spirit has planted in yours. In that way, you will be not only bearing the fruit of the spirit, but you will be planting new fruit in the lives of others.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.” – Lao Tzu

PRAYER
Lord, pour into me your gentle spirit and fill me up with your loving kindness. Amen.

FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT: Patience

Read Galatians 5:22-26

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.” (Romans 8:28 NLT)

In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “The Fruit of the Spirit.”

FruitOsp_PatienceFRUIT OF THE SPIRIT: Patience. Wow, this is the NOT the devotion for me to write. All my life I have been plagued with the desire to have things done now, in all areas of my life. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the process that things naturally progress in; however, I would appreciate it far more if we didn’t have to wait. I have never been a fan of just sitting and waiting for stuff to happen, I would much rather go out and make it happen right now. Even in something as mundane as shopping, I would rather buy something now than wait until later to do it. Patience is certainly something I have had to struggle with over the years and, come to think of it, perhaps that makes me the perfect person to talk about it.

I know I am not alone in this. I know I am not the only one who has a hard time waiting for things to happen “in God’s time.” I know I am not the only one in who feels that sometimes “God’s time” just ain’t quick enough! Why do I need to pray on something, why do I need to wait upon the Lord, why should I just sit idly by when I can seize the day and make the most of the situation? Why should I have to walk through the painfully long process of ordination when I can just be ordained online in 15 minutes and a few dollars later? Why, why, why do I have to wait? Okay, maybe I didn’t question why I needed to actually get ordained as opposed to buying a title; however, I have certainly struggled with patience.

The church struggles with patience to. When will these pews fill up? When will our church go back to the way things were before? When will we become relevant in the community again? When will we see the offering go back up to sustainable numbers? When…when…when? In our impatience, what ends up happening is that we wind up jumping the gun and cutting corners to make those things happen because, in our minds, they aren’t happening quick enough. Yet; the stark reality is that, in cutting the corners and rushing things along, we only blanket fix things at best and we often end up making a bigger mess of things than they already were.

So, you are wondering when God is going to step in and save the day for the church? You are wondering when God will answer the prayers you have been praying? You wonder when your church family will grow, when your attendance will rise, when your coffers will overflow, and when the presence of God will be KNOWN to be in your community? The answer is simple. God will do it when the time is right, if it is ever right. God will do it when the time is right for you, and others, to step up to the plate and take the actions necessary to make it happen. God will do it when you learn to be act and to be patient in your actions, allowing things to unfold in God’s time and in God’s way. As a beloved Presbyterian friend always reminds me, God is sovereign. God is in control. God will act when the time is right and, if you are willing to act and then wait upon the Lord, all shall be good in the neighborhood.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.” – Isaiah, son of Amoz (Isaiah 40:31 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, build up in me the wisdom to be patient. I trust in you and know that you are working all things at the right time. Amen.

FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT: Peace

Read Galatians 5:22-26

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7 NRSV)

In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “The Fruit of the Spirit.”

FruitOsp_PeaceFRUIT OF THE SPIRIT: Peace. I am sure most people have heard of the name, John Wesley. He was the co-founder of the Methodist Movement in England along with his brother Charles. John was a man who took his faith seriously, so much so that he and his brother founded what became known as the “Holy Club” while in Seminary. Now, I know it is hard to not read “rollers” into that and, no doubt, many of his peers viewed his “Holy Club” as a “Holy Rollers Club.” To a majority of his fellow students, John and the rest of the club seemed pretentious at best. In all seriousness though, John wanted nothing more but than to live his life fully and wholly according to Scripture.

Straight out of Seminary, John decided to put his “faith” in action and go to Georgia in order to convert the American Indians. On his way across the Atlantic Ocean, his ship encountered a series of fierce and relentless storms. In the worst of the storms, John became stricken with fear. He was afraid he was going to die. The ship was being tossed around like a paper boat and things were looking pretty bleak. In the midst of the stormy chaos, John heard hymns being sung and he walked to the room that the sound was coming from. Inside he found a group of Moravian Christians looking as peaceful as if there was no storm at all. Shocked, John asked the leader, “Aren’t you afraid to die?”

The man stood up and replied, “No, we are not afraid of dying.” John, exasperated continued to question, “Well, aren’t your women and children afraid of dying?” The man replied, “No, they aren’t afraid of dying either.” This response left John in awe. The storm was so fierce and the situation looked bleak; yet, these Moravians seemed to be at peace. “Clearly,” John thought to himself, “their faith is greater than mine.” It was a peace he wanted, but wasn’t sure how to lay claim on it.

I believe that John Wesley is not alone in seeking such peace. We all want that assurance in the midst of life that everything is okay and will be okay no matter what circumstances come along. We all want to have the peace that passes all understanding to fill us, especially since most of us are filled with stress and fear and worry. We all long to be at peace with ourselves, at peace with our neighbors, and at peace with God.

A mentor of mine once said that “peace is having no regrets of the past and no worries for the future.” That is true, at least in part. But eternal peace goes beyond that because that statement is still stuck on the subject to whom it refers. True peace moves beyond our subjectiveness and relies on the presence and the sovereignty of our Lord God. When we trust that God is with us and within us, when we let go of trying to know and/or manipulate the outcome, when we give up control, and when we move beyond our own desires and align with God’s, then we will truly experience true peace…the kind that does surpass our understanding.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Peace comes from within. Do not seek it from without.” – Buddha

PRAYER
Lord, grant me your peace that I may more wholly know you and more faithfully serve you. Amen.

FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT: Joy

Read Galatians 5:22-26

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“There I will go to the altar of God, to God—the source of all my joy. I will praise You with my harp, O God, my God!” (Psalms 43:4 NLT)

In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “The Fruit of the Spirit.”

FruitOsp_JoyFRUIT OF THE SPIRIT: Joy. We all want to be happy, right? I cannot think of a single person who would claim that they don’t desire happiness. We all have different ideas of happiness. I have the idea of a world where people lived together in harmony, where no one through judgment around and thought they were better than anyone else. I have the idea of such a world where no one thought that they were right and everyone else was wrong, where religion was taken seriously, where all religions were respected, and where religious fanatics didn’t ostracize, imprison or kill others. I have the same idea of a world where politicians follow suit and don’t try and ostracize, imprison or kill others for their own political gains. I could go on with this ideal world and I am certain that such a world would make me truly happy.

Since that reality is surely never coming, or at least not anytime soon, perhaps I will just settle for a permanent vacation (great Aerosmith album, btw) on an island somewhere in the Caribbean where I am slurping piña coladas in young coconut shells all day long, while sitting on a beach listening to “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” Sounds great right?!?! Our world loves happiness, it longs for it, it tells us all that we should be pursuing it to the ends of the earth. The problem, as many of us in life have already discovered, is that happiness is fleeting at best and the pursuit of it often leads us toward a giant cliff that over looks an endless abyss of disappointment and despair.

That is absolutely why you will not find happiness being called a Fruit of the Spirit. It just simply is not. I am sure that Paul was NOT happy getting rejected by the church in Jerusalem for wanting to be open-minded and open hearted to the Gentiles. I am sure that he wasn’t happy getting stoned (by rocks…to clarify) and imprisoned. I am sure that he wasn’t happy having his authority and his apostleship questioned, being considered an outsider by both his fellow Jews and his fellow Apostles. I am sure that Paul did not live a life of happiness, and I am equally sure he didn’t spend is life pursuing it. Rather, Paul’s life was one of joy, not happiness!

Joy, in essence is that inner thankfulness that causes one to experience bliss, peace and contentment in all circumstances. It is the calm assurance that God is with you in those circumstances and, even if your life is forfeit as a result of living out your faith, you are thankful for all that God has given to you and for all that God has called you to. One can try to pursue it; however, it is not bought, or earned, or easily attained; rather it is produced by the Holy Spirit, by the divine presence of God dwelling within us. It is in the context of a relationship with God and the transformative reception of the Holy Spirit that one begins to have a joy that cannot be contained or snuffed out. Do you want to experience it? Open your heart to God and allow the Holy Spirit to enter you and transform you into God’s agent of hope, healing, and wholeness.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Joy is prayer; joy is strength: joy is love; joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.” – Mother Teresa

PRAYER
Lord, turn my heart into an eternal well-spring of your joy! Amen.

FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT: Love

Read Galatians 5:22-26

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13 NLT)

In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “The Fruit of the Spirit.”

FruitOsp_LoveTHE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT: Love. It was recently that I came to the realize that almost every song on the radio is about love. What’s love got to do with? Well, frankly, it evidently sells pretty well…that’s what. There are songs about falling in love, as well as songs about falling out of love. There are songs about love lifting you up to higher mountains, and songs about surviving the woes and despairs of falling out of love. There are songs about faithful, devoted love, as well as songs about getting revenge against a lover who wasn’t so faithful. There’s songs about a loving relationship defining who one is, and there are songs about a lover giving love a bad name. There isn’t a lot of originality or depth when it comes to love as it is played out on the radio

That’s just in the secular market. In the religious realm, a majority of the songs are related to love as well…especially worship songs. Those songs tend to be about God loving us so much that God came in the form of Jesus, took our sins, and died. There are also worship songs where we express our love of an awesome God, or a mighty Creator, or an irresistible Lord, or the air we breathe, or…well, place your Christian cliché here. These songs, while they go beyond romantic love, are also lacking in originality and depth.

Love is so much more than an emotion that causes us to feel all warm, fuzzy and gooey on the inside. Love is far more than worship the God that fits our image, the God who conveniently looks, feels, thinks, and acts as we do. I am not saying that to knock secular love songs or to knock contemporary worship songs. I am writing this to point out that LOVE GOES MUCH DEEPER THAN THIS. Love is not always pleasant, it is not always warm and fuzzy, and it most certainly is not always welcome. Love pushes to hold ourselves and others accountable. It pushes us to stand up against injustice, even when others wish we would remain silent. It causes us to do what’s right even when that equals making a hard decision regardless of the consequences.

Love is so much more than a God that fits who we think God should be. Love transforms us from who we think we are to WHO GOD WANTS US TO BE. It compels us to forgive, rather than hold grudges. It pushes us to treat others as we would want to be treated. It asks us to be humble and swallow our pride. It calls us to CARE, rather than be complacent. It calls us to be patient, gentle, kind, compassionate, faithful, hopeful instead of cynical, and strengthens us to endure through all circumstances. This is the kind of love that Paul is talking about. This is the kind of love that Jesus Christ is calling us to. This is the kind of love that is evidence of the Holy Spirit. Open your heart to it, be transformed, and bear that fruit.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“If I gave away everything that I have and hand over my own body to feel good about what I’ve done but I don’t have love, I receive no benefit whatsoever.” – St. Paul, the Apostle (1 Corinthians 13:3 CEB)

PRAYER
Lord, melt me, mold me, fill me and use me as your vessel of love. Transform me in your love so that I may more boldly love others. Amen.