Category Archives: fruits of the Spirit

the best medicine


When I learned to read I quickly became a little predictable. You see, we had this book that my parents got every once in a while and every time they would get it I would find myself rifling through the pages until I got to a certain section. It was either “Humor in Uniform”, “Life in these United States” or “The Best Medicine”. The publication was called The Reader’s Digest and I went straight for the joke sections. I remember going to my grandparents house and seeing their Sunday paper and going straight for the comics section (as long as my PaPaw was done with his puzzles). For a while I feel like I was almost obsessed with reading “The Far Side” or “Hogarth the Horrible” or “Get Fuzzy”. So yesterday, the superlatives at a teacher’s meeting for the end of the school year really didn’t come as too much of a surprise. That’s right, yours truly was awarded the Staff Comedian. Someone even asked if I was given the award because they were laughing with me or at me…? My response, “Yes”.

But I treasure this award…truly. I see laughter as a reflection of joy and I hold joy in the utmost regard when it comes to the life of faith. When the apostle Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit, you know the things in our life we see as a result of the living presence of God within us, it goes a little like this, “ But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” – Galatians 5:22-23 The first one on the list makes a lot of sense. After all, God is love. But the second one? Joy?!? It’s that important that it gets picked second. There is a story in the Old Testament where the people of Israel are overcome with grief and guilt. They had finished rebuilding the temple wall and in the process had discovered anew the law. After hearing it read the people began to weep because of how far they had fallen, but this is the response: “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Don’t mourn or weep…Go, eat rich food, and drink something sweet,” he said to them, “and send portions of this to any who have nothing ready! This day is holy to our Lord. Don’t be sad, because the joy from the Lord is your strength!” – Nehemiah 8:9-10 The joy of the Lord is your strength!

Laughter to me is a natural reflection of joy. I remember my wife and I reading about the biology of laughter some time ago. Evidently laughter, true laughter, is an almost involuntary response when your brain gets surprised…literally tickled. It’s our bodies way of showing us there is a new way to see the things around us and sometimes it can even be silly or absurd or flat out funny. Laughter is a reflection of learning and a way of showing us the joy to be found in and through the world around us. Maybe it might not be the best literal medicine (my money is on ibuprofen), but it does make life a little more livable. And if God’s joy is our strength and a reflection of the presence of God in our lives, then let’s find more things to smile, laugh and be joyful about each day.


try a little

Yesterday afternoon I found out about the passing of Glen Campbell. I don’t think I would have ever been characterized as a Glen Campbell fan per se, but I always enjoyed listening to his music and there were times I would even find myself binge listening. In fact, just this last Saturday on our way to a wedding I had my wife indulge me in one of those moments as we listened to Gentle on My Mind while rolling down Business 20. So yesterday after hearing of his passing I launched into a Glen Campbell kind of afternoon and I heard a song I hadn’t heard in quite some time. The chorus goes like this, “You got to try a little kindness, Yes show a little kindness, Just shine your light for everyone to see. And if you try a little kindness, Then you’ll overlook the blindness, Of narrow-minded people on the narrow-minded streets.” Huh. It’s weird to think that we should need the lyrics of a Glen Campbell song to remind us of what might be important in today’s world.

Kindness does seem to be a dying commodity in the world lately. We are consumed with winning arguments, proving our point, getting our opinion across, tweeting our stances and jumping on our soapboxes before we even begin to think about the consequences and whether or not we are thought of as being kind. Which for us in the church is very strange. After all, in Galatians we read, “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 Did you see it there? (I underlined it and bolded it just in case). Kindness is a fruit of living life by the power of the Holy Spirit. One might even say that kindness is evidence of God living in you. And yet, sometimes it is a quality we value least in today’s world because we think it might make us appear weak or a pushover or tolerant or whatever adjective or excuse you want to pin onto the need to not be kind.

Personally I’ve been accused at times of perhaps being a bit too nice…but I have to be honest with you, it’s not me. There are so many times that I would love to give someone a piece of my mind. I can’t tell you how many times in the last year I have wanted to tell someone off or just let loose on someone who has rubbed me the wrong way. But then there is this gentle nudge from the Holy Spirit that reminds me of how God feels about the person across from me. And so I pause, try to put myself in their shoes and try to think about how God would treat them if He were right there instead of me. Do I always succeed at being kind? Probably not. But in the words of Glen Campbell it is always worth trying at. And maybe you might effect the life of the narrow minded across from you and find your own narrow mindedness being healed in the process as well.

gates of hell

I imagine the title of this one probably caught your eye. Most of the time when someone throws out the word “Hell” in the church it creates some sort of a stir, although not always for the right reasons. But, title aside, I was running around Flint this morning and I couldn’t help but think about Hell, violence, poverty and the church. Let me try to bring you along on my thought journey (my mind goes everywhere when I run, so this may not work).

Last night during youth group our text that we covered came out of Matthew 16, “Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it”- Matthew 16:16-20. This text is unique because of Jesus’ geographical location when he spoke these words. He was in Caesarea Phillipi which was one of the Roman centers of culture and actually a locus for the worship of Pan. Attached to this worship was a cave, referred to as the Gates of Hell/Hades, where much of the Imperial based Pagan worship took place. So essentially Jesus was saying that Peter’s confession of his Lordship (the son of the Living God) was such an affront to the surrounding culture that even the gates of Hell couldn’t stand against it.

That’s the thing about gates…they aren’t an offensive strategy. Very rarely do you hear of someone being injured or beaten with a gate. They are actually a defensive strategy. So our confession of Christ/our alternative way of living is actually an offensive against the gates of Hell. Against the dominant culture. When is the last time you thought of Christianity as being rightly offensive instead of weirdly defensive?

Which gets me back to my morning run. My run this morning followed the blue line that is the Crim course through and around downtown Flint. Flint is a city known primarily for it’s violence and poverty (at least by much of the country). You might say these are the things that define the dominant Flint culture (i.e.i. the Flint logo with a handgun for the letter L). But you can see the effects of this culture and my question to us is, “How is the church attacking the gates of Hell in Flint?” Where is the church being effective in combating the violence and poverty in Flint? These aren’t issues where we rely on political rhetoric or voting polls to do the work of the Kingdom for us, but these are the trenches we need to get in and espouse the values of the kingdom (Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Gentleness, Faithfulness and Self Control). One of my favorite quotes in understanding what an offensive church looks like goes like this, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Are we driving out darkness? Are we driving out hate? Or are the gates of Hell standing strong against us?

when you’re smiling

“I just like to smile. Smiling’s my favorite.” This is still one of my favorite lines from the movie Elf. Maybe it’s because I really do love to smile. I think back on our recent trip to Guatemala and my face may have been sore from smiling. Really! Every person we would encounter or pass on the streets we would exchange a smile and a horribly mispronounced Spanish greeting. It was almost customary for us to be overly friendly…possibly even labeled as the scary smiling gringos. But it was just one of those things you do…you almost can’t help it. The beauty of the country and it’s people was overwhelming. But now we find ourselves two weeks removed; back in our routines, work habits and possibly even struggling to smile.

Well this wasn’t good enough for me. So I tried a little experiment a few days ago. As I was visiting my local Kroger I went crazy with the smiling. I smiled and said “Hi” to everyone who would make any sort of eye contact with me. So now I am not banned from that Kroger as the creepy smiling pastor…j/k. In all seriousness I probably received an 80% positive return rate of either a smile or a return greeting (granted I wasn’t keeping statistical reference and there wasn’t a control group). But I begin to think about how a smile can really communicate so much.

1 Peter 3:8-9 goes a bit like this, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” Inexpressible and glorious joy. I love that phrase. Although I am not entirely sure that the joy Peter is describing is inexpressible. Maybe it is beyond our normal human limitations to try to describe this joy, but I actually think it is quite easy to express our Christian joy. It might even be as easy as smiling. Think about it for a minute. What is the second fruit of the Spirit? “Love, Joy…” If we are consumed by the Spirit of God, then the second most important identifying mark of that life, second only to love, is joy. And yet how often do we walk around with vacant, lifeless expressions. Or worse yet, sour or frustrated expressions. This should not be.

So my challenge to myself and to others is to recapture a bit of the dumb crazy gringo Guatemala magic. I am going to smile, to wave, to greet anybody around me. Why? Because inside me I am consumed with the ever present fact that I have a God who would do anything to be with me (and in fact has already done that). And maybe if people see that on my face, hear that in my voice they might wish to be consumed with that same joy. So if you see me and I am not smiling make sure I am not dying first and then quickly correct my expression. Because I just love to smile…

out of control

I can remember it as if it were yesterday. Sitting in the car listening to a tape about a magic “music machine” that sang songs about the Fruits of the Spirit. And then the song about self-control came on. “Self-control is just controlling myself. It’s listening to my heart and doing what is smart”. I am not sure it was my parent’s intent, but all of a sudden my entire theological understanding of self-control was shaped around a kids song that described situations in which the protagonist was in situations in which the would lose their temper. And yes self-control does come into play in these situations, but it is so much more than that. I think if I wanted to define self-control in terms of the Christian life, I would simply define it as discipline/controlled behavior.

For instance, my blog writing has been exhibiting an extreme lack of self-control. I say that I love writing and I love my blog, but my actions betray themselves by my three week absence. I heart it said recently that “it is easier to act your way into a feeling than to feel your way into an action”. In other words discipline yourself into a love for that which you want to do. In the life of faith, there are many thing which we would love to be a part of our character i.e. the Fruits of the Spirit. It is no wonder self-control is listed last among the fruits because only through discipline through the Spirit do the other fruits become a part of our character. The apostle Paul puts it this way in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”

Recently I think about all of the professional football players who are about to return to training camp late. I wonder; have they been self-controlled with their bodies and habits. If not, it will be a rough few first days. Likewise, are we being self-controlled in those things that improve our character witness for Christ. Are we exercising our bodies and minds  for Christian service or are we wallowing in apathy and self-indulgent behavior? Maybe it is time for all of us to exercise a little more self-control as we are molded into the image of Christ through the discipline of His Spirit.

faithfulness…not success

A British journalist once asked Mother Teresa how she kept going, knowing that she could never meet the needs of all the dying in the streets of Calcutta. Her answer, “I am not called to be successful; I’m called to be faithful.” Sometimes in the church in our Western culture I am not sure we recognize the difference. After all, look at the metrics whereby we measure church success: attendance, conversion, baptisms, confirmations, tithing measures, etc. All of these metrics seemed to be based on our success…and not necessarily our faithfulness. So I guess we have to ask ourselves how do we measure faithfulness.

Faithfulness is defined as ‘loyal, constant, and steadfast’ and in no way do any of these things indicate production. Production is something that requires toil and sweat. It is focused on the end goal and the results. In no way is it focused on the efforts made except to maybe to make the process more efficient in order to get results faster. But words like constant, steadfast…these don’t sound very efficient. So maybe, we don’t look at results metrics, but rather constancy metrics. Maybe we start to look at the lay-person who goes around mowing people’s yards without praise or compensation and who often flies under the radar. Maybe we start to look at the pastor who has served small congregations faithfully throughout the years but has never attracted too much attention otherwise. Maybe we start to look at the inner-city mission director whose efforts usually result in seeing the same ‘clients’ come through having failed yet again.

1 Corinthians 3:5-7 has another take on faithfulness altogether. ‘What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.’ As a pastor I have always had trouble with this. What if people don’t respond to my message? What if I am not seeing my group grow? And then I started looking at my questions a little more. My? I? When did this become about me? I am simply called to shine the light on Jesus in a dark world. If I am doing my job faithfully, then God will be faithful. The results do not rely on me…they are dependant on God alone.

SO my question remains…are you worried about success or being faithful? Are you shining the light on Jesus or is the spotlight on your ‘efforts’ and your ‘results’? I am not sure about you but I want to hear, ‘Good job. You were a good and faithful servant’. I just can’t imagine hearing, ‘Way to go you. You were more concerned with your successes than mine’. May we re-examine our motivations in light of all of this.

goodness…not just moralism

It’s funny that goodness is listed as one of the fruits of the Spirit. I immediately think of the story of the rich young ruler who approaches Jesus, ”Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’  ‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good—except God alone.’ And then Jesus proceeds to ratlle off some commandments. Of course the rich young man has kept all of these and is morally above reproach. And then the punch, ‘You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ Ouch! Someone who has been able to control his path, manage his wealth, manage his morality and have a relatively stable life is called to abandon everything that he has accomplished and engineered under his own power and follow God unabashedly…that doesn’t sound so good.

Often times we think, that since goodness is one of the fruits of the Spirit that we are measured on the morality that we exude and therefore we start to judge ourselves (and sometimes other) with a sliding rule of commands instead of being in a love relationship with Jesus. The word used for goodness in Paul’s list in Galatians speaks of ‘uprightness of heart and life’. I think it could be that maybe goodness speaks more of the motivation of our character versus the character itself. I ran across a great Dietrich Bonhoeffer quote recently that puts this into perspective, ‘Being a Christan is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God’s will’. All to often, especially in Holiness and Evangelical circles, we tend to find ourselves so bent on identifying/avoiding sin and moral failures that we forget that we are not put on this earth to be moral blueprints for society. We are here to be disciples of Christ, not moral hall monitors.

The rub comes when this becomes our faith versus Jesus. Moralism is something we have control over and is set out in a clear defined path. I can read the Bible and put everything into a black and white category and be absolutely above reproach. Or I can follow the Jesus of scripture, embark on a path of uncertainty trusting only God and never again be ‘safe’. Trusting in God’s goodness can only come about by experiencing him in an every day walk. And our resulting “goodness” is a heart trait born out of wildly following a God who is at best unpredictable and awesome. The journey of Christ is not about morality…it is so much more than that.

And just to leave you with something fun about God’s goodness…this is one of my favorite excerpts from The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.

“‘Safe?’ said Mr. Beaver…’Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. but he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.'”

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