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Fruit of the Spirit: Goodness

One of the most generic and non-descript words in the English language is the word “good.”  About the only specific thing we can take from this word is that it describes something that isn’t bad or unpreferable.  It simply gets us above the zero-line.  One of the things the Spirit produces in our lives is goodness.  This fruit of the Spirit has a more specific meaning in the passage than it does in the modern vernacular.  It is the Greek word “agathosune.”  We can think of this goodness in two ways.  First, it is an inherent goodness.  It is a goodness that goes to the core.  It’s not a rich oak veneer over chinsy particle board.  It is solid, through and through.

Second, this is a goodness that applies to all situations.  It applies goodness appropriately to each situation.  When we look at Jesus’ life, we see goodness when he rebukes the Pharisees and when he welcomes little children and blesses them.  It is goodness applied rightly to all circumstances.  A few verses before the list of spiritual fruit, Paul says this: “Live by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”  The only way to express goodness is by allowing the Spirit to direct you in each circumstance.  So let me challenge you to express goodness by living by the Spirit today.  With each situation that arises, what would God have you do?

 

Simple Prayer

Yesterday we kicked off our fall series called “School of Prayer.”  Over the next six weeks we will be learning about prayer – what it is and how to do it.  Since it’s a school, we were assigned some homework for this week.  We are asked to practice Simple Prayer regularly throughout the week.  Simple prayer consists of two things: 1) Telling God what you want and 2) telling God where you’re at.

First of all, we tell God what we want.  We don’t filter out less noble desires.  We let God know whatever we want.  Tell God about the girlfriend you want.  Tell God about the outfit you want.  Let him know how you’d like to feel or what you wish your kids would do (or not do).  Let it rip!  Second, we tell God where we are at.  This isn’t about our physical location.  It’s telling God where we are at emotionally.  Are you excited?  Tell God.  Are you feeling insecure?  Let God know.  Tell God if you’re battling temptation.  Tell him that you’re angry with someone.  Tell him how grateful you feel.  One way to do this is to use meals as a platform for Simple Prayer.  Whenever you sit down for a meal or even a snack.  Take 30 seconds to tell God what you want and where you are at.  The goal is simply to get us praying.

 

Fruit of the Spirit: Kindness

Several years ago a movie came out called Evan Almighty.  It was the (fictional) story of a US congressman who was more or less coerced by God into building an ark (i.e., Noah’s ark).  At the end of the movie, you discover that “ark” is really an acronym for Acts of Random Kindness.  It was a little out of the blue, but I suppose that acts of random kindness can be a sort of shelter and hope for humanity.  I take some objection to the word “random.”  I think that acts of kindness should be intentional.  But random is better than nothing.

In the Bible, kindness is a blessing or caring act that is undeserved.  It’s a deed that goes well beyond what is owed a person.  For example, if someone does something nice for you and you thank them, that’s not really kindness.  Kindness is a sacrifice you make to bless another person.  This is such a tangible way to live out our identity in Christ.  After all, it was our Father’s kindness that led Him to send His Son (Ephesians 2:6-7).  So I will challenge you to express this fruit of the Spirit this week.  Think of someone who needs encouragement.  Do an intentional act of kindness.  It’s not a great acronym, but the person who receives your kindness won’t mind at all.

 

Fruit of the Spirit: Patience

You may have heard the old proverb about patience (at the risk of reinforcing loose-fitting gender stereotypes): “Patience is a virtue.  Find it if you can.  Often found in woman; seldom found in man.”  Actually, patience is seldom found in anybody these days.  We live in an on-demand world where we can eat, enjoy media, and connect with others almost instantaneously.  If someone doesn’t return a text within 15 minutes, we start to get antsy.  Does patience even have a place in this world?  Is it a passe fruit of the Spirit?

While patience doesn’t play very well in our world today, patience is critical for spiritual growth.  You can go and have an emotional experience at a conference or worship service.  But real growth and healing often come slowly.  Many of you reading this have been waiting for years for your break-through.  You’re waiting for the pain to subside.  You’re waiting for you son or daughter to come back to church.  You’re waiting to finally get on top of a recurring sin in your life.  These things don’t happen over night.  They happen in God’s time, not ours.  That’s why patience is so critical on the spiritual journey.  I want to challenge you to express this fruit of the Spirit this week by choosing God’s timing over your own.  Where have you been waiting?  What do you need that’s been a long time in coming in your life?  Surrender your timing and pray sincerely for God’s perfect timing… and the patient endurance to wait on Him.

Fruit of the Spirit: Peace

There has scarcely been a moment in history when peace was not in demand.  In my 40 years of life, it seems there has always been a military conflict going on somewhere in the world.  One of the strongest themes in the New Testament is peace.  It is probably second only to love in terms of frequency.  The New Testament speaks of peace with God, peace with each other, and peace within ourselves.  We can define it as the absence of conflict and tension within these relationships.  I think that this fruit of the Spirit addresses all three of these relationships.

First, Jesus has given us peace with God by reconnecting us through His death and resurrection.  Second, where there is love, patience, and kindness by the Spirit, there will also be peace in our human relationships.  But there is also an inner peace that we can possess.  A sense of calm and ease in the face of struggle and difficulty.  Here’s how I would challenge you to express this fruit of the Spirit this week: Consider one area of life where you are anxious.  Is there something happening in your life right now that is difficult or worrisome?  Take this area to God and give it to Him in prayer.  The Bible promises us that the peace of God which passes all understanding will guard your heart and mind (Philippians 4:7).

 

Fruit of the Spirit: Joy

When our founding fathers drafted the Declaration of Independence, they identified three inalienable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Perhaps they should have aimed a bit higher with the last one.  Why not “the pursuit of joy”?  We talk sometimes about the difference between happiness and joy.  Happiness is usually more fleeting.  It’s based on our circumstances and our expectations being met.  Joy, on the other hand, runs much deeper.  Joy is a state of being that we live in.

I suppose then, that by definition you can’t really pursue joy.  Joy is not something you acquire as much as the result of a deep, abiding truth: we belong to God and nothing can change that.  Since joy springs from an unchangeable truth, it remains even when happiness is fleeting.  Joy survives even in the midst of pain and suffering where happiness fades.  Here’s a way to express this fruit of the Spirit this week.  Chances are you will face some disappointment this week.  When that happens, choose to connect with joy.  Acknowledge the disappointment but respond with joy.

 

Fruit of the Spirit: Love

I’d like to use this space to quickly reflect on each fruit of this Spirit.  I want to emphasize that these are not fruits of you.  They are fruit that the Holy Spirit produces within us.  That doesn’t let us off the hook though.  We need to express these fruits in our lives.  But they are things that the Spirit produces.

The first fruit that Paul identifies in Galatians 6 is love.  So many things pass for love these days that this fruit has gotten very watered down.  We equate it with feelings.  It describes a preference that we have for something or someone.  But love is not just stated.  Love is something we observe.  Love expresses itself in very practical ways.  More specifically, love expresses itself in sacrificial ways.  Love usually costs us something – time, attention, energy, even money.  In fact, the chances are that if it costs you nothing to love someone, you’re not really expressing the kind of love that Paul lists here.  Let me challenge you to express this fruit of the Spirit.  Do something for another person that costs you something this week.  Do something you wouldn’t normally do because it blesses another person.  Sacrifice to show another person you care about them.  And while you do it, thank your Father in heaven for demonstrating His love so clearly and sacrificially.

Thank You, US Coast Guard

Well, it’s Coast Guard week.  I know some people love the festive vibe of this time of year.  For those who grew up coming to the festival, it brings back great memories.  But to me, because I’m a bit of a curmudgeon, Coast Guard week is just a lot of extra traffic.  Last year it was the City of Ferrysburg’s turn to host the Coast Guard banquet.  I was asked to give the invocation for the meal.  Sitting there with high-ranking officers and hearing about all the ways that the Coast Guard benefits us, I realized that this is more than a carnival.  It is a thank you to the men and women who are willing to risk their lives to defend our shores.  It is a celebration of people whose everyday duty is heroic.

If you head out to the festival this week, watch the parade, or take in the fireworks, remember: this is more than an excuse to throw a party.  Say thank you to a “coastie.”   And when I get stuck in Grand Haven traffic this week, I’ll be more gracious out of respect for the US Coast Guard.

 

Persecuted

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The last of the Beatitudes deals with persecution.  Jesus says that those who are persecuted because of righteousness are blessed and happy.  That seems a little odd, but let’s dig in.  It should be noted that Jesus is not referring to a one-time act of righteousness that leads to persecution.  It’s not a persecution that occurs because a person took a stand once in their lives.  This is a righteousness that is the course of a person’s life.  It’s a pattern of choices that consistently reflect the way of Jesus.  Persecution for a life of righteousness might come in the form of business losses or friendships that don’t survive or missed opportunities.  This world is often stacked against a life of following Jesus.

And yet those who make righteousness a way of life are blessed.  Jesus says, “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Doing the right thing over time may cost you heavily in this age.  But in the age to come, it will reward you handsomely.  Persecution can take away your money, your friends, and your opportunities.  But it cannot take away Jesus and the kingdom he brings.  Despite persecution, yours is the kingdom of heaven.

Pure In Heart

As we’ve looked at The Beatitudes, we’ve been seeing how these weren’t coveted virtues in Jesus’ day. The qualities that Jesus describes here were actually a position of disadvantage in the first century. To be spiritually poor or meek, to be lacking in righteousness to the point of hungering for it, these were not conditions that people sought out. The good news of God’s kingdom is that there is a place – a special place – for people with these characteristics. It’s natural to wonder how “pure in heart” could be a bad thing. Isn’t that what God wants from us? Isn’t a pure heart a beautiful virtue?

To understand why this was a position of disadvantage, consider it’s opposite: not impure in heart, but pure in appearance. The pure in heart were the pure that nobody knew about. Their purity was not seen, appreciated, or valued by others because it was an inward purity. While the Pharisees were praying on the street corners, the pure in heart were praying in their closets. Maybe your purity is a purity of heart, rather than appearance. Perhaps no one sees the simplicity and purity with which you live. Maybe you’ve never gotten credit for it. Well, God sees it. He values it. And He rewards it. You will see God. Blessed are you because your purity of heart is valued in the kingdom.