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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.

Merciful

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

To understand this beatitude we need to know a little bit of the world Jesus lived in.  Today mercy is generally considered a virtue.  We esteem people who are compassionate and give second chances.  But in the first century mercy was a sign of weakness.  Merciful people were those were suckers and were easily taken advantage of.  Their mercy cost them a great deal.  It might be a fair translation to say, “Blessed are those who have been taken advantage of.”  The good news for the merciful is that they would be shown mercy.  They would be repaid with the same compassion and restoration that they showed to others.

Whether or not you have been merciful, you have been shown mercy. God has not treated us as our sins deserve.  God has not allowed us to reap what we have sown.  We have all sown death and brokenness.  We have reaped eternal life.  And this thanks to the one uttering this beatitude.  Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have received mercy.  God let us off the hook by sending His Son to bear the consequences of our sin.  When we are merciful to others, we connect with God’s mercy.  We gain a deeper understanding of God’s mercy when we show it to others.

 

Hungry and Thirsty

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

Sometimes we think of this Beatitude applying to very pious people who have attained righteousness.  It’s actually quite the opposite.  This Beatitude proclaims good news for people who have no righteousness.  “Happy are those who lack a righteousness of their own.  Happy are those who aren’t good enough despite their best efforts.  Happy are those who understand that they lack this essential staple in their lives.”

The promise is that they will be filled.  Their needs will be met.  Many of Jesus’ contemporaries in religious life (i.e., the Pharisees) were unaware of their need for righteousness.  They had filled up on good works and an empty observance of the law.  Jesus was talking to those who knew that they were empty.  And He promised to fill them with a righteousness that would satisfy even God.  When Jesus died on the cross, He not only took our sin upon Himself.  He gave us His righteousness.  If we understand how impossible it is for you and me to attain true righteousness, this is an amazing gift.  Blessed indeed!

 

Blessed Are The Meek

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

 

“Meek” is a word we don’t use very often.  It describes a person who is rather unremarkable.  A meek person is seldom noticed.  He doesn’t leave an impression on you.  You probably wouldn’t remember her name even if she told you.  Meek people don’t have great accomplishments on their resume.  They don’t contribute much to the discussion.  And yet Jesus tells us that the meek will inherit the prized possession of a first century Israelite – the land.  This was a shock to those who heard Jesus say this.  It was the strong, the bold, the brave and courageous who would inherit the land.  Not the meek.

 

This Beatitude shows just how upside down the kingdom of God is.  The first shall be last.  The least will be the greatest.  And the meek will inherit the land.  If you tend to be on the meek side, take heart!  In the kingdom of God there is a place for you – a place where you are valued.  For the rest of us, perhaps we should pay a bit more attention to those who draw little to themselves.  Maybe we should notice the unnoticed.  In valuing what Jesus values, it stands to reason that we will become a little more like him.

 

Those Who Mourn

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

Sometimes we’ve thought of the Beatitudes as characteristics that we should try to possess – be-attitudes.  I don’t think that’s what Jesus was saying, and this beatitude is a prime example.  Jesus isn’t telling us to mourn.  He’s not encouraging us to nurse sorrow and grief in our lives.  Jesus is giving good news to those who have been through unspeakable tragedy.  Jesus is is speaking something powerful to those whose lives have been changed by misfortune or loss.  “Happy are those who mourn, because a new kind of comfort – real comfort – is now theirs.”

The kingdom that Jesus brings is good news for those who live with a deep ache in their hearts.  It offers more than platitudes and comfort of the “there, there” variety.  The kingdom brings God’s very presence into the wounds and scars of loss.  Toward the end of John’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples that the Comforter is coming.  The Holy Spirit will be given to God’s people.  Those who mourn are not just surrounded by comfort.  They are indwelt by the Comforter.  Blessed indeed!