Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Godly Fruit

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is not law." Galatians 5:22-23

What kind of fruit is produced in my life? Is it the sweet precious character of God that is produced? I know that an intimate relationship with Christ will change my heart and enable me to produce spiritual fruit and godly characteristics in us. The first character trait on the list above is love. I have shared before that when I heard a sermon on loving God with all of our hearts, minds, souls, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves that I asked God to teach me to love Him with all that I am. I didn't understand at the time what a love that was so encompassing looked like. I had believed the concept of God being more of an angry and distant Father than an Abba or personal Daddy. Because of that, I expected His answer to come in the form of admonitions. However, for over 4 weeks I was overwhelmed by daily lessons about His love for me. They came in the form of the Scriptures, sermons, books, encouragement, emails, praise music, and life events.

One of the most important lessons He teaches us is that our loving depends on the fact that He first loved us. It is only as we experience His love that we can begin to understand how to love Him and how to love others. I Corinthians 13 gives us a really clear picture of what godly love looks like. It is patient and kind, does not envy, does not boast, is not rude, not self-seeking, not easily angered, keeps no records of wrong, and does not delight in evil. It rejoices in the truth and seeks to protect, trust, hope and perseveres until the very end. It is not like the love our society has which is often selfish and manipulative and wanes when things get tough or the brain chemistry changes. God's love satisfies the love hunger in each of our hearts.

In loving us, God took the initiative. He demonstrated His love for us when we were His enemies and while we were still in bondage to our sin. He did this by sending Christ to live on earth and to die in our place for the sins we have committed. Christ invited sinners to live and walk with Him and many of them came. Even in His perfect holiness, something in Him invited them to live transparent lives before Him. When they had doubts they told Him. When they were prideful, they did not hide it. When they sinned they did it openly and He exhorted them to grow.

He demonstrated eternal love in that He loved in the face of adversity and hatred. He chose to love when in His humanity it caused Him great pain to do so. I wonder if we are really willing to walk with Him in such an intimate way that we can take the risk to initiate that kind of sacrificial love with others? Can we love in the face of hatred and adversity? Can we love when it hurts to do so?

We can't ever lose sight of the fact that loving God and loving people is intricately intertwined. Matthew 25 tells us that when we love people by meeting their needs we are actually demonstrating our love to God. We are also called to love non-Christians like He does – even while they are lost in their sin. We are called to love our enemies just like He did. John 13:34 gives us a new commandment to love others not as we love ourselves, but as He loves us.

Remember from the vine lesson that we can’t produce the fruit of the spirit ourselves. God produces it in us. No matter how hard we try we will never be able to muster a sacrificial godly love on our own. There will be times that we are too tired or too sick to have anything to give. There will be times that we are just too human and selfish to love as He loves, but He will produce it in us. I have been on mission trips in areas of Mexico where the dirt and the smells were hard to handle and yet have been able to hold and weep with hurting women. I had the privilege of holding a baby sick with aids even with the fear that disease evokes. I have been able to share the gospel when I felt timid and overwhelmed by the barriers of language, culture, experiences, and economic differences. I was able to teach in spite of extremely painful headaches and exhaustion.

I honestly don't understand this love thing. It will always be a mystery to me. I can walk into a room simply out of obedience with nothing to give, only to have God fill be with a passionate love that wells up from deep inside and compels me to do what is unnatural for me. I may wipe away a stranger's tears, share Christ boldly or exhort a stranger in a strange land to cling to God who loved them enough to have died for them…but then there are days I walk by a homeless person unwilling to make eye contact and pushing down harsh judgments of which I am ashamed. I hope we all learn to sit at Christ's feet and experienced His love at a level deep enough that it compels us to love Him through obedience and to love others sacrificially in ways that are not natural for us.

Prayer: Father, thank you for your love and for giving us the ability to love you and other people through your Holy Spirit. Fill us with your passion and the desire to love sacrificially and consistently. Fill us with you love and the fruit of Your holy Spirit. Amen.

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Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!