Wednesday, November 4, 2009
(A friend of mine drew this cute picture and it goes well with today's post) This was the Sunday School lesson that I taught on Sunday in the John Wesley Class - we are a group of folks in our 40's and 50's (mostly). I used many things straight from Following Jesus by Carolyn Slaughter and I also used some of John Ortberg's stuff . . . word for word. I give thanks to God for writers who are so gifted. They really help out a Sunday School teacher!! After class, a friend came up to me and said that Fruit of the Spirit should be my signature - I've taught so many lessons on it over the years - I have a picture of the fruit hanging in my office - I pray for that fruit - I'm passionate about it!
At our age, I wonder how many tests we have taken in our lives? We’ve taken spelling tests and math tests. We’ve taken our test for our driver’s license. We’ve taken final exams in college. Many in this class have taken tests to become a doctor or lawyer or CPA and who knows what else. We’ve taken vision tests, tests to determine our strengths, tests for our cholesterol. We’ve taken lots of tests. John Ortberg says that “It’s possible for people to go through their whole lives and never really do an assessment (or test) of their souls, which are eternal.” We take all these earthly tests but what about our spiritual selves.
We are continuing on with our book, “Following Jesus – steps to a passionate faith.” The first week, we came up with all of our names for God. Then we talked about Jesus is Lord – Jesus is the boss of me. Last week, we discussed the Holy Spirit. This week we are continuing on with thoughts about how the Holy Spirit works in our lives. In a Christian’s life, there is an expectation that as we grow in our life of faith, we will begin to produce “fruit.” The fruit of the spirit is listed in Galatians 5:22-23. This is a letter written by Paul to the church at Galatia. “The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.” This fruit will be developed in our lives as we grow in Christ. As this happens, our lives will reflect Jesus to those around us. Lifestyle is an important issue in Christianity because of the far-reaching impact our lives have on others. Gandhi has been quoted as saying he was extremely attracted to the person of Jesus, but he never converted to Christianity because of Christians, who he experienced to be so unlike their Christ. The fruit of the spirit in our lives impacts our ability to influence others for Jesus. The fruit of the spirit is not something we receive. It is a cluster of fruit that is progressively produced in us through a life constantly yielded to the Holy Spirit. It is the work of the Holy Spirit in us, not something we produce ourselves. Our responsibility is to stay connected to our source of life and make conscious choices to yield and obey.
So back to the introduction about tests . . .Let me hand out these tests - we are having a pop quiz today . . .everyone needs a pen or pencil.
It is a multiple choice test on how you are allowing the holy spirit to produce fruit in you. Here are your choices:
"S" if you would say you are "Superior" in this dimension; "P" for "Pretty darn good"; "N" would mean "Needs improvement." You can use that scale or another if you want to. Just assess how your soul is doing. (thanks John Ortberg - great quiz - I combined with some other definitions)
Number One: Love – Love is the ability to unconditionally accept and love others; the ability to give ourselves in service to others without expecting anything in return. Love is doing the right thing toward another, even when you don’t feel like it. Some questions you might ask yourself are . . .
· How tender is your heart towards God and towards other people?
· Do you find yourself habitually engaging in acts of servanthood?
· Do you ever have a critical, judgmental spirit in your heart?
Rate yourself "S"- superior or "P" – pretty darn good or "N – needs improvement." How are you doing with love these days?
Number 2: Joy – Joy is a deep inner gladness that results from an intimate relationship with Christ. It is maintained through obedience and is renewed through service to others. Joy is not dependent on circumstances but is a result of our communion with God. Joy is not just happiness or feeling good. Joy is in all circumstances – even suffering. Here are some questions to jog your thoughts.
· What is your current "irritability factor?" (If you're not sure, the person next to you may be willing to give you a little help.)
· Are you more inclined to speak words of complaint or gratitude?
· How often did you laugh this week? How much fun did you have?
· Are you able to choose Joy in times of frustration or difficulty?
Do you find yourself, even now, rationalizing your lack of Joy? Write down your answer by number two.
Number 3: Peace – Peace is an inner harmony and sense of well-being based on our confident faith that God has accepted us, loves us and is in control of our lives no matter how turbulent our external situation might be. Peace does not require the absence of conflict or distress. With peace we know that no matter our circumstances, God is in control.
· To what degree are your heart and mind at rest in God?
· How consistently are you troubled or anxious and do you worry a lot?
· Would people who know you describe you as being contented or discontented?(Remember Andy's sermon - which tent do you choose -
con "tent" ed or discon "tent" ed?
How do you come out on Peace? Write down your answer.
Number 4: Patience – Patience is the ability to exercise restraint and calmly persevere in waiting on God. Patience is the ability to walk through life long term, realizing God has a timetable for each process in our lives. Here are some good questions about patience:
· How do you respond when you don't get your way or you're frustrated?
· Are you able to wait gracefully? Would people describe you as a "peaceful, patient waiter?"
· How do you handle it when people aren't moving as quickly as you would like?
How are you doing on Patience? If you are looking at your watch, wanting me to move on to Number 5, give yourself an "N," because you need Patience! Write down your answer to number 4 – how are you doing?
Number 5: Kindness – Kindness is the ability to treat others with openness, sensitivity and love. Kindness deals not with our abilities but our attitudes. We can be extremely gifted in skills; yet our style, tone and volume of voice can be hurtful. I have to be careful with this one because of my tone of voice!! Kindness includes attitudes like compassion, mercy, friendliness and loyalty.
· How inclined are you to lend someone a helping hand even though you're busy, or you know you won't get credit?
· How are you doing at encouraging and affirming people? Do you consistently take the time to actually notice people and listen to them?
Write down your score by number 5.
Number 6: Goodness – some translations refer to this as generosity
· What portion of your time and material resources are you actually giving—not just thinking about giving—to God, to the poor, to other people?
· Do you ever find yourself wanting to give just the least amount acceptable?
· Is your heart to give growing or shrinking?
That's Generosity. Rate yourself.
Number 7: Faithfulness – Faithfulness is an unshakable loyalty displayed by being trustworthy, reliable and responsible; completely carrying out commitments to God and others. Faithfulness means following through and fulfilling promises we make. God is a God of covenant, or unbreakable promises and is willing to stick with us regardless. God promises to never leave us.
· Would people around you say that you are dependable?
· When you say you are going to do something, it gets done.
· Do you ever use words to deceive or to put a spin on things?
· Do you ever wrestle with procrastination?
If you haven't started your list yet, give yourself an "N" on this one!
Number 8: Gentleness – gentleness means putting my rights and strength willingly under God’s control in order to handle myself in a calm manner. Gentleness requires openness, humility and a teachable spirit, rather than the harshness originating from personal pride and selfishness. A gentle person is not a weak person, rather, this person has put his or her strength under the control of God. That bears repeating - A gentle person is not a weak person, rather, this person has put his or her strength under the control of God.
· How successfully do you speak the truth with grace?
· Do you ever get angry and inflict pain on someone just because it will feel good in the moment? Hopefully not physically, but how about with words?
· Over the last week, how often have you come along side somebody who was hurting to give them comfort? I watched Andy, our senior minister, as we served communion together this morning. Even in the midst of serving 500+ people, he stopped to lay hands on several and offer words of comfort.
How are you doing on Gentleness?
Number 9: Self-control – Self control and patience are two of my hardest areas – they would both have “n” – needs improvement. Self control is to take responsibility for myself and exercise discipline in order to avoid sin and live a life that pleases God. Self control is a choice to give God control over our lives.
· Do you have any bad habits?
· Do you ever give into an impulse?
· How's your mouth doing these days?
Rate yourself on Self-control. – S for superior, P for pretty darn good and N for needs improvement.
I want to ask you one more question. You don't have to write anything down. As we were walking through the Fruit of the Spirit, did anybody in here feel a little inadequate besides me? It's a funny thing: when we come to the Fruit of the Spirit, this is the core of what spiritual growth is about. People get all kinds of goofy ideas about what spiritual maturity really looks like.
Spiritual maturity—or spiritual formation—is defined at its core not by being busy with a lot of Christian activities, or knowing a lot about the Bible, or piling up spiritual accomplishments. The Pharisees did all of these things, and Jesus said they were the least fruitful of anybody. To grow in authentic Biblical love and joy and peace and patience—that's the center of the target! That's the kind of person that we want to be. But sometimes, I can look at that list of qualities, and I am overwhelmed by how far I fall short. And I'll tell you something else. Sometimes, I start violating the Fruit of the Spirit before I get out of bed in the morning. (Thanks again to John Ortberg)
So instead of getting all frustrated and thinking that we are never going to measure up, we are going to focus on another scripture for just a few minutes. This is John 15 starting with verse 4:
Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
5"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. Apart from me, you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers. Such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me, and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be given you. This is to my Father's glory that you bear much fruit showing yourselves to be my disciples. As my Father has loved me, so have I loved you.
Jesus says, "I'm the vine. You're the branch." There's just one thing that a branch is supposed to do. Did you catch the word that kept coming up? "Remain." I like the old translation of this word: "Abide." From one moment to the next, keep receiving this unceasing flow of life and nourishment and love from God. And if I do that—if I abide—the fruit will come. I can't stop it. But if I don't abide—if I don't stay plugged into God—then I'll never be fruitful. I will never change. Transformation will never happen. I can't do it on my own!
This is part of why Paul uses the language that he does. Some of you know that in Galatians, Paul is setting up a contrast. He says, "I don't want you to be characterized or marked by (what he calls) the works of the flesh." And then he lists those: immorality, envy, jealousy . . . the list goes on. Don't be characterized by this, but do be characterized by . . . and then we would expect him to say by "the works of the Spirit." He doesn't do that, because for Paul "works" has the connotation of effort and strain and self-righteousness, and that is not the kind of people that God wants to produce. So He says instead, "Be marked by the fruit of the spirit."
There's one more thing that would be good for all of us to know. Often, in churches, people talk about the "fruits" of the Spirit, because there are nine of them, but if you look at Galatians 5, Paul doesn't say the "fruits." He uses the singular "fruit," and there's a reason for that. He's not listing nine character qualities that you're supposed to exhaust yourself trying to add to your "character repertoire." It's just the "fruit" that is inevitable when anyone abides in the spirit of Jesus. So the good news is: you just have one job, and that is to be with Jesus all the time—just stay in the Vine. Easy, right?
Do you know what the most frequent promise in the Bible is? We've talked about this before in another study by John Ortberg. It's not the promise of forgiveness of sins, although that's a good one. It's not the promise of life eternal, although we cling to that one. The most frequently issued promise in the Bible is just God saying, "I'll be with you. I'll be with you. Don't be afraid. I'll be with you."
The primary story of the Bible is not the story about people's desire to be with God. It is the story of the desire of God to be with people. And Jesus is saying, "Now you have the Holy Spirit. Now everything is possible. Abide with me. Talk to me all the time. I don't care when. I don't care what's going on. Listen to me, because the Spirit will really be at work in you, prompting thoughts and ideas."
Be ruthless about saying, "Yes" to it. When you're happy, when you're sad, when you're discouraged, when you're depressed, when you're tempted—every moment. Jesus says, "Just stick with me." And a wonderful thing will happen. There will be fruit that will be born, and it won't be your fruit!
In today’s original scripture passage from Galatians the fruit is mentioned. What are the first three elements in the fruit of the spirit? The first is Love. The second is Joy. The third is Peace. Now listen to this. Jesus says, "As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Now remain in my love." Whose love are we to remain in? Jesus' love. Jesus goes on two verses later, "I have told you these things so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete." Whose joy are we supposed to live in? Jesus' joy. Just before Chapter 15 (John 14 v. 27), in the same talk that he is having with his friends, Jesus says, "Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I do not give as the world gives." Whose peace are we supposed to live in? It's his love, his joy, his peace. And as we abide in him, it just flows in the way that life flows into a branch from the vine.
An interesting thing about when Jesus says, "I am the vine." The image of the vine is frequently used in the Old Testament. If you go back and look at it, the image of the vine and the vineyard almost always stands for Israel. When Jesus used those words, those would have been shocking words for his listeners. We tend to skim over that part. Anybody listening to him would have known that he was radically redefining connectedness to God. Remember last week, we talked about how the Holy Spirit was available to certain individuals for a certain amount of time in the Old Testament? Now it comes through Jesus, and it is available to anybody. It is available to each one of us. It is available to every single person in this room.
It doesn't mean doing a lot of new activities or trying really hard. Mostly, it means doing the things we already do and learning to do them with Jesus. He's already right there. I imagine that all of us in this room are already on the vine! At this point, we don't have to DO something to get to the vine. We are already there if we are a follower of Jesus. So we just need to do the things we normally do, but start doing them with Jesus. I'll walk you through a few categories of the day.
For example, you have to wake up. You're going to wake up one way or the other! How many of you are morning people? Show of hands!! There are two kinds of people in our world: there are people who love to wake up in the morning, and there are people who hate people who love to wake up in the morning! So, tomorrow morning, when you wake up, just wake up with Jesus. Maybe that will make it easier for those of you who aren't morning people - wake up with Jesus.
The way I try to do this is just to get alone. The spiritual moments in the morning are so huge in terms of the way that your day is going to go. As a matter of fact, this morning in my prayer time, I said to God, "Are you listening? Do you really hear me?" Before the service, Dave and I were talking about where I would be serving communion. He said, "You will be with Andy in the middle." We both laughed and he said, "Sounds like a sitcom." I said, "Yes, Malcolm in the middle." Andy got up to preach and the first sentence out of his mouth was about "Malcolm in the middle." That early morning prayer time is so important!! It can be tempting to feel overwhelmed or burdened with "all I have to do" or "my own inadequacy." Just get alone and say, "You know, Jesus, I know that you're right here. I want to go through this day with you. And I want to be open to you. So, Jesus, let's do this day together." This summer in our short term study, one of my favorite quotes from the series was “As you wish” – that is a great way to start the day. Start off by saying, “Good morning, God. This is the day that you have created. I have all these plans and lists BUT since this is your day, I’m going to say, “as you wish.” “As you wish” allows us to abide in him. It's as simple as that. We can abide in the vine.
Maybe it would be helpful for you to write down the fruit of the Spirit—Love, Joy and Peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness faithfulness and self-control - actually, you could take your little test sheet home and put it on your mirror and everyday you can look at those words early in the morning, and you remember "That's who Jesus is and the Holy Spirit in me produces this fruit." And then, if you're a newspaper reader, go ahead and read the newspaper, but read it with Jesus. Do you ever see something in the newspaper that troubles you when you read it? Just say, "Jesus, here's an area where people need help." Read the paper together with Him.
Tomorrow, when you get in the car to drive carpool or go to work, what would it look like if you were to drive with Jesus? Would you need to drive any slower than you usually do? Would you need to speak differently to people driving other cars around you than you normally do? Would you stop shooting the bird at folks if Jesus were in the car with you? What would it actually look like for you to drive "abiding" with Jesus with Him right there with you?
When you go to work, what would it be like to work "abiding" in the vine? A problem comes up, and instead of getting overwhelmed or panicking, you pause for a moment and say, "God, I don't know what to do about this, but you'll help me. So give me help, give me strength, give me patience." When we are on the phone talking to a customer, and the thought comes to us, "This is not just somebody I'm just trying to make a sale to, this is somebody God loves. Jesus, bless this person." We can do that. When the boss asks us to do something that we know is not right, what would “abiding” on the vine look like?
When we come home at the end of the day, and we are tired and grumpy – does that happen to anybody else besides me?. I should say, "Jesus, help me do this the way you want me to. Let me abide in you."
When we get to the end of the day, and we lay down in bed, we can take a moment to do it with Him. We can look back over the day and say, "You were there. You were there. You were there. Now Lord, be with us tonight while I sleep, and be with us again when we wake up in the morning." What a sweet way to go to sleep and get a good night's rest. Mark and I pray together at night right before going to sleep. We are taking another moment to remind ourselves that we abide in Jesus.
Each one of us is on our own journey. Each of us demonstrates the fruit of the spirit differently and will grow at different rates. But each one of us can abide in Jesus. It is important for us to stay attached to Jesus in order for us to ripen and mature into the people God wants.
So this week, let's simply abide in Jesus. Abide in Jesus.
*sources are following jesus by carolyn slaughter, sermon and books by John Ortberg and other internet sermons -- thanks be to God for those who write and who are willing to share with Sunday School teachers like me