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“Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” Romans 8:26.

I think I was about 11 years old when I saw the Peanuts cartoon, with Linus quoting Romans 8:26 to Lucy, for the first time. Two things impressed me about that comic strip. The first was that rare and decisive manner in which Linus put his sister in her place. And the second was the message of the passage he quoted; we don’t even know what we should pray about. That second one has been a lesson I’ve never forgotten.

Many passages in the Bible warn us to not trust in people, even ourselves. Psalms 118:8 says, “It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man.” Proverbs 28:26 says, “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool.” These are just two of many verses and when placed beside Paul’s lesson, that we don’t even know what we ought to be praying for, a pattern becomes obvious and the message comes in loudly; we need help with everything.

It’s easy to be tempted to place an inflated estimation on our own wisdom and judgment. It’s easy to think that our experience and knowledge somehow give us enough of a leg up that we’re free to rely on ourselves. It’s easy to take it for granted that we know what we want, that we know what we need and that we know what’s best. But scripture’s clear, there will never be a time when it’s safe for us to to be spiritually self reliant. Even when it comes to making up a prayer list we need to ask for guidance.

But it’s unnatural for us to seek guidance for everything. Our parents and teachers worked for years upon years to mold us into independent, self reliant adults. Our pride pushes us ahead because it can’t accept that we don’t have something to offer, independent of anyone and anything else.

However, if we allow the haze of self deceit to clear out a bit, I think most of us can see clearly enough to recognize that God is right about us. We can’t trust our own judgment. Things just always work out better when we “trust in the Lord with all our hearts, and lean not on our own understanding; and in all our ways acknowledge Him.” Proverbs 3:5, 6 (adapted).

So today let’s start by letting God write our prayer list and then everyday ask him to help us submit one more part of our lives. And let’s keep doing this everyday, until everything is so completely submitted that we, like Paul, will be able to say, “To live is Christ.”

“…And having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit…” Acts 2:33

Some people have commented on the various skills I have in home repair. Carpentry, minor electrical, plumbing, drywall, and painting. And while it’s true that I did work for a framing contractor, for about a year, while I was in the seminary; largely my handyman skills were picked up in the process of renovating three homes our family has owned over the years.

The first house Cheryl and I bought was a small, white farm house, in the hills of upstate New York, not far from Cooperstown. In the nearly five years we lived in that house we upgraded almost every room: completely changing out the kitchen, transforming the bathroom, and gutting and re-drywalling three of the four bedrooms and a play area. Additionally, we changed the furnace, and the plumbing, and completely resided the outside.

Then came the upgrading of the electric service. You see, when electricity had been added to the house, several decades earlier, the electrical needs of most Americans was much less than they are today. So the 60 amp service was way to low. As a result, we had to be very careful In how we used the electricity or we would be tripping breakers all over the house. What we needed, if we were going to be set to move into the 21 century, was more power.

And more power is what Jesus knew his church needed if we were going to be able to fulfill his mission to an ever changing, always increasing world population. How do we adjust? How do we adapt? How are we even going to know where to start? There is only one way. We need more help, we need more guidance, and we need more power.

So Jesus promised us more power. Acts 1:8 says, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you…” The Greek word translated power in this passage is the same word we get the word dynamite from. Jesus wasn’t promising us a little more power; he was pledging to supply the world with a God sized power station, the Holy Spirit.

The disciples welcomed the Holy Spirit and received his power and the book of Acts records the rapid growth, and decisive work of those Spirit filled men. The world needs the presence of Spirit filled men and women just as much to day. Long ago Jesus fulfilled his promise. The Spirit, with all his power, is still here today. All that is needed is for you and I to say, yes, and we’ll receive the Holy Spirit too

“For He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak.” John 16:13

“So what do you have to say for yourself, young man?” This was a frequent question, asked by my father, during my childhood. Particularly after I’d ignored my parents rules and done what I wanted to do instead. Inevitably, I’d find myself standing before him, the carnage of my ill conceived or misbegotten deeds lying, like so much carnage, around me while I stood, my eyes trained on the ground and my pride bruised and bleeding in the dust.

And what did I have to say for myself? Nothing. Not a thing.

It’s a hard lesson to learn, the whole, I have nothing to say lesson. But it’s a good one to learn.

In my first year as a pastor, God taught me quite convincingly that, in my preaching, I had nothing to say, no authority whatsoever, apart from his word. He made it clear that no one would ever be changed by my thoughts. No one would ever be saved because of my ideas. None of my insights would ever make any substantial impact on the world. But if I’d give up my aspirations for being thought of as profound, or smart, or wise. If I’d surrender my desire to have people want to hear what I had to say; and would, instead, allow the power of God’s word to be heard through my voice; then I’d have the chance to witness God changing people through me.

I think this would have been a tremendously humbling exercise if it hadn’t been for the example of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is, after all, divine and a member of the Godhead. Yet, like Christ, he is willing to not hold onto his own equality with God. So much so that, when it comes to his work for us, he doesn’t speak his own words. He doesn’t do his own works. He doesn’t give his own gifts. No, he speaks Christ’s words. He does Christ’s works. He gives Christ’s gifts.

So I have to ask myself, “Is it such a humbling sacrifice to serve Christ as the Holy Spirit does? I’m not divine. So, on my own, what do I have to say that might be truly meaningful? What do I have to do that would be so powerfully special? What do I have to give that would be truly valuable? The best I could ever hope for can only be achieved if I follow the example of Christ, and the Holy Spirit, and use my thoughts to only think God’s thoughts, and my voice to only speak God’s words, and my hands to only give God’s service. And when it comes right down to it that’s all Jesus is asking from any of us. Jesus is asking us to do nothing less than be like him.

So what do you have to say? Are you willing to be remade into the image of God?

“Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” John 18:38

In John 18, Jesus tells Pontus Pilate that, “everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.” To which Pilate replied, “What is the truth?”

In its simplest form the answer to Pilate’s question is quite straightforward. Truth is anything thing that can be proven to be factually accurate. This definition, of course, has its limitations but for many it’s all the answer that is desired or needed.

Lately, though, it seems that the war on truth as been escalating. There are those, some even in positions of great responsibility and authority, with whom the truth seems to have a more fluid meaning. For these individuals all that is required for something to be true is for them to say that it is. And it doesn’t matter if you turn right or left, you don’t have to dig very deeply to find politicians, and news agencies of virtually every stripe that are willing to lie with impunity. And what’s equally concerning is the willingness of so many people to accept, gloss over, or excuse these liars. Even people that I know to be Christians, with high personal standards regarding honesty, seem to be going with the flow, excusing their own compromising, by pointing out the falsehoods of those they oppose while ignoring the lies of the ones they chose.

Brothers and sisters, I appeal to you to raise high the standard of truth. Jesus promised us that when the Holy Spirit came he would lead us into all truth. The apostle Paul exhorts us to think upon what is true. And when it came to defining truth, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.

In the world, I guess we can expect to find all kinds of disfunction and foolishness. But for we who follow Christ, for those of us who are born of the Spirit, we should be able to see a consistent, decided preference for what and who is true.

The path to heaven is paved with truth. Are you ready to travel on it?

“When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth…” John 16:12

How much do we really know? How much do we really understand? It seems like the longer I live, and the more I learn, the more I have to revise what it is that I think I know and understand.

Like, for instance, the biblical expression, “the fear of the Lord.” For decades I was taught, and therefore believed, that when we were told to have “the fear of the Lord” we were being told to have a respectful attitude toward God. Then one Friday, while preparing for a sermon, I was impressed to study how the Bible uses the expression,”the fear of the Lord,” and discovered that it’s meaning is much deeper and more complex. The best, simple definition I’ve been able to formulate is this: to have a relationship with God as God. Which is to say, that in any situation, how we are toward God is determined by the surpassing reality that he is our God.

There have been other things I’ve thought I understood. Then I took a second or third look and the result has at times been monumentally transformative.

There is a danger though that we would become complacent and take our knowledge and understanding of God and his kingdom for granted. When we do this it’s like we’ve confined the working of the Holy Spirit to a corner or a closet. And in doing this we are defrauding ourselves of the blessing for which Jesus has done so much so that he could secure it for us.

Listen again to his promise. “When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into ALL TRUTH…” Tomorrow we’ll discuss the fact that there seems to be a war on truth in our world but today let’s celebrate the reality, that in the Holy Spirit, God has promised us a teacher that will teach us everything we need to know. An instructor that will give us understanding for everything we need to understand. And a tutor that will lead us into that knowledge in a way so that it will make sense and give us not only a satisfactory understanding but a satisfying experience in the learning.

What a truly wonderful and loving God we have to have thought of, and provided for, everything we need.

“And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment:” John 16:8

How do you convince someone that a counterfeit is a fake when that person has denied the authenticity of the genuine? What standard do you use to establish your claim? The only choice you have is to bring in another original, from the same source as the first, and with this new original demonstrate your standard of truth. And this is what the Godhead has done by sending the Holy Spirit.

Not everyone was convinced by the man and ministry of Jesus. The lack was not in Christ, it’s just that sometimes the depth of our own deception is such that one messenger of truth, even if it’s a member of the divine Godhead, is not enough. Praise God that his plan provided for this and in addition to his Son, he sent the Holy Spirit to do a work of conviction upon the hearts of men and women.

The word “convict” often carries with it an ominous tone but in this case I don’t believe it’s warranted. Most commonly we understand the word to mean that a person has been convinced of sin or a crime. But in the context in which it’s used in John 16 it carries a slightly different meaning. Here it means that a person has been convinced of truth. The truth regarding sin. The truth regarding righteousness. And the truth regarding judgment.

God’s provided two divine messengers to convince the world of truth. Scripture gives us no indication that any other. No third or fourth will be provided to convince our wayward hearts. There comes a point when enough is enough and to give more is simply more than enough. It would be pointless to send any more. The question that must be answered, by us and by the world, is will we be convinced by everything given in the witness of Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

God’s already decided. He’s convinced. He wants us sin battered though we are. How about you? Are you convinced? Do you want Jesus?

“I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever.” John 14:16.

In John 14, Jesus opens his instruction about the Holy Spirit by describing him as “another Helper.” Let’s think about the word “another.” “Another” implies that there is at least one other with similar characteristics. Put the word, “another,” before any more concrete word be it: brother, dog, chair, stone or friend and the meaning is clear. Now Jesus is telling us that the Helper, that is to follow, will have the same relationship with us as the one that came before.

Who is the one that came before? The context of the passage is clear. Jesus is the first Helper. So our relationship with the second Helper will be the same as the one we have with Jesus.

Most of you know that I’m an identical twin. My brother and I look very much alike, we sound alike, we stand and walk similarly, I’m told we even act similarly. Many have engaged us in conversation and, if we had not told them, would have never known that they were, in fact, talking to someone they had never met before. I’ll confess to being very entertained when this happens.

We can think of the Holy Spirit as being an identical twin to Jesus. I’m not certain that they physically look alike but what they do for us is indistinguishably identical. Like Jesus, the Spirit loves you and he is here working to save you. In fact, the Holy Spirit is so much like Jesus, if Jesus hadn’t told us that he would send him, we would probably never know that the one helping us wasn’t Jesus. So whatever you see Jesus doing with the disciples this is what the Holy Spirit is going to do with you. He’ll comfort, heal, teach, rebuke, exhort, and amaze you. John 16 tells us that the Holy Spirit will take the things of Christ and give them to you. This is just what you’d expect from another Helper.

“I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.” John 16:7

The past twelve days I’ve posted some of my thoughts about the fruit of the Spirit. Many have told me that you look forward to reading them so I thought I would continue by sharing some of my thoughts about the Holy Spirit. But first I need to admit that I am not an expert on the Holy Spirit. I’m a pastor who has, as part of his ministry, been asked questions and in the journey I’ve taken looking for answers I feel that I’ve been blessed. This post and those that follow are my attempt to share those blessings with you.

The first question is: Who is the Holy Spirit? And “who,” not “what,” is the correct interrogative. In the New Testament there are more than 200 references to the Holy Spirit and in them the Holy Spirit is never referred to as an “it” Instead, the Holy Spirit is, with unswerving consistency, referred to as a “he” and when an interrogative is used a “who.” After days of closely examining each passage I am convinced that Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, Paul, James and Jude all understood the Holy Spirit to be nothing less than a divine person.

One may ask, “What does it matter if the Holy Spirit is a person or a thing?” And this brings us to perhaps the greatest blessing found in my study on the Holy Spirit.

God’s enacting of the plan of salvation has revealed that his love is unsurpassable. The apostle Paul says it this way, in Romans 5:8, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Christ, the Messiah, the incarnate Son of God, is given as a gift to humanity so that we could be saved.

And the Holy Spirit is no less magnificent a gift. He’s no mere extension or appendage of God. He’s not an energy or force sent from the throne. The Holy Spirit is yet another member of the Divine Godhead given, as a gift, to man.

Can there be any doubt that God loves you?  To give the Son is proof enough but heaven bestows the Holy Spirit as well. Believe it. Know it. God loves you.

“Against such there is no law.” Galatians 5:23

Having just enumerated the fruit of the Spirit, the apostle Paul pens the words, “Against such there is no Law.” And while, far be it from me, to disagree with the most prolific of New Testament writers, and with all due respect, I think Paul may be contradicting himself. In Romans 7, Paul talks about a conflict waged within ourselves between the Holy Spirit and the impulses of the sinful man. He names these opponents the law of God and the law of sin. The fruit of the Spirit, which are part of the law of God, are opposed by the law of sin. So there is a law against them.

Now, I realize that when Paul wrote that there’s no law against the fruit of the Spirit he meant that there are no man made laws against it. I also think that the fact that we’ve never legislated against the fruit of the Spirit further implicates us of our wrong behavior. We know that these characteristics are the very best that we could ever offer and we also know that when we fail to live them we are perpetrating injustice. Yet, as a rule, we find that at any given point in our lives, each one of us is very likely failing to live up to at least one character trait of the fruit of the Spirit. So while we may have never codified a law against the fruit of the Spirit there is very clearly a law at work within each one of us driving us to live at odds with all that the Holy Spirit is striving to accomplish in us.

This leaves us with no choice. If we’re going to choose to be Christ’s, we must do what Paul tells us all others that have made this choice have done. We must crucify the sinful self that is within us with all it’s passions and desires (Galatians 5:24). Redoubled effort, renewed commitment, stronger resolve is not enough. Who we are must die so that who we ought to be, and for many of us who we want to be, can live.

How do you do this dying to self? It’s really quite simple and yet it will be one of the hardest struggles you’ll ever take on. Say yes to Jesus. Tell him you give up and you want the Holy Spirit to live and rule your life. And then let him rule. Submit all you are and all you have to him. It will take a lifetime to see the full result but Paul says in Philippians 1:6 that, “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”

“Whoever has no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down, without walls.” Proverbs 25:28

Let’s face it, we’re fighting a losing battle. We have local police, county Sheriffs, state police, US marshals, the FBI, the ATF, the secret service, border patrol, military police, and the CIA. Not to mention the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marines and the Coast Guard. Yet, notwithstanding all the effort and investment made to keep just one country safe, we’re still not safe. And understandably, we find living in a world of dangerous uncertainty unacceptable which causes some to add to the craziness by reacting with violent protests. And all of this taken together: the crime, violence, terrorism and our counter productive responses to them; all serve to illustrate that, in the war against evil in this world, we’re our own worst enemy. What we need, more than anything else, is self control.

I mean, really, there are very few people in the world that don’t know the difference between right and wrong. We may at times feel justified in our destructive course of action but that doesn’t mean we don’t know that it’s wrong. Why else would we follow up our misdeeds with excuses, explanations, denials, and coverups?

So why do we do what we know we shouldn’t do? It’s not because we don’t care. We’re frequently overburden by the weight of guilt that attends our bad choices. We grieve for the pain we’ve caused others and the losses that we’ve imposed upon them and ourselves. At the same time, the conflict between our desires and needs, and our values about right and wrong; wage a war so intense that it very nearly drives us crazy. We know what we ought to want but oh how intensely we want what we want.

If only someone would step in and take control, since we can’t seem to take control of ourselves. Friends, there’s good news. Someone is offering to take control. The self control, that’s so greatly needed, is part of the fruit of the Spirit and It only comes when we’re born of the Spirit of Christ. The promise of Galatians 5:22-23 is that if we receive the Holy Spirit we’ll be given the victory of self control. Rejoicing in this knowledge the apostle Paul, in Romans 7:25 says, “I thank God–through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

“Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.” Philippians 4:5

The spiritual fruit of gentleness is perhaps the most undervalued characteristic of the fruit of the spirit. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that it’s the characteristic that we tend to undervalue in ourselves while we like to expect it in others.

We call gentleness by other names like: sympathy, empathy, compassion, understanding, tact, thoughtfulness, etc. Gentleness, like kindness, balances the other “stronger” characteristics. Faithfulness, self control, goodness, and others without gentleness can at times become overbearing and insensitive. For example, without gentleness righteousness can become exacting and oppressive making us appear to care more about standards than we do people and relationships. Which is completely counter productive when you consider that the rules of righteousness were put in place to help us better care about people and relationships.

But we tend to think of gentleness as a weakness. And that’s because when we stop to think more about others we often make decisions that don’t benefit ourselves as much and may even cost us. And in a self serving world that’s weakness.

But God is calling us to become a part of His kingdom, and He tells us that his ways are not our ways. When we would have exposed Judas’ treachery Jesus quietly said, “Do what you’re going to do quickly.” When we would come out fighting tooth and nail Jesus said, “Put your sword away. Don’t you know I could call 10,000 angels if I wanted to.” And if it had been left to us we would have ended this world long ago but God, in his gentleness, is patient, not wanting anyone to perish.

If we’re going to make heaven our home we need to more strongly adopt the ways of God, gentleness included, and that requires the strength found in the fruit of the Spirit.

“If we are faithless, He remains faithful…” 2 Timothy 2:13

As I was studying in preparation for this post I discovered that nearly every time scripture describes someone as being faithful it is God that is being spoken of. Either the author is reminding us of God’s unfailing faithfulness, promising his continued faithfulness, or praising God for the same.

But when it comes to people, when it comes to you and me, either we’re being rebuked for our unfaithfulness or we’re being reminded of our inconstancy. It seems that when it comes to fulfilling our promises, meeting our responsibilities, and being able to be counted on; the only thing we can depend on is our undependability.

There’s the children of Israel promising, “All that God has said we will do.” And then forty days later their worshipping the golden calf. There’s Peter boasting, “Even if everyone else runs away I’ll stay with you.” Then just hours later he’s denying that he ever knew Jesus. And there’s you and me raising our hands or standing for the appeal at the end of a sermon. Perhaps we’re committing to greater faithfulness in prayer and personal study, or maybe we’re saying we’ll be more engaged in witnessing for our faith. And then within days, and sometimes just hours, it’s back to the same old, same old.

The only bright spot on the horizon for us, when it comes to faithfulness, is this: God promises that he will forgive us, and he will intervene and he will make us faithful. Once again the testimony of scripture sustains the truth concisely presented in Galatians 5:22-23. Faithfulness, like all the fruit of the spirit, only comes into a life that is born “of the Spirit.”

I don’t know about the rest of you but I’m proud that we have a God that is faithful. And I’m relieved that when it comes to the fruit of faithfulness, The One who promises that he will make us faithful is himself the Holy Father of faithfulness.

“You are my Lord, my goodness is nothing apart from You.” Psalm 16:2

Hundreds of years before the apostle Paul wrote about the fruit of the Spirit, King David understood that without God our goodness is nothing.

But let’s be honest, how many of us really have a clear idea of what the word, “goodness,” means. If you’re like me you can sort of feel your way around a definition but please don’t ask me to try and explain it. It’s more of an “I recognize it when I see it” kind of an understanding.

So, I did a little looking around on the interwebs and I found this definition, from Easton’s Bible Dictionary, and it seems to ring true to me: “Goodness in man is not a mere passive quality, but the deliberate preference of right to wrong, the firm and persistent resistance of all moral evil, and the choosing and following of all moral good.”

I know it’s a bit of a ear full but think of it like the following examples. Goodness is Joseph running from Potiphar’s wife’s immoral invitations even though it meant losing everything. Goodness is Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refusing to bow down to an idol even though it meant death. Goodness is Ruth insisting on caring for her lonely, widowed mother-in-law even though it meant leaving everything she knew. Goodness is God’s description of Job’s character, “He loves God and hates evil.” And goodness is Jesus choosing to suffer as a servant so that we could be sons and daughters of God.

True, uncontaminated, undiluted, goodness is out of reach for our sin burdened characters but thankfully we’re still within God’s reach and he has enough to share. If we will let him fill our lives with the Holy Spirit, God promises he will give his goodness to us.

“And be kind to one another…” Ephesians 4:32

It’s been said that variety is the spice of life but while I like to mix things up as much as the next person I don’t think that’s true.  I think that kindness is the spice of life. The spiritual fruit of kindness changes everything for the better. Variety doesn’t make everything better.  Sometimes variety just makes things more confusing and stressful.

So what is kindness? Kindness is the art of being pleasant, caring, and thoughtful to others. And kindness is most beautiful when it would be understandable if we were neither pleasant, nor caring, nor thoughtful.  Kindness can turn so much that’s unpleasant in life into far more than bearable.  Kindness can turn a visit to the dentist from a thing of dread to a thing of, while not beauty, it’s still ok. Kindness can turn the humiliation of a reprimand into a humbling, yet affirming, experience.  And sometimes kindness can transform something ugly into something truly beautiful.

It’s easy to feel justified in being unkind.  Harsh words spill out because someone did something wrong.  Angry, superior, or judgmental looks appear because someone deserves them. And it takes effort to step out and say or do something kind, especially when it’s none of our business.

Christ is our example.  He makes it his business to be kind, and he’s always treated us in ways that he hoped we would one day come to deserve.  While we were still sinners Christ unloosed unsurpassable generosity and died for us. When face to face with a mob of unrighteousness judges, he showed restraint and respect and kept our hidden sins secret. When kneeling at the feet of his betrayer, he still desired to serve and offered to wash our feet with his own hands. And on the night when he knew his disciples would all run away, he still called us his friends.

Friends, it’s time that we pushed self out of the way and let the Holy Spirt do his work so we can become, like Jesus, generous in how we add the spice of kindness to our lives and others.

“And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise.” Hebrews 6:15.

Of all the necessary things in life, patience is probably the one that we most frequently lose. Whether it’s with the guy that cut us off in traffic, a husband, who for the thousandth time didn’t return the toilet seat to the proper position, or with children for, well, being children, it seems that there’s quite literally a myriad of opportunities for our patience to be missing in action. And with its absence there inevitably appears irritation, anger, impatience, annoyance, frustration, righteous indignation, and a host of other emotional cousins. But it really doesn’t matter what we call our response, the fact is that whatever it is we’re emoting, it’s not the spiritual fruit of patience.

And just to be clear, being calm about things you don’t care about doesn’t count. That’s not patience it’s ambivalence which isn’t the same thing at all.  And you see, patience has other names as well. Sometimes the Bible calls it endurance, sometimes perseverance, and sometimes, my personal favorite synonym, long suffering. But it basically comes down to this, patience is being able to maintain our moral integrity, our spiritual values, and all the other spiritual fruit in the face of provocation to do otherwise.

How do we do that?  It’s simple really. Patience is part of the fruit of the Spirit. So let Jesus, through the Spirit, have control of your life. Give him your absolute trust, and regardless of what comes to pass, believe that he has everything under control. I know, that’s easier said than done. But listen, in Psalm 40:1, David said, “I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me, and heard my cry.”  Friend, when you call God hears and with God all things are possible.

“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you…” John 14:27.

Friends, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that Jesus has promised to give us His peace. The bad news is that most, if not all of us, will at times be very disappointed and frustrated with the peace Jesus is giving.

You see the peace Jesus is offering is peace in the midst of trouble, trial, disaster, difficulty, and injustice. That is, after all, the kind of peace that Christ had when he walked this earth. Additionally, if the fruit of peace, presented in Galatians 5:22, is really worth anything it needs to be a peace that passes all understanding. It needs to be a peace that can be counted on to steady us in the middle of the worst this world can bring. Because if some merely natural circumstance is capable of banishing the peace offered by our infinite, all powerful God, then perhaps this God is not really as great as we’ve been told he is. The true test is, can the peace we’ve been given endure the trials of hard living without being tarnished or diminished?

The exceeding great and precious promise of scripture is that God’s peace is resilient and enduring. “Great peace have they which love your law: and nothing shall offend them.” Psalm 119:165. Did you see that?  It said NOTHING shall offend them. Nothing. Isaiah 26:3 promises that God will keep in perfect peace those who fix their mind and their trust on Him. God keeps those who trust Him in perfect peace.

It’s because we trust in God, in the midst of temptation, trial and tribulation, that we have peace. And that peace that attends the worst that life can send will also grace the best of life’s blessings, enhancing the love and embellishing the joy, earning for its author the rightful title, Prince of Peace.

Nehemiah 8:10 tells us, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.”  And this promise of the fortifying power of the “joy of the Lord,” serves as a great introduction for the second endowment of the fruit of the spirit. Joy.

The first thing I’d like to do is dispel the idea that joy is not dependent upon the situations and circumstances of life. If you check the context of the uses of joy in the Bible, you will find that joy is very much dependent upon life situations. What’s important to recognize is that the joy in Galatians 5:22 is not just any joy. It’s joy that is “of the Spirit,” or as Nehemiah called it, it’s the “joy of the Lord.”

This is the joy that when set before Christ caused him to endure the cross, despising the shame.  It’s the joy that christians have that enables them to face various trials with a spirit of rejoicing. This is the joy that regardless of circumstances will remain, a joy which no one and nothing can take away, a joy which will grow and flourish in your life until your life is full of joy.

This joy, like all joy, is dependent upon circumstance. What makes this joy special is that this joy is only dependent upon the active, interested, loving presence of God. The very God who has promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Friends, everything else in your life is going to change, but God promises, “I don’t change.”  And because God doesn’t change, His joy will always remain.

“All you need is love.” This line from the Beetles song seems so simple and so true. But in truth, for you and me, there is nothing simple about having love and being loving.

Galatians 5:22 says, “But the fruit of the spirit is love…” This is love that is in contrast to anything you and I might call “love.”  It is completely different from anything that is produceable by us, without a relationship with God. Because, truthfully, the sinful heart is completely incapable of love. On our own the only things we are capable of are described in Galatians 5:19-22. So the best we can do on our own is create a counterfeit. And often this counterfeit we create is so convincing that we can go through our entire lives never realizing that we have fallen for a fake.

1 John 3:16 tells us that the only way we even know what love is is because Jesus died for us.  We know what love is only because while we were sinners, the Father sent his Son to die, the just for the unjust, the innocent for the guilty. If we don’t even know love without God how can we ever produce it?

We can’t.  Not on our own. But in Galatians 5:22, God promises that not only will we know and understand what true love is, we will live this love as part of the fruit that grows in a life filled with the Holy Spirit.

Galatians 5:22-23 tells us about the fruit of the spirit. Many times when we talk about this list of Christ like qualities we jump right into the list. And I want to get to that but first I want to point out that this fruit is “of the spirit.”  If you and I are to ever be characterized by the traits described in this list we will not be the source of the endowment. The only thing we’re capable of is the “deeds of the flesh” and that’s a completely different list.

If we’re ever to change we will not be the change agent. That work can only be done by the spirit. You and I are powerless to achieve it but God has provided everything necessary for us to receive it.

But what about the verse that says,”work out your own salvation with fear and trembling?”

That’s a great question and a great verse. It’s found in Philippians 2:12. But we shouldn’t stop there we need to read the very next verse, verse 13, where it says,”For it is God who works in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”  Did you see that? God makes you want it and God is the one the makes it possible for you to do it too.  But it’s up to us to allow him to come in and make the change we can’t. Without him we don’t even want it. But with him. There’s nothing he can’t do in us … if we’ll let him.

Galatians 5:22-23 begins with the word, “but.”  In this case the word is telling us that what is to follow is in contrast to what came before. The “Fruit of the Spirit” are being contrasted with the “deeds of the flesh.”  Or you could say it this way. The apostle is telling us how our connection with God is going to make us different from when we were without a connection.

If we have a relationship with God. If Christ abides in us and we abide in him. If we are truly the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit our lives will be different. Our desires will be different.

Read Galatians 5:19-23. The contrast is sharp. The change God wants to bring is dramatic and beautiful. Jesus and the world are looking to see that beauty in us.

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