Monday, November 16, 2009

The Nine Fruits of the Spirit

In Galatians 5:22&23 the Apostle Paul lists nine fruits of the spirit. These fruits are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These fruits of the spirit are the virtues that are and should be produced in every Christ-follower.

These nine gifts are important not only to show evidence of a Christ-centered life but also are uniquely important internally, externally and in the church. These nine gifts may be looked at as three groups of three (3 X 3 = 9) and while all of the gifts are in sharp contrast to the behavior and attitudes of those that are self-centered and self-directed, they can also be seen appropriately as three different crops or groups:

Fruits 1-3 (Love, Joy & Peace): Internally Directed Fruits

These three fruits produce great benefits within the believer. Love is said to fulfill the law. Joy is needed when we experience difficult times and trials. Peace is the demonstration of the serenity of God and provides the tranquility and internal presence that allows us to “be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

Fruits 4-6 (Patience, Kindness & Goodness): Externally Directed Fruits

These three fruits provide great benefit in dealing with others. Patience is that value that embraces time and allows it to be used wisely in dealing and being tolerant of others. Kindness is putting on God’s love and offering His grace and mercy to others. Goodness is the ethical quality of moral excellence that keeps the believer from reproach and provides a Christ-like reputation in the community.

Fruits 7-9 (Faithfulness, Gentleness & Self-control): Church Directed Fruits

These last three gifts, while so valuable in the life of the believer, are particularly the fruits that need to be cultivated for the benefit of the local church. Faithfulness is a virtue that is necessary in the careful stewardship of God’s resources. Local churches rise or fall based on the stewardship of resources that have been made provided for ministry. Gentleness is the wonderful combination of strength and meekness; and church leaders need gentleness to allow correction to be received and applied. Self-control may be the last but possibly the most important. While extremely beneficial for the individual, self-control checks and brings under control those particular behaviors that often divide, and ultimately lead to the sin of arrogance and divisiveness that will destroy the work of God in the local church.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Identified with Christ

I just had the glorious opportunity to witness the baptism of eleven students. One of the things that we always try to do is to meet with them individually and ask them a very simple question, "why do you want to be baptized".

The thing that is cool with this question is there is no "right" answer. There are actually many possible right answers. Some students answered that they are being baptized, "out of obedience, because Christ said to believe and be baptized". Others mentioned that they wanted to identify with Jesus through baptism, or they wanted to be a witness to their family and friends. I like it when they say that they want to remember this moment as the big turning point in their life.

All great answers.

One of the things I admire the most about these students is their willingness to be identified with Christ despite the immediate identification with other Christians.

It's likely natural that if one thinks of Christ, they think of His followers. Christians are not always the best examples of Christ-likeness. It would be so more appropriate to be identified with Christ. Gandhi is reported to have said, "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ."

The Bible says that when we are baptized, we identify ourselves with Christ both in His death and in His resurrection.

Congrats students!

Monday, November 02, 2009

“Called-Out” of the church building

reprint from The Tennessean 10-31-09 , by Ken Behr

Since we often see many churches in every community and on nearly every corner it would be easy to assume that many, if not most, of the people we meet are Christians.

Recently, I was recalling how when I had the opportunity to travel in Europe, I enjoyed visiting the old Gothic churches that are common there. I loved the architecture with the stained-glass windows, the beautiful and graceful arches and the carefully fitted stones. I could imagine what it would have been like in times past to hear the church bells and witness literally all of the villagers come and fill up these old cathedrals to worship God.

Sadly, today these old churches and cathedrals in Europe are mostly empty. They have become tourist attractions, and the tiny congregations can no longer afford the upkeep and the churches have become wards of the state.

Here in the United States, church attendance has also been declining as a percentage of the population while at the same time many new and larger churches have been built and are thriving. I believe one of the main reasons for the decline is that people think of the church as a building. It is not. Buildings are primarily stone, wood, iron and plaster. The Church is and will always be the people.

The word translated "church" in the New Testament Greek is the Greek word "ekklesia," which is a combination of two Greek words: "ek," which means "out," and "kaleo," which is the Greek word for a "call" or a "calling." Therefore the church as defined by the New Testament is actually about those that are "called out."

If we are "called out," what are we called out to do?

Perhaps an example is in order. Recently, we received a phone call from a woman who was desperate as she was being evicted from her home and had found a new place to live but needed somebody to help her move. She didn't need to come to "church," she didn't need instruction on finances, she needed four guys who could help her move. We met that need and enjoyed being "called out."

It's easy to fall into a comfortable routine of weekly services, meetings and gatherings for adults, the youth and children. At the same time, being called out means that we need to become a catalyst for change in the hearts of the people. Once we embrace the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have a calling and a mission that extends way beyond our local church building. It is in the local and extended community that we have the opportunity to minister to people both spiritually and physically. We are to live a life of compassion for all people and provide the opportunity for reconciliation.

The primary example for a life of compassion, forgiveness and redemption was none other than Christ himself. Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan, who despite the enmity that existed between the Jews and the Gentiles, crossed that ethnic and religious divide with compassion to help someone who was left half dead.

When we understand that we are called out, petty differences in the way we worship or the type of music that is played in our congregations and denominations should largely fade away and we become partners in this ministry of reconciliation and transformation.

As called-out ones, we are to have the compassion to offer forgiveness to the sinner, embrace those who society has cast out and offer hope to those who have been abused. Those who are called out don't judge as much as they offer a ministry of reconciliation. Our lives are to be transformed so that we no longer seek to benefit ourselves as to benefit our neighbor. The transformation is to take us from being selfish to being selfless.

When we are truly transformed by the power of the Gospel, we are called out of the buildings that we call churches. It is in our local and extended community that we find our calling.

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