Posted in Christian Living, Faith

Get Off the Political Bandwagon

In God We Trust

In these past weeks of Supreme Court rulings and inexcusable church burnings, I have been disappointed but not astounded, disenchanted but not disenfranchised.  Like many, I have purposely refrained from a knee-jerk reaction and have instead taken these days to reflect and pray.

As one who longs to live a life worthy of the me Christ’s grace has already made possible, I am obligated to approach all the craziness of this world with two overriding principles:

  1. To make God the first and greatest priority in my life.  Everything else comes second.
  2. To love everyone else the way I too want to be loved.

If I make God the first priority in my life, that means I spend time in His Word, and that time means that I will be able to test what others say against what the Bible actually proclaims.  I will not agree with whatever the media says is OK or all my “friends” think is right without first testing the correctness of a stance against what God’s Word actually has to say about it.

In order to do that well, I have to be regularly and often in the Word.  I also have to understand that Word in its totality, not just pick and choose the verses that best serve my own interests.  For example, I need to understand that many of the verses that speak out against homosexuality also are against any form of sexual immorality.  That includes sex outside of marriage and people who are married to spouses who were not Biblically divorced.  In other words, the Bible is against a slew of activities no one has been too riled up about for far too long.

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul gives a focus for what the Christian church should concentrate on not doing as well as doing:

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! (Galatians 5:19-23 NLT)

Notice that, to God, any and all of this comprehensive list of “don’ts” are on equal footing.  We humans want to put sin on a sliding scale, but God does not.  In other words, if I really take Christ’s admonition to take care of the moat in my own eye before worrying about the speck in anybody else’s, I have much too much to worry about improving in my own behavior to get into the business of anybody else’s.

This concept doesn’t mean I consider any behavior by someone else OK.  From a truly Christian perspective, there is no “live and let live.”  If I am not acting in alignment with the Word of God, I want my fellow Christians to gently point this out to me.  I want them to go so far as to shut me out of the community for a time if that is necessary in order to potentially bring me back into alignment with God’s Word.  I want them to pray for me unceasingly.

For those who do not walk with Christ, I can disagree without condemning.  I can hold to the Truth without leaving a feeling of hatred in the hearer.  But I can only do these things if I am actively seeking to see the non-believers around me through the eyes of my loving God.  Just as Jesus held those around Him to God’s truth through compassion and a firmness for that truth, I too can seek to do the same.

 

If Christ is our Savior, then we strive to be loving, patient, joyful, kind, good, faithful.  We also strive to stay away from the behaviors that displease God, from lying and being jealous to hating and being sexually immoral.  These times we live in are challenging, which means that now, more than ever, we Christians must live our faith.  And if we are really doing that, we will be much too busy to get caught up in the political machinations of this world that detract us from what is truly important–the potential relationship with the Savior of the world each one of us has the right to claim.

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Posted in Christian Living, Christianity, Faith

Legacy: What will you SOW?

20121104-181234.jpg As I have tried to explore over the past several weeks, a Christian’s definition of legacy should be very different from the world’s view of legacy. As always, the challenge is being in the world but not of the world. Being in the world, we look around and see people lauded for accomplishments like hit movies, amazing touchdowns, or making loads of money. It is so tempting to fall into the trap of defining our own success by these definitions, putting our emphasis on having a house that looks like the ones on HGTV or driving a car that is just as nice as the one in the driveway next door. Sometimes, these things in the world are so ingrained in the subconscious that we don’t even realize that what is driving us is world-like and not God-like.

But being in the world yet not of the world is something very different, the core challenge, really, of what it means to be Christian. Christians, in being Christ-like, are encouraged to be fruitful, to sow the seeds of Christ’s love in their everyday lives, in the world, in such a way that the Light that is Christ shines to show the way to a better kind of life.

In Galatians, Paul defines the fruit of the Spirit, which is actually a series of characteristics that together complete the picture of a Christ-like life, the qualities you should be able to see in a person who is really living according to the guidance of the Spirit within him/her, the Spirit Christ promised would come to us when we are baptized in Him. This person sows “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (5:22-23).

I don’t think it is an accident in duplication that Jesus’ many parables ask us to consider the fruit of the vine, encourage us to bear fruit, and even admonishes those who are unfruitful, and Paul’s description of the final result of the indwelling Spirit in a believer likewise using the concept of fruit. Even though we do not gain salvation by our actions but through grace, once we are Christians, we should want to leave a God-like legacy, at the core of which is living by letting the Spirit guide us.

Paul makes it clear where the Spirit will guide us, if we will only listen, as he tells the Galatians, “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (5:13).

A legacy that reflects Christ is a “hard row to hoe” as they say in my neck of the woods, but, fortunately, we are not meant to hoe that row alone. The Spirit of God in me gives me the strength and insight to fulfill the opportunities God gives me, if I will only let that Spirit work.

I have the list of the fruit of the Spirit posted in several places in my house, trying to remind myself of what I should be concentrating on. But, the evil one is always there to push me in other directions, make me concentrate on my inner issues instead of looking out toward other people, keeping me from letting the Spirit help me with my problems as I try to control my world all by myself. I needed Jesus to be saved, right? So, why do I think I won’t need Jesus to live out my salvation, including improving on things like being more patient, having self-control, and, of course, loving others.

Will your legacy be the fruit of the Spirit, not just for your own loved ones, but for every person you come in contact with? We will reap the Spirit only if we sow it, and we can only sow the Spirit with the Spirit’s help.

Posted in Christianity, Love

Living the Fruit of the Spirit

As I sat in Bible class on Sunday morning, listening as others were picking out what they had found of note in the previous week’s reading of Galatians, a couple of pretty powerful conclusions came to me.
The first began as I looked at the footnote in my NASB for the phrase “the righteous man will live by faith,” which said that what was meant here was actually closer to the word “faithfulness.”
Now, faith and faithfulness, I believe, are two entirely different animals. In our venacular, we tend to equate the word faith with belief, which implies just believing that Christ is risen is sufficient for salvation. But faithfulness means something beyond mere belief. Faithfulness
is more like believing by doing. Aha. Now, we have a problem. If I must believe by doing in order to be redeemed, then do my actions and not grace save me? Perhaps a better definition of faithfulness might be belief through being.
Let me explain.
The second grand conclusion I discovered Sunday was the fact that the fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23 are actually the “fruit” of the Spirit. Singular, not plural, implying a crop or harvest of something. Once redeemed, the one who lives in faithfulness is seeking to be one who embodies all of the characteristics of Galatians 5:22-23. This is a state of being, fostered by the indwelling Spirit, redeemed upon inevitable failure by the grace of Christ.
Which brings us to the question of legalism. When Christ said his yoke was light, I believe he meant in comparison to the yoke of fulfillment which constituted Jewish religion at that time. The Talmud (as opposed to the Torah, upon which our modern OT cannon is based), which elaborated on the items of Deuteronomy and Leviticus, had grown to include so many items, that I am sure living up to its mandates would be something like living in the mind of a person with OCD. Wash hands so many times before touching this, step on a crack, break your mother’s back. That sort of thing.
When Christ proposed to lift the yoke of this kind of living, He could not have meant that living
would suddenly be easier. How is it a lighter yoke to be loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, meek and in control of the self–all the time? It is lighter, perhaps, in that instead of following a distinct set of rules, the freedom of salvation means the freedom to be, not do. The actions that happen as a result of being are much lighter than actions required from a list of doing.
I think the Western mind may have a problem with this concept that believing still requires doing because we do not wrap our minds around the concept of dualities. There’s a little bit of the feminine in the masculine and vice versa. We all have good and evil. Being is more than just believing, even though our actions, ultimately, are not what save us. When Christ, and subsequently Paul, smashed the legalistic requirements of salvation, they opened the door to a way of life that embodied more than any written law. Living the law of Christ is very different from living the Talmud. It is much more challenging, but it is also freeing because, as the Nicole Nordemann song reminds us–“His mercies are new every morning.” No matter how often we fall, as long as we sincerely repent, Christ helps us rise to begin again.