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But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. – Galatians 5:22-24

Great Kisskadee | South Padre Island, TX | September 2021

I’m sure Simon, Andrew, Matthew, James, or John none knew the kinds of adventures would be theirs as they began to follow Jesus. Could they ever have imagined seeing Jesus take the little girl by the hand and restore her to life and her parents? Would they ever have dreamed of taking up 12 baskets full of leftovers after Jesus fed the multitude with 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread? Could they have predicted the joy of the wedding party at Cana when Jesus changed water into wine? Each time they would have to conclude, “God did that!”

Such is the wellspring of joy: Seeing God at work. That being the case we might expect to be filled with joy every day. For God is at work every day. Not a breath is taken apart from his providential care. No sunrise or sunset unfolds apart from his will and word. We awake each morning at his command. We look upon nature, landscape, flower, and beauty of a thousand kinds at his good pleasure. God is at work all around us. Every moment. Ought we not be filled with joy in all these things and times?

There is, however, a dark cloud over all these things. Hurricane, earthquake, illness, and troubles intrude. Three children are discovered in an abandoned apartment with the decaying remains of their sibling (CBS News). Cancer treatments become suddenly necessary, and too often don’t work. Marriages fail. Friendships fracture. Moments of weakness give way to hours of regret. 

This is the seedbed, however, of a greater joy. For God shows up. Police rescue the children because someone finally decided to act to let them know of the situation. God’s mercy reaches into the hearts of estranged couples and they find delight once again in each other. A Sunday message, a Bible passage, a blog post, a podcast, or a Christian song opens up a heart to God’s mercy. Forgiveness brings unspeakable relief and great joy. 

When the situation is dire and God shows up we find the strongest expressions of joy. The dark hours of deep contrition give way to the glory of sin’s weight lifted. The restrictive bonds of worry are loosed by the peace of God in a moment of prayer and Scripture. The gloom of despair is cleared by the revelation of God’s goodness. These come as the Holy Spirit has his way in us. Moving us to repentance. Opening our eyes to a path of blessing. Reminding us of the hope we have because of Jesus’ resurrection. Rescuing us from disease. 

Several years ago I was feeling quite ill. I had chills, fever, headache, and an overall miserable feeling. It got so bad that I asked Diane to lay hands on me and pray for me. In less than 5 minutes after that prayer, the fever was lifted. I was physically revived. And I was filled with joy. God did that. I wonder whether we might see God’s hand in our lives in such a dramatic way that we, too, are filled with joy. If so, then, in the refrain of the hymn, “Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice, be glad, and sing!” 

Click here for an audio version of this blog post.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. – Galatians 5:22-24

Green Heron | South Padre Island | September 2021

When I think of joy, several things come to mind…

  • Joy to the world, the Lord has come!
  • The joy of the Lord is your strength (Nehemiah 8:10)
  • I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart.
  • Count it all joy when you face trials of various kinds (James 1:2)
  • For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame and sat down at the right hand of God. (Hebrews 12:2)

Beyond all those quotes is the fact that joy is a fruit of the Spirit. While the works of the flesh are things people do, the fruit of the Spirit is the result of the Spirit’s presence in a believer’s life. These are not things we do, but blessings given by God. These are not feelings we gin up, but gifts from the Holy Spirit. 

But it’s a battle. Joy reigns in the believer’s heart insofar as he has crucified the sinful flesh. When we’re consumed by sexual immorality, excessive indulgence in sinful pleasure, anger, envy or drunkenness, joy is far away. And although these do not bring joy, they appeal to a side of us that will never be satisfied by their pursuit. Drunkenness of any kind is never satisfied and yields only the rue of hangover or the disappointment of poor choices’ outcomes. 

Experiencing joy of this kind is a two-fold process. First is to crucify the sinful flesh. Denying the impulses to self-service, cheap thrills, and emotions’ reign. Second is to lean into the Holy Spirit’s presence in our hearts, through the word of God and prayer. All this is a matter of faith. Looking beyond the glitter and glory of the world’s lure, we attach our hearts to God’s promises, goodness, grace, and faithfulness. And his love.

This takes me back to the first of the joy thoughts above. The Lord has come to us. He has come to teach us the truth about God. He has come to bring God’s grace to us. He has come to forgive our sins. He has come to give us abundant life. And when he came he looked beyond even his suffering and death to the joy that God gives to his own in his presence. Jesus has taught us the truth about God so that his joy may be in us and our joy may be complete. This is God’s gift.

The closer we remain to Jesus and his word, and the more resolute in prayer we are for his blessing and grace the deeper and more true will be our joy. Come, Holy Spirit! Enlighten the hearts of your people and bring us true joy! Amen

For your personal reflection, meditation, and edification…

Psalm 24:1-6
The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein,
for he has founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.
Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false
and does not swear deceitfully.
He will receive blessing from the LORD
and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Selah

Psalm 54:6
With a freewill offering I will sacrifice to you;
I will give thanks to your name, O LORD, for it is good.

Psalm 84:1-4
How lovely is your dwelling place,
O LORD of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, faints
for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and flesh sing for joy
to the living God.
Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O LORD of hosts,
my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house,
ever singing your praise! Selah

Psalm 114
When Israel went out from Egypt,
the house of Jacob from a people of strange language,
Judah became his sanctuary,
Israel his dominion.
The sea looked and fled;
Jordan turned back.
The mountains skipped like rams,
the hills like lambs.
What ails you, O sea, that you flee?
O Jordan, that you turn back?
O mountains, that you skip like rams?
O hills, like lambs?
Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord,
at the presence of the God of Jacob,
who turns the rock into a pool of water,
the flint into a spring of water.

Psalm 144:1-2
Blessed be the LORD, my rock,
who trains my hands for war,
and my fingers for battle;
he is my steadfast love and my fortress,
my stronghold and my deliverer,
my shield and he in whom I take refuge,
who subdues peoples under me.
O LORD, what is man that you regard him,
or the son of man that you think of him?
Man is like a breath;
his days are like a passing shadow.

[No audio version of the blog posts this week]

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 5:22-23

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. – John 15:9-11

Tricolored Heron | South Padre Island, Texas | September 2021

“I would judge the gathering to be successful if there was joy.” The observation by a fellow pastor struck me in a very positive way. We were discussing “Circuit Winkels” (The German word, “Winkel” means corner, angle, place, or spot; and in the early days of the LCMS, the circuit pastors’ meetings were called Winkel Conferences.) There were many other answers offered to the question of what a successful Circuit Winkel would look like. But I remember only his. That was memorable, in part, because it was simple and unambiguous. It was memorable because it struck a deep cord of truth in my spirit. And it aligns with the second mentioned fruit of the Spirit.

The judgment also reminded me of a book he had recently shared with me, The Other Half of Church by Jim Wilder and Michael Hendricks. In that book the authors outline four characteristics of a spiritually-healthy and transforming community. They leverage the latest insights of the brain’s left and right sides and how they’re both critical to experience lasting, full-brain transformation. They ground that understanding on four scriptural characteristics:

  1. True joy found through connection and relationships
  2. Hesed love of securely attached communities
  3. Group identity based on the character of Christ
  4. A culture of uplifting, healthy correction

And the first of those is joy. But joy is not a lone wolf emotion or feeling. It is actually a result of knowing more fully of the Father’s will and ways together with Jesus’ grace and truth. John records Jesus’ teaching about abiding, bearing fruit, his New Commandment, and connects it with his gift of joy. Just as love and all the subsequent fruit of the Spirit flow from the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives, so joy is an outgrowth of God’s love finding its home in our hearts. 

This joy is not experienced in isolation. This is not a Jesus and Me exercise. This is not something we go away to discover. This joy is experienced in deep connections and relationships grounded in grace and truth. It is a matrix of joy, love, identity, and correction experienced in the context of community. 

A friend of mine once said, “Dead hearts feel no pain.” A heart alive with God’s love will therefore experience the pain of sin on all sides. But in the context of a community of love our hearts can be lifted to higher delight in God’s goodness and a greater joy. Such is the gift of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our personal lives as well as in our communities of grace and love. 

[No audio version of the blog posts this week.]

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 5:22-23

[Jesus says,] “I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love.10 When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.11 I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! 12 This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.” – John 15:9-12

Green Heron | South Padre Island, Texas | September 2021

Hang around Jesus and you’ll learn some things. Things about religion without love. Things about compassion, forgiveness, and mercy. Zeal for God’s house. And patience. I think of patience as essential to love. Think of how many times Jesus surely had to sigh when Peter made one of his faux pas. And from his heart must have issued grace, compassion, and long-suffering (another and very apt synonym for patience). Else the sighs would have turned to bitter words of frustration: Again! Don’t you get it?!?!

This is the need in order to love people close to us. My wife will do something that annoys me, and I find it difficult to be patient. Just ask her about times she seeks help on her computer. It’s not pretty. (Of course, I never do anything to annoy her!) But patience calls forth a different response. It springs from a humility about our own place in the universe. People don’t have to conform to my standard of righteousness. I am not The Final Judge of all things. A humble spirit will stand me in good stead when patience is called for. 

A friend might annoy you. The longer you get to know him, the more irritating his peccadilloes become. The longer your friendship the less you are able to put up with her pettiness. Or her nosiness. Or his rudeness. Take your pick. We all have our hot buttons. And most of all it’s because we believe we alone have the true perspective on right and wrong and how that should be played out in the lives of others. We forget that we don’t know the whole story. 

This is a challenge for humble people; especially for those who vow never to be arrogant. For when we vow not to do something we blind ourselves to the very ways we are arrogant, judgmental, and impatient.

This is where Jesus comes in. He is without sin. He is not blind. He has faced temptation and won the battle. And he knows us fully. This may be a frightening prospect: he knows all about me?!? Yes. And he loves the real you. The very real you. And he has patience toward you. And me. And this is love. It will culminate in his death on the cross. There he lays down his life for our sake. He refuses to demand his way. He allows himself to be completely misunderstood. He embraces the sin of the world.

That is the greatest love of all. It may not mean a literal cross. But it will mean taking up our cross in the figurative sense. Letting go of our need to justify ourselves. Refusing to judge others. Letting ourselves be misunderstood. Graciously forgiving those who have offended us. Trusting in God through it all. Because we have been loved. Perfectly. Truly. Eternally. I hope that love will shape my heart more and more each day. You???

[Note: There is no audio version of this blog post today.]

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. – Galatians 5:22-23

Gray Heron #2 | South Padre Island | September 2021

It can be counterfeit. It can be confused with feelings. It can be twisted into something that feels good but is not. It may not be recognized as such. But love is the purest expression of the character and nature of God. It is the greatest – even greater than hope and faith. And, although it’s not all you need it is essential to our relationship with God and with one another (sorry, John Lennon). 

When Paul writes to the church in Corinth, he must take on a number of issues in the church. They were a troubled church. He takes on issues about marriage, incest, division, schism, worship, spiritual gifts, the role of women, his authority as an apostle, and the Lord’s Supper. These are no small matters. Any one of them would be worth a serious treatment and discussion. They all come up in this letter. And toward the climax of the letter’s exhortations, he shows them “a more excellent way.” 

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned,[a] but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;[b] it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part,10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. – 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

I like to share at weddings the idea of putting one’s name in place of the word love in this chapter. Then I ask if that describes either of those before me – or anyone in the congregation at that point. If anyone says it does, I would invite them to take my place. For on a good day, I might embody patience, kindness, no record-keeping of wrongs and the like. But not every day is good. And even on the best days I don’t always manage to keep the characteristics of love evident in my actions, word, or heart. Sigh… I cannot claim to be perfectly loving.

But Jesus can make that claim! Substitute Jesus’ name for the word love in Chapter 13 and you get a description of Jesus’ true character. He is patient, kind, does not boast, is not arrogant or rude. Ever. He is the embodiment of love itself. After all, “God is love (1 John 4:8). And Jesus is God in the flesh. And he keeps no record of wrongs. Read that again, he keeps no record of wrongs.

If I want to express more love to my wife, family, friends, and brothers and sisters in Christ, I need to hang around Jesus more. Abiding in him. Looking to him. Allowing his love to define my relationship with God. Allowing his love to shape my heart. 

That means looking away from the things of this world. Rejecting the idea that the newest lens, fastest computer, coolest car, most desirable vacation, or most alluring flight to fantasy will fill my heart. They won’t. I’m thankful for God’s love in Jesus. I need it, and need for it to shape my heart, mind, and actions more and more. Starting with those closest to me. But not stopping there. 

O Holy Spirit, bring forth that fruit in me today! Amen. 

No audio versions of this blog post.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. – Galatians 5:22-23

Gray Heron | South Padre Island Birding And Nature Center | September 2021

I knew I needed an excursus. Yesterday’s offering was almost a throw-away. Not personal. True. But not passionate. Edifying, I hope. But I doubt it was deeply insightful. So just today in the car as we were on the second day of our road trip, it struck me: I need to focus on the Fruit of the Spirit this week in an effort to cultivate that in my heart and life. Two observations might be helpful. First of all, the word “fruit” is singular. This is the result of being connected to Christ, the True Vine. Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches; the one who remains in Me, and I in him bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). I notice also that the fruit of the Spirit is laid out in this chapter of Galatians in contrast to the works of the flesh. I love the thought of one commentator in this regard. He points out that the singular fruit of the Spirit “isn’t achieved by working, but is birthed by abiding” in Jesus. 

He further notes that

  • Fruit is fragile.
  • Fruit reproduces itself.
  • Fruit is attractive.
  • Fruit nourishes.

Second, the construction of the verse leads us to think of this singular fruit of love to express itself in the eight that follow. Martin Luther says, “It would have been enough to mention only the single fruit of love, for love embraces all the fruits of the Spirit.” 

So this week I’ll be reflecting on love. It is the essential fruit of the Spirit. Love is of God’s essence. Love is greater than faith and hope. God is the source of love. So I want to pay particular attention to being close to Jesus, abiding in him, and bearing fruit by abiding. So hang on. I need this. And we preach (write) best what we need most. 

[Note: An excursus again this week. The limits of my current time and space will not allow me to record easily, so the audio version of this blog may not be available. Today’s thoughts come from the lessons I’m working on for Evangelist 301 for the Texas District of the LCMS.]

Note 2: I preached on Sunday, October 17 at St. Timothy Lutheran Church in Houston. Click here for the podcast recording of that message.

When the church was growing in its earliest days, a conflict arose between two groups of people. The widows of the Greek-speaking believers were thought to be overlooked in the daily distribution of food. Luke records this in Acts 6:1-7.

But as the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent. The Greek-speaking believers complained about the Hebrew-speaking believers, saying that their widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food.

So the Twelve called a meeting of all the believers. They said, “We apostles should spend our time teaching the word of God, not running a food program. And so, brothers, select seven men who are well respected and are full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will give them this responsibility. Then we apostles can spend our time in prayer and teaching the word.”

Everyone liked this idea, and they chose the following: Stephen (a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit), Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas of Antioch (an earlier convert to the Jewish faith). These seven were presented to the apostles, who prayed for them as they laid their hands on them.

So God’s message continued to spread. The number of believers greatly increased in Jerusalem, and many of the Jewish priests were converted, too. [New Living Translation]

 

Light Falling on Purple Blossoms | Missouri Botanical Garden | July 2021

God’s people take a difficult situation, a crisis, an interchurch conflict, and turn it into an opportunity to show Christian love. And God brought even more people into the kingdom.

They did that because they believed and were living out the truth that Peter would later write: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” – 1 Peter 2:9

As a believer comes forth out of the waters of Baptism, priesthood comes along as well. The three-fold dimension — sacrifice, prayer and teaching — still marks the priesthood, but the New Testament priesthood portrays these responsibilities differently. There is no reference in the New Testament to any priestly office other than the royal priesthood of the baptized. In the New Testament individuals are still called and authorized for the public ministry on behalf of the royal priesthood, but “priest” is not included in the various titles applied to the church’s public ministers. The Royal Priesthood by the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations 

If we relegate all ministry in the congregation only to called pastors, we hobble the body of Christ, and the love of God may not be as fully expressed and experienced. No one is exempt from sharing God’s love. Loving God and loving neighbor are the two great commands of God. The care of our neighbor is not to be relegated only to official church workers. That reality is shown in a number of Bible verses:

Matthew 28:16-20 Even the doubters are given the Great Commission.

Revelation 22:17 Not only the Church (bride), and the Holy Spirit call people to come, but also those who hear the invitation are to invite others to come and receive the water of life.

John 15 Jesus teaches his followers a new command, to love one another.

Matthew 7 Jesus teaches us to love even our enemies.

So although I’m no longer serving a congregation as a pastor, I am still sharing God’s love. I may do it in formal ways, but whenever you or I listen patiently to a lonely friend, pray earnestly for a neighbor in need, provide care for a child in a young family, or point someone to Jesus as their Savior and only true hope, I am sharing God’s love. Help me, Lord, to do that…to your glory, and my neighbor’s good. Amen!

For your personal meditation and edification on this Lord’s Day

Psalm 17:7-8

Wondrously show[a] your steadfast love,
    O Savior of those who seek refuge
    from their adversaries at your right hand.

Keep me as the apple of your eye;
    hide me in the shadow of your wings.

Psalm 47:1-2

Clap your hands, all peoples!
    Shout to God with loud songs of joy!
For the Lord, the Most High, is to be feared,
    a great king over all the earth.

Psalm 77:1-3, 10-12

I cry aloud to God,
    aloud to God, and he will hear me.
In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
    in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
    my soul refuses to be comforted.
When I remember God, I moan;
    when I meditate, my spirit faints. Selah

10 Then I said, “I will appeal to this,
    to the years of the right hand of the Most High.”[b]

11 I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
    yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
12 I will ponder all your work,
    and meditate on your mighty deeds.

Psalm 107:1-3

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
    for his steadfast love endures forever!
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
    whom he has redeemed from trouble[a]
and gathered in from the lands,
    from the east and from the west,
    from the north and from the south.

Psalm 137:1-4

By the waters of Babylon,
    there we sat down and wept,
    when we remembered Zion.
On the willows[a]there
    we hung up our lyres.
For there our captors
    required of us songs,
and our tormentors, mirth, saying,
    “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How shall we sing the Lord‘s song
    in a foreign land?

Click here for an audio version of this blog post.

But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

– Genesis 22:11-14

Day Lilies Reaching for the Sun | Missouri Botanical Garden | July 2021

God provides. More often in the day-to-day orderly workings of the universe. Evening and Morning. Seasons. Plants and animals grow. Seedtime and harvest. Life. Add people who provide the for orderly function of society. 

Sometimes in the nick of time. Sometimes in amazing and miraculous ways.

Three 100-dollar bills wrapped in a ½ sheet of paper with a message, “The Lord cares about everything.” Just in the nick of time. When we were at a crisis point, and ready to take a major turn in our future plans.

A NEGATIVE test result when we were worried about dealing with a grave genetic disease.

A friend who opened a door to faith, photography, and future just when I needed direction most of all.

An opportunity to serve a congregation with great potential, many challenges, wonderful people, and opportunities I thought I’d never get. At a time when I could make one final run career-wise.

Opportunities to serve congregations in the larger Houston area which allows me to impact the Kingdom on a rewarding part time basis. Just when I wondered how I would continue to serve following retirement from full-time pastoral ministry.

Abraham experienced a miraculous and merciful provision of God. But this wasn’t his first. He was a man of great wealth. He had a wife, other family members, many slaves, and animals: All provisions of God. He had, by this time, also two sons. He had been preserved from the destruction visited upon Sodom and Gomorrah. He had much from God.

It may be that because he realized that God’s blessings and favor had been so bountifully and graciously given, he thought nothing of sacrificing Isaac because God had been so faithful and gracious. We know he believed that God could raise him from the dead (Cf. Hebrews 11:19). As it turns out, however, there is no need for a resurrection miracle here. God provides an out for Isaac and Abraham. 

Few times in life are we tested to the extent God tested Abraham. If we are, we who wait, hope, and trust in God will see the goodness of God in the land of the living. Perhaps we can find strength to wait and hope in him as we recall his daily provision, along with those special touches of his grace along life’s way.