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How Sweet Is Your Fruit?

“So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.  For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.  They are in conflict with one another, so that you do not do what you want.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.’

“The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.  I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.’

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Against such things there is no law.  Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.  Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit”  (Galatians 5:16-25, NIV).

The fruit of spiritual growth is fullness, the completeness of Christ’s image stamped upon our inmost being. It is spiritual maturity, from the inside out, so that others may see Christ glorified.  It begins when we first believe and receive Christ as our Savior and Lord, and it continues throughout our life all the way to its ripening on the day of Christ Jesus.  And this we can trust to be for our highest good.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).

The spiritual growth process is incomplete this side of eternity because it involves a daily dying to self.  It is not a one-time deal in which we hand our hearts over to God and then everything’s hunky-dory.  I remember those first couple of days after I was saved.  I thought to myself, “Great!  My life is like a blank slate now.  I can start afresh.  In fact, I’ll never sin again!”  Well, of course, before the week was out, I’d sinned.  Being born again may be a one-time instance, but maturing in our faith is a lifelong process and never easy.  It is a daily struggle to hand over our will and our way to God, for He will do with it as He pleases.  Selah.

This letting go and letting God is the very heart and challenge of the Christian walk.  It is not about what He can do for us, but what He will do in us and through us.  This is what it means to be Christ-centered. It means we give up our very selves to God who promises to change us into something we, on our own, can never be, that is, the image and likeness of Jesus Christ:

“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8).

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Are these fruits in abundance throughout your daily life?  How sweet is your fruit?

Sometimes I feel I’ll never mature.  I find myself struggling with the same issues again and again.  It’s a good thing faith is not a feeling, because the truth is that while I may tire and grow discouraged at times, the Holy Spirit does not.  He is ever at home in my heart, transforming and perfecting me according to God’s plan.

The process of spiritual maturity is like hiking.  Being born again is liking starting at the trailhead while being on the mountaintop at the same time.  It’s a case of the now and the not yet.  Your sins are forgiven and when God looks at you, He sees Christ.  It’s so exciting!  And yet you are a baby Christian, with a long growth and development process ahead of you.  You have to learn to sit up, crawl, stand, and then walk.

You take your first steps up the trail.  As you put one foot in front of the other, you begin to realize it is a long, long way to the top.  Your backpack is heavy and the trail is so steep and hard.  You wonder what on God’s green earth you’ve gotten yourself into.  Anxiety strikes and your breath comes faster and harder.  You worry that you’ll never make it to the first rest-stop, much less the mountaintop!  Yet only a short time later, the uphill climb doesn’t seem quite as rough.  You make it to that first rest-stop, albeit huffing and puffing, but you make it.  After a while you get up and start hiking again.  The backpack doesn’t seem so extraordinarily heavy; the trail not so steep.  Thereafter, every leg of the journey is a little easier even though you’re sweating and breathing hard.  You start to notice some interesting flora and fauna around you.  Once in a while you find a low view to appreciate.  Pretty soon you don’t even need to sit down to rest; you just stand for a few minutes leaning on the top of your staff with the pack, now quite manageable, on your back.  The hike is not easy by any means, but you are stronger than before.  Steeper climbs, scree slopes, and icy waterfalls take greater energy, balance, and care, but you’ve found the rhythm of the hike and the knowledge that you are closer to the top spurs you on.  Eventually, through twists and turns, switchbacks, roots and rocks, you hike your way to the top, above marmots and boulders, where the view and sense of victory are incomparable.  It is worth the struggle.  Later on, when your boots are off and your feet are up, you think back over the hike.  No part of it seemed so difficult than carrying that heavy pack up those first few steps.  Even the miles of trail up and down humpback ridges were easier than those beginning steps.  And no hike is more difficult than the first hike of the season.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13, NKJV).

For those who are born again, God assures us that He will lead us up the mountain to its peak. We may stumble, slip, or fall, but He has us safe in His hands.  We can be certain that God will continue to mold and mature us into the sweet fruit of the image of his Son:

“…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).

Megan, Matt, & Me in the High Country, 9/2000

That is like God saying, “You will reach the top.”  You respond, “Throw me the rope”.  Be encouraged.

“And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it.  For the mouth of the LORD has spoken” (Isaiah 40:5).

“The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8).

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Following Through

The difficulty in deciding to follow Jesus lies not only in that initial leap of faith, but in the long and arduous journey of following through.  Temptations abound to draw us off track, the worst of which is simply habit. Since I cut up that “emergency” credit card, which had assisted so proficiently in landing me thousands of dollars in debt, I have been amazed by how much I relied on it to ease me through my cash-poor life. A mere two days after shredding the card, I found myself in line at the store handing back a hefty portion of groceries because there wasn’t enough money in my wallet.  I’d shopped without considering the cost because I was so accustomed to using my credit card to fill in the financial gap between what I wanted and what I needed.   Thank you, merciful God, that the cashier and two ladies behind me in line were as sweet as pie about it.  It was pretty embarrassing.

The next day, I almost had to get out of the latte drive-through line because I’d forgotten to check for cash in my wallet.  I rarely carry cash because it has been so much more simple to use credit.  That way, it wasn’t necessary to figure out ahead of time whether or not I had enough money with me.  Fortunately (or not), my wallet held a few dollars and I didn’t have to get out of line.  Then this morning, while online, I ordered some small thing and it wasn’t until I began to type my credit card information that I remembered I don’t have one anymore.  Old habits die hard.  In fact, old habits take a long, long time to die.  They die kicking and screaming.  Old habits die making a terrific scene.  It’s been less than a week since I gave up credit and I’m thinking already of giving the old habit an Oscar for Best Drama.

It is so automatic a gesture to reach for the credit card that at first I didn’t quite know what to do.  My brain simply froze for a second or two.  Even worse was the sharp prick of fear in my gut, “What if I want and can’t ever have?”  For a moment I saw myself as a teenager, hungering for everything and affording nothing.  I remembered the popular girls at school when I was thirteen, with their noses firmly in the air, saying, “We don’t like you because of your clothes.”  Like a flash of lightning, I suddenly saw what money had come to mean for me – worth, freedom, control, success, self-sufficiency, a kind of “I don’t need you” layer of protection against those who will not like me.

What does money mean to God? “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other.   You cannot serve both God and money.” Clear as a bell.  Well, amen.  It makes perfect sense, does it not?

“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on.  Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?”

Hmmm.  I’m sure I want to serve God only, but what if God views food and clothing with so little interest as to warrant shopping at only Wal-Mart for the rest of my life?  Oh, say it isn’t so!   I happen to appreciate well-made, high quality goods.  I mean, Wal-Mart is all right in a pinch for a dish drainer or a trash can, but I prefer to shop for my clothes elsewhere.  Mind you, I’m not talking about dropping $1200 on a pair of Jimmy Choo’s.  I just want to shop J. Jill, Land’s End, LL Bean, and the like.

“Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?”

Yes, but God, they eat worms.

“Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?”

I’m short and round; obviously worrying hasn’t worked well for me.  In fact, that’s a good way of saying that even though buying clothes increases my endorphins, it’s really only an illusion of control and self-sufficiency.  While I’m busy feeling good about myself and in control of my life, the opposite is really true.  That is why I must trust God to provide. Even so, Lord, I just want to mention that I prefer beautiful things.

“So why do you worry about clothing?  Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”

Good point.

“Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”

Wow.  You really do love me, God!  Silly me, of course you do.  Jesus didn’t die for the birds of the air or the grass of the field.  He died for me, and silly, silly me, He didn’t die merely to clothe me well.  My eyes were on my circumstances, not my Lord.  I’m sorry, God.  Dress me according to your will, not mine.  If creation is any measure of your taste, I’ve nothing to worry about.

“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For after all these things the Gentiles seek.  For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”

That’s right!  Seek first the kingdom.  Seek God.  Look to the cross for proof of my significance.  Trust and obey.  And God’s provision satisfies.

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about it own things.  Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:24-34).

Thanks, God, for smoothing out the furrows on my brow.  You know you rock, God.  It won’t be easy, but I’m kind of looking forward to the challenge of following through.  Love you.



 
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Posted by on August 21, 2010 in Adventures in Christ

 

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