Sunday, January 11, 2009

My Fruit: Gal 5; John 15

A while ago, I walked into a police station in Nagano to get my Japanese Driving license. At that time, it was easy to do. They checked my eye sight, looked at the translation of my RI license and had a photo taken. I got the license and I don’t want to let this license laps as it is MUCH harder now to get one. (Lessons, pay a lot of money, walk into the test area and sit in the car and fail…three or more times before they pass you.) No, I will work hard to keep my gold-band license.

That whole experience made me think about how often we are tested on quite finite matters like driver’s tests, vision, vocational, and cholesterol levels. It’s possible for people to live their whole lives and never REALLY do an assessment of their souls, which is eternal.

How is your soul? In need of repair? An overhaul, perhaps? Just a dusting and it will be fine, thank you. Never you mind, you’re meddling!

For the next few weeks in this new year, we will be looking at a series on the Fruit of the SPIRIT and Spiritual Gifts. As we look at Paul’s letter to the church at Galatia, Paul writes in Chapter 5, “The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

In order to get us thinking along these lines, I am ready to give to you a little self-assessment this morning. I want to give you a few questions to prompt your thinking on each one.

Here’s the scale: “S” is you would say you are “Superior” in this dimension; “P” stands for “Pretty Darn Good” and “N” would mean “Needs improvement.” We are just going to go over them one at a time and see how you do. You will not need to hand them in but DO fill it out and try to be honest. No cheating.

Number ONE: LOVE.
• How tender is your heart towards God and towards other people? Not just the ones that like you…
• Do you find yourself continually engaging in acts of servant-hood?
• Do you ever have a critical, judgmental spirit in your heart?
~ Rate yourself S, P or N. How are you doing in the Love Fruit today?
Now, did I tell you it was going to be easy? Well, it is not.

Number TWO: JOY.
• What is your current “touchiness factor?” (If you are not sure, your spouse or close friend or the person next to you may be willing to help you out…)
• Are you more inclined to speak words of complaint or gratitude?
• How often did you laugh this week? How much fun did you have?
• Are you able to choose JOY in times of frustration or difficulty?
~ Do you find yourself, even now, rationalizing your lack of Joy? Or wishing you would have visited another church this week?

It is not going to get any easier…
• To what degree are your heart and mind at rest in God?
• How consistently are you troubled or anxious?
• Would people who know you describe you as being contented or discontented? (Want to ask them?)
~ How do you come out on the FRUIT of PEACE?

• How do you respond when you are frustrated or don’t get your way?
• Would those who know you describe you as a “Peaceful patient person?” Are you able to wait gracefully?
• How do you handle things when people aren’t moving as fast as you would like?
~ How are you doing in this area of Patience? If you have already moved on to #FIVE, give yourself an “N”.

• Are you prone to lend someone a helping hand even though you are busy, or you know you won’t get credit for this?
• Are you one who encourages and affirms people?
• Do you consistently take the time to actually notice people and listen to them?
~ Do you find kindness alive and active in your life?

• What portion of your time and material resources are you actually giving—not just thinking about giving—to God, to the poor, to other people?
• Do you ever find yourself wanting to give just the least amount acceptable? ~Do you have a generous heart?~
• Is your heart to give growing or shrinking?
~ That is GENEROSITY. Rate yourself.

• Would people around you say that you are dependable?
• When you say you are going to do something, does it get done?
• Do you ever use words to deceive or to put a safe spin on things?
• Do you ever wrestle with procrastination?
~ If you haven’t started your list yet, give yourself an “N”!

• How successfully do you speak the truth with Grace?
• Do you ever get angry and inflict pain of someone just because it will feel good in the moment?
• Over the last week, how many times have you come along someone who was hurting to give them comfort? Last month?
~ How are you doing on GENTLENESS?

• Have any bad habits?
• Ever give into an impulse?
• How’s your mouth doing these days?
~ Rate yourself on self-control. Have I gotten you angry with me?

Just one more question and I’ll stop this painful experience. Does anyone feel a little inadequate? It is a funny thing, really. When we come to the topic of Fruit of the Spirit, this is the core of what spiritual growth is all about. People do get goofy ideas about what Spiritual Maturity really looks like.

What is Spiritual Maturity and if we would get a good idea of what it is, would that make us mature? Spiritual Formation is another word for this is all about. At the core of the issue, it is NOT being busy with a lot of Christian activities. NOT knowing a lot about the Bible. NOT the piling up of a lot of spiritual accomplishments.

You may remember that Jesus pointed that out that the religious leaders of His day (called the Pharisees) were the most unfruitful of them all. They had all the action but no heart. And some of their action was shallow and void of meaning.

But to grow in authentic Biblical Love and joy and peace and patience—that’s the center—the core of the target! That is the kind of people the Lord wants to see around His creation. That is the kind of people you and I want to be, but we may not feel we can do it. It is not that we don’t believe God could do it in us, we just don’t trust us.

Paul had the same problem: “I do the things I should not do and I don’t do the things I should!”

When we look at such a list, a few things may happen in us. One, we want to give up. Can’t go there—we are too far short of what seems to be the goal. Overwhelmed, we want to give up. In truth, we sometimes start violating the Fruit of the Spirit before we get out of bed in the morning!

We could also just tell ourselves that we need to try harder, love more and find that joy. Try harder to be more patient—right now! Work on a self-improvement program.

But that will not end well. We will become more frustrated and be consumed with us trying to be one of the Pharisees. That will not work. Works = dead end.

Here is what we are going to do instead. We are going to look at John 15:4-9 again and find the one word that is the key. One word that keeps coming up that will ensure the Fruit of the Spirit to be alive in us. Jesus talks about it pretty clearly. Listen again, for the first time:

Remain in Me and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself. It must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit. Apart from Me, you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in Me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers. Such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in Me, and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be given you. This is to My Father's Glory that you bear much fruit showing yourselves to be My disciples. As My Father has loved Me, so have I loved you.

Jesus says, “I am the vine. You are the branch.” There is ONE thing that the branch is supposed to do. Did you see it there? “Remain.” One older form of that word is “Abide.” Day in and day out, keep remaining in Him. Keep receiving this unceasing flow of real life. Keep getting the nourishment and love from the Main Source. As My Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. And He loved you SO Much that He sent His Son to die for you! John 3:16

IF WE DO THAT—if we abide—the fruit will come. Can’t be stopped. However, if I don’t stay plugged in to Him—into God—then I’ll never be fruitful. I could never change. Real spiritual transformation takes place in the abiding, in the remaining. Transformation will never happen apart from being united IN HIM. I cannot do this on my own or by myself. It is done in Community with Him. “I can do all things through Christ who gives me power.”

This is part of why Paul uses the language that he does. Some of you may know that in Galatians, Paul is setting up a contrast. He says, "I don't want you to be characterized or marked by (what he calls) the works of the flesh." And then he lists those: "immorality, envy, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition.” Don't be characterized by this, but do be characterized by … and then we would expect him to say by "the works of the Spirit." He doesn't do that, because for Paul "works" has the connotation of effort and strain and self-righteousness, and that is not the kind of people that God wants to produce. So He says instead, "Be marked by the fruit of the spirit."

There's one more thing that would be good for all of us to know. Often people talk about the "fruits" of the Spirit, because there are nine of them, but if you look at Galatians 5, Paul doesn't say the "fruits." He uses the singular "fruit," and there's a reason for that. He's not listing nine character qualities that you're supposed to exhaust yourself trying to add to your "character repertoire OR inventory." It's just the "fruit" that is inevitable when anyone abides in the Spirit of Jesus.

So the good news is: you just have one job, and
that is to be with Jesus all the time—

just stay in the Vine.


I'd like to thank John Ortberg for the outline of this sermon entitled: Fruit of the Spirit: "Abiding".

Next week at ICCS: Covered Dish after the service. Bring friends and some food and drink to share. Plan on staying around until around 2:30!

There is pay to park now near ICCS. 100¥ per hour and only 600¥ for the whole day. Go south on 463 toward Tokorozawa one block away from the turn to ICCS (in block 7) and it is on the left hand side next to a Japanese Eatery across from a car dealership.

God provides! All the time!