Keep in Step

Everything we are as Christ-followers is the work of the Holy Spirit. That statement is one of the distinctives of the Christian faith. Christianity holds that all that we are (and all that we can become) is a gift from God.

Think of fruit. Fruit is produced by a tree not by force of willpower. It’s produced because that’s the nature of the tree itself. An apple tree produces apples. A peach tree produces peaches.

What it is is what it produces.

This idea is so different from what every other philosophy or religion teaches: Focus. Self-reliance. Hard work. Responsibility. Willpower. Those are the things that lead to strong character and success, according to the dominant theories of culture and religion.

Paul teaches us that if we want to be people of strong character, the way to do that is not to build it through focus, self-reliance, hard work, responsibility and willpower, but rather through walking with the Spirit and keeping in step with him.

When we do that, the Spirit changes who we are. He strengthens us to become what we have already been declared to be in Christ: A dearly loved child of God, bought with the blood of Jesus Christ. And what we are is what we will produce.

The secret of success? Belong to Jesus Christ. Not to self. Keep in step. Not, “Step it up!”

The signs of success will be obvious. The kinds of character qualities most of us are seeking in life will come. Keep in step with the Spirit, and you’ll keep the fruit of the Spirit growing!

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-25, NIV).

Lord, help me to keep in step with your Spirit by reading my Bible daily. Remind me of the importance of regular attendance at church, at my growth group, and making use of the Lord’s Supper. In these ways, you will fill me with your Spirit and help me stay in step with him. I want you to produce the fruits of the Spirit in me — all for your glory, Lord.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, September 20, is Isaiah 47:1 – 49:7, Galatians 5:7-26 and Psalm 109:1-20.

Header image based on "Apple orchard in Tasmania with fruit on trees DSC_5957" by Apple and Pear Australia, Ltd., CC By 2.0

Are You Powered Up?

I bought a sweet new Kobalt hedge trimmer this week. It was on sale at Lowe’s so I “saved” big money buying it now. I love it! It has 24-inch dual action blades that move at a speed of up to 2,800 strokes a minute. Can you imagine?

With 40 volts of power this amazing tool can cut branches up to 3/4 of an inch thick. How cool is that? And with a 5-year hassle free warranty, I’m sure I’m going to enjoy using this trimmer for many years to come, literally slashing through the bushes in my yard and keeping them trim and tidy.

There’s just one problem. Without a battery, the trimmer won’t do a thing. Those 24 inch blades? Nada. If I don’t insert the battery, do you know how many strokes a minute I get? You got it. Zero. And cutting power? It won’t cut a leaf, much less a branch.

When it comes to spiritual matters, Paul the apostle says something very similar about us human beings. Without our “battery” we have no power at all to understand God, grasp God’s love and mercy, be in tune with God’s purpose and plan for our lives, or find the path that God has laid out for us to join him in heaven.

What is the “battery”? The battery is the Holy Spirit. Who “installs” the Holy Spirit so that we have power to grasp spiritual matters and have a faith relationship to Jesus? God does. The Holy Spirit comes from the Father and the Son.

And this process of installation is not nearly as mystical as it is practical. The Holy Spirit is “installed” in our hearts when we read the Bible, and when we make use of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

At the end of the day, when we are “plugged into” the word and sacraments, that’s how we get the power to trust in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, discover grace and forgiveness, lead a changed life, and inherit eternal life.

It’s vitally important for us to be “powered up.” So open the “box” for the battery (remember, you call it the Bible, or the sacraments). God will install the Holy Spirit from there. And the good news is, when the Holy Spirit is installed in our hearts and minds, all of us become spiritually powerful. Let’s just say I’m talking way more than 40 volts of spiritual power here.

Paul puts it this way: “But we have the mind of Christ.” How’s that for being powered up?

“However, as it is written: ‘What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived’—the things God has prepared for those who love him—these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. 

This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for, ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:9-16, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Thursday, August 6, is 1 Chronicles 22:2 – 23:32, 1 Corinthians 2:6-16 and Psalm 91:9-16.

Lord, thank you for your Holy Spirit. Keep me strong — not in my own power — but in his! I know that I am spiritually dead without your Spirit. I want to be alive in the Spirit, and strong to live out your purpose in my life.

Header image based on "Battery" by Quinn Andy Armstrong, CC By-SA 2.0

They Know

I have to imagine that he was choosing his words very carefully. This was Jesus’ “final shot” at teaching his disciples, reminding them of the things he wanted them to remember always.

He wanted them to know that although he would be leaving, he would return. He told them that he was returning to his Father, and that while he was there, he would be preparing places where the disciples would one day join him.

He assured them that he would listen to their prayers, and that great things would be done by them.

He promised them that he was not leaving them alone. No, he would send his Holy Spirit to live with them, to be their counselor and advisor, and to bring them confidence, joy and peace — whatever life might throw at them!

Jesus saved some of his most challenging and comforting words for that last meeting with his disciples. And those words are words we still need to hear today.

Jesus will return. That’s not guesswork or conjecture. It’s a certain promise from the Son of God himself.

Jesus hears our prayers. And he wants us to be confident and courageous knowing that we always have the ability to connect with him through prayer. We matter to him.

Jesus gives us his Spirit as we listen to the gospel and as we celebrate the sacraments. And the Holy Spirit continues to bring us confidence, joy and peace when life throws the kitchen sink at us.

Others may not be able accept this to be true. But the ones who have experienced this peace, this joy, this confidence in the face of adversity?

They know.

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you” (John 14:16-20, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Sunday, May 24, is 1 Samuel 14:24 – 15:35, John 14:1-31 and Proverbs 12:28 – 13:9.

Header image based on "fire" by Soreen D, CC By 2.0