Shopping Cart of Grace

crayons new“God made him (Jesus) who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NIV).

Recently I took my eleven-year-old son to purchase his back-to-school supplies. As we worked through our list of items, we played an informal game of matching the items from our list with the items on the store shelves. With the store becoming more crowded as we shopped, we wisely positioned our cart at the end of the aisle, leaving it unattended as we searched for our remaining supplies. Finally, we were finished and headed for the check-out line at the front of the store.

As the clerk scanned our items, we were distracted by the display of candy and the friendly glances of an elderly woman standing behind us in line. Unbeknownst to us, some of the items being scanned and placed in our shopping cart were not the ones we had chosen. Our bags were soon filled with a combination of school supplies for an eleven-year-old and the school supplies of a grad student. For fear that the friendly glances of the elderly woman would soon turn impatient, we hurriedly paid for our supplies, as well as the supplies of someone else, and left the store.

On our way home, we solved the mystery of the mixed-up school supplies. Apparently, about half-way through our shopping trip, I had mistakenly exchanged our shopping cart for the shopping cart of another. In the process, we sacrificed our water-color paints and pink erasers for college-ruled composition notebooks.

As I thought more about our mixed-up shopping trip, I was reminded of grace and how God made an intentional exchange with each of us. At the cross, Jesus took all our sin and traded it for his righteousness. He paid in full a cost that we could never pay.

As I think now about those pink erasers and water-color paints, the ones I had attempted to purchase for my son, I’m reminded of my scarlet-colored sin and Jesus’ blood-stained cross, and I’m thankful. I’m forgiven, and I’m free. I guess it took a shopping trip and the Holy Spirit to remind me of that!

Spirit Fruit – Kindness

fruit bananas strawberries blueberries new“And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:6-9, NIV).

Before we begin our study on kindness, let’s look at where we’ve been so far. The Apostle Paul wrote that “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…” (Galatians 5:22-23, NIV). As we live into the image of God, modeled best for us in Jesus, certain traits like the ones listed above naturally flow from our lives. To a certain extent, we as Christians can’t help but show the Spirit fruit.

Still, the truest form of each of these fruits is found in Jesus. And kindness is no exception. The grace extended to each of us from the cross of Jesus is truly a gift that we do not deserve. Yet, Jesus’ kindness made it possible.

As we put into practice kindness, may we lean on the example of Christ and his sacrifice for us. May we be motivated by love for one another as we joyfully serve. May we have peace and demonstrate patience. May there be a general goodness about us. May we be faithful to God and gentle in our manner of living. And may we always practice an extraordinary amount of self-control.

Thank you for learning about the Spirit fruit with me. May God bless you abundantly!

Spirit Fruit – Self-control

fruit lemons new“Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control” (Proverbs 25:28, NIV).

I must confess that, in discussing the fruits of the Spirit, I’ve waited until the very end of our series to discuss self-control. Alright, I guess I still have kindness and patience to talk about, but those are fairly easy topics. I’d like to say that the reason for my delay in addressing self-control is that I was intentionally putting it into practice – or at least practicing the fruit of patience! But, quite honestly, I’ve put the topic of self-control off for so long because, for me, it’s one of the more challenging fruits of the Spirit to live out. Maybe it is for you as well.

We must recognize that the problem of self-control has plagued man ever since he took his first steps in the Garden of Eden. In fact, it could be argued that the first recorded sin in the Bible, Adam and Eve’s disobedience, came about due to a lack of self-control. Our ancient ancestors were told they could eat from any of the trees in the garden except one. And this is the one tree they just couldn’t resist.

The good news is that Jesus dealt with our inability to practice self-control and all its sinful implications. He is our ultimate example of self-control. The Bible says that Jesus was “…tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15, NIV). And he chose intentionally to take our sin all the way to the cross. We now stand forgiven and free.

By God’s Spirit, who lives in us, we have a power that is greater than ourselves. May we continually put into practice the Spirit fruit of self-control!

Spirit Fruit – Faithfulness

fruit orange in water“God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:9, NIV).

Faithfulness is one of the nine fruits of the Spirit listed in Paul’s letter to the church at Galatia (Galatians 5:22-23). Faithfulness is the language of love and relationship. Faithfulness is built upon loyalty, obedience, and staying true to God as our first love.

Recently, I wrote about Jesus’ miracle of turning water into wine. I think it fits well with this discussion on faithfulness. So, I am quoting myself here. Don’t worry, I’ve given myself permission! Here’s what I wrote:

“I doubt that it’s any coincidence that Jesus’ first recorded miracle took place at a wedding banquet where he changed water into wine. Wedding imagery, after all, is used to describe Jesus’ sacrificial relationship with the Church, the community of all believers. Through such imagery, Jesus is portrayed as the adoring groom and the Church, his lovely bride. Having entered a covenant relationship with one another, each has vowed faithfulness. Often, her wayward heart will wander, and her eyes will gaze longingly upon another, but Jesus is fully committed to his bride and the vows he has made to her. He is in this relationship for the long haul and will honor her for better or for worse. Jesus will remain faithful to the Church in life and death, even death upon a cross.”

To me, this is an accurate summation of faithfulness. As sinful human beings, we often struggle with our side of the faithfulness equation when it comes to God. We look for meaning elsewhere. We falter and stray and flat-out cheat on our otherwise committed relationship with Christ. But, God is always faithful and continually strives to rebuild our sin-strained relationship.

God would never ask us to practice faithfulness if he wasn’t first committed to faithfulness himself. May this Spirit fruit continue to grow in each of us.

Spirit Fruit – Gentleness

fruit kiwi new“…Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…” (1 Peter 3:15, NIV).

Today we are considering the Spirit fruit of gentleness. In order that we might better understand what Paul means by gentleness, we need to first look at what gentleness is not. Gentleness does not mean weakness, for God’s very power lives in each of us. Further, gentleness is not defined as timidity or indifference, as we are called as followers of Jesus to stand against oppression and injustices of all kinds. Gentleness does not mean a lack of integrity, indecisiveness, or fearful hesitation. Rather, the fruit of gentleness finds its sweetness in Christian love and compassion, understanding and empathy.

In the passage above, Paul presumes that we will have divine opportunities to tell others about our faith. But, he says we should do so with “…gentleness and respect…” (1 Peter 3:15, NIV). Perhaps you’ve witnessed the opposite of this form of evangelism in your own life. At times, Christian gentleness has been replaced by evangelistic bullying. Respect has been set aside for nothing short of a “holy” guilt trip. The invitation to experience life in Christ has been exchanged for judgement and the threats of Hell-fire and brimstone.

Again, Paul stresses respect in our dealings with those who have not yet experienced faith and life in Jesus. And the Holy Spirit blesses us ever-increasingly with the Spirit fruit of gentleness.

Spirit Fruit – Goodness

fruit strawberries new“With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith” (2 Thessalonians 1:11, NIV).

Goodness is one of the nine spiritual fruits listed by the Apostle Paul in Galatians Chapter Five. Like the other fruits of the Spirit, goodness flows from the life of the believer. Goodness is observable in the Christian as he lives out his faith.

Almost every occasion that the word “goodness” appears in Scripture, however, it is in relation to God’s goodness. Rarely is it used in referring to humans, except for when Christians are being addressed. Perhaps this is because humans, at their very core, are not by nature good, but sinful. It’s only when God changes the human heart that man begins to demonstrate real goodness.

In the first days of Creation, God remarked that the Earth and all that he had formed was good. As we are recreated to be more in the image of the Creator God who is the personification of goodness, we model this Spirit fruit in our lives.

Spirit Fruit – Peace

fruit cherries new“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18, NIV).

In the verse above, Paul includes not one, but two conditional statements when it comes to living at peace with others. First, he writes, “If it is possible…”, then “…as far as it depends on you…” (Romans 12:18, NIV). Undoubtedly, Paul recognized the difficulty in putting into practice the Godly trait of peace.

Indeed, peace is a challenging concept to live out. Nations struggle to maintain peace. Our relationships with one another are burdened by a lack of peace.

Still, I believe that God would not command us to live at peace with one another if he wasn’t willing to live at peace with us. He modeled the ultimate form of peace in Jesus by “…making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:20, NIV). You see, our hearts are naturally hostile toward God. We are not peacemakers by nature. But God took the first step by sending his Son as a sort of peace offering. Through Jesus’ sacrifice we have peace with God. And by God’s Spirit, we are gifted the ability to live at peace with one another.