You will know them by their fruit

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Jesus warns us about false prophets, saying: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  You will know them by their fruits” (Matt 7:15-16).

But what is that fruit?

Fruit is the outward evidence of the inward seed. So, for instance, if you have the seed for a plum tree, and it grows, it will produce plums.  A banana tree will produce bananas.  You know that it’s a plum tree and not a banana tree by looking at the fruit.

Sometimes this takes a little discernment.  The difference between a plum and a pluot, for instance, isn’t so significant that you could immediately see it unless you were adequately familiar with both.  So, to discern God’s fruit, we need to spend time getting to know Him lest we get caught in something that seems true but isn’t.

And if we want to produce God’s fruit, we must first have His seed (a foundation of intimacy with Him).

It’s not the outward things we do that evidence the seed (you can give to charity, feed the poor, love animals, etc whether or not you know God), but it’s the outward manifestations of the inward things (the deep Joy that can’t help but bubble over, the true Peace regardless of circumstance…) that point out whether our fruit is good or bad.

My husband and I were watching the church sermon of a leader we’d never seen before.  We’d heard really good things about this speaker, but when we heard him speak it was clear that he wasn’t preaching through the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22-23; Eph 5:9).  Instead of the joy and peace of the Holy Spirit, we distinguished anger, hostility and offense–even though he was quoting the Bible.

You see, it’s not just about what people say–in this case, much of the sermon was from an adequate Biblical perspective.  What matters more is the spirit in which the message is given.  We don’t want to graft ourselves into the wrong tree by allowing ourselves to be mislead by someone who isn’t connected with the Lord’s heart.

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Does God love everyone?

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God not only loves everyone, but He loves all of us with the same fervor with which He loves Jesus!!!  Jesus Himself tells us that “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in my love” (John 15:9)!

Isn’t this excellent!?!  There is nothing we can do to fall out of the love of God.  He can’t love us more and He can’t love us less.  His love is already at full saturation for us whether or not we know Him or have pursued a relationship with Him!

We may not always feel like He likes us (let alone loves us), but this is a lack of perspective on our part.  God sees us within an eternal perspective: He knows where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going.  So, we can’t let our circumstances convince us that God doesn’t care.  God does allow us (and in some cases, causes us) to go through difficult circumstances in order to expose our weaknesses that we might cry out to Him.  He wants a relationship with us.  He wants to be a Father to us.  And because He knows the eternal consequences for our choices, He will do whatever it takes to shake us now so that when eternity comes we might receive His full blessing.

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What’s the point of Jesus?

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God created.  His creations chose to sin (disobey God).  The world was no longer good.  But God STILL wanted a relationship with us, so He chose the smallest and weakest of the people groups (the Jews) and gave them extraordinary favor that they may demonstrate His glory to the nations.  God always wanted the nations, but He chose the Jews to be the evangelical messengers.

To the Jews, God made four covenants (with Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David).  In the covenant with Moses, God gave 613 commands for His people to follow, and the idea was that by acting out righteousness, their hearts would begin to manifest a burning desire for God.  Unfortunately (and quite fortunately for us gentiles!), there were very few Jewish people who really developed that love.  And sacrifice without love is meaningless.  That’s where Jesus comes in.

Jesus is God.  He’s the physical representation of the invisible God (Col 1:15).  He’s the outward manifestation–the exact representation–of God (Heb 1:3).  And He’s God’s Son (Matt 3:17, Matt 17:5, Mark 9:7, Luke 9:35).

When God saw that the Jewish people struggled to keep His commandments and develop true love for Him, He spoke to His prophets about a new covenant that He would bring.  The new covenant would allow the people to really connect with Him because His commandments would be written on their hearts (internally) instead of on stone (externally).  And though Christians are still to follow the commands of the Lord, Jesus promises that we would find rest for our souls, for His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matt 11:29-30).

Jesus came to earth for several reasons (He tells us many in the gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).  But these I want to highlight:

Without Jesus, it would be impossible for us to overcome; but when He died, was buried, and was resurrected for our sins, He also sent power through the Holy Spirit that we may intimately connect with Him and the Father (John 16:7).  It is such a powerful promise that we would be able to intimately communicate with the God of the universe!

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What is heaven like?

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The church has done a pretty good job of making heaven sound un-ideal and hell sound horrific–or at least, this was my impression as a young kid.  I’d envision heaven as clouds and harps and angels, and I’d imagine myself getting so tired having to live forever, that I’d wish it were possible to just die.  Only I didn’t want to die, because, what if I went to hell!

As a slightly older kid, someone told me that heaven was different for everyone: we’d all get our unique paradise filled with all the things and people we loved most.

I don’t remember that Jesus was visibly connected with heaven in my mind, though certainly the idea was that when someone who says they’re a Christian (or was nice) dies, they would “go to heaven to be with Jesus.”

The Bible actually says quite a bit about what’s to come in eternity, and it doesn’t line up (at all!) with what Sunday school taught me–hopefully there are Christians who have had a more positive experience.

As it turns out, the next age is actually very exciting and worth looking forward to for those who have accepted Jesus as Lord and are actively cultivating that relationship!

If you have never studied this (by study I mean: prayerful dialog with the Holy Spirit as you read the Bible), it may be an area you want to search the scriptures for.  I especially suggest reading through the gospels for what Jesus says, and through the Book of Revelation, which is God’s end time battle plan. :)

Here’s the gist of it (to be expanded on later, part by part):

Hell is real, but was created for Satan and the other fallen angels and demons.  God does not want any of us to go there–in fact, He wants to make us heirs to His kingdom!–but, He’s also just, and so those who don’t want Him as their Lord, will not be able to inherit His promises.  Also, Satan doesn’t rule in hell, he’s tormented there; hell won’t be a party for ‘bad’ people.

Heaven will not be about us, but will be centered around God, who is loving and worthy of all praise.  The more we read the Bible and begin to understand who God is, the more attractive it is that we would have the privilege of eternally worshiping the Lord.

But there’s more: Jesus is coming back to earth to fulfill the prophecies as the Jewish Messiah.  There is ‘heaven’ now with God the Father, but the ultimate goal is that Jesus would reign on the earth and bring heaven with Him (a perfect unity of the spiritual and physical).  The heavens and earth will be made new, and there will be plenty of excitement for us, as the saints from history gather to rule with Jesus!

Hallelujah!

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Stop indulging the flesh

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One of the best ways to grow spiritually is to stop indulging the flesh.

Paul writes:

And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men…for you were not yet able to receive it.  Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?  For when one says, ‘I am of Paul,’ and another, ‘I am of Apollos,’ are you not mere men? (1 Corinthians 3:1-4)

It sounds like the church in Corinth struggled primarily with envy, offense, and division (putting more emphasis on earthly leaders than Jesus Himself).  But whatever our personal battles, when we get rid of the things of the flesh, we have more room in us for things of the Spirit.  We also clear ourselves of the ‘static’ of the world, so that we can better focus on God and His voice.

So how do we get rid of the stubborn parts of our flesh?

  • We continually make an active choice in our hearts to submit to God and war against our flesh (through prayer, deliberate choice, and maybe even the intervention of other Christians)—the point isn’t whether we are initially successful, but that we earnestly and diligently desire righteousness
  • We  stop feeding our lusts by choosing not to do, watch, read or listen to the “permissible” things that are preventing us from fully focusing on the Lord
  • We welcome the conviction of the Holy Spirit and desire to work out our salvation with fear and trembling through repentance
  • In fact, we ask the Lord to search our hearts, that we may be purified–as we repent–of hidden fleshly desires
  • We abide in His Word and immerse ourselves in His truth so that we continue to grow in righteous qualities (2 Peter 1:5-8)

In my own life, I’ve found that the more I pursue the Lord and consider Him in my everyday choices, the freer I become and the easier it is to walk more in His Spirit and less in my flesh.  Jesus’ grace gives us the power to choose righteousness, so let’s discipline our bodies and lay aside every encumbrance that we may effectively run the race set before us (1 Cor 9:24-27, Heb 12:1-2).

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Creative ways to read the Bible without a devotional book

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Who wants to spend $15 on a devotional book when you can read the Bible in a fulfilling way for free! :)

Here’s a list of some of my favorite ways to get more out of the Word of God.  And remember, it’s the Holy Spirit’s job to guide you into all truth (John 14:26 & John 16:13), so remember to pray for His help before you read!

The prayer I typically pray is: “Holy Spirit, help me to understand everything I read today and write the words of scripture on my heart. Give me wisdom, and help me to gain a better understanding of Jesus so I can be a faithful witness to Him.”

If you’re a young Christian:

Start reading the Bible at the beginning of the New Testament; this is where Jesus’ life and teachings are described, so it’s the most relevant for Christians. Jesus’ time on earth is described in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (which are called the Gospels). John has a bit more theology and is harder to understand, so I recommend starting with one of the other three. The first time I read the Bible with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, I started in Luke, then went back to Matthew and read the whole New Testament in order.

For the more mature Christian:

Make it a treasure hunt. Remember how Proverbs says to search for wisdom like precious gold and silver? I’ve found it really satisfying to search the Bible for the answer to a particular question. For instance: “What has Jesus commanded Christians to do?”, “What does the Bible promise?”, “How did David worship the Lord?” And then prayerfully search the scriptures for as much wisdom as you can glean. -Or- ask the Lord to give you the question AND the answer! (Those seeking wisdom really excite the Lord!)

Focus on one book. Many Bible studies do this, but it’s even better to do it on your own. I recommend reading the book over and over and over again, paying attention to the big picture first (who is writing the book to whom and why? Can anything be gleaned about the historical context?), then the smaller details (what is the Holy Spirit speaking to you personally?). Since the books were written as individual units, it is essential we also read them that way.

Focus on one author or audience. Read and compare Paul’s letters, or all of John’s writings.  Or focus on one church (say Ephesus), or one people group (say the Philistines) and follow that audience through the scriptures.

Make a comparison. Try comparing one book to another (say, Genesis to Revelation, or 1 Cor to 2 Cor).  It can be especially interesting to see how the Old Testament mirrors the New.  Or watch to see how different apostles reveal unique aspects of the same mysteries.

Ask for divine guidance. One of the easiest ways to practice hearing and identifying the voice of the Holy Spirit is to ask Him where in the Bible to read and then pause and listen for what He says. He will absolutely tell you something! Dig deep in prayer and wait for His voice! Often He’ll take you to surprisingly relevant and personal truths!

Look for Jesus. Every story in the Bible points to Jesus, and reveals something unique about the nature of God. Pick a chunk of scripture or a book and start praying that the Holy Spirit would allow you to know Jesus in a deeper way.  You could even ask specifically, “Holy Spirit, show me how this passage reveals Jesus’ first (or second) coming,” or, “Holy Spirit, reveal a facet of the Father’s nature that I’ve never seen before.”

Take it slow. Read a very small portion (especially of something already somewhat familiar so you don’t accidentally take it out of context) and meditate on it throughout the day, or during a “quiet time” with the Lord.

Pray the scriptures. It can be really powerful to connect to God by agreeing and proclaiming what He’s already spoken in His word. You could do this by praying a Psalm, or one of the prayers of the saints already recorded in the Bible. Or you could turn something else into a prayer. For instance, take the words Jesus spoke and start dialoging with Him about them, and proclaiming and pledging your allegiance to Him and His wisdom.

Pick a historic time period. For example, strive to learn us much as you can about the church right after Jesus ascended into heaven, or the building of the first temple, or the time of the first Diaspora, and then search the scriptures for everything pertaining to that specific time (including those looking back, or prophesying forward, to the time period of interest). If you were looking to understand the time of the building of the second temple, for instance, you could read Ezra, Nehemiah and even parts of Daniel and Isaiah.

Other Ideas:

  • I like to write, underline and highlight in my Bible so that I know what I was thinking at various times I was reading. Sometimes I’ll put question marks in the columns or write out what I don’t understand–the next time I read the passage I am often pleasantly surprised that the Lord has addressed my concern or question.
  • Keep a journal to record what the Lord is showing and teaching you.
  • Use a website like blueletterbible.org or biblegateway.com to analyze the Biblical language on a word level or to check out other translations of the Bible.
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It’s a spiritual battle

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Last night and earlier today I was under intense spiritual attack.  It began after I’d experienced great victory with the Lord, and it was so sudden and unexpected that I was feeling weak, depressed, lonely, physically sick, exhausted, …, all at once and couldn’t quite remember how to deal with it (even though I counsel my good friends on spiritual warfare on a regular basis).

I reached out to a few people for prayer, I considered that I should be praying for strength, or taking authority over the lies of the enemy, and yet I continued to engage negative thoughts and wallow.

Then a friend spoke to me and mentioned something like, “it’s okay, we all feel down sometimes”.  I can’t explain what happened in my spirit, but it was like Truth rose up inside me and my spirit shouted, “No! It’s not true!  It’s a spiritual battle!  I’ve been up against this before and won!”

Too often we give our flesh credit for what is happening in the spiritual realm.  But Ephesians 6:12 says “Our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”  When we feel anger, or sadness, or fear, or hopelessness or any other negative thought it is a spiritual thing.  There are deceptive spirits speaking lies to us.  It doesn’t matter how believable those negative thoughts may seem–they are all lies!

But 2 Corinthians 10 encourages us that if we have chosen Jesus Christ as our Lord, then we have spiritual weapons available to us through the Holy Spirit: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses.”

Our job is to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5).  When we hear ourselves thinking a thought that is in any way negative or outside the nature of our Lord, we choose to cast it aside.  We recognize that it’s false, claim the truth, and let the truth sink into our spirits setting us free (Phil 4:8).

This is exactly what I chose to do this evening, and I’ll testify that there is nothing better than the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23), and complete freedom in the Lord.  If you’re a Christian, this is absolutely available to you all the time, no matter the circumstance; but you do have to choose to resist the temptation and lies of the devil!

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Different parts of the body

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Some months ago, I found myself comparing myself to another Christian.  I began to feel like my gifts weren’t as useful as hers, and coveted the skill set of my dear friend.  Then the Holy Spirit immediately spoke to me, giving me this illustration:

The Lord is creating His body to be like a buffet table of choice desserts.  There are cakes, and cookies, and pastries, and pies–desserts of every kind!  And within each type is are many unique varieties; not one dessert is exactly the same though some are more similar to others while some are quite unique.

Each recipe has its own unique ingredients–some are more basic, while others exotic.  And each must be made in a particular order so that it can come out just perfectly.  It would be a terrible mistake for one to get sugar prematurely, or too much flour, or to be baked as a bare pan…

You, beloved, cannot compare yourself to another because your recipe is entirely different.  Only the Lord knows the recipe, and it’s Him who is preparing you.  Have faith!  Stop resisting and objecting to His perfect plan!

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God is Love; What is Love?

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The Bible says that God is Love (1 John 4:8, 16).  The Greek word for this particular kind of love is ‘agape’ meaning ‘unconditional love’–a love without cause.  But we know the pure essence of this love can’t be found in earthly language (even Greek!) because it’s representing a  spiritual entity, so the better place to find what this means is in the rest of the scriptures.

Song of Solomon 8:6 says that love is as strong as death, it’s jealousy as severe as Sheol, and its flashes are flashes of fire–the very flame of the Lord! Love is the flame of the Lord!  This is a pretty intense Love!!  We should be praying into this!  It’s also interesting that love and jealously go together!  (The Lord’s jealousy, by-the-way, is like ‘passion’ and ‘zeal’, rather than ‘envy’ or ‘covetousness’.)

The Lord, being Love, is jealous for our hearts!!  He will never stop pursuing and refining us because He wants ALL of us!

In Hosea, the prophet Hosea is told by God to marry a prostitute.  She keeps running away from him, and even bears another man’s child, but Hosea continues to chase her and bring her back.  This is the same love that our Lord shows, and, in fact, Hosea’s story is a living demonstration of God’s love for the Jewish people who He chose and will never forsake.

But whether Jewish or not, God has this same burning desire for all people.  God will do whatever it takes to get our attention (just as a suitor who is passionately wooing his beloved).  Unfortunately this also means that if our attention is set on another (any fleshly love or secular pursuit), then He may have to get our attention in a way that’s uncomfortable to us–not because He doesn’t love us, but because He DOES!

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An explanation of the “body of Christ”

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Christians are often talking about “the body of Christ” and how ‘the church’ is to be and act as His body.  I can’t recall that I’ve ever heard anyone ‘define’ this in a helpful way, which makes sense since different circles of ‘the church’ have an unspoken connotation of this lingo within their communities.

So, I’m going to do my best to articulate what “the body of Christ” means.  I think this is actually very profound. :)

Jesus came to earth as a man. He was fully God, but fully man.  And, being fully man, He had a “man” body rather than a “God” body (in fact, He still has a “man” body of sorts–though now a resurrected body).

Jesus was also fully walking in the Holy Spirit (read the gospels carefully to see this), which is how He could not and did not sin (1 John 3:6, 9).  And Jesus had all the spiritual gifts, and all power, and all authority, and all wisdom through the Spirit… Most Christians, I think, know this about Jesus, but haven’t put much thought into it.  The point, essentially, is that He is the fullness of “man”–the only one found worthy (Rev 5).

Okay, so anyone who calls themself a Christian is (or at least has the invitation to be) a member of ‘the church’, which is also called ‘the body of Christ’.

What this means is that, as a collective unit, we will embody Jesus.

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul uses the metaphor of how each Christian represents a part (or member) of “Christ’s body”‘–this is a more literal description than I’d realized.

See, Jesus had all the spiritual gifts for Himself.  We each have one, or a few, or a bunch–whatever the Lord has blessed us with (and given us responsibility over).  Together, we will have all of the gifts to the full extent that Jesus Himself had them! That’s what it means that we are His body!

Jesus had all power and all authority, and He passed that mantle down to us (commanding us to walk as He walked!).  But only together will we have the strength and power worthy to be the “bride” of the King!

Jesus had the ability to stay in the Spirit, whereas we have “on” and “off” moments as we fight out the spiritual battle before us.  He never sinned because He walked in the Spirit, while we would be lying if we said we had that same fullness in the Spirit (1 John 1:8).  But as “the body of Christ” we will learn to walk in righteousness, and the members of the body left when our Lord comes will have made themselves holy and unblemished as the collective bride (Rev 19:7).

We can’t accomplish the fullness of Christ individually.  But if we AREN’T individually pursuing and cultivating a love for the Lord, godly character, wisdom, and the stirring of our spirits to walk worthy of our personal callings through our spiritual gifts, then the body of Christ will arise as His bride without us!  We’ll find we aren’t one of the members of His body.

Let’s spend the time to learn from Him on our own, so we can fulfill our unified calling as “the body”!

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