Galatians 5 includes an amazing verse that tells us about the fruit of the spirit which it tells us are "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control."
My hope is that I will see in my own life evidence of these fruit growing in my actions daily. That I will find I am naturally growing in my ability to love, growing in my capacity for finding joy, growing in my desire for peace, growing in my love for peace, growing in my desire to show kindness, growing in my care for goodness, growing in my passion for faithfulness to God, growing in my ability to show gentleness and growing in my ability to have self-control. But the reality is that those things are not something I can grit and force, they come from God's growth in my heart and are an outpouring of his life growing within me.
But, strangely, while most Christians desire to see these fruit grow in most parts of their lives...we sometimes see them resist the fruit in certain zones and call them off limits?
For example, a normally kind Christian might turn into a cursing maniac at a sporting event who yells obscenities at the ref who makes a "bad" call. Or a normally peaceful Christian might flip a switch and flip the bird at another driver who cuts them off in traffic. Or a normally self controlled follower might forget all about the teachings of Jesus on loving their enemies when they encounter a person from the other political party and start shouting at them in un-Christlike ways online.
Why do we think that a sporting event, the steering wheel or the keyboard are fruit free zones? There is no place where the Spirit of God does not seek to dwell with us! To be a follower of Jesus means to follow Him always...even in the places where we would rather go alone, do our own thing or say what we want to say.
So I encourage you to do a Heart Check. Not a literal one with a stethoscope, but an emotional and spiritual one. Dig deep into your heart and see if there are places where you have tried to tell the Holy Spirit they cannot go. Have you told God there are places or times or things that He cannot change...that are off limits? If so, you need to submit those to Him and his transforming power too!
My wife and I plant a small garden each year. They are just a few small beds with tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, strawberries and a few other things; but we enjoy the fresh produce it brings and the joy of seeing it grow.
But, I don't enjoy the weeding and the watering it requires if we have a dry spell. I'd rather the Lord provide rain (at night if possible) so that I can skip the watering (and save money too).
In my devotional today I read from Jeremiah 17 which says, "Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit."
If we are constantly having to seek nourishment from ourselves (self help books, meditation, yoga, darkness retreats like the one that Aaron Rogers just went on...), we will always be thirsty; but if we can plant ourselves near the stream of living water...then we will never thirst and never run dry.
Marie Kondo became famous several years ago as a Japanese home organizational consultant who encouraged people to minimize their possessions and keep their homes very tidy by only keeping things that "sparked joy" in their lives. Her ideas swept America as people got rid of items trying to find order in their homes.
Recently, Marie made the news again in an interview when she admitted that as a parent she had basically given up on those same ideas. She said after the birth of her third child, "my home is messy, but the way I am spending my time is the right way for me at this stage of my life."
Like many of us, Marie has had to embrace the mess of parenthood. Kids are a blessing, but they make messes. They spill, they track in mud, they play with toys...and it creates chaos in what might be an otherwise clean home. And that is ok. Life is better with a bit of mess. It means that your life is well loved.
The same is true in church. People are messy, but they are worth the mess. If you create a church where people can be real and honest about their lives, they will bring in their mess (sin, struggles, temptations, emotions, frustrations, conflicts...) and that will be messy sometimes; but that is what it takes to create a real community of faith. I suppose we could pretend we have it all together and that our church is just a perfect place made of perfect people...but it wouldn't be real and no real life change would ever happen; plus the people who really need Jesus would stay away.
Remember, Jesus welcomed sinners and ate with them. It was messy. But, their lives were transformed as a result.
So, embrace the mess. The Church shouldn't be a museum for saints, but a hospital for sinners. Now, hospitals don't leave people the way they are...we seek to heal people; but we do accept the sick and help to make them whole.
So bring on the mess. Be honest. Be real. We will have the broom ready because Jesus calls us to embrace the mess.
I admit I am stubborn. I like things how I like them. If I know how to do something one way, I will likely do it that way forever. So, they might invent a new way, but I'll be slow to adopt it because the old way still works. For example, I still like to preach from paper while many of my peers use an Ipad. If I go to a restaurant, I am likely to order the same thing I always get rather than try something new. I see this as wisdom, the whole "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" kind of wisdom...but some call me stubborn; which is also true.
But some things don't change and we shouldn't try to change them. One of those is God's word. While styles come and go (bell bottoms aren't popular much anymore, but hey, they could always make a comeback), the Bible is unchanging. Some will try to argue that if we open our minds and try to see it in a new way or through a certain lens, we can adapt our understanding to allow for new ways of thinking...but often this is just an excuse to conform to society rather than to be transformed by God.
No, the word of God stands forever.
Isaiah 40:8 says, "the grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever."
It is not up to us to say what is good or bad, right or wrong; that is up to God and found in his word; and his word is unchanging. Society will change, culture will change; but God doesn't change and his word doesn't change.
We must stand strong on his truth, while speaking it with love, but never bending our convictions to the world.
Jesus trained his disciples intentionally and well for over three years in a variety of ways. He taught them, showed them, gave them hands on experience in the field and then commissioned them with clear instructions to take this message to "all nations"...and yet they almost missed the mission because of one fatal flaw in their bias. They thought the good news was just for their kind.
You see, the Jewish people (children of Abraham) were "God's chosen people" and while this is clearly true, it didn't mean what they thought it meant. If you go all the way back to Genesis 12, God told Abraham that he was blessed to "be a blessing". He wasn't supposed to keep the blessing for himself or his family or even his descendants alone; but for all people. He was supposed to share his knowledge of God with the whole world; but alas, they did not. They hid their light under a bushel basket.
But now, Jesus is restating the mission once more, take it to all the world. But the disciples are Jewish and they still see the world through this same bias. It is hard for them to let go of this way of thinking that people would need to become "like us" in order to be saved. In fact, they almost miss the mission of God because of their stubborn persistence that people conform first and be saved second...but that's not how God works. We don't get to tell God who is in or who is out, His spirit moves where it pleases and in who it pleases. We can't draw lines on a map and keep God in.
I urge you not to make the same mistake. Don't miss the mission that God is calling you to because you try to limit God. Nobody is ever too far for God to reach. God's love can overcome any barrier or line we might draw. So never give up. Be open to any move of God's spirit. If He moves, even in unlikely places or with unlikely people, be ready.