The agony of waiting – Fruit of the Spirit: Patience, Preview

In December my daughter turned 16, and we went to the PennDOT Driver’s License Center at East Town Mall so she could take her permit test.  We walked in the front door, and she received her number from the receptionist.  At the far side of the large waiting room, we found seats near the bank of computers used for permit tests.  Then we did what you do in waiting rooms.  We waited for her number to be called.  The system announced number after number over the loudspeakers, as screens displayed the number of the person being served.  We waited as other numbers were called, and we waited some more.

I started feeling the need to use the restroom, but I didn’t want to go in case my daughter’s number was called.  So our waiting continued, with a growing unsettledness as people around us got up after hearing their number called.  We pulled out our phones to keep busy.  I thought that I should have brought my laptop to work on my dissertation.

My urge to use the men’s room steadily grew, and I began shifting in my seat like you do when you’re feeling discomfort.  We looked around trying to determine if people who arrived after us were having their number called before us.  It sure seemed like that was happening.  Was something wrong?  Did our number get skipped?  Should we get up and ask for help? 

As the minutes ticked by, I was now becoming very uncomfortable.  I got upset with myself, thinking that I should have gone to the restroom when I first felt the urge.  I would have been back with plenty of time to spare.  Now I was shifting in my seat and bouncing my feet, certain that if I ran to the bathroom now, my daughter’s number would be called while I was away. 

Have you been in that situation?  Waiting. The DMV is usually a good bet if you want to try your hand at patience.  But there are plenty of other experiences in life that force us to wait, often for much, much longer than the DMV.  Graduation from grade school is a 12+ year process.  Working for retirement usually requires decades.  How do you do with waiting?  Are you good at it?  Or not so good? What, or who, tries your patience?

In our continuing series on the Fruit of the Spirit, we are learning to walk in step with the Spirit, which means growing the Fruit of the Spirit in our lives.  We’ve learned about growing love, joy, and peace, and now this coming week we’ll study what it means to grow patience. 

Check back in on Monday, and we’ll get started.

Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

How to grow peace in your life – Fruit of the Spirit: Peace, Part 5

This week we welcome guest blogger, David Hundert, who is a Master of Divinity student at Evangelical Seminary in Myerstown, PA.

What I hope is that you will be able to walk away from these blog posts about peace and have peace; to be at peace with God. How do we do that? First, in Philippians 4:6-7, Paul writes,

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

To begin trusting in God, if you’ve never done that before, is really simple. Romans 10:9-10 states,

“If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.

“What does it mean to be “justified?” It means “just as if I’d never sinned.” You can have your relationship with the Lord restored. You can have peace with God. It’s right there for the asking.

If you’ve done that already and yet you still don’t have peace, ask the Lord to show you what it is that is in the way. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you what you need to confess to Him and then do it! Ask Him for forgiveness and enjoy that peace. He can restore that ability to walk in step with the Spirit and that peace will sprout in your life to overflowing!

If you’ve never asked Jesus into your heart and into your life, just comment below. You too, can have that peace in your life like none other. I promise you, that if you get into the wheelbarrow that Jesus is pushing, you will experience a life of peace like no other!

Photo by Joseph Chan on Unsplash

What is trust? – Fruit of the Spirit: Peace, Part 4

This week we welcome guest blogger, David Hundert, who is a Master of Divinity student at Evangelical Seminary in Myerstown, PA.

Charles Blondin was a world famous tightrope walker in the 1800s who decided that he wanted to be the first person to walk a tightrope stretched across Niagara Falls. During his first attempt crossing the 1,100 feet long span, 160 feet in the air, he made fun of hecklers by pretending to lose his balance and walking shakily across to the other side. All said and done, he went back and forth across the falls six times! Sometimes with a balance pole, sometimes not.

At one point, he took a chair halfway across, balanced it on the rope, and then sat on it on it and took a rest for a bit. He juggled “juggling pins” while walking back and forth. He even took a hot plate and made himself some food and ate lunch while balancing on the rope. Finally, he unveiled his big finale! He uncovered a wheelbarrow. Everyone cheered until he quieted the crowd.

As part of his finale, he asked for a volunteer to ride in the wheelbarrow. They
believed he could do it, but no one would trust him enough to get in.

To me, this is a lot like what the Lord did with the children of Israel. Think about it. He delivered them from the mightiest army of the day, delivering them from slavery in Egypt, and walking them right up to the mountain of God, all while parting a sea, providing light and protection at night and clouds, food and water by day.

When they believed Moses’ meeting with God on a mountain was taking too long, they turned away to a false, man-made god. Yet God still delivered them to the promise land, while feeding and provisioning them for 40 years! He defeated their
enemies for them! When they cried out, He answered. Every time God asked for their trust, even in the midst of all of these miracles, they wouldn’t get in the wheelbarrow.

Centuries later, the Jews struggled under their oppressors once more. They cried out to God, and He sent their Messiah. They wouldn’t believe it! In Matthew 16, verses 1-4, we read,

“The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to
show them a sign from heaven. He replied, ‘When evening comes, you say, “It will
be fair weather, for the sky is red,” and in the morning, “Today it will be stormy, for
the sky is red and overcast.” You know how to interpret the appearance of the
sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous
generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.’
Jesus then left them and went away.”

15 chapters of miracles preceded this conversation, and yet they still wanted more! Can you believe it? What was the sign of Jonah that Jesus was referring to? Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights! Jesus was in the tomb for three days and three nights… Did the religious leaders believe it then? Rather than give glory to God for the miracle of resurrection, they paid off the guards and told them to say the disciples took His body!

After Jesus’ ascension, Peter and John were dragged before the high priest and the rest of the religious leaders because the proclaimed Jesus’ resurrection and through them, the Holy Spirit healed a man. Again, the religious leaders refused to get in the wheelbarrow!

How about you? Have you placed your trust in God? Is there some way you could demonstrate a new or deeper trust in God today?

Finding peace like a child – Fruit of the Spirit: Peace, Part 3

This week we welcome guest blogger, David Hundert, who is a Master of Divinity student at Evangelical Seminary in Myerstown, PA.

What else does Jesus say about peace? In John 14:27, Jesus, in the midst of telling the disciples that he was going away, is trying to comfort them. Jesus states,

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Then first half of the very next verse, Jesus tells them that He is going away, but He is coming back! He wants them to trust. He leaves them with the peace of knowing that He will be back!

In Romans 5:1, Paul uses the same Greek word for peace that Jesus uses,

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The word here for “peace,” is the Greek word “irene,” a multifaceted word. In one definition it could mean “a state of concord, of peace and harmony.” If you think of it in terms of two governments, it would mean that they are at peace with each other. They’re not at war. It would mean that they are out of danger. On a personal level, “irene” could be harmony in personal relationships. Within the body of Christ, it could mean to have peace and rest. It’s used to encourage us to make peace, to strive to be at peace. “Irene” is a state of well-being. Most of all, it’s the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew word, “shalom”; welfare, health, harmony and everything else we discussed in previous posts.

Both Jesus and Paul are saying that since we have been justified through faith, if we trust Him, all of those synonyms for the word “peace” apply to us with our relationship with God through our Lord Jesus Christ! Can you imagine? We were once enemies with God, and now we are in harmony; we are in a state of concord, we are at peace with God.

I don’t know about you, but for me, that is really hard to grasp! Have you ever had that kind of peace in your life? Would you like that kind of peace in your life? How different would your life be right now if you could experience that kind of peace? More importantly, what would it take to obtain that kind of peace?

In the previous post, I mentioned that there were two analogies that the Lord uses a lot to describe that type of peace. The first is a shepherd, and the second one is that of a child. Think back for a minute when you were a child; did you have that kind of peace? What brought you peace as a child? Knowing that your basic needs were met? Knowing that you had no worries ahead? What does the Lord says about children?

In response to the disciples asking who will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, he says in Matthew 18:3-4,

Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

One of my commentaries states that this teaching focused on this one child is a model for true discipleship. To be a true disciple, we need to become like a child. What does it mean to become like a child? We all can’t turn back the clock as the Pharisee Nicodemus mentions, so we know Jesus didn’t mean to physically become like a child. Now I’ve heard that growing older is mandatory, but growing up is optional so mentally, there is an argument that can be made that some of us never grow up. I’d like to submit that the way that we become like children is in the way that we “trust.”

In the next post we take a look at trust.

Photo by MI PHAM on Unsplash

Trusting in God as Shepherd – Fruit of the Spirit: Peace, Part 2

This week we welcome guest blogger, David Hundert, who is a Master of Divinity student at Evangelical Seminary in Myerstown, PA.

In the previous post we learned that the first step to experiencing peace is to trust in God. But what does it mean to trust in God? There are two analogies that the Lord uses frequently to help us understand trust.

The first is that of a shepherd, and the second is a child. In this post, we’ll learn how to trust in God, our Shepherd.

In Scripture, God uses this one a lot because being a shepherd was common in biblical cultures. The other reason that he used the analogy of a shepherd is because it really does paint a beautiful picture of the kind of trust that leads to peace.

One of the most beautiful depictions of that kind of trust is Psalm 23 in the King James Version.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: And I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.”

Sheep have to trust their shepherd. They rely on their shepherd for everything. For sustenance, water, and safety.

I always wondered about the part of this Psalm that states “He leadeth me beside the still waters.” Why would the Lord make it a point that the waters were calm? A shepherd would know that. Well, I researched this question and discovered that sheep will die from thirst before drinking from a fast moving stream. Sheep have reason to fear the running water because they cannot swim very well. Thrown into a deep, fast moving river, sheep will most likely die. The shepherd wants to keep his sheep safe. So he leads them to still water.

Jesus says in John 10:11-15,

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.”

The sheep trust their shepherd, and as a result they live out their lives in peace.

What else does Jesus say about peace? We’ll learn more in the next post.

Photo by Antonello Falcone on Unsplash

What is Shalom? – Fruit of the Spirit: Peace, Part 1

This week we welcome guest blogger, David Hundert, who is a Master of Divinity student at Evangelical Seminary in Myerstown, PA.

As I’ve been going through my studies, the one thing that I’ve really been enjoying is using the tools available to me to do word studies. Now, I do have a confession to make. When I was in high school, I actually failed my senior English class and had to retake it in order to graduate with the rest of my class. I must say, English grammar is a real struggle for me. I tell people that my native language, and those that know me well would agree, is sarcasm. I can’t necessarily offer words of wisdom, but I can offer you a sarcastic comment! However, I’ve really been enjoying the study of individual words in Scripture. Have you ever really given any thought as to how a single word, or the lack thereof, can completely alter the meaning of a sentence? For instance, take the old worship song, “Through it all…”

Through it all
Through it all
I’ve learned to trust in Jesus
I’ve learned to trust in God

I mean, what would happen, if we added one little word? What if we were to add the word, “up”? That changes the whole meaning, the whole trajectory of the song, right? Okay, so maybe trajectory is the wrong word there… You know, I need to quit while I’m behind!

So, let’s just agree that words are important. The last two weeks, we looked at two different words from Galatians 5 verses 22 and 23:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance (which is another way of saying patience), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

Over the last two weeks, we’ve learned that if we walk in step with the Spirit, we will do two things. First, we will crucify the acts of the sinful nature and second, we will leave room for the Spirit to grow His fruit in our lives. In Galatians 5:22-23, the word, “fruit” is a singular noun. The Holy Spirit desires to grow all of these characteristics in our lives; it’s a total package. The first two characteristics of this fruit that we looked at is love and joy. As we walk in step with the Spirit, He equips us to love ourselves and to love our neighbors in the same way. We also learned that joy is a state of happiness and well-being and that as we walk in step with the Spirit, our joy will increase.

This week we are going to take a look at the next characteristic this fruit contains and that is “Peace.” First, in Isaiah, chapter 26, verse 3, we’re going to take a look at some of the things that Scripture says about peace.

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.

The word peace is translated from the Hebrew word, shalom. Shalom is defined as “completeness, soundness, welfare, peace, safety, soundness in body, health, prosperity, to be well with, tranquility, contentment. What is it that the author states that we need to do for all this to be ours? We need to “Trust in…” God. What does that kind of trust look like?

In the next post we’ll learn more!


The “Gate” scandals and the problem of peace – Fruit of the Spirit: Peace, Preview

You know that image of US President Richard Nixon stepping off the presidential helicopter flashing peace signs with both hands?  It’s a classic moment in US history, as Nixon had recently been on a diplomacy trip to China, an extremely rare feat for presidents before and after. It was quite a successful trip, and upon arriving home a photographer snapped the photo of a triumphant Nixon.  What I have learned since, however, is that Nixon often flashed the double-V peace sign, raising his arms in the shape of a V, using his hands to make two more Vs. 

You and I are more accustomed to people making a single V sign as way to communicate, “Peace.”  For Nixon, it was much more likely that he meant the sign to say, “Victory!”  Sadly, for Nixon, and for the United States, his victory led to the opposite of peace.  After being caught cheating the rules of the election, he was impeached and resigned in August 1974.  Better known as the Watergate scandal, named after the hotel where the illegal activity occurred, Nixon’s legacy is one of turmoil.  In fact, stemming from Nixon’s “original sin,” the word “gate” is now tacked onto scandals of all kinds.  When NFL quarterback Tom Brady used slightly deflated footballs, which was against league rules, we called it “Deflategate.”  Wikipedia has a page dedicated to the hundreds of other “Gate” scandals in sports, politics and culture.  The “Gates” scandals are a reminder that so often our world lacks peace. 

What is peace? And how do we grow peace amid the scandals, anxieties, pressures and frustrations of the world.  Jesus once said to his disciples, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  I love that, but I also have to admit that there are plenty of times when I still don’t feel peace.  We Christians say things like, “I can’t imagine not having a relationship with Jesus.  I don’t know how people who aren’t Christians get through the hard times in life.”  And yet, if we’re honest, we Christians can really struggle with a lack of peace sometimes. 

In our continuing series on the Fruit of the Spirit, we are learning to walk in step with the Spirit, which means growing the Fruit of the Spirit in our lives.  We’ve learned about growing love and joy, and this coming week we’ll study what it means to grow peace. 

How to grow joy – Fruit of the Spirit: Joy, Part 5

Joy is a deep inner stability from the Lord, gained in his presence. 

My wife Michelle told me the story of a conversation she had the other day with one of the women she works with.  The woman has resettled here in Lancaster, along with her husband and two kids.  They fled the African country of Eritrea, spending years in a refugee camp.  This woman is known to the other employees as a steady joyful woman.  This week as she and Michelle were talking, she shared a bit about the years her husband was forced to be a soldier, which led them to flee Eritrea. She talked about how some of her family is still in Eritrea and some family is in refugee camps waiting to be resettled.  She shared about the heartache that brings. 

She ended the conversation with Michelle by saying, “And so I pray each day.  God is caring for me and I pray for their care.  I wish for my entire family to be with me here, but I am grateful.  We are here and so my children are safe.  I so I feel two things: a strong hope for the rest of my family to be here with me, and gratefulness that we can be here.”

That’s what joy is sometimes.  Both the longing and the struggle are present with the joy and contentedness.  But it takes intentional connection to the Spirit, it takes effort to cultivate that kind of contented joy.  The work is worth it.  God says it is important, and it is for our good.

Something very practical we can do is spend time in God’s presence.  It might be just learning to rest in his presence, which can be frustrating, especially because of the fast-paced society we live in, or if you yourself are a person who loves to be on the go. 

I recently listened to a podcast in which a person remarked that in our contemporary world, so often when we wake up each day, the first thing we do is open our devices or turn on the TV.  Instead, he recommended that we should start the day with quietness, in the presence of God.  That takes practice, working on being aware of the truth of God’s love for you, that you carry his Spirit with you. 

We could start each day by thanking God. Write down five things you are thankful for in a journal.  Thankfulness, which is the practice of counting your blessings, is a very helpful way to grow joy in your life. Even if it is just that you are thankful for coffee, for the new day, for breath.

Photo by Preslie Hirsch on Unsplash

When joy is not easy – Fruit of the Spirit: Joy, Part 4

Joy as inner strength during trials is not to be confused with a bubbly or outgoing personality.  Not everyone has such a charismatic personality, but they can feel joy deep within them.  Also, not everyone who is bubbly and charismatic is feeling joy.  Extroverts most often seem joyful.  Introverts not so much.  But we’re not talking about personality.

Instead we’re talking about a unique source of joy.

Paul writes in Romans 15:13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

This deep inner joy is from the Lord, found in knowing Christ.

In Psalm 16:11, David writes that we can be “Filled with joy in God’s presence.”

Christians have been persecuted for their relationship with Christ for centuries all over the world. And yet they can be filled with joy.  Paul writes in Romans 12:12, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”

Joy is not easy.  Joy can require work.  Joy is a willful choice to follow the way of Jesus when what we want to do is lash out in angry hurtful ways.  Joy is rooted, however, in the knowledge that God is our rock, that we can always depend on him, so that even when we are hurting and fearful and the future is unknown and perhaps not looking good, we our hope is found in God.

When life is awful, the joy of the Lord is our strength.  When the future seems grim, we can be joyful in hope, knowing that God can overcome anything.  That doesn’t mean he will make everything work out like we want or think it should work out.  Often circumstances do not turn out as we hope they will.  Sometimes we screw up and face difficult consequences of our own doing.  Sometimes others hurt us.  But we can have joy in the middle of all of it. 

Photo by Tim Bogdanov on Unsplash

Joy is a choice and a strength – Fruit of the Spirit: Joy, Part 3

Many Christians might wonder, “But what if I don’t feel joy?  Does that mean the Spirit hasn’t given this gift to me?”  Remember that being led by the Spirit requires action.  It is not a series of characteristics that he magically gives to us. 

While the Spirit does work in, we also cultivate joy, we grow it, as we walk in step with him.  The qualities in the list of Fruit of the Spirit are not emotions, not feelings, but a total package describing people who are walking in step with the Spirit.

In the New Testament book of Acts, which tells the story of the earliest Christians, we hear about how they experienced many difficulties.  For example, in Acts chapter 16, we read that the missionaries Paul and Silas are imprisoned, and yet they are singing hymns!  They are choosing to express joy despite their circumstances.  Do you see the very practical application?  You can choose to do things, to think things that will move you in line with the way of Jesus, even when you are hurting. 

Consider how Jesus himself showed us how to choose joy.  When he was being nailed to the cross, what did he do?  Scream, “I hate you!  I curse you!”  No.  He prayed for the people that were killing him, saying, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”  That’s the kind of thing that you do when you have joy deep down inside, flowing from you. 

How is it possible to grow what can seem like inexplicable joy?

There is a fascinating story in the Old Testament book of Nehemiah that might help us answer this question.  The events of Nehemiah chapter 8 occur about 150 years after Jerusalem was destroyed and the people were exiled to Babylon, the events we learned about during our recent study through the book of Ezekiel. 

Nehemiah is a Jew in Persia, as the Medes and Persians eventually defeated the Babylonians. Nehemiah made it up the ranks in service to the King of Persia, and thus Nehemiah received  permission from the king to take a delegation back to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls around the city. Before that time, Ezra had led the work of rebuilding the temple.  There was a celebration, which we read about in Nehemiah 8.  After 150 years of pain, the people are finally seeing a bit of restoration of their beloved city.  What happens?  As Ezra reads the Old Testament Law to the people, they starting weeping!  This is what we read:

“Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, ‘This day is sacred to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.’ For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. Nehemiah said, ‘Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’ The Levites calmed all the people, saying, ‘Be still, for this is a sacred day. Do not grieve.’ Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.”

The people were weeping because it had been so, so long since their ancestors were living in Jerusalem, since the words of the Law had been read in the temple.  But Nehemiah says, don’t weep and grieve, now is the time for rejoicing, because the joy of the of the Lord is your strength.  Do you see how deep inner joy is like a strength that God gives us as we choose to walk in step with the Spirit? 

Photo by Taylor Heery on Unsplash