HOW CAN WE CULTIVATE THE FRUIT OF LOVE?

A few weeks ago my Sunday Bible class unanimously agreed that we would study “The Fruit of the Spirit” from Galatians 5:22 and 23. After a general introduction to the context and the nine fruit Paul lists we moved to the first quality.

Probably no one is surprised that the fruit of Love is first in the Apostle Paul’s list of the nine fruits God wants and expects will be produced with the help of the Holy Spirit in Christians. In his book Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit author Christopher Wright observes, “In putting love first, Paul is echoing Jesus.” You probably remember Jesus’ response to the question about the greatest commandment that it is to completely love God. And he went on to say the second one is “to love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-40).

While I sat in our worship service before our class on love I began to wonder why many Christians are not more loving. Why aren’t we giving more attention to cultivating the fruit of love for others? As our pastor wrapped up his sermon four things came to mind that struck me as possible reasons why some of us are not more loving. I pulled an offering envelope from the pew and jotted down the four reasons.

As I made my way to our classroom I thought about the reasons I jotted down and realized the four were two pairs that are related. I think some of us don’t cultivate the fruit of love because we take others for granted and are perhaps even selfish. Others of us aren’t giving attention to cultivating the fruit of love because we are disengaged and aloof.

I was not totally sure of the meaning of the four things I mentioned that get in the way of cultivating love for others and so I looked up some definitions. To take others for granted “means to take advantage of, show no appreciation for, or undervalue them.” To be selfish is to be “concerned excessively or exclusively for oneself.” To be disengaged it to “release or detach oneself (withdraw).” Finally, to be “aloof is not to be friendly or forthcoming, but rather to be cool and distant.”

Is it possible that because some are selfish and take some people for granted that the fruit of love is not growing? And could it be that because some are aloof and don’t want to be engaged with some that the fruit of love is not growing? There are many reasons we could give for not being more loving. It seems to me that we need to be aware and careful as we consider how to express and show love to others.

While we may wish it were automatic that as Christians we would produce the fruit of love, we know it isn’t. To produce the fruit of the Spirit we need to invite the Holy Spirit to help us and cooperate with Him as He helps us grow and mature in all the fruits. Perhaps a beginning point is to remind ourselves that Jesus instructed his followers to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

I think we all know people who are easy to love and others who are hard to love, but that does not exempt us from loving them. As we make the effort to grow in our love for others we must be wise. We also need to be on guard and not allow those we love to become dependent upon us as that would not be healthy for them or us.

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FREEDOM IN CHRIST

Rather than write a blog from my sermon this past Sunday (July 4th) I thought some readers might enjoy listening to and watching it. Here’s the link if you are interested in listening, feel free to delete if you are not.

https://wacconline.org/media/freedom-in-christ-bob-mink

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GROWING IN PRAYER

I would think there are some readers who may be satisfied with their prayer life, but my sense is that most of us are not. I’ve been a Christian for 58 years and a pastor for over four decades, but have never been fully satisfied with my prayers. If I drew a graph of my practice of prayer through the years it would be a long line of ups and downs.

Yesterday I counted the books I own about prayer on my shelves and came up with around 30. All of them have been encouraging and helpful, but none of them resulted in my being totally satisfied with my prayer life.

A couple of weeks ago I ordered a new book on prayer and finished reading it yesterday. The title is Learning to Pray: A Guide for Everyone by James Martin. Martin is a Jesuit priest and a good writer. If I were to recommend one book on prayer it wouldn’t be this one, but it does have a wealth of information, direction, and encouragement for any reader who wants to grow his or her prayer life. I was encouraged, challenged, and overwhelmed with regard to prayer by this book.

I won’t review the book in this post, but I would like to share a few selected quotes (gems) from the 371 pages that I hope you will find interesting and provocative.

Martin says about his book, “Learning to Pray is written for everyone from the doubter to the devout, from the seeker to the believer. It’s an invitation for people who have never prayed. It’s designed for people who would like to pray, but are worried they will do it in the wrong way. It’s meant for people who have prayed and haven’t found it as satisfying as they had hoped” (p. 9).

“Your desire to pray is a sign that God desires you. We pray because we want to be in a relationship to God” (p. 28). 

“But the goal of prayer is closer union with God” (p. 29).

“. . . it’s important to remember in prayer that you’re not simply talking to a friend. You’re talking to God” (p. 41).

“Few of us are monks or cloistered nuns with hours of time to pray” (p. 51).

“The same practices that make for a good relationship with other people make for a good relationship with God” (p. 57).

“Prayer is conscious conversation with God” (p. 58).

“Sometimes when imagining yourself speaking to God, you might also try imagining what God would say in return” (p. 76).

“What works for one person may not work for another” (p. 94).

“Sometimes we glide through prayer without paying attention to the fact that we are doing something meaningful, something profound, something holy. “. . . even if you’ve been praying for many years, you can always learn something new” (p. 137).

“It’s healthy to recognize our failings and sinfulness” (p. 149).

“It’s both natural and human to pray for what we want. How could anyone stand before God and not feel a longing to ask for the help they need?” (p. 188)

“The more you pray, the more you’ll be able to sift through distractions. Think of it as a conversation with a friend” (p. 230).

“The older I get, the simpler my prayer seems to become” (p. 274).

“All God promises is that God will be with us, God does not promise to solve all the problems in our lives” (p. 315).

“The fruits of prayer are in the hands of God” (p. 351).

“Prayer is not simply to help us feel good about ourselves or close to God. It should move us to action” (p. 356).

Martin’s writing about prayer is personal, honest, and down to earth.

You may want to grow in your prayer life but are not interested in getting and reading Martin’s Learning to Pray: A Guide for Everyone. If you’re not, I would like to recommend a second book that is much shorter, yet I found helpful and encouraging – written by C.S. Lewis, entitled How to Pray, and published in 2018.

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52 YEARS AGO THIS EVENING

I saw a post on Facebook this morning that it was 52 years ago this evening that my class graduated from high school. In a matter of moments I was flooded with memories that simultaneously warmed my heart as well as somewhat saddened me.

Like many, my high school years were filled with joy, excitement, challenge, fun, and friendship. I think what saddened me that night was the realization that things would have to move forward and never be the same.

While several classmates stayed in the area and are still living there, the next fall many of us left and went away to college only to return periodically. Whether we moved on or not from our hometowns, we had no choice but to take steps to what was next now that high school was completed.

The reminder of high school graduation, however, is only one memory of other significant changes in my life the past 52 years. And with each reminder of a significant change in my life, like my graduation from high school, I am flooded with memories that both warm my heart as well as somewhat sadden me.

Clearly the best significant change in my life came five years after graduating from high school when Jan and I married. As you can imagine, over the course of our 47 years we have more memories than we can recall without something priming the pump.  

During our 47 years of marriage we have been blessed with the birth of two children, both of which brought about significant change. We have also moved three times, two of which were to accept a new opportunity in ministry, and the third was to relocate to be close to our grandsons and daughter.

What I’ve been reminded of and learned from these significant changes is that change can be sad, happy, difficult, and exciting all at the same time.

My sense is that everyone of us can probably think back on something or somethings we would change if we could. Unfortunately, that is not an option—we cannot go back. One of C.S. Lewis’ many quotes speaks to this post, “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”

What I’m doing today is thinking back on our graduation from Princeton High School on June 9, 1969. I remember the excitement and the good; I’m also reminded of my sadness and loss that soon passed as we moved forward the past 52 years.

I’m please to mark this occasion and look back with both gratitude and mixed feelings. Maybe my reflections will stimulate your thinking about your past whether you graduated from high school earlier or later than the class of 1969.

As I look to tomorrow and beyond I am hopeful and trusting in the LORD.

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SOME ENCOURAGING NEWS

In my reading earlier today three articles got my attention and I was encouraged by each of them. At first I thought I would write this week’s blog about them, but decided it would be far better just to share them with readers. They are all brief and informative.

The articles were in a daily email I receive called Christian News Today for Church Leaders. I hope you find them encouraging and appreciate them as much as I did.

Atheists Society Secretary Resigns After Finding Jesus

https://churchleaders.com/news/398668-atheists-society-secretary-resigns-after-finding-jesus.html?utm_source=CL-meta&utm_medium=email&utm_content=text&utm_campaign=CL-meta-&maropost_id=742227724&mpweb=256-9399275-742227724

Virginia Democrats Gaslight Pastor Who Stood Up To Defend Christian Teacher’s Biblical Stand On Marriage

https://christiannewsnow.com/virginia-democrats-gaslight-pastor-who-stood-up-to-defend-christian-teachers-biblical-stand-on-marriage/?utm_source=CL-meta&utm_medium=email&utm_content=text&utm_campaign=CL-meta-&maropost_id=742227724&mpweb=256-9399275-742227724

High School Valedictorian Wins a Victory for Religious Rights

https://churchleaders.com/news/398205-elizabeth-turner-jesus-death-speech.html

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THE GIFT OF MEMORY

With the celebration of our 47th Wedding Anniversary this past Monday and Memorial Day coming up this coming Monday I’ve been thinking about The Gift of Memory. Most of the time we take our memory for granted, but when we are aware of loved ones and friends who are losing their memory we realize how important it is.

Often something reminds me of my past and as I revisit memories of people, places, and periods of time gone by I become somewhat somber. I don’t think it’s because they are unpleasant memories, but because those memories are reminders of things that were so meaningful and enjoyable.

I cannot remember when it was said or who said it, but I recall hearing a speaker (I think it was a preacher) say, “We tend to remember what we should forget and forget what we should remember.” I don’t know how true it is, but there are some things we’d like to forget if we could, but hopefully many more that we do remember. Alan Jackson’s song Precious Memories reminds us that all of us have some memories that we love to revisit.

The saying “take a walk down memory lane” makes sense to me. Occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, holidays, and deaths invite us to take that walk. A stroll down memory lane usually means to remember pleasant things, rather than bad memories.

When it comes to looking back, most of the time I am a real softie. And like many people, in addition to the occasions mentioned above, hearing old songs takes me back to earlier times in my life.

Memory and memories are to most of us gifts. We can’t return to the past and shouldn’t live in the past, but we can remember the past. We can enjoy our memories and sometimes even learn from them.

As we come to Memorial Day this Monday let’s remember that memory is a gift. Let’s also be reminded that Memorial Day began as a day to honor men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military.

Memorial Day, however, is not the only day on which we remember. While we do remember both the good and the bad in our past, perhaps this is a good day to focus on the good in our past and express gratitude to God and others for our precious memories.

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WHEN IT COMES TO LOVE, WAS TENNYSON RIGHT?

Most of us are somewhat familiar with the poet Tennyson’s observation “it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Apparently not everyone agrees with Tennyson’s observation because with the passing of time his observation has been turned into a question, “Is it better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?”

My sense is that the answer to the question would depend upon people’s experiences with love. I don’t know if Tennyson was referring only to people, but we all know that even though we do love people, our love is not limited to people. For example, in my life I have loved many pets that eventually died. I grieved the loss of each one, but never regretted loving any of them.

In terms of my work as a pastor, I have served and left four churches. My first experience was as a summer intern youth minister. As I left that church to return to college I was stunned how hard it was for me to leave.

Following my summer internship I got a part time youth minister position close to the college I was attending. I stayed there for five years, but eventually accepted the opportunity to serve a small church near the East coast. As we pulled out of the church parking lot in our U-Haul I could not hold back the tears.

The same thing happened 10 years later as we went to the airport to head to California where I had the opportunity to plant a church. Some 33 years later I was embarrassed (although I should not have been) to cry as I began my drive to Texas after I said good-by to three of my best friends with whom I played golf.

All of us have lost loved ones (family and friends) and grieved their passing. I could go on with more examples but I think the point is clear. All of us have loved and lost in a variety of ways and situations.

Let’s return to Tennyson’s observation as well as try to answer the question people have asked in light of his statement. While some may reject it, I’m confident the majority would agree with Tennyson’s observation, “It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” But how do we answer the question, “Is it better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?”

In a 2012 article Dr. Jennifer L. Kunst suggests “We ask, wouldn’t it be better to protect ourselves from the pain of loss by never loving—really loving—at all?” Some may ask that question, but I don’t think many do. Dr. Kunst reminds us that “painful feelings of loss are an inevitable part of love. To be true to my best self, I must embrace the reality that the more I love, the more painful the loss.”

Perhaps the questions we might ask ourselves are, “Is it worth it? Is it better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?” My answer is a resounding yes. I agree with Dr. Kunst, “How sad it would be to live our lives in a mode of self-protection that costs us some of the most precious experiences of life: to love and to be loved.”

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SHOULD WE READ OLD OR NEW BOOKS?

My answer to the question asked in the title of this post is BOTH! I realize some enjoy reading more than others do, but most people do some reading.

Earlier this week I was reminded that I need to be reading both new and old books. We’re calling one of the Bible studies I am currently leading “An Overview of the Book of Revelation.” To prepare for this study I ordered a couple of newer books about Revelation that I have found useful.

In preparing for this week’s discussion I remembered a set of commentaries on the New Testament I have that I had not yet consulted in our overview. The set was written by William Barclay and is entitled THE DAILY STUDY BIBLE SERIES.

In just the introduction to his commentary on Revelation I found both the first and last paragraphs powerful and worthy of sharing with those in my overview. I want to share them with you as well.

On page one Barclay writes, “When a student of the New Testament embarks upon the study of the Revelation he [sic] feels himself projected into a new and a different world. Here is something quite unlike the rest of the New Testament. Not only is Revelation different; it is also notoriously difficult for a modern mind to understand. The result is that the Revelation has sometimes been abandoned as quite unintelligible, and it has sometimes become the playground of religious eccentrics, who use it to map out celestial timetables of what is to come, or who find in it evidence for their own eccentricities.”

Twenty-four pages later he concludes his introduction, “No one can shut his [sic] eyes to the difficulty of the Revelation. It is the most difficult book in the Bible; but it is infinitely worth studying for it contains the blazing faith of the Christian Church in the days when life was agony, when men expected the end of the heavens and the earth as they knew them, and when they still believed that beyond the terror there was glory, and that above the raging of men was the power of Almighty God” (p. 24).

Barclay wrote the FOREWARD to THE DAILY STUDY BIBLE SERIES at the end of 1958 and it was first published in Scotland in 1959. My set of the series was given to me almost 50 years ago.

I’m still reading new books on Revelation (my newest was published in 2019) and doing my best to better understand this last book of the Bible. Even for those who are not particularly interested in Revelation, I recommend the first and last paragraphs of Barclay’s introduction. After some 70 years I think what he wrote is still worth reading.

REVELATION IS NOT AN EASY READ

Those of us who have read (or tried to read) the book of Revelation would agree that we don’t completely understand it. The last book of the Bible is unique to the New Testament and presents a real challenge to readers.

When it comes to Revelation many Christians seem to take one of two extremes: they either obsess with it trying to use it to predict what is going to happen or totally ignore it.

As I have prepared to lead a Bible study overview of the book of Revelation I have come to better understand why some Christians avoid the book. Here are some selected quotes from a few New Testament scholars and authors that probably contribute to avoiding it:

For most church members, the book of Revelation is a closed book. They avoid it, thinking it too mysterious for them to understand” (BREAKING THE CODE: UNDERSTANDING THE BOOK OF REVELATION by Bruce Metzger, p. 9).

“The average Christian fights shy of the book of Revelation. It seems to him well-nigh incomprehensible. He is perhaps skeptical of some fanciful interpretations he has heard, and he cannot easily accustom himself to the bizarre imagery” (WHAT CHRIST THINKS OF THE CHURCH by John R.W. Stott, p. 11).

 “. . . a great deal of what has been written about it, especially at the popular level, tends to obscure its meaning rather than to help the reader understand it” (REVELATION by Gordon Fee, p. ix).

“When turning to the book of Revelation from the rest of the New Testament, one feels as if he or she were entering a foreign country” (HOW TO READ THE BIBLE FOR ALL ITS WORTH by Fee and Stuart, p. 231).

“People are endlessly curious about the biblical book of Revelation. Yet when they actually sit down to read Revelation they often feel it intimidating and difficult” (THE RAPTURE EXPOSED by Barbara Rossing, p. 81).

Author Chuck Colclasure makes a gentle and important observation that softens these discouraging quotes, “Rather than being intended to frighten and horrify us with its startling imagery, the true purpose of the Book of Revelation is to provide hope, comfort, and encouragement to those who continue to trust in God, even during the most difficult of times—perhaps especially during the most difficult times” (THE OVERCOMERS: Discovering Hope in the Book of Revelation, Preface to the Second Edition).

I hope we all can agree that the book of Revelation is not an easy read. Yet as followers of Jesus and those who want to understand Revelation, let’s read it without obsessing over it. And as we do I hope we all will keep in mind this crucial advice from Fee and Stuart (HOW TO READ THE BIBLE FOR ALL ITS WORTH, p.231), “It seems necessary to say at the outset that no one should approach the Revelation without a proper degree of humility!”

For those who are interested in reading a solid and thoughtful basic book about Revelation I recommend BREAKING THE CODE: UNDERSTANDING THE BOOK OF REVELATION by Bruce Metzger.

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A SIMPLE AND ENCOURAGING REMINDER

The last few weeks I’ve been leading a study of the letters from Jesus to the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3 in the book of Revelation. The next five weeks I will be leading a basic overview of the entire book. In my reading for this flyover of the book I came across a simple declaration I found encouraging.

Towards the end of his book about the seven letters author Stanley D. Gayle reminds his readers that “Jesus is the risen, reigning, and returning KING.” All three of those descriptive words of Jesus give comfort, hope, joy, and anticipation to his followers.

We are almost a month past our Easter celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, but we never tire of having our attention called to his victory over death. Calling our attention to Jesus’ resurrection also reminds us of his death on the cross through which he paid the penalty for our sin and provided for our forgiveness.

Gayle not only reminds us that Jesus rose from the dead, but also that following his resurrection (and a variety of appearances) Jesus ascended to heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And it is from there, of course, that Jesus reigns as king. The Apostle Peter made it clear in his Pentecost sermon in Acts 2:32 and 33, “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.” The writer of Hebrews makes the same point: “After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven” (Hebrews 1:3b).

The third of Gayle’s reminders is the one for which we are still waiting and looking forward to. One of the best known statements from Jesus himself about his return is in John 14:2 and 3, “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” One of Paul’s best known teachings about Jesus’ return is in I Thessalonians 4: 16 and 17, “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”  

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