BLOG
Check here weekly for new blogs, and peruse our archives for dozens of great resources.

Fruit of the Spirit

orange pumpkins on brown grass field during daytime

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”  Galatians 5:22-23

What’s your favorite season of the year? With the hot summer that we have had so far, many people are probably looking ahead and thinking about fall. The cooler temperatures, drier air, and beautiful colors make fall hard to beat.

Throughout Wisconsin, we usually have a choice among numerous Fall Festivals, Pumpkin Festivals, Harvest Festivals, and so many others. It seems likely that all of these festivals will look different this year because of Covid, but that won’t keep the abundance of the season from maturing.

Think back to past festivals, the pumpkins, squash, gourds, and other vegetables and fruits that have ripened and are ready for us to enjoy. Their many colors, along with those of the leaves, brighten our day even as the days themselves are becoming shorter.

Imagine though if you walked into a pumpkin patch and found not pumpkins, but bananas! Or what would you think if an apple tree had watermelons hanging from it? This simply isn’t possible. We know that from a pumpkin seed we will produce more pumpkins and from an apple tree we will harvest apples. In fact, you can often identify the plant by the fruit it produces.

It’s really not so different with people. The fruit they produce, meaning their words and actions, can tell us a lot about the person and what’s inside.

In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talks about trees and the fruit that they bear. He makes it clear that there is a strong connection between the tree and fruit that we see. A bad or diseased tree will only produce bad fruit. What’s more, we know a lot about the tree just by checking out the fruit that it is producing.

In Galatians 5, Paul provides a sample of the fruit of the Spirit that is evident in the lives of God’s children. These fruits are what one would naturally expect to see from a Christian. The Father sends His Holy Spirit to work in our lives and encourage us toward the good, to choose right over wrong, and show love instead of hate. We do good because of the good One who dwells within us. Let this be the fruit that others see today.

Heavenly Father, thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit who fills me with Your goodness. May that which You have placed in my heart, be fully expressed so that others may see You. Help me today to choose what is right and in keeping with Your will. Grant this Lord, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.


Read more...

An Antidote to Loneliness: Keeping Company with Others

man and woman holding hands

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!” Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! “May they be secure who love you! Peace be within your walls and security within your towers!” For my brothers and companions’ sake I will say, “Peace be within you!” [Psalm 122:1,6-8]

“How are you doing?” you ask someone. “Good and you?” they respond, and you honestly have no idea what that means or how it answers your question. What is supposed to be a bridge to community and conversation has effectively been a roadblock to anything meaningful.

Often, we approach conversations with closed hearts and minds. We have the appearance of wanting to connect, but no bandwidth to make it happen. God has hardwired us for community (“Let us make man in our image,” God said in Genesis 1), yet disconnection and loneliness are much more common in our world.

And it isn’t only people who are physically isolated who feel alone. When we don’t feel known and accepted, we feel alone and rejected. It doesn’t matter if we are surrounded with people, we want to be known and accepted.  

One of the most common prayer requests is for other people and relationships. These are of the utmost importance for us, and there is no better way for us to keep company with others than to be praying. Who knows another person better than God, the One who made them? Who accepts another person more than Jesus, the One who died for them? Who will unite people more effectively than the Holy Spirit, who fills all of God’s children? We keep company with others by praying for them and with them.

The single best indicator for if a couple will stay married “till death do us part” is if they pray together regularly. Not if they are Christians, or if they go to church, or if they read the Bible. Those are all great, but something happens when people pray together. They become known to the other person in a way that doesn’t happen otherwise in this world. They feel accepted and cherished in a way that isn’t present through any other activity.

If you desire to keep company with others, be praying regularly for them. And take the next step: pray with them. Ask them, “How can I pray for you?” And then pray. Maybe even tell them how they could be praying for you.

God has given us a beautiful connection in Christ; let’s keep company with others today through prayer.

Dear God, I pray along with (fill in the blank), giving you thanks for who they are, and that they are in my life. I ask that you would (fill in the request), and remind them how much they mean to me. They are a blessing in this world, and I pray that you would continue to make your love known to them and through them. Keep us united by the power of your Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ name we pray, AMEN

Read more...

Follow Jesus

two people sitting beside each other
 
40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ)…

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”   John 1:40-41, 43-46

It didn’t take long to start multiplying disciples of Jesus.  Andrew told his brother Peter, and Philip found his friend Nathanael. 

That’s how it works in the Kingdom.  News of the Messiah passes from brother to brother and friend to friend. 

At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.

Too often news of the Messiah gets bottled up inside of His followers.  It’s too awkward to talk to your brother about Jesus.  I mean, he has to make his own decisions in life, right?  And it could ruin my relationship with my buddy if I start becoming the “religious guy.”  Isn’t it better to just live out my faith and let him see it?

Instead of multiplying disciples, we multiply excuses.

Perhaps we need to be reminded of just how awesome Jesus truly is.  Fully and completely God, yet so humble that He came to this world to be just like one of us.  Perfect and righteous in every way, yet willing to be treated – and even executed – like a common criminal.  Forgiving and loving always.  Understanding and patient…the list goes on and on.

When Nathanael objected to Philip’s invitation about Jesus by saying, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip simply said, “Come and see.”

There will always be objections to Jesus.  But in the end, all we can do is say, “Come and see.”  And when someone comes and sees Jesus, some amazing things happen. 

Heavenly Father, You have called us to follow Jesus and to invite others to follow Jesus.  Forgive us for the missed opportunities.  Make us to be like Philip, inviting others to come and see Your Son, that they too might be blessed by everything that Jesus is for us: Lord, Savior, Friend.  In His name, Amen. 

Read more...

An Antidote to Loneliness: Keeping Company with Ourselves

man wearing white dress shirt near sea
 
Know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him. Be agitated, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. (Psalm 4:3-4)

How are you doing, really? When was the last time you sat with that question? How long has it been since you wrestled with your internal state.

There are plenty of reasons to be agitated. There are plenty of things that might have us worked up. Often, our internal dialogue is stifled by the very situations that we need to process. A recent breakup, a loss of a loved one, an argument with a co-worker, uncertainty in how to be present for people: we need to work through our feelings so that we can properly respond.

Psalm 4 encourages us to keep company with ourselves. This is one of the great gifts of prayer, that we can sit not only with God, but that God works as a mediator even for our own thoughts and feelings. The Lord hears when we call, and the Lord calls us to sit down, calm down, and pray. Time to work through what we are going through.

Let me ask again: What are you wrestling with today? How are you really doing? Maybe you feel like David, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me” (Psalm 51:3). It might be uncomfortable, but God is with you. Jesus is keeping you company as you dive into the deep issues of the heart. It is hard work: “The purpose of a man’s heart is deep waters, but a man of understanding will draw it out” (Prov. 20:5).

Spend some time keeping company with yourself. Jesus wants you to know yourself, to love yourself. Well, to be fair, he actually says, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” but doesn’t that require us to love and know ourselves? Jesus loves you and redeems you. No matter how daunting it may sound, search out your heart, ponder in your own bed, and work alongside God to draw out the deep waters within yourself.

Prayer: Lord God, we know you are with us, and you are keeping us company. Foster within us a spirit of discernment and openness, that we might sit with ourselves and come to peace with who you have made us to be and what you have called us to do. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Read more...

The Lamb

white lamb on green grassland during daytime
 
29 The next day John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.”  John 1:29-31

A lion, maybe.  That makes more sense, doesn’t it?  “Look, the lion of God that takes away the sin of the world!”  Yeah, that’s it.  A lion.  After all, a lion is strong.  A lion is powerful.  A lion dominates.

But, a lamb?

Sort of a pathetic image, isn’t it?  A lamb?  What can a lamb do?  What animal can a lamb defeat?  What strength does a lamb show?

“Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth.”  Isaiah 53:7

Where is strength in a lamb?

The strength is in sacrifice.  In a willingness to be sacrificed.  And that’s what Jesus came to do, to be a lamb for us.  His strength is in His willingness to be sacrificed for us.

In the Passover, the lamb gave up his life and blood so the people can be saved.  Jesus does the same thing.  In his perfect weakness, he delivers the strength of forgiveness, life and salvation that cannot be taken away from us.

Rejoice today and every day that You have a God who willingly humbled Himself to be a lamb led to the slaughter for you.  Never will you be called to pay the price for your sin.  It’s already been paid for.  By the Lamb.  “Look, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world!”

Heavenly Father, You sent Your Son in perfect humility and weakness as a lamb of sacrifice.  We praise and thank You for Your gift, and we ask that You always point us to Jesus on the cross as the reminder of our full and complete forgiveness. Make us like John the Baptist, always pointing others to the Lamb.  In Jesus’ name, Amen. 


Read more...