Tag Archives: Keeping in Step with the Spirit Series

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Clarity About the Fruit: Goodness

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Keeping in Step with the Spirit Part 15: Clarity About the Fruit: Goodness

The first thing that popped into my mind as I thought about goodness as fruit of the Spirit was the old Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem, There was a little girl, who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead. When she was good, she was very, very good, but when she was bad she was horrid.

Of all the fruit mentioned, this one has the clearest opposite. You can either be good or bad. In fact, you can be horrid. And you can contain both sides of this all at once, being good to some while being horrid to others. So while we would want to believe we humans are hardwired for doing good, we constantly are caught out by the reality of the little-girl-who-had-a-little-curl in ourselves.

And it is true that people who claim no relationship with God do good. Why is that so? The reason is that everyone was created in the image of God and retains an echo in their soul of the goodness, the rightness of God, even when they reject His right to reign over them. So they do good and others applaud because doing good is something we all feel good about.

Jesus told a parable of a vineyard owner who needed workers to harvest his grapes. He went to the temp agency and hired a bunch of people for the day, promising them a good days wage for their services. He went back later and hired more people who had not found work that day, returning again and again to find that others needed work. An hour before quitting time, he discovered yet more people available and sent them out. At the end of the work day, he then paid each of them off, giving them all the same wage, even those who had worked only a fraction of the time compared to the ones who had been hired first. Those hired early in the day grumbled, thinking he should have paid them more than those who worked for just a short time. Challenged, he asked, “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?” (Matthew 20:15)

The word he used to describe his pay scale—generous—is the same word Paul used for goodness. Here is the function of goodness for all who keep in step with the Spirit. Goodness is seeing the neediness in others and meeting their need for the sake of Jesus’ kingdom. In Jesus’ name we give out cups of cold water. In Jesus’ name we see the hungry, the naked, the imprisoned and are inwardly compelled to meet their needs.

When empowered by the Spirit, we see the world differently. One of my friends saw the neediness of a group of people who lived on the food and materials they dug out of a garbage dump in the Dominican Republic. Many of the young girls were subsidizing their family by sex work, often having children while still themselves a child. He changed his life direction in order to go and help them with food, housing, clothing and job training—visibly preaching the gospel through his generosity—generosity that is giving these hopeless people hope of a better future for themselves and their children. But more importantly, he is displaying the good news of Jesus through his life.

Don’t misunderstand this story. Goodness does not just lead to missionary work. Goodness leads you to see ignored people with compassion and steps up to stand in the gap for them—which is not always a monetary need. Goodness is a characteristic that wants change to take place in others, not just to fill a temporarily empty stomach. Goodness wants to see people set free from whatever binds them. To oppose those who are caught up in wickedness so they can’t destroy another, whether it be a spouse, a child, or the oppressed. Jesus excelled in this because he was good.

When we are very, very good, we are participating with God in making His gospel known. This goodness reaches down to those who could never pay us back, but can join us in loving our God.

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:25 (NIV)

-Steve Smith

 


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Clarity about the Fruit: Kindness

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Keeping in Step with the Spirit Part 14: Clarity about the Fruit: Kindness

Unless you’re heartless, you undoubtedly enjoy watching videos that showcase acts of kindness. I watched one this week in which a newly employed high schooler bought a friend a pair of much needed new shoes that he had wanted but could not afford. After the young man opens the box, he bursts into tears over the kindness his classmate has shown him.

Often I hear of churches planning outreach events that involve random acts of kindness—paying it forward to people who are not believers in order to share a tangible witness to the gospel. Restaurant bills are paid unexpectedly. Help is given to rake leaves or clean a yard. Groceries show up at a door. There is a good feeling in doing such acts and they do have an impact on those who receive them.

But let me suggest that kindness as a fruit of the Spirit goes much deeper than this. Kindness is not just the act in itself, but the identity of the person who acts. The Spirit transforms you so you can be useful and humane—being like Jesus—in a world that generally judges broken people with indifference, frustration or helplessness. And since everyone is broken, unkindness tends to run rampant in all communities.

Consider the character of kindness in Jesus from these vignettes of his life:

  • He was accosted by a rich young ruler who was pretty self-assured that he had kept the Law perfectly, but still was wondering what he had to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus told the man to sell all he had and come follow him. That was an amazing offer, since accepting would have allowed the young man to bring hope and life to others in the days ahead. But instead, he went away sad (Matthew 19:16-30).
  • The second snapshot is Jesus healing a man with a withered hand in a synagogue. It was a Sabbath and present where those who considered what Jesus was about to do a sacrilege. He asked the disapproving audience, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” (Mark 3:4 ESV) Then he healed the man.
  • The final story is Jesus encountering the demonized man in the region of the Gerasenes (Mark 5:1-20). Crazy, naked, shrieking and mangling himself with stones, the man lived in a cemetery—a place of perpetual ritual uncleanliness—until Jesus shows up. Then, in his crazed state, he runs at Jesus and asks him to leave him alone. Jesus instead frees him and leaves him in his right mind and at peace.

These stories are all about Jesus’ kindness. But what you should take away from them is that they teach us about what being kind means.

  1. Kindness is not shying away from speaking truth, but holding up a mirror to the life of others when their view of themselves is blinding them to damaging beliefs. Speaking the truth in love is kindness, even if no one cries for joy when we act this way. Even if they walk away, they deserve to know the truth.
  2. Kindness does not hold back in the face of opposition. You may think you are kind, but the revelation of whether you are keeping in step with the Spirit will be when you are offering kindness to the wrong person or under the wrong circumstances. When the crowd is jeering but you are still set on doing the right and kind thing—that is when you know you have been transformed.
  3. Kindness pushes in instead of pulling back. The demonized man was scary and those demons that possessed him did not want Jesus to disrupt their control over him. But the trapped man was worth too much to Jesus for him to abandon him. The kindness of Jesus would not allow him to just give up and go away.

A friend of mine told of watching a loud drunk man being tossed out of a bar. The barkeeper not only tossed him, he kicked him in the head for good measure. The drunk was knocked cold. As the crowd outside the bar milled uncertainly around, a young woman ran into a store, emerging with a wet towel. She placed the man’s head on her lap and began to minister to his wounds, calling out to others to call 911. My friend’s response was to wish he had done it himself.

You might recognize the parallel to the parable of the Good Samaritan in this story.

This character of kindness is what keeping in step with the Spirit is all about.

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:25 (NIV)

-Steve Smith


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Clarity About the Fruit: Patience

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Keeping in Step with the Spirit Part 13: Clarity About the Fruit: Patience

Don’t you get weary of people and their problems? Especially when they are the problem? How do you endure the unfathomable things people do? Do you respond by wishing God’s judgment on them? Or do you long for a better outcome for them than the one they seem to have chosen?

How you think while you wait is what patience is all about. It’s not just about hanging in there during bad times or putting up with tough customers. The word for that is perseverance.

Patience is about the self-restraint which is demonstrated when a person does not hastily retaliate against a wrong. The patience that the Spirit produces in you is the kind that looks at people as damaged by sin and cultivates a desire in you to see them made whole. This desire stays the hand of revenge. It’s not for the cowardly, but for those who keep in step with the Spirit.

Paul, in a reflective moment, confesses to Timothy that, “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man . . . for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” (1Timothy 1:13,16)

Paul was hardly the guy you would have voted for as someone who was to be an integral part of expanding the gospel, least of all to the Gentiles. Fierce in his Jewish beliefs, he was the perfect kamikaze (i.e. divine wind), to attack anyone stupid enough to follow Jesus. Hatred was his compass. Death was his objective.

And his changed life was so unexpected that even Ananias, who Jesus sent to explain things to him, probably took out extra insurance before timidly following through Jesus’ orders. He and all the rest of the earliest believers had low expectations that Paul could change.

Since Jesus is our example, what does Jesus displaying patience reveal to us about this spiritual fruit of patience?

Well, the first thing is that when we are keeping in step with the Spirit, we should not let the worst of people get in the way of expecting God to be able to change them. Often we react to uncalled-for behavior like James and John in their ‘sons of thunder’ days, ready to call down lightning from heaven on them.

Patience teaches us to see people from God’s perspective. They are lost or they are broken or they are mixed up. No matter what bad things they are engaged in, even if it is against us, patience lets us comprehend that, in God’s time, on earth or at the judgement seat, He will accomplish His purposes in them.

I have a friend who was as toxic as they come. I heard of his reputation long before I met him through those who had been the target of his spleen. I knew that God could change him and offered to guide him towards intimacy with God. Others were glad I was concerned but weren’t sure he should be allowed to stay in the group.

But God had a different perspective and gave me patience to see the day—and it was not a long wait—when this man was broken before God and healed. God displayed His glory and we got to see it.

This brings me to the second lesson about Jesus’ patience. If you have patience, you get to be part of the amazing thing God is doing to change people from the inside out. Maybe you will even be the person He uses in the process.

It is the immature, the impatient believer, who ends up missing out on what God would do through them if they would just wait, hold their tongues, withhold their condemnation. In our rush to judge, to play the role of the prophet—even when this is not our gifting by God—we find that the targets of our wrath are not being drawn to Jesus and the good news. They are being repelled by our ungodly attitudes. We need to pay attention to this.

God values people we would consider throwaways. Jesus died for them too. So keep in step with the Spirit and allow his work to change your exasperation into forbearance and mercy. Not for your own sake, but for the sake of the One who is continuing to have patience with you.

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:25 (NIV)

-Steve Smith

 


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Clarity About the Fruit: Peace

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Keeping in Step with the Spirit Part 12: Clarity about the Fruit: Peace

Peace is an elusive quality in the lives of many followers of Jesus. Chaos, disruption, anxiety, and uncertainty seem to be the more common experience. Yet Paul tells us that peace is something that the Spirit brings to fruition in our lives. So what does this mean for you and me?

I cannot help but think of a scene from the magical film, Mary Poppins. Taking charge from the moment she arrives in the lives of Jane and Michael, she demands they put the nursery in order before they go off on a fun trek to the park. They look dismayed because their living quarters look like Hurricane Irma passed through. Mary is not dissuaded but encourages them with a display of her power to make order out of a mess. Before you know it, everything is in its place.

There is a parallel between this film scene and Jesus calming the storm. In response to his disciples’ terror, he awakens from sleep and stares down the storm with the command, “Peace! Be still!” Mark 4:35-41 (ESV). And it does go still. Suddenly, everything is as it should be. Everything is in order. The disciples are astounded that even the wind and the waves obey his voice.

But in case you missed it, Jesus was experiencing peace before the twelve unceremoniously interrupted his slumber. He was so not worried about the storm that he could sleep as they panicked. Why? Because everything between him and the Father was in order.

This is what peace is. It is not the absence of scary storms in life, or “. . . trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword,” as Paul says in Romans 8:35 (NIV). Collectively, humankind has made living in a world affected by the Fall a hard place to live. So, if you define peace as being in a place where nothing bad is happening, nothing troubling is brewing, nothing disturbing is going on, you will never have it.

Peace is instead wholeness of your mind, soul, and heart produced by the gospel of peace and empowered by the Spirit. If you are aware on your faith journey, you will notice that the development of peace inside you by the Spirit corresponds to how healthy your soul is becoming.

And the only example of the fullness of this is Jesus himself. In the transformational classes my team offers, we talk about the Heart Chart, which is a simple visual tool we use to teach everyone their story. If you ever take this training, you will hear us tell how the hurt in your heart, which you have been accumulating since you were born, binds with the sin in me choices you make to comfort yourself, which in turn produces the outward symptoms that indicate how damaged you are. Some of the symptoms you have are not currently causing you pain, but others have gone on to become addictive, which means they are in charge of you and painting a false picture of who you are.

One of my trainers decided to do a Heart Chart for Jesus. His list of hurts that Jesus experienced when he lived on earth included being mocked, ridiculed, abandoned by family, betrayed and run out of towns. He was tempted deeply by Satan to deny God’s reign over him. Religious leaders wanted him dead, put him on trial and wrongly accused him. He was beaten mercilessly and crucified as a criminal. His disciples ran away and even denied him.

What did Jesus choose to comfort himself with? In the words of the writer of Hebrews, Jesus “has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” (4:15 NIV) Instead of choosing sin to comfort himself, Jesus continually turned to the Father for everything, no matter what his life circumstances. And this produced in him the character that we call the fruit of the Spirit. Not symptoms of damage, distortion, and destruction, but of love, joy, and peace. His world made perfect sense to him. It was completely in order, even though those around him, including his disciples, were often confounded by his unperturbability.

If you are keeping in step with the Spirit, remember that peace is a by-product of his work in you, not the goal. You are not trying to learn how to be in peace the world. You are surrendering to the Spirit’s work to change you from the inside out so that you conform to the likeness of Jesus. The quicker you surrender, the quicker you will become a peace-filled person.

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:25 (NIV)

-Steve Smith

If you would like to see a presentation of the Heart Chart, visit http://churchequippers.com/tools/heart-chart/


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Clarity About the Fruit: Joy

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Keeping in Step with the Spirit Part 11: Clarity About the Fruit: Joy

You could rightly say that joy is rooted in the phrase, “I know something you don’t know.”

I heard that particular singsong chant from my multiple siblings plenty of times when I was growing up. It was a tease, but it was also true. They did know something I did not know and it gave them a lot of joy to be the one who got to tell the secret.

It seems that many believers have mistaken joy for something other than it is. Joy is equated with happiness. Or joy is compared to emotional elation. And though sometimes joy can include people feeling happy and elated, this is not the essence of the fruit that the Spirit is producing in us.

Since the fruit of the Spirit is the character of Jesus on display, the question has to be: What did joy look like to Jesus? What comes to my mind is what the writer of Hebrews says as he fortifies his readers’ hearts in the face of persecution and uncertainty. He reminds them that a great crowd of witnesses is surrounding them, like a stadium of fans cheering them on. Then, encouragingly, he adds, “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2 NIV)

Jesus knew something we did not know. He knew that joy was the product of the glory of God. And because he knew this, he willing looked the cross in the face and accepted that suffering, shame and death was the pathway he would take. He was not naïve about this. He was not some Pollyannaish kind of person looking for some reason to be glad about rejection and death. He knew the reason. From eternity he knew the Father’s plan to redeem humankind from our decisive rebellion that trapped us in sin. He knew he would sit at the Father’s right hand as he gloriously defeated sin and death.

Joy is rooted in hope—hope of the glory of God—which all who have sinned fall short of, but those who believe can now boast in (Romans 5:2). This hope should make our hearts glad when things are going great—your children growing and learning, your marriage solid, promotions at work, eating all the chocolate you could want. And the same hope should make your heart leap for joy when you find yourself in adverse conditions.

You see, joy is not attached to your circumstances. It is a product of the Spirit filling you up with the reality of what is to come and the knowledge of how to live that out in the present, whether your life is full of happiness or sorrow. Joy knows the ending—that security and fulfilment are coming.

On the day before he died, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was persuaded to hold a service with his then three or four fellow prisoners. He spoke on the statement from Isaiah 53 “. . . with his stripes we are healed” and I Peter 1:3, which says: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

Shortly after the service, the Gestapo came and took him away for execution. As they arrived and called him to accompany them, Dietrich’s last words to fellow prisoner, Payne Best, were, “This is the end—for me the beginning of life.”

I dare say few of us will face a martyr’s ending to our lives. But however we live out the life God has granted to us, we need the same hope, the same joy, produced in us by the Spirit that Dietrich Bonhoeffer demonstrated. We need it when people seek to make us miserable. When those we trust do things to shake our world. When sickness stalks our home. When our bank account runs into the red through no fault of our own. When the culture around us adopts a reckless abandonment of truth and morality. It is in these kinds of circumstances that we need to know something more, something that we did not know before, but now know because the Spirit revealed it to us. Joy is knowing that we are God’s very own. That He will never let us go. That He is renewing us day by day. That nothing that comes against us will prevent God’s eternal purpose for you from succeeding.

And if you did not know that before, now you do.

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:25 (NIV)

-Steve Smith


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Clarity about the Fruit: Love

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Keeping in Step with the Spirit Part 10: Clarity about the Fruit: Love

In the words of a Clint Black song, love is something that we do. When people think of Christians, love should be the first word that comes to their mind. Unfortunately, this isn’t often the case, but it can be and it will be for those who keep in step with the Spirit.

What does this love that the Spirit produces in God’s people look like?  In Romans 12:9 (NASV) Paul points his readers to its central quality—love must be without hypocrisy. Other translations use the words genuine or sincere. In keeping with God’s agape for us, transforming people will display the same agape God has. This kind of agape is love that is based on the lover’s will, not on the worth of the person loved. If the kind of love we have leads us to value only those who chant our slogans, sing to our tunes, or agree that we are always right, we still have a long way to go to learn about love.

Why does Paul write about not being hypocritical about love? Essentially, he is following Jesus’ teaching. It is easier to love those who love you. We all are drawn to people who are like us and who we like being with. But how do you love the rest of the congregation—the broken, the needy, the different? Those whose lives do not intermingle well with yours? This is what Jesus addressed. Don’t throw parties just for people who can pay you back. Throw them for those who cannot. Open your homes to them. Connect deeply, not superficially. Otherwise, you have strayed into hypocrisy.

Loving this way would be beyond us if it were not Spirit-empowered. But Paul continues to channel Jesus’ teaching in Romans 12:14ff. Bless those who persecute you. Do not return evil for evil. I think that a lot of us would want this to be true for us. Yet, when we least expect it we get caught out being unloving in response to the pushback we get from those in the world.

A lesbian activist/feminist professor who taught Queer Theory attacked several young believers who were advocating pro-life on her California college campus. She encouraged others present to disrupt and ridicule them. She took their poster to burn. She scratched the wrists of one of the women who tried to rescue their poster. The young believers ratted her out to the administration, who were reluctant to act. They then turned to the police and the professor got sentenced to some community service by the criminal court. Next, they decided to sue her in civil court to make sure she would think twice about doing that again. Many believers were supportive of these young women standing up for their constitutional rights.

I read about another lesbian activist/feminist professor who taught Queer Theory at Syracuse University. She published scathing articles about Christianity. Some of those she set out to offend invited her to come and talk. They loved her. They accepted her with her butch haircut and surly manners and outspoken beliefs. They also loved her friends—partied with them to her astonishment. As a result, Rosaria Butterfield became a follower of Jesus whom she had rejected. She described her conversion as a train wreck for her life as she knew it. She now speaks the gospel into the world of those who still live like she once did.

So which of these two women experienced the reality of believers returning good for evil? Which of these two women experienced agape? And why did it matter eternally? This is a significant issue for we who are being transformed by the Spirit. Winning the world’s way does not line up with Jesus’s agenda for us. And it distorts the truth of the transforming gospel.

When you are being transformed by the Spirit, the love you have begins to look a lot like Jesus’ love. It may astonish your friends, but it marks you as one of his own. It becomes natural for you to love your neighbor and to do good to those who hate you. Because love is something you do. It flows out of your changed heart and transformed mind.

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:25 (NIV)

-Steve Smith

 


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What’s a Better Outcome for Your Life?

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Keeping in Step with the Spirit Part 9: What’s a Better Outcome for Your Life?

I teach people about the transformational nature of the gospel. One part of the training includes an explanation of the Seven Deadly Sins, which are deeply addictive and rob us of life. I remember the night I was wrapping up a Q&A session at one church when, out of the blue, one of the young men challenged me with, “Dr. Smith, which of the seven deadly sins do you struggle with?” There I stood in front of forty-some leaders with that question hanging in the air!

I can honestly tell you that at one point in my life, I was addicted to all seven. Each of them was leaving their claw marks on my life, my family, my ministry. Had I not come to the end of my self-protective ways and surrendered to God, I would have had much more grief to remember than I do have. That was what I shared that night, and pointed to the deadly sin that still was seeking to lure me into its trap.

That young man’s question reminded me that I have experienced a better outcome to my life because the Spirit who lives in me is greater than the enemy who is in the world. To paraphrase a song from the musical, Newsies, ‘Satan might think he owns the world, but he don’t own us!’ His lies have lost their power to kill me. The deadly sins are no longer catching me unaware. Not because I am fighting them tooth and nail, but because the Spirit is exposing and defeating them even as I keep in step with him.

This better outcome being produced in me by the Spirit is the character of Jesus. What I had before was the best I could do by reforming myself to look like Jesus. It was a ragged imitation of what God would do in me—and in you. Under the surface of my pastor persona was behavior much more in line with the ‘works of the flesh’ about which Paul warned the Galatians.

Paul lines out these works of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21, but not as a shaming tactic for his readers. He is merely noting that all these kinds of activities show up in believers’ lives when they are hard at it trying to live out their faith depending on keeping external rules laid out by well-meaning-but-just-as-trapped church teachers to whom they were listening. If you get circumcised, Paul states emphatically, “Christ will be of no value to you.” (Galatians 5:2 NIV) You will get no benefit from the relationship because your faith life will cease to be a relationship and become a chore. You will abandon grace—the empowering presence of the Spirit—to go it alone in your own strength. The end result is always works of the flesh, the kind of sad life that those who do not belong to Christ always live. The kind of life you might be living because you are trying to reform yourself to look like Jesus instead of being transformed by keeping in step with the Spirit.

I found out, belatedly to be sure, that it did not have to be this way. I had already been in ministry for three years before this truth came home to me. I look back on this with some incredulity, but less now after meeting so many others in ministry saddled with the same misunderstandings and trapped by the same fleshly outcomes.

The fruit of the Spirit Paul proclaims is at the heart of the Great Exchange. We have become the righteousness of God in exchange for Christ becoming sin for us. (2 Corinthians 5:21) What is this righteousness we have become? It is this core character of Jesus: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. You cannot help but see them when you rifle through Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

What Jesus is, we are becoming. Not in his deity, but in his likeness as the last Adam—displaying humanity as we were created to be had Adam not rebelled against God. God has already determined He is going to conform you and me to look exactly like Jesus (Romans 8:29). So hang on as I explore in these next blogs what we are becoming as we keep in step with the Spirit.

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:25 (NIV)

-Steve Smith

 


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What am I supposed to surrender?

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Keeping in Step with the Spirit Part 8: What am I supposed to surrender?

So if you are listening to what the Spirit says, where do you go from there?

You surrender. What you do not know when you choose to keep in step with the Spirit is that you have to relinquish into God’s hands what you cannot keep. You may have thought your way of living your life is the right one, but thinking this way has a way of trapping you into producing nothing that has eternal value.

Recently I was asked by someone I mentor, “What exactly does ‘surrender’ mean?” As commonly as the word pops up in sermons and other Christian teaching, we kind of assume that people know what is meant by encouraging someone to surrender.

Defining surrender calls for insight into the story of the Fall. When Adam and Eve decided to eat of the Tree of Good and Evil, the motivating factor for them was the lie of the Serpent, “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” It was a let’s-go-for-it moment for them, the opportunity to know good and evil for themselves and practice their own version of godhood. We know how badly that has turned out for them and for us.

In making that fateful decision, their deepest loss was not their life—they would surely die—but their relationship with God. Their meal was a statement. “You are no longer our God. We are our own god. We reject your right to reign over us because we can now get along without you.”

Surrender means the reversal of this belief that you can get along without God. You are confessing your total need for God’s reign over you. You are giving up. You reserve no area of primary decision making for yourself. You are now surrendering to do God’s will instead of your own just like Jesus did when he shows up to be the sacrificial Lamb of God—“I have come to do your will, my God.” (Hebrews 10:7)

Surrender is necessary to gain insight into the meaning of wholeness. This insight comes from your deepening relationship with God and what He has said in Scripture:

  • What is the truth?
  • What does this truth mean for my life?
  • What do I do with this truth now that I know it?

These three questions are about listening with spiritual ears. What is God saying to us that we now hear? What does God say we should do when we want to leave a bitter marriage? Or say about a broken relationship? Or say about a long-ago crime we committed? Or about a lifelong habit that is as destructive as it is pleasurable? Asked in humility, such questions are used by the Spirit to bring us to the decision point. Will we trust his power to change us?

Just listing these few painful examples displays why believers resist the idea of surrender. If you surrender, you do not get to ‘protect’ yourself. What if God exposes something that you do not want to have come out or to give up?

Like for example…your reputation. Think of Jesus being called a drunkard and glutton. Think of him being thought of as out of his mind by his family!

Like prejudice. Think of Jesus giving a five-time married Samaritan woman living water.

Like comfort. Think of the Son of Man who did not have a place to lay down his head.

Surrender is about trusting God in the way Jesus did, that He is good—and not just when we are in a church service dutifully reciting back the response line, “All the time.”

I know a believer whose life has been through deep waters. His wife crashed and burned not just once, but multiple times with her addiction. His life with her was turmoil and he never knew what would be next—loss of their home, his company, their bank account. After the third go-round, he was ready to walk away from the marriage, feeling he had given enough. But the Spirit spoke into his heart that he, the husband, had made vows before the Father that he would love his wife for better or worse, in sickness and health. She was deeply sick in her soul and this was the ‘worse’. He surrendered his right to walk away, accepting that, under God’s reign, his job was to love his wife. It was the toughest thing he ever did and he still has not seen the end of this journey. But he trusts God and knows He is good—all the time.

You may never face such a challenge, but you will face your own challenges in surrendering to God’s right to reign over you. If it was easy, everyone would unhesitatingly do it. But it’s not easy. Yet it is necessary if we are going to be whole. Keeping in step with the Spirit is about surrendering every aspect of your life to the Father’s will.

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:25 (NIV)

-Steve Smith


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Are You Listening?

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Keeping in Step with the Spirit Part 7: Are You Listening?

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:25 (NIV)

So far, I have shared that to keep in step with the Spirit, you first have to make this a deliberate choice over trying to reform yourself to look like a Christian. Then you reset your focus on knowing God personally rather than as an ideal. So what’s next?

You must listen. In Revelation, as Jesus instructs each of the seven churches, he challenges them to listen to what the Spirit is saying. If you want to keep in step with the Spirit, you have to know where he is leading you. What does he want for you? What will you become? What do you need to avoid? What do you need to surrender?

Listening is not always about what we consider the big issues of life, such as where you should go to get your education or who to marry or what stance you should take on bitterly divisive cultural wars. Listening is often about the Spirit’s formation of your character and how you live out the faith daily. You can see this best in Paul’s fruit of the Spirit list just before this verse. When you listen, you experience deep change.

I frequently tell the story of the first thing I heard God tell me when I intentionally entered into my transformational journey. What He said was to stop criticizing my wife, Shirley. I was stunned and confused. I had plenty of other issues I thought should be number one on the list. But because He spoke and I heard, not only was I changed, our marriage was deeply changed.

But as you listen, you also come up against something you did not expect—grief. It may be the first time you realize how you have been wasting your life, how much you have thrown away just to live out your version of Christianity, how stupid you have been not to have listened as closely as you can.

What I have learned is that when you see your brokenness clearly, see your tendency to comfort yourself habitually with sin, see your useless defiance and self-protection, you find that you are ashamed. You mourn, as the second Beatitude says.

But this grief leads to hope. God’s love opens the way for you to grieve what has happened to you so that you can be comforted—so you can be set free from what has trapped you. Remember how Paul starts this chapter—it is for freedom that Christ has set us free.

I encourage you not to skip over this in learning how to keep in step with the Spirit. I meet a lot of believers who will not allow themselves to grieve over the historic wounds of their lives. Grieving seems to them to show weakness. “I have to be strong in the Lord,” they argue.

But tears and sorrow are part of God’s transformational process. Furthermore, grief is not just about what happened to you. It includes what you did to others due to your own unfinished business. You may already be grieving what you did to your children and how that has played out in their lives. Your spouse may be deeply wounded. You may have co-believers who avoid you like the plague. What your un-transformed self did to them requires you to listen to the Spirit so you can grieve, repent, then go and be reconciled, empowered to do so by him.

One of my friends had done a lot of damage to others when in the grip of his unfinished business. He insulted and bullied them mercilessly so he could prove he was right and they were wrong. Then he began to keep in step with the Spirit—and to listen to what the Spirit was saying to him. As a result, he saw the grief he had caused and it affected him so deeply that he went to every person he had wronged and reconciled with them.

This is why listening to what the Spirit is saying matters for you, and also beyond you, for the people who have been harmed by you. As you keep in step with the Spirit, the body of Christ you belong to is changed as well. 

So listen carefully.

-Steve Smith

 


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Are you looking for the right thing?

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Keeping in Step with the Spirit Part 6: Are you looking for the right thing?

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:25 (NIV)

Up to the day I knowingly entered my transformational journey and began to learn how to keep in step with the Spirit, I knew a lot about God and the Bible. I had been a ‘Sunday School Scholar’ all the way from the cradle to my senior year of high school. I graduated from college with high honors in Biblical studies and mastered divinity on my way to becoming a pastor. I not only could explain my theological beliefs, but could also teach the essential points of theological viewpoints that were not my own.

But I did not know God. Not personally.

Diving deeper into what it means to keep in step with the Spirit, The Spirit is not given so that I will have some kind of experience or that I will mind my manners better. The Spirit is in us so that we will know God better.

It probably is no surprise to you when I say that the starting place for keeping in step with the Spirit is a deepening knowing of God. Jesus’ life demonstrated this. Our theology demands it. But what does this mean if Bible knowledge doesn’t deliver it?

Here’s the thing. People can know their Bible pretty well and know God as a concept instead of the Being who calls them friend. A lot of believers know God as an ideal, but when crunch time comes, when the warfare is hot and life is stressing them to the max, their ideal of God fades from view.

To keep in step with the Spirit, you have to have your sights set on the true outcome—to know God better. Knowing God is a relationship pursuit instead of a thirst for the right answers to biblical questions. I often marvel at the number of Bible studies people take in without really knowing God in the end. Knowing the Word of God has displaced knowing God Himself as the goal for them.

When Jesus says “Come to me…,”  he is inviting you and me into the relationship God created us for in the Garden. It’s the ‘walks-with-me-talks-with-me’ kind of relationship that will sustain us in our darkest moments, will enlighten us for the whole of our journey.

And when we set our hearts on pursuing the knowing of God, a second reality kicks in.

By knowing God, we know ourselves. It is like having a mirror suddenly placed before your face. You see what your mind has refused to see. It is like Peter on his boat or Paul on the road to Damascus clearly realizing who they were with, and seeing themselves as radically broken men. Like they, people are tempted to say to God, “Keep your distance, because I am a wicked person.”

This is why people embrace rule-keeping over keeping in step with the Spirit. Through rule-keeping we are trying to alleviate guilt, lessening our sense of failure Making us feel like we are doing our part. Keeping the rules seems to offer us a chance to redeem ourselves to God—to think that we are gaining ground in His favor as he sees us trying hard to keep His commands.

Divest yourself of this kind of thinking. Nothing you can do will gain the favor of God. Freedom from guilt was given to you by the sufficiency of the cross. God has not given you His Spirit to watch you try hard to gain His approval. The Spirit has been given to you because God already approves you. You have the Spirit so that you would come to know God deeply—while God Himself conforms us to the image of Jesus.

The purpose of knowing ourselves by knowing God is not to make us feel guilty. Its purpose is to expose the brokenness already there inside us so that we will thirst for the life Jesus died to provide for us. Keeping in step with the Spirit allows us to hear God’s love for us in our broken state. Knowing God intimately will bring us to a make-you-a-fisher-of-men moment—a promise that our brokenness will no longer define us.

In the 30 plus years I have been on this spirit-led journey, I have come to know God better. I am no longer afraid of Him and His agenda for me. I do not wonder where He is in the middle of my worst moments when I am not doing well or life is not working out like I had hoped. Because I am keeping in step with the Spirit, I hear what He is saying and I know He’s got me firmly in his grip. He won’t let me go and he will complete the work he has started in me.

He’s got you, too. Embrace that.

-Steve Smith


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