And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28 NIV)

I hear this verse quoted on a regular basis.  Sometimes it is used to encourage those battling tough times.  It is often said to motivate people to pursue righteousness.  However, every time I hear it, I can’t help but to think about how selfish it sounds.

It comes across as a promise, a guarantee, a reward.  It’s like we are saying “If you want things to go your way, love God.  Then your life will be awesome.”

If the Bible teaches us anything, it is that following God is uncomfortable, difficult, and downright dangerous.  You are supposed to die to yourself, take up your cross, and sacrifice every desire of the flesh to do what is right in His eyes.

So how does that mesh with this frequently quoted scripture?  Am I saying that this is a false promise?  Absolutely not.

If you love God with all your mind, body, soul, and strength, and you respond to His call to fulfill your purpose, what would you consider to be “good?”  If you die to yourself, what kinds of things will you want to happen?  If you spend every moment trying to produce fruit, what will your results look like?

When most people quote Romans 8:28, they seem to imply that the “good” we will receive will be worldly rewards.  We use it to encourage folks looking for employment or money.  We share it bring comfort to those in pain.  But are those things really the “good” that this verse promises?  It may sound callus, but I don’t think it is.

If I am completely sold out for Christ and doing everything in my power for Him, I can’t imagine that I would be concerned with whether or not I get a promotion.  I won’t spend any time thinking about my feelings being hurt or my pride taking a hit. 

If I am living for God, my “good” will become more and more like His good.  I will want His will to be done and His love to prevail, no matter what impact it has on my life.  Selflessness means that my “good” is based on His plan and my plan no longer matters.

I hope I can someday get to that point.  What about you?  What is your “good”?

We have all heard of the Age of Enlightenment.  It was the period during the 18th century when folks put an emphasis on being smart and decided to value intelligence above all else.  To be perfectly honest with you, I had to look it up to make sure I remembered it correctly.  Apparently I would not have fit in during that time.

I’m not sure how well I fit in nowadays either.  I am constantly frustrated by the attitudes of those that I interact with.  It seems as though everyone thinks they have a right to get their way no matter how much it inconveniences others.  It’s like we have all been spoiled and now we expect to have success, happiness, and immediate gratification handed to us on a silver platter.  It’s like we have entered an Age of Entitlement.

I believe a large part of it comes from the “everyone gets a trophy” philosophy our society has taken on.  We are taught that we deserve as much as anyone else even if we don’t work as hard, possess the proper skills, or even care as much.  We are told that we deserve happiness and success no matter what.  Society has set us up to believe that we are all equally great. 

Now is the part when you expect me to say that you only deserve what you work for, or as much as your talent and natural ability allows.  Most people say that rewards should only be given to those that stand out as being more qualified than others.  They would say that this country is falling apart because we have too many trophies and too few people willing to work hard to get what they deserve.

However, I am here to tell you that you deserve nothing.  Should you work hard?  Absolutely, so that God’s work may be done.  Should you utilize your talents?  Sure, for His glory.  Should you take advantage of opportunities that come your way?  If you feel led to do so, go right ahead so that you may have the opportunity to tell more and more people about His love. 

But nothing that we do, no matter how hard we work or how ambitious we are, is deserving of any type of reward.  We are all sinners and have fallen short of the glory of God.  We all deserve death and to be separated from God forever.  That is ALL that we deserve. 

So the next time you feel entitled or get frustrated because things did not go your way, bow your head and pray for humility.  We are all blessed beyond belief by just having the opportunity to have a relationship with God.  And the more this world tells us we deserve this or we deserve that, the more tempting it is to make our lives about us.  But just as Christ showed us, that is not the case.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.N)"> And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by coming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8 NIV)

I work on a college campus.  To get anywhere, it feels like I have to cross the street at least twice.  So, in order to save time, you have to figure out the best paths to take and the easiest streets to cross.  I have learned a lot in my decade or so of crossing these streets.

First of all, I have learned that, no matter what, cars get the right-of-way.  They may not always stop at the sign and you certainly can’t expect them to ever stop at the courtesy crosswalks.  They are big and they can hurt you.  Let them have their way.

Secondly, I have learned a great deal about timing.  I have created imaginary lines on all of the sidewalks leading up to the crosswalks that tell me whether or not I have time to cross the street depending on the timing of the “Walk” sign.  I subconsciously count the beeps of the sign as I cross the street so that I can tell, without looking, when that big red hand goes back up.

Most importantly, I have learned that you cannot rely on others to push the button.  Few things frustrate me more than walking up to a crowded crosswalk, assuming somebody else has pushed the “Walk” button, and then watching the traffic light turn green when it should be my turn to walk.  No matter how many people are standing around the button, you can never assume that somebody has pushed it.  Yet, that tends to be my nature and it often leaves me wasting another two minutes of my life waiting to cross the street.

I find this is eerily similar to how most Christians approach helping people.  If we see somebody that needs help, we usually go on our way assuming that somebody else will help them.  If we see an opportunity for service, we tend to be generous enough to give someone else that opportunity.  And if we stumble upon a chance to show some much needed love to a stranger, we unfortunately that assume somebody else will love on them.

We should never, ever, ever, ever assume that somebody else will show love, or serve, or meet basic needs, or even push a button.  Seeking purity and justice as we are commanded requires action, and in these ministry opportunities where we choose a lack of action we are actively choosing to not be Christ-like.  We are choosing to be a bystander and to take part in the apathetic attitude of our sinful culture.

Don’t be a bystander.  Just push the button.

Have you ever prayed for patience?  I have, and there are few things that I have ever regretted more.  Don’t get me wrong, patience is a great thing.  It is one of the fruit of the Spirit, in fact, and we’ll get to that a little more in a minute. 

But trying to attain patience, the process of learning and developing patience, is a nightmare.  If you pray for patience, God will put you in all sorts of situations where you will have to be patient.  For some reason, that seems like a prayer He is always willing to answer with yes.  If you ask Him to help you become more patient, be prepared to wait, be frustrated, and cry it out.  Patience is a-coming.

That is why patience, in its truest form, is one of the most rare fruit to actually possess.  Many people may appear patient, but actually being able to use it to glorify God is an entirely different story. 

According to Google, patience means “the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.”  So how can somebody glorify God just by not getting upset or angry?  Isn’t that more like damage control?  Not necessarily.

We often think of ourselves as patient because we can mask our emotions.  We believe that as long as we keep our frustrations at bay, then we are being patient. 

But if the Google definition is accurate, and I believe it is, patience is not just being able to hide being upset.  It is having the spiritual constitution to not get upset in the first place.

Patience is one of the most tricky traits on the fruit of the spirit list because there are no obvious fruit.  Since the definition of patience revolves around not doing something, it is often difficult for it to even be identified.  In fact, the fruit that comes from patience is often credited as being a different kind of fruit.

When we see a fellow believer being patient through a tough situation, we usually admire their faithfulness.

When we notice other Christians being patient with people that are giving them a hard time, we are in awe of their gentleness.

When we see another Christian seeking to bless others even though their blessings have yet to arrive, we are overwhelmed by their kindness.

If we are truly patient with our circumstances, our relationships, and with God, we will be able to see other fruit appear in abundance.  It’s like I always say, “Be patient.  Be fruitful.”  Okay, I don’t always say that.  But maybe I should start.

Being a former athlete-ish type person, I have always considered myself to have good hands.  I rarely drop things.  I often catch random objects my wife throws at me.  And, on several occasions, I have saved my daughter from the horrible aim of my son.

Even though I am very confident in my ability to use my hands, I have never been more scared than the first time I held my oldest child.  I instantly felt like my hands were bricks and I was praying I wouldn’t break him.  For the first time, I really had to think about what it meant to be gentle.

When you think of gentleness, what do you see?  Babies?  Puppies?  Kittens?  Chris Tomlin?  Sure, those things are harmless.  Cute.  Cuddly.  Adorable.  Gentle.

The best way I can describe gentleness would probably be anything that has a lack of aggression.  You can’t have any aggression when holding a baby or you might hurt it.  If you are aggressive around a puppy it will run away and hide.  If you show aggression toward Chris Tomlin, he might stop making songs that all sound alike. 

Acting with gentleness is pretty much the opposite of acting with aggression.

Galatians 6:1 says that “if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently.”  If you are approaching a fellow believer about a sin, that would be hard to do gently.  You have to be careful not to come off as judgmental, angry, or confrontational. 

The best way to do that is to remove all aggression.  Approach them with love, let them know that you are only trying to help, and let them know you understand what it is like to struggle with sin (because we all do).  Don’t get me wrong, you have to be assertive and direct if you plan to be any help whatsoever.  You must be clear and honest.  But any aggression whatsoever would push somebody away in that situation.

So what kind of gentle fruit can we produce?  Gentleness seems like the most reserved and inactive of the fruit of the spirit.  However, think about the previous example in Galatians 6.  If you seek to restore a fellow Christian with gentleness, what do you think might happen? 

You will become easier to talk to.

You will become more approachable.

You will build trust. 

You will build a more solid relationship.

These things do not only apply to confronting sinful behavior.  These fruit come from anything you do with gentleness, whether it is spending time with an old friend, meeting new friends, feeding the hungry, supporting widows and orphans, disciplining your children, meeting with a client, writing a letter or an email, posting on Facebook, or even just sitting in traffic.

When the Holy Spirit produces gentleness through you, all of your relationships and interactions will change.  You will become a friend that a friend would love to have.  You will become a stranger that is trusted and welcomed.  You will become a disciple that better reflects their master.  You will become a Christian that makes other people seek Christ.

Gentleness is a very powerful fruit.  Never underestimate that.

In case you have yet to pick up on it, the Bible is pretty much a metaphor machine.  Between Jesus’ parables and Paul’s sometimes obscure references, it often feels like you are trying to solve a riddle to find the underlying meaning of a particular scripture.  There are other times when there is an obvious message, but the implications run much deeper than it appears at first glance.

One of those pieces of scripture is found in the book of Galatians.  “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. There is no law against these things!” (Galatians 5:22-23 NLT)

The fruit metaphor in scripture is usually pretty clear.  Fruit usually represents a good work or deed.  It refers to offspring and increasing numbers.  In this scripture, we are given a specific list of fruit that come directly from being led by the Holy Spirit.

As we have seen before, Paul uses the fruit illustration to talk about good things that come from being obedient.  There is no debate that love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are all great things.  In fact, it would be hard to find anything negative that could come from this list as long as a person’s heart is genuine and focused on the Lord.

However, there are deeper messages and implications in this list that Paul does not fully explain.  Over the next nine Fridays (Fruitful Fridays), I am going to discuss, in-depth, how each fruit can be lived out and what it would look like if truly guided by the Holy Spirit.

For now, however, let’s take a deeper look at the fruit metaphor itself.  What could fruit represent that we have not already discussed here? 

First of all, where does fruit come from?  It comes from trees, right?  Sort of, but that is not what I am looking for.  Fruit…plants?  No, that’s just ridiculous.  Fruit, my friends, comes from…wait for it…fruit.

Fruit contains seeds.  Those seeds are planted and new plants grow.  From those plants, new fruit is produced. 

Like edible fruit, the fruit that we produce should not just serve a purpose and cease to exist.  The fruit of the Spirit should plant seeds that produce more fruit…that produce more fruit…that produce more fruit...and so on.

We should also keep in mind that fruit produces nourishment.  While an apple a day keeps the doctor away, love can have an eternal impact on the lives of everyone around you.  The fruit of the Spirit provides nourishment to the souls of those we serve, and it recharges our own spiritual batteries. 

And of course, let’s not forget Jesus’ reaction to a tree that failed to produce fruit.  “Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry.  Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.”  (Matthew 21:18-19 NIV)

As we dive into the specific fruit of the Spirit over the next couple of months, please feel free to share any other “fruit metaphors” you come up with in the comments section as they apply to this piece of scripture.  I always find it amazing how many different lessons people can learn from a particular passage of the Bible.

I really enjoy holding doors for people.  I don’t know why, but I get a kick out of it.  I guess it is just one thing I can do that is helpful, polite, and super easy.  Opening doors is a way that I can love people with minimal risk of screwing it up.  However, like my friends Poison used to say, every rose has its thorn.

For whatever reason, and I know this is petty and selfish, I tend to get pretty frustrated when people are not thankful for me opening the door for them.  I don’t need a scene or a dramatic production.  I don’t even need a verbal thank you.  A smile, a nod, or any combination of the two would more than suffice. 

And the thing is, I know that I do not need the thank you.  I think I just get disappointed that they do not feel the need to give one.  I realize that is judgmental and that I usually know nothing about what kind of mood they are in or what they have been through that day.  That is on me and I am not proud of it.  However, I have to wonder if God ever feels frustrated when we do not give thanks.

In Luke 17, Jesus heals ten men that have leprosy.  They approach Him asking that He will have pity on them, and He tells them to go and show themselves to the priests.  When they do, they are healed.  Of the ten men, however, only one returns to say thank you.  A Samaritan, who would rarely have even spoken to a Jew, came and threw himself at Jesus’ feet, giving thanks.  Then Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?  Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?”  Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:17-19 NIV)

There have been a couple of situations in the last week in which God has greatly blessed my family.  In one in particular, he answered a prayer that has been a burden on my family for several years.  As I yelled out “Praise God!  Thank you Lord!” at the top of my lungs, I started to feel inadequate as if my thank you’s were not enough.  I started to wonder what it would be like for God to deserve eternal thanks and only receive my meager words. 

It was at that point that I realized that God does not need my thanks.  His ego does not depend on anything I do or say.  Jesus was not frustrated by the other nine men because He was offended by them, but because His heart broke for them. 

You see, giving thanks to God gives us the opportunity to truly experience humility, to immerse ourselves in His love and blessings, and to prepare our hearts to funnel those blessings to those in need.  Make no mistake, giving thanks did much more for that Samaritan man than it did for Jesus. 

Saying “thank you” is for our benefit, not God's.  And as much as He has proven that He loves us, I can only imagine how much it hurts Him when we pass up that blessing. 

Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness.  Let the whole world know what he has done. (1 Chronicles 16:8 NLT)

Jesus tells us that we should not hate our enemies, but we should love them and pray for them.  That sounds like an idea I could get behind.  I’m pickin’ up what He’s puttin’ down.  But when I try to put it into practice, I often have trouble finding an enemy to pray for and love. 

Shoot, if I was the Road Runner, I would pray for Wile E. Coyote every day.  If I was Rocky Balboa, I’d show Ivan Drago how much I love him by baking brownies at least once a week.  I would even invite Darth Vader to the Jedi Council Christmas party. 

The fact of the matter is that I don’t have one lifetime enemy, an epic rival that is always out to get me and foil my plans.  I would guess that very few of us do here in the real world.  So how does the “loving your enemy” principal really apply to us, then?

I believe that we all have every day enemies that haunt us.  But we would never use the term enemy to describe them.  We call them “the guy that cut me off in traffic,” “my neighbor and his stupid dog,” “that lazy waitress,” and “that guy at church that got mad at me for sitting in his spot.”  These are the people that make us angry, and get in the way of us continuing our lives as planned.  These are the folks that we get back at by talking badly about them, purposefully ignoring them, and intentionally loving them less.

Sure, Jesus wants us to love and pray for those villains that sometimes make a major negative impact on our lives.  But the practical application of this command is that we need to stop being so selfish when we are inconvenienced, delayed, or even purposefully deceived by those we interact with and may never see again. 

Even if those people are truly guilty of wrongdoing, our judgment and frustration toward them is insignificant, self-serving, and ultimately detrimental to our own ability to show love to everyone.  We need to pray for them.  We need to love them, forgive them, and move on.  If we can do that consistently, it will become a habit and we will constantly find ourselves enemy-free.  How cool would that be?

Who do you see as your every day enemies?

_I have a confession to make. I’m scared of the dark.  There, I said it.  Ever since I was a kid, I could not stand to be alone in the dark.  It wasn’t the dark, necessarily, that I was afraid.  It was the things out there that the dark did not allow me to see.  Don’t lie, you know exactly what I am talking about.

While I still keep the Flashlight app on the home screen of my phone just in case, a friend of mine said something a few years ago that gave me a new perspective on darkness.  He said, “darkness does not exist.”  Apparently, he has never heard of blackout curtains…and he did not watch UK play football last Fall. 

Actually, he had a good point.  It is 100% impossible to produce darkness.  What we perceive as darkness is simply the absence of light.  Light, I might add, is very powerful and even the least bit of it can overcome a vast amount of so-called darkness. 

At the risk of being painfully obvious, allow me to directly apply the light versus darkness paradigm to the good versus evil discussion.  While saying “evil does not exist” feels wrong and even a bit scary, it seems fitting that anything we perceive as evil can be more aptly described as a lack of good.  Or, for us Christians, evil can be thought of as the lack of God’s presence in any given situation. 

If you are saying, “but God is everywhere, Jamie, there should be no evil at all according to your argument,” hold your horses.  I’m getting there.  Of course God is everywhere.  However, due to the free will He gives us, we can choose to exclude God from our lives.  We can choose to remove Him from the situations we are involved in.  When we do that, evil starts to creep in.  The lack of God’s presence in any circumstance leaves the door open for evil to have a fighting chance against us.

Luckily, God desperately wants to be a part of our lives.  He wants to be close to us so badly that He sent His only Son to die and be raised again so that we can have a relationship with Him.  Just like light, the presence of the Lord in any situation can easily eradicate any amount of evil.  But it is up to us to invite God into our lives.  It is our responsibility to put God first and be as Christ-like as possible so that the only true good, the only pure light in the world, can eliminate all darkness and evil that tries to latch onto our lives. 

What have you done to help brighten the place up lately?