Peace: Wholeness and Shalom A Spirit-Synced Way of Life


Peace: Wholeness and Shalom

What is peace?

I think our minds normally drift toward the semantic domain of safety when we try to answer this question.  Peace is the freedom from conflict.  Peace is security.  Peace is an absence of strife, we think to ourselves.

But is it?  It doesn’t seem that peace is only a want of quarreling.

I think at other times when we try to identify peace we might think of it as a glib salutation before we leave the presence of a friend.  “Peace out!  I’ll see you later,” we may say.

Another way we often define peace is with various notions that orbit the idea of tranquility (like the picture at the top of this blog!).  So peace would be something like a nice, calm quiet space or period of time.

As followers of Jesus we sometimes define peace in a quirky way.  We say things like “I have a peace about dating John” or “I don’t have a peace about quitting my job.”  So, in these contexts, it appears that “peace” means something like an agreeable inner-spirit (“peace of mind” so to speak).

But when we read Galatians 5 and the Apostle Paul says that a Spirit-synced way of life results in peace, does he have our modern notions of peace in mind?  Or does he think of something else?

Most surely the Apostle Paul, aka Rabbi Saul, had in mind Hebrew notions of peace.  Unfortunately, the Hebrew idea of peace is wrapped up in one beautiful word — shalom — that’s nearly impossible to translate well into English.

Here are a few sample ideas relating to shalom that are floating around out there:

  • Rabbi Joseph (c. 280-350  B.C.), a major figure in the Talmud (a commentary of a commentary on the Hebrew Bible) said this is Gittin 59b: “the whole of the Law is also for the purpose of promoting shalom, as it is written, Her ways are ways of pleasantness and all her paths are shalom [Proverbs 3.17].”
  • Aviezer Ravitzky, a professor at Hebrew University, writes the following about what shalom meant in the rabbinic writings (namely, the Mishnah, the Talmud, and the Midrash): “In the rabbinic texts, shalom primarily signifies a value, an ethical category–it denotes the overcoming of strife, quarrel, and social tension, the prevention of enmity and war.  It is still, to be sure, depicted as a blessing, a manifestation of divine grace, but in a great many sayings it appears in a normative context: The pursuit of peace is the obligation of the individual and the goal of various social regulations and structures.  The majority of passages on the subject of peace are concerned with family or communal life, that is, with internal peace among people, and only a minority are concerned with relations between Israel and other peoples. between nations and states…The Sages [i.e., ancient rabbis] went to great lengths in their praise of peace, to the point of viewing it as a meta-value, the summit of other values…Peace was the ultimate purpose of the whole Torah…”  (20th Century Jewish Religious Thought, “Peace” by Ravitzky, pg. 686)
  • Lastly, former president of Calvin College, Cornelius Plantinga, wrote the following about shalom: “The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight is what the Hebrew prophets call shalom. We call it peace, but it means far more than mere peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies. In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight—a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom He delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.” (Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, pg. 10)

I hope it is clear that the word that Rabbi Saul (the Apostle Paul) was using in Galatians 5 had the Hebrew word shalom standing behind it.  And this word, shalom, is a word rich with meaning.  Shalom, and therefore “peace” in Galatians 5, means universal flourishing, wholeness, and things being the way they ought to be.


Shalom, but How?

How do we find shalom then, as followers of Jesus?

Do we do it by taking courses on conflict resolution?  Well, that will only get us so far.

Do we engage in peace walks and non-violent demonstrations?  Sure, when the issues being brought to light are in line with God’s justice as seen in the Bible; but this won’t create the shalom we’re looking for.

Do we work endless hours efforting to bring about wholeness and flourishing for others?  There aren’t many things that would be more noble to pursue, but we’ll fail.  Guaranteed.

Do we pool all our resources in order to seek the shalom of our communities?  Sure!  But, unfortunately, we’re all people and invariably we’ll miss some people, we’ll seek shalom for some in unhelpful ways, etc.

So, we’re doomed in our efforts to find shalom then, right?


There’s a way.  In Galatians 5 Rabbi Saul spells it out pretty clearly: walk by the Spirit (16), be led by the Spirit (18), and stay in step with the Spirit (25).  Why is this idea of the Spirit’s leading important?  Because we’re human!

Rabbi Saul says it better than I ever could:

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. (Galatians 5.16-17a)

Do you see it?  If we try to do things in our own power, in the flesh, then what we’ll accomplish will be contrary to the Spirit.  And if our goal is follow Jesus, that is, to live a Spirit-synced way of life, then we certainly don’t want to accomplish things that go against what the Spirit desires!

So, instead, we must walk by the Spirit!

How?  Here are a few pointers to get us started:

  1. Read the Bible — More specifically, discover the ways that the Spirit works, speaks, moves, and guides by reading the Bible.  A great place to start would be the book of Acts.  In fact, a great practice would be to write in a journal all the things that you see the Spirit doing in the book of Acts.  When you are finished, look them over.  What do you notice?  What did you expect to see but didn’t find there?  And, most importantly, how can the truths of how the Spirit operates in the Bible impact your life and the life of your family, your Christian community, and your church?  Then, and here’s the hardest part, begin listening for the Spirit yourself, and when you think you hear him, work through the next three steps, and then obey!  Note: it’s easy to read what we want into the Bible.  So what we learn from the Scriptures should be viewed very highly, but we should also run it through #s 2, 3, and 4 below for the purpose of having checks and balances.
  2. Worship and Pray — A prime way to walk with the Spirit is to experience him through worship and prayer.  And by worship I mean two things primarily: 1) The life-as-worship idea in which you offer all that you do, from scrubbing toilets to creating works of art, as worship to God; and 2) Gathered worship in which you learn, sing, pray, and congregate with other followers of Jesus.  And the notion of prayer here is not complicated!  All I mean is that you converse with God, meaning that you talk to him and that you give him space to answer you back.  (Is it just me or do most American Christians do a poor job of allowing God to get a word in edgewise?)  And it has been my experience (and the experience of followers of Jesus for 2000 years!) that you will experience the Spirit through worship and prayer.  And when you do, it’s always important to make sure that your experience of the Spirit is sifted through the sieve of the Scriptures (#1 above), Christian community, and Church history (#s 3 and 4 below)!
  3. Christian Community — There’s a theological truth that I don’t really think we all believe.  Here it is: everyone who has been saved by grace through faith in Jesus is filled with the Spirit.  Why do I say we don’t really believe this?  Well, because we so rarely interact with one another in a way that indicates that we believe we are indwelt by the Spirit!  Many of us would prefer a just-Jesus-and-me Christianity to what we learn in the New Testament about following Jesus.  Jesus never meant us to do this thing alone!  We were meant for community.  And by community I don’t mean sitting in rows next to one another while listening to people sing and speak at the front of the room (though, of course, there’s great value in gathered worship!  See #2 above.)  Instead, what I mean is a smaller group of followers of Jesus with whom you can be on mission, with whom you can be vulnerable, and with whom you can experience love (giving and receiving).  In so doing, you will very likely hear from the Spirit of God in ways you never could have imagined on your own!  Of course, run whatever you learn through #s 1, 2, and 4 before going all in!
  4. Church History — This sounds boring, I know.  But it’s not!  If we want to walk by the Spirit, we must look back at the history of the Church and see how the Spirit moved in the past.  Now, to be sure, the Spirit of God can do new things.  That’s one of his hallmarks!  But he also works in patterns, or so it seems to our simple human brains.  As we look back into the annals of the Church, we’ll begin to pick up on how it seems that the Spirit leads.  Then we can be on the look out for him leading us in similar ways.  So pick up some biographies of Christians from the past whom you respect and read them.  Find the writings of Church people from the past.  And, just like with the others, this one needs to be tempered against #s 1, 2, and 3.

To summarize this bit: There are four ways we can learn about how to be led by the Spirit…from the Bible, through our experiences of prayer and worship, through Christian community, and by looking at Church history.

These four things are not equal though.  What we find in God’s Word comes first.  The other three can vary in their order of importance from situation to situation and from person to person.  But what the Bible seems to say clearly about how the Spirit leads should always be given the highest respect!


Now to apply this to shalom: If we want to experience shalom in our lives, our families, and our communities, then we must live Spirit-synced ways of life and we must do so together.  The only way to do this is by seeking the Spirit out, seeing where he is going, and following him, all while using the advice above as best we can.

When we do these things, it is likely that we’ll experience the wholeness, the security, the rest, and the fulfillment that we’ve been longing for.

We’ll experience shalom!


What do you think?  What is peace and how is it a result of being synced with the Spirit?

Joy Despite Circumstances A Spirit-Synced Way of Life


My favorite shot from Myron’s 7-month photoshoot!


Joy Despite Circumstances

The photo above is of my son, Myron.  That shot was taken right in the middle of a crazy day.  He had been fussy just before this photoshoot and he was fussy right after it.  But right there in the middle of all that fussiness, Myron found some joy.

Sure, some of his favorite toys, books, and stuff helped.  But joy was found nonetheless!

To be honest, Myron’s experience of joy sounds an awful lot like mine.  As I’m seeking to live a Spirit-synced way of life, I often find joy wedged right in between hardships.

Right between a letdown at work and a car problem.

Right between bad news about a family member and a plumbing problem.

Right between violence in the neighborhood and burning dinner.

It’s right there that joy is found, the joy that is an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit.


In Every Season of Life

The circumstances that shouldn’t impact our joy from the Spirit are not just limited to one-time events.  No.  We should find joy in all seasons of life, even those seasons that seem long, dry, and difficult.

How do we do this?  Do we try to manufacture joy on our own, putting on a happy face for the world to see?


By: Janelle

No!  When we try to drum up joy on our own, it may look cute for a minute or two, an hour or two, or even a day or two…but eventually people will see that this “joy” is as real as a plastic doll’s smile.

Instead we can only truly experience joy as we walk in step with the Spirit, as the Apostle Paul talks about in Galatians 5.  That’s where we’ll find joy.

The unending depth of joy that are available in the Spirit is our source of joy, not our will power, discipline, or acting ability!


Fake It ‘Til You Make It

So we shouldn’t fake it ’til we make it!  We should trust in the Spirit of God to infuse us with his joy as we walk with him.

Now if there’s anyone who needs to hear this advice, it’s us — Christians!  I bet this scenario sounds familiar to you if you’ve been part of the Church (at least in America!) for a while:

It’s Sunday morning and the time when you need to leave the house to arrive to the worship service more or less on time is rapidly dwindling.  Everyone in the house is harried, frantic, and on-edge.  People are yelling at each other.  There’s a fight over who showers next.  Maybe even an expletive or four are thrown around.

Then you get in the car.  No matter how long your drive is, it’s probably filled with continued stress and anger.  More yelling.  Threats of violence are leveled against the children.  Promises of eternal hate are returned.

Then you arrive in the parking lot that you use when you go to the worship service.  Until the doors to the car are opened, a few more tight-lipped verbal salvos are lobbed at one another.  But everyone is taking care to not look like they’ve just been angry at one another for at least the last ninety minutes!

Then the car doors open.  That’s when the plastic smile from the doll in the picture above is slapped across everyone’s faces.  The family must put on airs, appearing to be happy, loving, and joyful.

And the sad truth: everyone else is doing it too.  Okay, not everyone.  I know there’s a few of you out there who live this Spirit-synced life better than the rest of us!

But it’s truly sad that during our times of Christian community and gathered worship we are most tempted to fake joy or the manufacture it on our own.

It would be better for us to be honest with ourselves, our families, and our brothers and sisters in Christ.  At least that way we could begin to grow and learn.  As long as we’re pretending we don’t need to learn, we’re certainly not going to seek learning out!

So let’s NOT fake it ’til we make it.  Let’s pursue the Spirit, being vulnerable along the way.  Let’s admit our shared humanity and help one another find the joy of the Spirit more and more!


Biblical Joy

My favorite place in the New Testament that reflects on joy (to some degree) is the beginning of Philippians 2.  Here it is:

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Philippians 2.1-4)

Paul had a vested interest in the church at Philippi.  He planted the church in Philippi and was falsely imprisoned while doing so (Acts 16.11-40).  And so this church, which initially met in the home of an early female Christian leader named Lydia, had a special place in Paul’s heart.

You can see this in Paul’s words in Philippians 2.  He’s begging them to be unified.  And he says that if they are unified together — being like-minded, having one love, putting aside selfishness and embracing true community — then his joy would be made complete.

He doesn’t say that he won’t have any joy until this happens, just that if the church in Philippi his joy will be complete.  This word, “complete,” can mean “full” or “mature” as well.  It’s almost as if Paul is saying that his joy is like a fine wine, and when the church in Philippi finally gets unified, then his joy will be properly aged and ready to be enjoyed.

But I want to be sure we note a few things here.

  • First, this kind of joy that Paul longs for has its origins in a “common sharing of the Spirit.”  This isn’t a joy that can be manufactured on one’s own.  It comes from the Spirit of God working within and among his people.
  • Second, this kind of joy is communal.  Paul’s joy is deeply connected to the church in Philippi and their joy is connected to Paul and to one another.  Joy isn’t something that is reserved for individuals to enjoy on their own.  It’s born in community (through joint pursuit of the Spirit) and it is best expressed to one another within community.
  • Third, immediately following this passage at the beginning of Philippians 2, Paul writes that we should have the same mindset that Christ had.  In other words, in order for joy to be made complete, we need to be more and more Christ-like.  In fact, I’m going to make a revolutionary claim here: living a Spirit-synced life is a synonym for following Jesus!  *gasp*  As we pursue the Spirit, he’ll lead us to live like Jesus lived when he was walking around on earth.  And as we seek to imitate Jesus, we can only do so with the aid and help of the Spirit (and one another).
  • Fourth, joy and love are intimately connected.  As we discussed previously, love is a choice which is acted upon to put the interests of others before our own.  In so doing, joy can be made complete.  And as we experience joy (both as a recipient and a conduit), we’ll demonstrate our love for one another more and more!  Paul would talk about this more in Philippians 4, where he says that because of what he has found in Christ and within community, he can have joy, that is, contentment, in all situations and at all times.  I don’t know about you…but that’s what I want!


So joy means having a deep and abiding sense of contentment despite what life, circumstances, and others throw at us.  Joy is based on the unchanging nature of the Triune God and not on our moods, our life stages, or our friends and family.  But when we experience joy, it is one of those things that can only truly be enjoyed with others!


What do you think?  How do you define joy?  How does pursuing the Spirit help you find it?  Let me know in the comments below!

Patience Is Suffering with Grace A Spirit-Synced Way of Life


By: Oran Viriyincy

Patience is Suffering with Grace

Of all the aspects of the fruit of the Spirit, not to mention the Christian life in general, patience is the one area where I need to show more evidence that my life is guided and directed by the Spirit.  And living in Los Angeles County doesn’t help this at all!

The picture above looks all too familiar to me.  I have somewhere to go and I need to be there fast.  It’s only a few miles away.  I jump in my car, confidently pull out of the garage thinking I’ll get there in no time.

But there’s construction, an accident, an event at the Rose Bowl, and a school zone.


I have to wait.

But it’s not just driving that tests me…

It’s texting too.  See if this sounds familiar: I send an important text to someone.  They don’t respond immediately.  Five minutes pass and nothing.  Hours pass, no reply.  Two days come and go and still nada!

I think to myself (or say to my wife!): Ugh!  This is so annoying!  Why don’t they just reply!

But the reality of the situation is that I make people wait all the time for text replies.  I’m such a hypocrite!

I could go on and on — the internet is slow, people are in my way, something doesn’t work as it was designed, etc., etc., etc.

And here’s the thing: I know I’m not alone.  A recent survey found that we’re all impatient and that we make decisions about where we do business and how we treat people based on how long we have to wait!

So when we think about patience, an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5, which can be defined as suffering with grace, I think it’s fair to say that we’re in need of a bit more!


How do we get more patience?

So, we know we need to be more patient.  But how do we get more patient?  And can we do it right now…I mean, I don’t have time to be patient about being more patient!

Here’s the truth, almost all of us have said at one time or another that we need to be more patient.  But we haven’t made long-term, sustainable changes.  We’ve not become more patient.

If Dr. Phil was here he would say, “How’s that workin’ for ya?”

Really poorly Dr. Phil.  Really poorly.

We need more patience but we’re proving to ourselves and one another that we can’t will ourselves to be more patient.

So, what are we to do?  How can we inculcate more patience in our lives?

There’s only one way to build patience as a follower of Jesus.  And it’s by being synced with the Spirit, staying in step with him as he leads us.

That’s what Paul was getting at when he named patience as an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit.  He was saying that, as we live lives more in line with the Spirit, we will become more and more patient.  We’ll be able to suffer the aggravations of life with more and more grace.

By staying in step with the Spirit, he will build patience in us.  He’ll do what we cannot do for ourselves or one another.


Examples of Spirit-led Patience

So, what does this look like?  In reality, what does it look like to have patience that comes from being deeply connected to the Spirit of God?

Truthfully, I’m not really the guy to ask!  I’m so thoroughly impatient that every example I read about or think of seems idealized or forced.  (I know, I know…I need to be more connected to the Spirit myself!)

But there was one person who had a connection with the Spirit that was always unbroken, always effective, and always produced the fruit of the Spirit.  That person, of course, was Jesus.

And examples of patience in his life abound:

  • When he found out his friend Lazarus sick, he was patient.  He didn’t rush to his side.  He waited, because he knew that by doing so more glory could go to his Father.
  • Jesus’ interactions with his disciples are filled with patience.  They ask Jesus stupid questions, they tell people unhelpful things, they do the wrong things, they don’t get what Jesus is teaching and showing them, and they fight with one another for power.  Through all of that, Jesus was patient, knowing that there was a process they had to go through to become the people he needed them to be after he left.
  • And one majorly-overlooked example of Jesus’ patience dominates the majority of the time he was alive.  From the moment Jesus was conceived until he was 30 years old, we know almost nothing about him.  How could Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, simply bide his time as a poor carpenter’s son?  How could he grow into adulthood, while waiting to fulfill his purpose?  How could he withstand the ridicule that likely came with him remaining single all through his 20s?  One way: He was patient thanks to his deep and abiding connection to the divine life through the Spirit!

Like Jesus, we have a deep and abiding connection to the divine life through the Spirit too!  Yay!

Unlike Jesus, we don’t have the wherewithal to always rely on that connection the way he did.

But we know from the example of Jesus’ life, and from the countless other lives of people who are patient thanks to being synced to the Spirit, that patience is possible for those who surrender to the Spirit.

Maybe that’s the secret sauce: Surrender.  At its core, impatience is all about me wanting to get my way; while patience, at its core, is all about the Spirit having his way in us.

Let’s do more of the latter and less of the former!


What do you think?  Are you like me, impatient to no end?  Or have you figured this patience thing out?  Let me know in the comments below!

Love and the Interests of Others A Spirit-Synced Way of Life

Love is all you need.  These immortal words from the Beatles have been sung billions of times (and I feel like that number is conservative!).  But is it true; is love all that we need?

Well, on the surface of things it’s obviously not true.  Love is an abstract concept and as such it cannot provide our needs for food, water, shelter, and clothing.

But love can and does provide much of our emotional needs and can, in certain ways and at certain times, provide for our spiritual needs.

So maybe a more correct line would be “Love is a really important thing you need.”  But that just doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it?

What Is Love?

To continue our musical theme, love is, as the Boston famously put it, “more than a feeling.”  I like to think of love as a choice, an intentional action which can lead to a lifestyle and not as a fleeting emotional pull toward someone or something.

But, still, what is it?  We’ve categorized it as an intentional action, a choice…but what is it?

Here’s where the Apostle Paul helps us.  In Philippians 2.3-4 he give us the best definition of love I’ve ever read (though, for full disclosure’s sake, he doesn’t use the word “love” in this passage).

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Paul’s implication is clear, love is an action that is aimed at the interests of others, not at the interests of the self.  Love is supposed to be others-focused.  It’s supposed to be sacrificial and communal.  It’s supposed to result from humility and not selfishness.

Love is, simply put, placing the interests of others before our own.

Geez, could anything be harder?!?


1 Corinthians 13 and Love

Paul gives us lots of information about love in the famous words of 1 Corinthians 13.1-8a.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.

I know, I know.  This passage usually conjures up images of mushy wedding services or vow renewals.  And that’s fine.  There are no interests we should put first more often than those of our spouses!

But the chapters surrounding 1 Corinthians 13 make it clear that what Paul means by love here is the love that is shared within the Christian community and that is to be shared and embodied outwardly to the watching world.

But what does Paul actually teach us about love here?  Love is about placing the interests of others before our own.  That’s what he means when he says it’s patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, and not proud.  That’s what he means by saying love doesn’t dishonor others or that it isn’t selfish.

Love being defined as putting the interests of others first is seen in that it’s not easily angered, that it doesn’t keep a record of wrongs, and that it delights in truth and not evil.  A love that puts the interests of others first is protective, trusting, hopeful, perseverant, and unfailing.

That’s the kind of love I want to experience from others!  And as I learn to put the interest of others first, that’s the kind of love I’ll show them as well!


How to Be More Loving

But here’s the rub: How do we become more loving?  How do we put the interests of others before our own?

Well, there’s lots of sound advice out there.

  • Think carefully about how to love those closest to you.  Consider how they would want to be loved instead of simply loving them the way you want to be loved.
  • Learn from other people who love well.  Read the biographies of people who consistently put the interests of others first, no matter the cost.  Spend more time with your friends who love well.  Consider getting a mentor to help you do a better job of loving others.
  • Just try really hard.  Work hard at putting the interests of others first, even when you don’t want to.
  • Do what Jesus did.  He loved people, so you should too.
  • Pray about it.  Ask God to help you.


Love as an Aspect of the Fruit of the Spirit

But since love is one aspect of the fruit of the Spirit found in Galatians 5, maybe we should seek Paul’s advice there.

In Galatians 5.16 Paul says to “walk by the Spirit” and in 5.18 he says be “led by the Spirit.”  These very similar concepts are set in contrast to the notion of succumbing to the desires of the flesh.

But how?  How do we walk by the Spirit?  How can we be led by the Spirit?  How can we not fall prey to the desires of the flesh?

  • Firstly, we must pray.  Prayer should be the start of any pursuit of living a Spirit-synced way of life.  We must ask God to make us aware of the leading of the Spirit.  In my limited experience and based on the advice of people I deeply trust, the more we pray to be led by the Spirit, the more and more we’re likely to notice him showing up in our lives, guiding and directing us.
  • Secondly, we must stop indulging the flesh at every turn.  Maybe one reason why we don’t experience the fullness of the Spirit in our lives is that we’re so distracted by our flesh.  And with regard to this aspect of the fruit of the Spirit — love: putting the interests of others before our own — our flesh desires our own interests at all costs.  Maybe we should learn to take stock every once in a while by taking a deep look at ourselves and our motivations.  Perhaps as we listen less and less to our flesh, then we will hear the Spirit more and more.
  • Thirdly, we should look at the life of Jesus.  Who in the history of the world was more in tune with the Spirit than Jesus?  No one, that’s who!  So as we read about Jesus’ earthly life, we’ll notice him putting the interests of others first.  Then we should go out an imitate him!
  • Fourthly, obedience, obedience, obedience.  One of the hardest things Jesus ever said was this: “If you love me, keep my commands” (John 14.15).  Thanks for that Jesus!  But he’s right.  Love is demonstrated by actions.  And our love for Jesus should be shown by obeying his commands.  And what were they, what were his commands?  Love God with all we’ve got, love others as ourselves, and make disciples.  Pretty simple to say but pretty difficult to live out!  Oh, and it’s no surprise at all that immediately following John 14.15 is a long discussion by Jesus of the Spirit.  Obeying Jesus and experiencing the Spirit go hand in hand.
  • Fifthly, do this with others.  The Christian life was never intended to be lived in isolation.  (Neither was human life for that matter!)  So why do we try to do things like live a Spirit-synced way of life in our own power?  That’s just setting us up for failure.  Instead, call together your friends who follow Jesus, your small group, your missional community, your Sunday School class, your family, whomever, and commit together to pursue the Spirit together.  Then check in on one another.  Tell stories about how the Spirit is moving you to put the interests of others first.  Hold each other accountable.  Pray for one another.  And, above all, love one another because walking with the Spirit is tough because the pull of the flesh is so strong!

What do you think?  When you think about love as an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit, what comes to mind?  And how can we stay synced up with the Spirit?  Let me know in the comments below.

The Fruit of the Spirit A Spirit-Synced Way of Life

There’s nothing quite like eating a great peace of fruit.  If it’s an apple — which it should be…apples are my favorites! — then its color is perfect and it has just right right amount of crunch and juiciness.  Mmm!

But very rarely do I consider that the fruit that I love to eat is the fruit of a lot of hard work and labor!

Think about it.  An apple comes from an orchard.  And an orchard must be cared for.

The trees need watering.  The weeds need pulling.  The dead leaves, limbs, and fruit need pruning.  The apples need picking.  And the final product needs selling, packing, and shipping.

That’s a lot of work!

Fruit of the Spirit

Well, I think a similar blind spot has been a part of my Christian development as well.  When I read the famous passage in Galatians 5.22-23 about the fruit of the Spirit, I tend to think about each aspect of the fruit as a final product.  Honestly, I rarely think about what goes into the production of the fruit of the Spirit in the life of a believer, whether in me or anyone else!

Maybe it’s the way that Paul wrote about the fruit of the Spirit:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

I mean, they’re just so consumable individually spelled out like that, right?  They’re all there in a nice little row, one right after another.

And in my experience in the Church, whether teaching/preaching/leading or being the recipient of the same, this is the way the fruit of the Spirit is taught.

Let me be a bit more specific: When we think about it, we tend to think about the fruit of the Spirit as an opportunity to engage in character development.

Character Development vs. _____________?

Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with having one’s character developed as he or she follows Jesus.  I know mine needs some work!  I could be a bit more patient (that’s the understatement of the century, just ask my wife, parents, sister, friends, and coworkers!) and exhibit more self-control.

And according to the way I was taught to think about the fruit, my course of action when I realize I’m lacking in some aspect of the fruit of the Spirit is to work on that specific aspect.  So, when I realize that I’m not as kind as a I should be, I work on being kinder.  When I’m not as peaceful as I’d like to be, I exercise my peace muscles.

Unfortunately, this is akin to forgetting the processes behind the fruit at the supermarket.

And, friends, there is a major process behind the fruit of the Spirit — namely, walking with the Spirit!

A Spirit-Synced Way of Life

Paul spells this out rather explicitly in Galatians 5.16-18:

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Before he gets to the fruit of the Spirit — the things which are brought to fruition because of a life lived synced up with the Spirit — Paul tells us what produces this fruit…walking by the Spirit or being led by the Spirit!

This phrase (walking by/being led by the Spirit) is great for a number of reasons:

  • It implies an active lifestyle of following Jesus as opposed to the popular passive/getting-fed mode that lots of Christians (myself included!) are tempted to fall into.
  • It reminds us that we need to be walked with — we can’t do this thing alone.  We need grace and guidance from the moment we’re first alive until the moment we die.  And God gladly will hold our little hands through that whole journey!
  • And it means that following Jesus isn’t about me, people like me, my church, my country, or my standards.  Nope.  It’s about being led by the Spirit!

So instead of focusing on each different aspect of the fruit, shouldn’t we focus on how walking with the Spirit brings each aspect to fruition?  In other words, shouldn’t we focus more on the process and a bit less on the results?


What do you think?  Do you tend to think about the fruit of the Spirit as an opportunity to engage in character development?  Or do you tend to think about the fruit of the Spirit as the result of Spirit-synced way of life?  Let me know in the comments below!


Opportunity Taking Advantage of Each Moment


An Opportunity Missed

I’m not even sure that I can tabulate the number of times that I’ve missed out on chances that were right in front of my face.  Tons.  Every day.  From the time I was young up until today.


I parked my car and walked to our house.  As I did I walked by my neighbors’ place.  They had just moved in and one of them was working in the garage.  I had a thousand things to do, sure, but I could have offered to help.

Or I could have at least said hello.

But I didn’t.

I let the opportunity slip right by.

And what makes this especially bad is twofold:

First, I said hi to two other neighbors and even had a brief conversation with a third.  Why couldn’t I at least say hello to the new neighbor?

And second, I’m the guy that encourages people to be missional and to live life like God has set up divine appointments for us.  Honestly, I feel a little hypocritical right now.

But this little anecdote is serving (and will hopefully continue to serve) as a kick in the pants to take advantage of each opportunity that comes my way!

Jesus Faces an Awkward Opportunity

In John 4 Jesus and his closest friends were tired (even Jesus got tired…see, he was fully human!).  They had been traveling all day and Jesus’ disciples went to go get some food.  Jesus didn’t go with them, instead he went and sat by the well in the Samaritan town named Sychar.

It was the middle of the day.  This wasn’t the time of day that folks generally went to the well to get water.  That activity was usually reserved for cooler parts of the day, like the morning or just before sunset.

But as Jesus sat by the well, a woman came up to draw water.  Even if Jesus wasn’t the second Person of the Trinity, he could have worked out that this woman was not well-liked by many people in town.  If she was, she would have drawn water when others did so that they could say hi to one another and catch up on the latest news and gossip.

But here she was.  In the middle of the day.  By herself.

Clearly she was a bit of an outcast.

And Jesus was the leader of a new religious movement and was considered by many to be a rabbi, or a traveling teacher.  And in his day, religious movement leaders and rabbis did not associate with the type of women that drew water in the middle of the day.

And to make this an even more awkward opportunity for the two of them, Jesus was a man and the woman was, well, a woman.  Men and women typically did not have much public interaction, and a rabbi certainly would try to avoid such a scandalous action.

And culturally there was a barrier too: Jesus was a Jew and this woman was a Samaritan.  These two groups had a nasty history and did not get along at all!

But the cherry on the top of this banana split of an opportunity was the fact that Jesus was tired.  He could have totally checked out and no one would have blamed him.  He had been traveling all day.  He needed some “me time.”

But Jesus didn’t let all of these hurdles prevent him from taking advantage of this opportunity.

He asked her for a drink.

He started a conversation.

He made an intentional act to reach out to her.

We Need To Take Advantage of Each Opportunity Too

Here’s the call to action: Let’s be like Jesus and take advantage of each opportunity that we face!

Here are some ways forward:

  1. Pay Attention — It’s so easy these days to completely check out of the reality around us.  We can chat on our phones, text, check Facebook, play music, etc., etc.  We all have a thousand and one ways we can stay completely distracted from our surroundings.  If we’re distracted, it’s going to be hard to even see an opportunity, much less take advantage of one.  So maybe we all need to put our phones down, take our headphones off, and pay a bit more attention to our surroundings.
  2. Start Simple — Jesus asked for a drink.  I should have just said hello.  We’re not talking about rocket science or brain surgery here!  When an opportunity arises, simply start somewhere comfortable and natural.  Here’s an example: you’re walking in the mall and someone drops their bags.  You can help them pick their stuff up and say something like, “Man, I do that all the time.”  That may start an important conversation that could change the course of both of your lives.  Or it may lead no where else.  Either is fine!
  3. Practice Makes Perfect — Over time these sorts of encounters will become more natural and more a part of our routines.  We won’t feel so awkward when we’re faced with an opportunity.  We’ll just take it!  But in order to get there we need to feel our way through that awkward phase first.  And that’s okay.  For some of us, like me, it might always be a bit awkward.  For others, like my wonderful wife Alida, being set free to take advantage of each opportunity sounds amazing.  Persistence is the key for all of us though!  It will get easier and more natural!  And when we fail to take advantage of each opportunity, which will happen, we can’t beat ourselves up.  Let’s just admit our mistake and move on!
  4. Don’t Discriminate — Even though none of us like to admit it, we all pick and choose who to talk to, who to smile at, and who to invest in.  Those of us who follow Jesus, however, shouldn’t pick and choose.  We shouldn’t try to stay away from certain people, no matter the reason.  We should reach out and connect with whomever when given the opportunity!
  5. Pray — Lastly, we should pray.  First, we should pray that God will bring people across our paths so that we can connect with.  Second, we should pray that the Spirit of God would aid us as we attempt to take advantage of each opportunity.  And third, as we are engaging in conversation, we should be internally praying that God would inspire us to share the good news with those we come into contact with, in tangible ways and by using our words too.


So, what do you think?  What about taking advantage of each opportunity seems hard to you?  What seems easy?  How should a follower of Jesus go about taking advantage of each opportunity?  Let me know in the comments below!

#Focus: New Wine Podcast #011

What role does focus play in the life of a follower of Jesus?  And what should our focus be?

I answer these questions more fully in my latest podcast.  You can listen to it on the bottom of this post or on iTunes.


If you like it, would you please rate it and even leave a review on iTunes?  That would be super cool!


It’s Time to Listen ...and then act!

I posted this video on Facebook a short while after the shooting at Mother Emanuel AME in Charleston, SC and it has been viewed more than 3500 times.  That’s pretty amazing!

White brothers and sisters: We must listen to our friends of color. The time is NOW.

Posted by J. Matthew Barnes on Friday, June 19, 2015

Here’s the point in a nutshell: Racism is real; therefore, we (meaning white people) must listen to our brothers and sisters of color.  The time for arguing and saying that folks are too sensitive is over.

We must listen.


And then we must act.  We must own up to our part of the systemic issues that folks face in our world, ask for forgiveness, and make amends by standing in solidarity with our friends of color.  (And, no, we can’t just jump to that last part.  We must humble ourselves through confession and the seeking of forgiveness first.)


Thoughts?  Keep things above the board.  I have an itchy delete button finger.

Charleston and Its Impact What impact will this shooting have?

Today has been a day marred with sadness.

The shooting at Emanuel First AME in Charleston, SC weighs heavily in the air.

Nine people gunned down, allegedly for the color of their skin.

Nine people gunned down while attending a prayer service at church.

Nine people gunned down who leave behind families who will never truly have closure.

Nine people gunned down.
For my wife and I this incident in Charleston has hit home for us a little more than it might have in the past. We live in a neighborhood that is comprised primarily of people of color and we’ve been intentionally building relationships with our neighbors for more than a year now.

As a part of that relationship-building process, a friend from our neighborhood invited us to attend a revival at his church. The church is right around the corner from our home and it’s a Missionary Baptist Church. For the uninitiated, “Missionary Baptist” means a Baptist church that is connected to the long history of primarily black Baptist churches.

And this church was no different.

My wife, son, and I were the only people in attendance who were not black. We loved our time with our new friends! We were shown great hospitality and I was even invited to help receive people who might come down during the altar call.

It was a truly blessed experience for our family (and hopefully for our new friends too!).


However, the shooting in Charleston made us stop and think a bit. Apparently the alleged shooter was there for over an hour before the carnage began. Did he participate in the prayer service? Was he shown a similar level of hospitality that my family was?

And will his actions have an impact on my family’s ability to continue to build relationships with people in our neighborhood, especially historically black churches in our neighborhood.
Will we now face a new level of scrutiny due to the shooting in Charleston?

I’m not sure what the answer to that question is…but I’m excited to find out. In fact, we welcome increased scrutiny. We want to continue to dispel unhelpful stereotypes that prevent folks from different backgrounds from interacting well. We want to jump through whatever hoops are necessary in order to mourn with, worship with, and serve with our friends of color.
We welcome the awkwardness. Why? Because we truly believe that in Christ these sorts of barriers can be brought down and true community and fellowship can be forged by the power of the Spirit.
Lord, make it so in our lives and all over this divided country of ours! Amen.


Let me know what you think in the comments below.  And please be civil!

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