Fruit of the Spirit: Joy

This is the second piece of fruit in the series on the Fruit of the Spirit.  For an overview see, By Their Fruit You Will Recognize Them.

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I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

So where is the word joy mentioned in the above Scripture reference? Obviously, the word isn’t there, nor is it hidden in the original language. But I have come to believe that the Biblical meaning of joy can be best captured in the word contentment. The Greek word for joy denotes a state of gladness, which could simply mean to be happy. Similar ideas are expressed in Scripture through words like rejoice or blessed. It is why the Beatitudes in Matthew 5 are sometimes translated with the phrase, “Happy are those who …” They are all interchangeable ideas.

Yet one thing you begin to notice as you look at how these terms are utilized in the Bible is that they are often associated with what we might call unhappy circumstances:

Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you.

Rejoice always.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

And there are many more examples. The message of the writers of the New Testament seems to call for joy in spite of our circumstances, not because of our circumstances. To put it another way, joy seems to be tied to our internal spirit rather than our external conditions.

This is in contrast to the message our culture is broadcasting on a daily basis. Much of what is being marketed to us are products that promise to bring us happiness. Parents just want their children to be happy. Marriages split because one or both were no longer happy. Indeed, it is one of our inalienable rights to purse happiness, right up there with life and liberty. Regrettably, much of what we base our happiness on is tied to our external circumstances. Thus many today find themselves continually cycling through jobs, relationships, and gadgets in order to get another happiness fix. I recently heard a talk from a psychologist who stated that those who pursue happiness often end up depressed, because they can never fully attain what they are pursuing.

Happiness is a by-product of higher pursuits, not a pursuit in-and-of itself. Contentment (or for our purposes, joy), on the other had, can be a more permanent fixture in our life. The word content in Scripture actually means to have enough – to be joyful because you have all that you need. Contentment is also an inward focus, rather than an external circumstance. The person who is not content routinely blames everything on external circumstances. If only a better job were secured, more money were available, or a relational status were changed, then happiness could be achieved. This is not contentment.

The Apostle Paul learned the “secret” of being content in any and every circumstance. It mattered not if he were in a season of plenty or a season of want. His secret was this: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” The circumstance, itself, did not matter. The secret of contentment was that contentment had nothing to do with how much he had outside of himself, but rather how secure he was with what was inside him. And as it turns out, when we learn the secret of contentment, we find ourselves in a place of joy.

Now that we have unpacked this idea of joy as being a mark of the Fruit of the Spirit, how would you evaluate the presence of joy in your life?

  • Is the source of my contentment based more on my internal spirit than my external circumstances?
  • What circumstances might be robbing you of your joy?
  • In what ways have you learned to rejoice, despite some of the circumstances in your life?
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Fruit of the Spirit: Love

In the first post of this series on the Fruit of the Spirit, By Their Fruit You Will Recognize Them,  I introduced  the practice of using the Fruit of the Spirit as a way to review the previous year.  I thought I would make it a series over the coming weeks and delve into each piece of fruit a little deeper.  Click on the Follow or Sign Me Up button to subscribe to this blog and get notified of new posts in this series!

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Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind … Love your neighbor as yourself.

The notion of love is a prevalent one in our culture today. It is the topic of songs, poetry, art, dare we say it is even the longing of the human heart. “All you need is love” has become a popular sentiment ever since the Beatles introduced it decades ago. And the romantic inside us all desperately wants to believe that this is true: Love is all we need.

The problem is that our culture – and by extension, we ourselves, since we are part of the culture – has a very shallow definition of love. It is usually reduced down to a fleeting emotional feeling. When we feel it, everything is great; when it’s gone, so is the love.

This is very different from how Scripture describes love. Many of the same ideas are expressed, yet they are grounded in a much deeper understanding of the word. The descriptions of love given to us by people such as Jesus, and the Apostles Paul and John, take us far beyond sappy, emotional definitions of love so prevalent in today’s culture. When Scripture says that love is the greatest commandment, it is not referring to an ephemeral emotion. It cannot be found in simple attraction or reduced to lust. It is greater than a human impulse or merely our brain’s response to a chemical reaction, though we might say that it captures some of what it means to be human, to be created in God’s image.

This love being referred to as a fruit of the Spirit is a supernatural love that flows from the Creator to creation. And the heart of God is that this love be returned, through our neighbor, back to the Creator. When we truly understand love in this way, it is easy to understand why so much of our art, our music, our imagination, focuses on the theme of love. It also helps us understand why, when love is separated from God, so much of our artistic expression on the topic often rings hollow, holding out empty promises for the brokenness of our world.

Once we get past our cultural notions of love, we can begin to understand those areas of our heart that we need to nurture. To begin with, love is not just a good feeling, but it is the ability to express a range of emotions. Love allows us to feel things deeply. Yes, at times that can be a feeling of happiness, but love also allows us to hurt with others. Love lets us celebrate and rejoice with others, but also prompts us to weep when our hearts are overwhelmed with sadness. A heart full of love is a heart that has the ability to feel things deeply.

Beyond feelings and emotions, love is also something that can be learned and takes commitment. There are times when it is a choice to love, whether or not we feel the emotion. Scripture often describes God’s love in terms of a covenant, and a marriage covenant served as a good example. Oftentimes, it is living under a covenant that rejuvenates feelings of love in a marriage, rather than the continual feelings of love keeping the covenant intact. This should bring us comfort, for under the Covenant of Grace, it is God’s love and commitment to us that carries us through times where we do not have the energy or emotional capacity to respond to the love of God.

Finally, love that comes from God is love that is put into action. It is not enough to simply say that we love God or love others; we must express that love in tangible ways. Words of encouragement, kind deeds, involvement in a cause, and commitment to spiritual practices are just some of the ways we can start to express love, rather than just feeling it.

With this Scriptural concept of love in mind, how would you evaluate the presence of the fruit of Love in your life?

  • Am I growing in my capacity to love people and am I loving God and others well?
  • What is one aspect of this piece of fruit that you can celebrate?
  • In what aspect of love can you take as step toward growth?

“Ten Commandments” Tablets Sell At Auction

The tablets that contained the Ten Commandments from the 1956 movie starring Charlton Heston sold at auction last month for $60,000. The problem seems to be that the buyer isn’t paying up.  The tablets are described as follows:

The description of Lot 422, cited in the complaint, says the “Ten Commandments tablets written by the finger of God” are “(c)onstructed of richly hewn fiberglass on wood backing … in an early Canaanite script practiced in the late Bronze Age (c. 13th century B.C.) Moses era. These tablets were created by Paramount Studios scenic artist A.J. Cirialo, who made them to be slightly irregular with molded chips, craters and dings since they were to be cared with God’s fire bolts, and he painted them in great detail to appear as carved stone.” The tablets come with a letter of authenticity from Cirialo’s family and are in “fine condition,” according to the lot description.

The full article can be found here.

So the Ten Commandments find themselves back in the courtroom, the center of another legal dispute.  If the movie prop sold for $60,000, it makes you wonder what the originals would sell for?

Ten-Commandments-Film

By Their Fruit You Will Recognize Them

The last couple of years, I have alluded to the practice of using the Fruit of the Spirit as a way to review the previous year.  At the beginning of each new year, I try to evaluate my development in each of these characteristics of a person who is vitally connected to God.

I first raised this issue under the post Resolution of Reflection?  Then I went into a bit more detail by giving my definitions of The Fruit of the Spirit.  Since I am embarking on this reflective time once again, I thought I would make it a series over the coming weeks and delve into each piece of fruit a little deeper.  And I am even kicking around the idea of turning it into a little eBook so that others can engage in this reflection.  As always, I would love to hear your thoughts as well.

So what follows is a brief introduction to the practice.

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Fruit was a common metaphor used throughout Scripture.  Jesus was quoted as saying things like, “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit …Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:18,20).  By fruit, Jesus is referring to the actions and characteristics that distinguish his followers from the world around them.  Sometimes bad fruit is offered as way to recognize false prophets, or those who claim to be followers, but their actions do not support their claim.  Indeed, immediately preceding the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5, Paul lists the less popular acts of the flesh as a contrast to the characteristics of a follower of Jesus.

Nevertheless, it is an easy image to understand.  If I plant a tomato seed, the sure sign that plant is healthy and thriving is whether it actually produces tomatoes.  If the plant turns out brownish and wilted, it is not healthy.  Even if it is green and sturdy, but does not produce tomatoes, it is a sign that something is off.  It is not enough to observe that it is most likely a good, strong plant even though it has yielded no tomatoes.  And something is certainly awry if it instead produces apples.  The most reliable way to tell if a tomato plant is healthy is if it is yielding plump, red tomatoes.

Jesus makes things similarly straightforward when it comes to people who are being led by his teachings and who are filled with his Spirit.  The most reliable way to tell if someone is being led by God’s Spirit is if he or she is manifesting characteristics reflective of Jesus and his teachings.

Paul makes a list of some of these most telling of character traits in Galatians.  It should be noted that this was probably not an exhaustive list.  Yet it was a good enough litmus test for Paul to utilize when contrasting a life driven by every whim of the body to a life led by God’s Spirit.

So without getting into an exhaustive commentary or theological exposition, this list of eight qualities in Galatians is simple, yet surprisingly capable of distinguishing followers of Jesus.  While it might be tempting to employ these qualities as a measure of others’ spirituality – or lack thereof – it is best utilized as a tool for self-examination.

What will follow over the next couple of weeks is a brief look at each piece of fruit and how one might determine the presence of that characteristic in his or her life.  Each description comes from a combination of the meaning of the word in the original language and the context in which it appears to be most commonly utilized in Scripture.  When possible, a tangible action is attached to each piece of fruit.  After all, while we tend to associate much of this fruit with a feeling or an emotion, Scripture inevitably associates them with an action or something readily evident within our character.

In other words, it can be tricky to determine whether or not I am increasing in, say, goodness unless I have really thought through what Scripture means by goodness.  It is one thing to say, “I think I am a basically a good person” and another to actually pinpoint tangible ways in which goodness is developing in my life.

Finally, be honest!  Yet live in the grace that is offered through God’s Spirit.  The point is not to beat yourself up, but to open up areas of your life to the further healing work of God’s love and grace.

Every good tree bears good fruit

Every good tree bears good fruit

Ten Essential Words Featured At Converge

Independent publishing is slow-going at times, but I have been fortunate to have been mentioned at a couple different sites since releasing Ten Essential Words.  Most recently, my book was mentioned among new releases by Converge authors at their website and in their print magazine.

Converge Worldwide is the church planting organization I was a part of for several years in Chicago, IL.  They are also a movement of affiliated churches looking to impact our world.  I still have many friends with Converge and am happy to be counted among them.  I appreciate the blurb for my book!

I was also listed among new authors over at Body and Soul Publishing (July releases are no longer visible on the web page).  A thanks to Shelley Hitz for providing opportunities for new authors/books to get some airtime.Converge