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Fruit of the Spirit: Goodness & Kindness

When my eldest daughter was little, she loved and admired her grandfather greatly.  She loved him to such an extent that if she were caught doing something she shouldn’t, he could just look at her and she’d cry.  She wanted so much to please him that she would do anything to be in his good graces.  My question for you is, who do you love and admire so much that you would do just about anything in order to please them?  You take their advice.  You model your behavior and even thoughts after them.  You may not even realize you have a relationship like this with someone but you probably do.  

The danger is that, as infallible humans, we will invariably get something wrong.  It’s how our idols fall into disfavor.  Relationships get fractured when the one we’ve placed on the pedestal fails us.  There has only been one person that walked this planet who truly deserves that level of devotion – Jesus.  So, my other question is, have you placed God at the top of the list of ones you most love and desire to reflect?

Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God. 3 John 11

What exactly is this “good” that is a reflection or imitation of God?  The word “good” is written 725 times in our Bible.  From Genesis 1:4 all the way to 3 John we read of good and goodness.  I’ll take a leap here and say that of all the fruits of the spirit, love, peace and goodness may be the most misunderstood by Christians and especially non-Christians.  

When we say something is “good” its use can be as widespread as “loving” something thing.  “I love good sourdough bread” is not the same as “loving our neighbors reflects the goodness of God.”  The first is a fleshly desire of something made well.  The second describes a self-less act imitating the character of God.

God is not merely good, but goodness; goodness is not merely divine, but God.

C.S. Lewis

Each one of the fruit of the spirit listed by Paul in Galatians deals with either the state of our soul and/or an action thereof.  All of the fruit are a result of the Holy Spirit’s work in us in creating us more like Jesus.  Therefore, the “goodness” in this list requires us first to investigate what is the goodness of God?

Oh, how abundant is your goodness,
    which you have stored up for those who fear you
and worked for those who take refuge in you,
    in the sight of the children of mankind! Psalm 31:19

When you look up the word “goodness” in Strong’s Concordance it has you refer to the index.  In the index it equates what goodness refers to in various parts of scripture.  All the references are attached to God’s character:

  • Abundant (Exodus 34:6)
  • Great   (Psalm 31:19)
  • Enduring (Psalm 52:1)
  • Satisfying (Psalm 65:4)

I would add to this list that God’s loving character also brings these other good things to our world: light, faithfulness, joy, mercy, and grace.  The words “it was good” are used over and over coming from God’s mouth to describe His glorious creation —  His great love in action.

When I said that the word “goodness” or “good” is listed among some of the most misunderstood I meant this – that apart from God no one’s soul imitates this goodness.  Yes, even that person that seems really, really good.  

If you ask a Humanist or atheist to define their morals or values, they’ll probably list things that actually are God-given commands.  The difference is, commands such as “do not steal” become wishy washy depending upon the non-believer’s circumstances.  You see, we ALL choose someone or something to imitate and hold up as the pinnacle of moral authority.  But non-Christians (and unfortunately some Christians) hold up humans as that authority.  And we are and do what we love, made worse when it is ourself.

Goodness is virtue and holiness in action. It results in a life characterized by deeds motivated by righteousness and a desire to be a blessing. It’s a moral characteristic of a Spirit-filled person. The Greek word translated “goodness,” agathosune, is defined as “uprightness of heart and life.” 

Got Questions, A Christian Podcast

Righteousness, “uprightness,” can only come from one source: the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  He not only cleansed us of the guilt and sin we carry but made it so we can be called to goodness.  To reflect the goodness of God.  

God wants to be united with us in full.  He loves us, brings us joy and peace.  He’s asking us to be so in love with Him, so admiring of Him that we too want to fill our souls and the world with light, abundance, mercy and grace.  To set aside all other idols and place Him front and center.  For when we do, our goodness will naturally lead us to action.  Those actions are called love, patience and kindness.

Coming up: Selfishness or Selflessness

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Endurance Brings Hope

Quite possibly the greatest lesson in the Bible about patience and endurance (both makrothymia) or lack thereof, is the one of Abraham and Sarah.  The Lord comes to Abraham and promises that he will be the father of literally millions (Gen 15:5) and yet for years and years Abraham remained childless.  He began to doubt God’s faithfulness in His promises.  So, he and Sarah decided impatiently to take matters into their own hands and create a child of Abraham through a slave girl.  That child, Ishmael, became the thorn in the Israelites’ side until this very day.  And even though they tried to circumvent God, God still came through on His promise with the birth of their own son even after Sarah was determined to be post-child birthing age.

They had hoped.  They had endured.  Until they didn’t.  Abraham and Sarah created their own timeline based on their inaccurate belief in the limited power of God.

When was the last time you said, “It’s too late. It’ll never happen.”? Although what you have prayed for might not come to fruition as you have asked, God is still working with you in the situation. Sometimes it seems you’ve been listening and waiting patiently yet at every turn you feel thwarted, abused, attacked, broken. It’s time like these that our faith is tested. You are not alone. Each one of the apostles, men who had spent hours, days, years in the very presence of God would have to then learn to keep trusting, keep enduring.

He is lining up your circumstances in a way that is better than you could ever imagine.  When you wait for the Lord, you should look forward to what He will do with joyful expectation and confident hope, because He is providing the very best for you.”  

Charles Stanley, 30 Life Principles

He wants the very best fruit to come out of you.  Not just a red apple, but the juiciest red apple you’ve ever tasted.  He wants trees rooted deeply in Him, watered richly by Him and grown in His beautiful light.  It means in those times of trials, long suffering (also makrothymia) we don’t let go.  We don’t try and go it alone.

I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
    out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
    and gave me a firm place to stand. Psalm 40:1-2

Our hope can endure because we know He is a God who gives generously (James 1:5).  He will provide in our darkest times; we need only look for Him in the circumstance.  We patiently wait for our hope to bloom into something bigger and more beautiful which may be when we finally are home in heaven.  

Notice that we take action while waiting?  Patiently is an adverb.  It describes an activity.  While we endure through our trial we pray, we seek His love, we experience His joy and peace.  We watch for ways He is using us to help others.

The key to patience is faith in the all-embracing, all-guiding, all-wise, all-gracious providence of God to transform all the interruptions of his children into rewards. Can we not, then, write in big letters, as a heading over our lives and over every frustration, “Satan, you meant that for evil; God meant it for good” (Gen 5:2)? 

John Piper

Friends, we are all waiting.  Waiting for small things and very large things.  We are waiting for the disappearance of pain and the appearance of our hopes come alive.  At times, we say we wait to feel complete or more alive.  And God is saying be patiently waiting, watching, learning, trusting.  He is doing great things in you.

Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. James 5:10-11


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Impatiently Waiting

There must not be many other words in human language that can evoke as much negative response as the word “wait.”  For what?  How long?  Why? No one likes to wait it seems.  We don’t want to wait in line, wait for the doctor, wait for the test results, wait for the phone call and so much more.  We’ve created online shopping so we don’t have to wait to go searching around town for what we need.  We have fast food so we don’t have to wait to cook a homemade meal.  And although modern conveniences can help us to accomplish other, more important tasks, there are plenty of things worth waiting for.  The birth of child, a harvest, the right spouse, freshly baked bread are but a few!

There are, however, clear times that, if we want to blossom as Christians, we need to not only wait but wait patiently, not allowing our fleshly desires to supersede God’s omniscience.  To marry or not, to have children, take that job, move to another home, how to deal with difficult people or situations, medical decisions – all these potentially life-altering choices should be sought patiently in wisdom with the Lord.  I have heard from too many Christians about failed marriages because they were too impatient to wait for the right person.

“Do not run ahead of God!  The delays may be very challenging for you, but they are growing your faith in Him.  Look to Him, strengthen yourself in His Word and love, remain confident that He is working on your behalf.”  

Charles Stanley, 30 Life Principles

So ok, we get it.  We need to wait on God’s wisdom.  But the waiting isn’t the fruit.  The waiting is the fertilizer, the opportunity for the fruit, which is patience in that waiting.

My friends and family know I have not typically been a patient person.  I’m a doer.  I make decisions and get things done.  I hate waiting around for other people.  Until one day it hit me.  What does my impatientness (another word I made up) look like to the world?  If I were to ask you the characteristics of an impatient person, you’d probably say someone who looks angry, frustrated, annoyed, maybe even beligerent.  To the world it looks like someone lacking in the other fruits  — love, joy and peace.  

My getting frustrated in waiting was fruit killing.  The killer spray I was using on my fruit was my pride.  I knew better how to make things happen faster, more efficient, more productive.  I knew better than almost anyone I encountered, especially God.  And the world says, “Why should I be a Christian if I still look like that?”

They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.  Titus 1:16

Yikes!  Talk about a conviction.  True patience isn’t really just a lack of doing something.  It’s also about what’s going on inside our hearts and heads.  Are we thinking loving, joyful thoughts during a “waiting” moment?  Do we have peace from God knowing He has a plan for us in this time?  Because I’ll tell you my friend, if we stand in line tapping our foot and being annoyed we might just miss the opportunity to help an elderly person who is struggling with her groceries.  

The line, the wait, is just as long for Christians and non-Christians.  Are we to be the same in how we deal with it?   Or are we to remember “the eye of life’s tornados is the calm hope of our final destination”  as Christian author Dane Ortlund observes?   At all times. 

These short term opportunities for patiently waiting help build up our long-term waiting muscles.  When the pregnancy hasn’t happened, yet.  When the right job hasn’t come along, yet.  When the pain hasn’t gone away, yet.  When our sons and daughters haven’t accepted the Lord, yet.  These aren’t times to get impatient.  They are times to show the world what we believe is true.

Each of those “yets” is a hope we place in God’s faithful, loving hands.  He’s asking us to trust Him, just like He asked Abraham, the Israelites, and the apostles.  He’s saying, “Wait.”  More importantly He’s saying, “Wait patiently without fretting, without worry, without fear.  Trust me.”

Is there something you are hoping for today?  Ask Him in prayer.  Then wait patiently.  It may not be answered today or tomorrow or even in 10 years.  But during that time of patience He will do great things in and through you.

Coming up: From Endurance to Hope 

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Fruit of the Spirit: Patience

I knew I would be asked to take the position.  I was naturally the next in line of succession.  They knew I had the leadership skills and an investment in the organization.  When the call came, I said, “Yes” without much thought.  Partially out of pride and partially out of what felt like the inevitable, I accepted the two-year commitment.  It wasn’t until after my answer did I ask God to bless my decision.  A bit late.  His gift, you might say, to me was two years of lessons I would not have learned otherwise.  Lessons, if offered prior, to which I would have said “No thank you.”

My lack of patience in making important decisions brought me head on to one definition of the word “makrothymia.”  That’s the original Greek for the word we call patience in the list of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:22).  Other meanings include forbearance, endurance, and longsuffering.  Those two years had long lasting effects as I endured character assassinations, hatred slung at me, friends deserting me, and more.  You see, with my simple, impatient answer of “yes” I had committed to being the PTA* president of a large elementary school.  A volunteer job that made me the lightning rod for all complaints, anger and frustrations from the parents of more than 1,000 school children.

Looking back, I realized even with waiting patiently for God to give me an answer I probably would have been led to the same decision.  My skills were needed to help shepherd the school through large-scale changes.  However, had I waited for His go ahead I would have had a completely different outlook on the result.  I saw what was happening to me as almost a punishment for not seeking His counsel first.  I have since understood that God forgives us for our sins but He doesn’t always save us from the consequences.  During that two year journey I learned that He did, in fact, know better than me.  And it was time to start leaning into that truth.

Some of the antonyms to patience include defiance, resistance and disobedience.  Well-worn words throughout the Old Testament.  Oh, those impatient Israelites!  It’s a good thing we are nothing like them!

Some became fools through their rebellious ways
    and suffered affliction because of their iniquities. Psalms 107:17 

That one line in Psalm 107 could be the end of the story.  However, as Christians we must remember this essential truth: He loves us.  He loves us so immensely, desires glorious joy in our lives, and peace in our souls that He doesn’t leave us to suffer.  We need only ask for help.  Psalm 107 goes on:

Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he saved them from their distress.
He sent out his word and healed them;
    he rescued them from the grave.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
    and his wonderful deeds for mankind. Psalms 107:19-21

I cried a lot those two years.  I cried in pity for myself.  I cried from hurt feelings.  I cried out of helplessness.  And then I cried out to God.  He told me to endure.  To keep doing the job I promised to do, but do it in His name.

It slowly dawned on me I had the entire process of faith down wrong.  It seems too simple: Ask God first.  Wait patiently for His answer.  Act on His answer.  It doesn’t mean the seas won’t churn.  It doesn’t mean there won’t be a few weeds in the garden.  It does mean we are acting in His will and trusting that He has good plans for us.

Believing the providence of God, embracing the providence of God, enables us to be patient and faithful in the long, dragged-out, often unexpected trials of life, amidst the most inexplicable circumstances, detours, and delays that, from our limited viewpoint, make no sense. 

John Piper

So, my friends, this week as we look at “makrothymia,” let’s first remember before we can even hope to bloom in patience or endurance, we must trust the love of God.

* For those of you not in the United States PTA is the organization at many schools that supports parents and teachers through volunteering and fundraising.

Coming up: Waiting impatiently

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Resting In Peace

I sat in the back of the car texting my husband about our travels that day.  Suddenly, we experienced yet another brush with death.  Our car came within inches of having the entire left side (the side I was on) shorn by a large truck.  My friends in the front seat continued their ongoing murmur of bickering about driving skills and directions.  My next text to my husband went something like this:

Me: I realized I might die today and I’m ok with that.

My Husband: What??

Me: Ya, we almost just died a few times today but somehow I’m ok with it.

When I tell my friends about this moment they think I’m being funny and exaggerating.  One friend then inquired, “but weren’t you terrified and angry?”  I said, “No, really I was at peace.”

My reaction to our death-defying adventure that day reminded me of these few verses in Pastor John Newton’s famous hymn, “Amazing Grace.”

"Through many dangers, toils, and snares I have already come; 
His grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home."

I’ll tell you friends, my reaction that day was a first for me. Neither the near miss or the bickering could take away the peace I was experiencing. I saw the bickering as my friends’ natural way of communicating with each other over their 60 years of loving marriage. Somehow it worked for them. And as for that little death thingy? I realized I had zero control over the situation. No amount of my yelling about my friend’s driving, yelling at the other driver, fretting , crying or whatever would change the situation. We were in the middle of nowhere so I couldn’t even demand we pull over and let me out.

Instead, I sat back and did the only things I could do: pray and worship.  I didn’t beg God to save me.  I told Him I trusted Him.  If He had more things for me to do here on Earth then I would do them.  I watched as beautiful scenery sped by and I thanked Him for His glorious creation.  I thanked Him for my sweet little family whom I love and I know loves me.  

I tell this story because this hasn’t always been me.  I didn’t even realize it could be me until that very moment.  Until I was tested by the Lord.  Let’s just say I’m a really talented “backseat driver.”  Or as my husband can attest, a well-practiced jump seat boss.  The Holy Spirit and I have worked diligently on this topic.  With each foray into my husband searching for parking places, driving past our freeway exits or taking different, less efficient routes for errands, the Holy Spirit has set on my right shoulder prodding me into silence.

It’s my desires of the flesh – pride and anger — that get me into so much trouble during these times.  I know best.  And if you don’t take my advice, it’s a punishable offence.  But I’m heartened to know I’m probably the only one with this problem, correct?  

Joy and patience are far above our strength…We must persevere in prayer that He may not permit our hearts to faint…Prayer and perseverance are necessary in our daily conflicts. The best remedy to the weariness is diligence in prayer.

John Calvin

When I realized I could not, by my own doing, take on this task of peacefulness  while not in the driver’s seat I turned to God in prayer.  It’s He that gives me the reminders.  It’s He that tugs at my mind and heart.  It’s by the Holy Spirit’s strength that not only does my mouth stay shut (mostly) but my mind turns to something else. And lo and behold, we still arrive at our destination.  We may walk a bit father but we still get there!  While I still struggle with this sin our Saturday errand trips have become more peaceful ventures.  

This training each week led me to that moment in the back of my friends’ car.  To my possible “meeting my Maker” moment.  Not only did I have peace but also joy in knowing I have the love of the Lord on my side whether I’m here for another day or two or not.  And I had love for my friends.  They had taken the day to share an adventure with me, to share their time with me. And what an adventure it was!

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?" Matthew 6:25-27

I know I can’t, by worry or fear or anger, add a single hour to my life.  I do know that with prayer and worship He will make my life more peaceful and beautiful.  And for that I am forever grateful.  Peace be with you my friends.

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The State of Peacefulness

Throughout the last three years with my Bible study girls (BSGs) I noticed what we all struggle with the most — control.  Or on the flipside, lack of trust.  The results of that need to control typically lead to lack of peace.  We humans like to manage situations and people without first consulting the “man upstairs.” The inevitable results create frustration, hurt feelings, anger and more.  

Instead, we turn to the desires of the flesh listed just above the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5: sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy.  

We must picture hell as a state where everyone is perpetually concerned about his own dignity and advancement, where everyone has a grievance, and where everyone lives with the deadly serious passions of envy, self-importance, and resentment.

C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

You may look around your own Bible study groups, church friends or even just the “good” people you know and think, “Nah, we never do any of that horrible stuff!”  You might recall, however, at the beginning of this study on love that Jesus considers gossiping or defaming someone “murder.”  Yikes!

We take our newly signed peace treaty with God and consider it a license to do what our flesh desires.  Maybe thinking He won’t notice.  We turn from the peace table, walk out the door and get angry at the first person who doesn’t do what we think they should.  We fantasize of a spouse who would love us so much better, we drink away our anxieties, hold onto our bank accounts for fear of the poorhouse, speak of “Karma” when hurt by others, become jealous of our non-Christian neighbors with the fancy new car, or just turn away from others who need a bit of kindness.

Friend, God has implanted in each and every one of us the knowledge of His existence.  Somehow, we all know what His desires are for our behavior, for our hearts.  

"Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you." James 1:21

We know, through the Holy Spirit what is right and wrong in God’s view.  When we actively or even passively work against this you know what the inevitable result is?  Lack of peacefulness.  That niggling in your heart and mind is God’s way of reminding you of the path toward peace.  And yet we so often ignore it. We’ve been rejecting the Prince of Peace and His path since He walked on this Earth.

“On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. When the Jews saw the crowds, they (the Pharisees) were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was saying and heaped abuse on him. Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles.” Luke 13: 44-46 

How incredibly sad is this point in scripture?  The Pharisees and Sadducees were spoon-fed by Jesus, Himself, the truth.  The glory of the heavens was opened to them.  The bountiful, beautiful life was placed on a platter before them and they rejected it out of jealousy.  Out of fleshly desires.  Do we want to be listed among them?  I pray your answer is no.  

I heard a podcast recently by John Ortberg on taking a hold of the beautiful life God wants for us.  He spoke of not just cutting out actions and thoughts from our lives but more importantly replacing them with a positive action and thought.  The Bible speaks of cleaning house but not leaving it empty for the thief to come and take up residence.  Therefore, if we want not just the glorious peace with God but God’s gift of peacefulness, we need to replace our desires of the flesh with His goodness.  With the blossoms of love and joy.  With trust that our God does in fact know what He is doing.  He is greater than us in every aspect and will provide.  

Through prayer, obedience and knowledge of His Word we can, with the Holy Spirit’s guidance, rest in His peace.  Ask Him today to shine a light on the areas that are creating deadly weeds in our hearts.  The Great Gardner will create a beautiful peacefulness in you that you never could’ve imagined!

Coming Up: Resting In Peace

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Fruit of the Spirit: Peace

I sat scrolling through my Instagram feed and felt my very body react with each passing post.  Doom!  Gloom! Watch out!  The World is falling apart!  I had originally created an Instagram account years ago to follow my teenage daughters’ posts.  Their accounts were full of fun events and beautiful scenery.  Photos taken from atop the highest peaks in our city and from endless beach days.  Soon, however, I started following political-related accounts and outspoken people who warned of problems in society.  In other words, I was constantly feeding my mind and soul with the opposite of what I really needed, peace.  

My head’ll explode if I continue with this escapism.

Jess C Scott, EyeLeash: A Blog Novel

I finally had the same “ah ha” moment as Ms. Scott.  Although I agree on the need for good citizens to stay informed, I didn’t need to be this well-informed throughout my day.  Hence, I started unfollowing accounts and searched for ways to add beauty to my life.  I recently told a woman from Australia, whom I follow, that I could watch her sourdough shaping videos all day.  Watching her strong hands roll, pat, and lovingly form something beautiful out of God’s simple gifts of water, flour and salt.

While I brought some measure of peacefulness to my social media, I also realized this isn’t really the peace Jesus meant when He told the disciples:

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives." John 14:27

That peace, Shalom, is a gift of mercy and grace from God.  It’s peace with God.  It’s the kind of peace that can, if we place our trust in God, lead to a state of peacefulness.  This Shalom is a relationship that only the one true God can give us.  Fallen, sinful humanity works daily, hourly at being at war with God.  We turn our backs on Him, we spit on His name, we refuse to show Him even a cursory love at times. Yet He, in His magnificent, lovingness still says, “Come to me and I will forgive.  Not just forgive but cleanse.”  

Before ever we can enjoy peace within our hearts there must be a state of peace established between us and God. We must submit ourselves to the Lord, and he must forgive the past, and make with us a covenant of peace, or else there is no peace for us; for “there is no peace, saith my God, unto the wicked.

Charles Spurgeon, Peace: A Fact & a Feeling

We stand before God like a criminal on the stand.  We are guilty although so many of us refuse to admit this guilt.  We call ourselves righteous because of our good deeds or warm feelings or even because we see ourselves as victims.  But friend, we are all so, so guilty.  And yet He provides a substitute for our punishment, a peace-treaty of sorts.  One that sees Him carry the larger portion of the burden.  Our portion?  It’s to just say, “I’m guilty.  I accept your terms.”  And the dove is released.  Peace with God is done and we are made righteous, we are cleansed thanks to Jesus.  We are made into allies rather than enemies.

If this seems a bit far-fetched, too difficult to grasp you may be right.  Imagine, if you will, standing in your local court docket.  The sergeant of arms reads your crimes from a large ream of paper.  The list includes small misdemeanors such as rolling through a stop sign (x100) or not turning on your blinker when changing lanes (x1000).  The severity of the crimes increases to stealing (the fruit from your neighbor’s tree, the pen from the office, the item not charged but made it into your grocery bag, another person’s parking place or spot in line) to defamation of your supposed friend’s character or even of someone you have never met.  The list includes all the lies, small and large, the times you were downright mean or rude, all the instances you turned a blind eye to a person in need.  It may include adultery, debauchery, times of greed and idolatry.  At the final page sits the judge’s punishment for all your crimes, for your crimes against humanity he says.  100 years in a harsh workcamp where you will be broken and live out your days in despair.  

However, as at a wedding whereby the pastor asks if anyone has anything to speak against the impending union, the judge asks if anyone would like to intervene for the accused; anyone who would be punished in your place.  You look out into the crowded benches.  Into the faces of your children, your spouse, brothers, sisters, aunts, parents, friends.  What are you thinking?  Are you hoping someone would step forward and take your place in what will be your hell on earth?  Your sweet daughter, perhaps?  Your favorite sibling?  Your ailing father?  No, you are probably pleading with your eyes for not one of them to take your place.  You love them too much.  And yet your son, the strong, intelligent, gentle one stands.  He declares you free of guilt and will take your place.  He approaches you and looks into your eyes and says, “I am strong and you are weak  I love you too much to see you suffer.”  And you fall at his feet not just from the weight of his overwhelming love but also in the sorrow of your sin.  You look up to him and he says, “I will see you again one day and we will both be restored in fullness.”

This is what the Lord has done for us.  He takes our sentence on and erases our sin and guiltiness.  He signs on the dotted line for peace and justice.  He does so to allow us to blossom in God’s loving arms.

Our hearts can be free of the fears of this world because we know when our day comes we will be welcomed into God’s tent, not left outside waiting for a terrible judgement.  And when we understand this Shalom type of peace it will lead us to a state of peacefulness.  The peace Jesus mentioned at the end of John 14:27: “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Coming up: A State of Peacefulness

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Joy In The Small

The six of us sat around the table enjoying our meal of tacos as we somehow found ways to laugh and grab hold of normalcy.  Then one of us heard her voice call from the other room.  My daughter jumped up to see what was needed.  Upon returning she announced, “She wants a taco!”  And so, a small plate of our feast was made and delivered to the other room.  We gathered around the bed of my dying mother-in-law watching her savor a few bites of her favorite food.  She had proclaimed to a nurse just a few weeks prior that she couldn’t wait to be healed so she could enjoy a taco and a beer.  Although no beer was in sight this night, we all watched her take small bites of that tiny gift of a taco.  We cried in our laughter.  And I realized this was joy. 

For the Lord takes delight in his people;
    he crowns the humble with victory.
Let his faithful people rejoice in this honor
    and sing for joy on their beds. Psalm 149: 4-5

I mentioned at the beginning of this week’s look at joy that God brought me into one of the most difficult experiences of my life not too long ago.  When we finally submit ourselves to God’s will we can look back over our lives and see the pruning He has done in us for our good.  Those trials and tests were given at just the right time for the right purpose.  To see our lives this way we must recognize not only the love He has for us but His soverenity over us.  He knows our timeline backwards and forwards.  It’s why we must give up telling God what to do and instead ask Him to reveal His will to us.  And although I don’t know what else He has in store for me in the coming years I do know He prepared me for the death of the woman who started me on my joy journey.

“(Jonathan) Edwards teaches us, then, of the God-centeredness of all joy in this fallen world.  He reminds us that the formula to joy is not God and _____ so much as God in ___.”

Dane Ortlund, Edwards and the Christian Life

God was in the room with us that night as we watched Bev groan in delight with each tiny bite.  She wasn’t pain free, she wasn’t healed, but she was joyous.  In just a few days she would be gone.  In her wake she left a trail of glorious blooms.  Joy-filled moments with friends who came to say goodbye.  Quiet, joy moments at 2:00am while pain medicine was administered, holding hands and remembering together.  Laughing as we struggled ineptly to changed bedsheets under her ravaged body.  We could do this because she loved the Lord more than anything.  We could find joy because we knew the Lord was waiting for her.

As for me?  Had the Lord taken her say five or ten years ago I would have been angry.  I would have felt so lost without her.  As I write this, yes, I’m crying from missing her but I’m not angry.  I’m so happy for her that she is free from pain.  She sits in the loving arms of God waiting for the last chapter to commence.

"Those who sow with tears
    will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
    carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
    carrying sheaves with them." Psalm 126:5-6

The question for you is do you believe Him?  Do you abide in Him?  Do you believe that our tears will turn to joy one day?  I know a number of Christians who have a very difficult time believing this.  The have a difficult time with the apostles and Jesus reminding us to find joy, yes, even in the trials.  Yet we are surrounded every day with brothers and sisters who do fully believe this truth.  

It’s not they that are a mystery – the ones who seem joyous in adversity.  It’s those of us who aren’t joyous that are the mystery.  We have the promises of God at our fingertips.  We have been lovingly provided for by the Father.  He has been with us in our trials.  He is with you right now in whatever you are going through.  He is pruning.  He is watering you.  Seek Him.  Abide in Him.  Ask Him to show you His will.  Thank Him for what you do have today, for there is always something for which to be thankful for, like a taco.  

 "If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete." John 15:10-11

“What the sun does to a valley as night gives way to day is what joy does to the Christian as the heart is filled with joy.  The Father is the sun itself, the Son is the brightness of the sun, and the Spirit is the warmth of the sun,”

Jonathan Edwards
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Joy In Our Obedience

I told a friend recently that maybe I should apologize to the world for the COVID pandemic.  You see I had for years been praying to God for patience and joy to be cornerstones of my life.  I thought if I just tried really hard at not doing certain behaviors I would succeed at this task.  While I had found some success in listening to God and obeying when He asked me to take certain actions, I bucked and kicked at fully surrendering myself to Him.  And then the pandemic came upon us.

As most of us experienced, our lives were thrown into chaos.  Some people almost completely shut down.  Loved ones lost not only their jobs and communion with family and friends, but their very lives themselves.  We were placed in a state of intense fear and uncertainty.  Where I live the government restrictions became egregious, almost to the state of Marshall Law.  People were afraid to leave their homes.  In some areas you could be fined over $1,000 just for sitting in your parked car on the street next to the beach.  In another, the city “outlawed” people from driving up to senior care facilities and waving at them from their windows.  Despair, anger, fear, was thick in the air whenever you made the allowed trip to the grocery store.  And boy was I angry.  

I became angry with the media for putting out confusing messages.  At government officials who chastised us for wearing masks then not wearing masks.  At neighbors who jumped to the other side of the street as though we each were walking around with deadly leprosy.  I despaired over my church closing indefinitely and not seeming to care of the state of their members. I wanted to rage on social media, to my friends and my husband.  Discord, not joy, was my refuge.  While each day I spent hours doing my various Bible studies no less!  I told my Bible study ladies, “I’m a great Christian when I’m at my house, until I walk out the front door.”

Then one day my husband, the chief operations person for a group of Alzheimer’s care facilities, came home looking completely undone.  The exhaustion on his face confirmed his first words to me, “That’s it.  I can’t do this anymore.”  The long days and nights keeping his residents and staff safe while managing the ever-changing governmental rules had taken its toll.  I realized he needed joy not discord from me.  He didn’t need to hear me complaining at dinner about the latest news announcement.  He didn’t need to feel my anger over something that happened at  the grocery store.  No, he needed me to be a mirror of the Holy Spirit.

“Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.”   James 3:5-6

So, my true journey of seeking joy began thanks to the pandemic.  It was a test for many of us Christians.   I knew my past failures meant a new approach was needed.  One that was Holy Spirit directed.  We can no better wish for, pressure ourselves, think into action, joy than a tree can try really hard to make cherries. But what does a cherry tree do in order to create that beautiful fruit?  It allows its very essence, it’s holy purpose to do its work inside the roots, trunk, branches, leaves and blossoms.  Effortlessly in full submission to its Creator. 

“A Christian new birth brings a change made in the views of his mind and relish of the heart so that the regenerate person seeks his interest and happiness in God.”

Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections

You see, when we seek real change from the ugliness this world grows in us it means we seek to become who God intended us to be.  People close to Him, loving Him and being immensely loved by Him.  It’s no wonder “love” is listed first as a fruit of the Spirit.  Without it, the rest would be impossible.   In researching Christian joy, I discovered these three characteristics of a joy-filled life in full bloom.

1. Submission:  “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  John 15:5

This submission is not slave to master as some non-Christians like to portray.  No, it’s a loving mentor, teacher, parent who sincerely knows and wants the best for us.  But unlike those relationships we never grow out of needing the Lord to guide us.  He just guides us through more difficult and more beautiful experiences.  His loving omniscience is where we must put our trust.

2. Seek to Glorify God’s Will: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:1-2

With each word we speak, each action we take, even every thought it should be with turning ourselves over to God in worship.  When we wake in the morning,  prayer sets us on the right path in seeking ways to glorify Him to our family, friends, co-workers and strangers.  In other words, the old saying, “What would Jesus do?” should be on our minds in conversations with the Spirit throughout our day.

3. Seek God’s Glorious Beauty: “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.” Hebrews 13:15. 

 Jonathan Edwards’ theological focus through the entirety of his life was God is the foundation of beauty.  Nature doesn’t exist for itself but for the glorification of God.  I took up a challenge to think on God every 30 minutes earlier this year.  Whether in my car, cooking dinner, shopping, I stop for a minute, look around and thank God for the amazing creation around me.  The beautiful sky or quenching rain.  The child’s laughter nearby or even the opportunity to sit in traffic so I could listen to the rest of a podcast.  He is all around us in full color and glory, especially during our trials.  Praise Him!

Friend, our joy comes from the love God has shown us with the work His son has already done for us.  It comes from the work the Holy Spirit is doing in us.  The blossom?  The fruit?  That’s the work He is doing through us for all the world to see. 

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Fruit of the Spirit: Joy

The search for joy and happiness has been called one of the great universal mankind desires by pastor and theologian Jonathan Edwards.  It’s this craving for joy that leads some to dangerous, adrenaline junky activities.  For others it sets a bar so high in relationships that they burn through marriages to find the “perfect one.”  Some seek this seemingly elusive state of being through drugs, alcohol, or the accumulation of stuff.  “If I only I had that car or house, I’d be happy,” the poor man speaks.  “If I had a husband or children then I’d be happy,” says the single woman.  As God so often does, however, He turns the world’s understanding of this simple three-letter word, joy, inside out.  

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4

When I first read these verses a few years ago I had to laugh.  It reminded me of a scene from an old movie, National Lampoon’s Animal House.  In it, young men are pledging to be members of a college fraternity.  In one scene they are being given the paddle and are required to yell out, “Thank you, Sir!  May I have another?!”  In other words, they are to act like they are enjoying the painful beating.   

The disciple James admonishes the scattered Jewish Christians to rejoice in the persecution and difficulties they face.  And so many of us read that, scrunch up our face and say, “What?”  Prior to studying the Bible and taking my faith seriously I thought joy or happiness meant smooth sailing.  When I wasn’t in that state of joy, I surmised I just wasn’t trying hard enough.  When trials came, as they always do, I despaired over my lack of joy.

I spent an entire year announcing to anyone that I was seeking “sparkliness.”  Yes, that’s a word I made up.  But you probably know what I mean.  I wanted to exude joy whenever I walked into a  room.  To be shiny and happy and light in my demeanor.  To be free of sadness and negativity.   Sounds beautiful, right?  So, I put on a happy face wherever I went.  I worked hard at not saying anything negative.  I told myself to shake off being mad or sad.  Friends, I’ve got to tell you, I failed miserably.  Because if we are “faking it,” it will show up in our fruit.

“It is evident, both by Scripture and reason, that God is infinitely, eternally, unchangeably, and independently glorious and happy.”

Jonathan Edwards

So, why couldn’t I be gloriously happy as well?  Which brought me running headfirst in to the book of James. My worldly version of joy was completely upended.  I learned what makes God truly, gloriously happy – when we place our trust, our love, our worship in Him and Him alone.

You see, while I was striving so hard to find joy, I hadn’t realized what can truly give me a life of joy.  A life where I allowed the Holy Spirit to burn away my joy-killers – discord, gossip, neediness, conceit, and envy.  A life that worships and gives glory to the giver of all beautiful gifts, Jesus.  The difference between those young men trying to get into a fraternity and receiving their “dues” is as a Christian we can find joy in knowing any persecution or affliction we face can be experienced in Jesus’ name.  Can be turned over to our loving God for help and comfort.  

The Holy Spirit and I, we started off with little tests along the way.  Helping me to see the bits of goodness when things didn’t go as planned.   The process of rebirth led me to one of the most difficult experiences I’ve had to date.  Through terrible sadness and mountains of tears I found joy.  I found it by leaning heavily on the Lord.

John Calvin was right when he said, “We can experience joy in adverse circumstances by holding God’s benefits in such esteem that the recognition of them and the meditation upon them shall overcome all sorrow.”

This week our look at the Fruit of the Spirit, joy, may feel like one of the hardest to understand to some.  If, however, we’ve accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior,  we must also look to Him for the truth of what lies beyond this world.  An eternity with our gloriously happy God who loves us so much He longs to be with us in the New Eden.

Coming Up: Obedience vs. Joy or Obedience=Joy?