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Posts Tagged ‘joy’

Print by Missy Mohn Schwartz

In how many ways do I have to be told that the essence of walking after Christ is birthed in the Spirit. This is an inside-out faith, not the outside-in. The law was created to initiate the “external” expression of faithfulness. The Messiah finished this work by planting it within.

Galatians 5:22-23
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.

If I can operate in the center of love, joy, peace, etc. then the law is unnecessary because I wouldn’t break the essential laws (10 commandments at the least). One doesn’t lie or covet or kill someone we love or cherish. The gentle soul does not rage or participate in sexual orgies. Self-control brings all things under its umbrella.

At the same time, none of these Spirit fruits can be manufactured externally alone. I can’t act in a patient way without being patient. I can’t exhibit kindness without knowing what kindness is . . . or goodness. . . or peace. Love (in this context) is not just a that girly-boyfriend feeling, it’s “agape” and carries the deepest of meanings and expressions. There are inner motives that drive these fruits of the Spirit. They are fruits that must come directly off the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

And as these fruits become ripe within, they become ready for harvest. And when they are harvested, they are distributed freely to all those around us. . . slave or free, gay or straight, black or white or brown or red or yellow or mixed media, Muslim or Hasidim, Mormon or Witnesses, young or old, male or female, . . .

If we are fruitless, then there is nothing to harvest and the only protection we have, the only way to curb our less admirable desires, is the law. First, there is the spiritual law that God gave as a covenant to the people. But, if that fails, then there is the secular law. Neither is particularly known for mercy or grace.

Perhaps we should be more like those cliche mothers who are reaching out encouraging others to “Eat, Eat, Eat,” or like Jesus, “Take, eat; this is My body.” [Matthew 26:26b]

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I Corinthians 13:4b-6
. . . It [love] does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, 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.

If love is not these things, perhaps it’s a good idea for me to consider the antonyms. I can’t really “do” or “practice” a “NOT.” So I looked them up.

The opposite of the verb envy is to be confident or contented, to be generous and giving. Do I reflect love in this way? Is my love toward others unwavering and confident. Am I content with the love I have as well as the love I can give. Interesting though, these are actually “states of being.” I cannot practice contentment and confidence, not really. I can turn a corner and choose. And generosity comes from within. Generous giving comes from confidence and contentment. So, perhaps, “not envying” what others have is indeed the first step toward contentment.

The opposite of boasting is to be modest, quiet, and deprecating (playing down what one has). It’s not that I don’t have the “stuff” or the relationships or the love or the ability, it’s that I don’t brag about what I have. This brings to mind the “ugly American” who travels with a chip on his/her shoulder, expecting service up to certain standards. It’s an “I deserve” attitude. All of those cliches like “keeping up with the Joneses” are counter to the basics of not boasting. Our of pride in the accomplishments of our children, we often provide litany after litany of their successes, their grades, their jobs, their scores.

The opposite of rudeness is kindness, politeness, and respect. This I can practice, if I choose to do so. The more kindness I show, the more politeness, the more respect, the less rude I will seem. Politeness has gone out of favor. Our children do not recognize politeness as necessarily important. But do we realize that love requires this of us? If I love my children, I should also be kind, polite and respect them for who they are in each stage of life. It is my job to model that.

The opposite of self-seeking is similar to the opposite of envy — it’s giving, benevolent, and caring; moral and ethical. This is the essence of mindfulness of “other.” These are the traits of the humble. Really, it reminds of stepping out of costume, the selfish costume, and showing the tender center within. It’s casting off the habit of selfishness.

The opposite of anger is joy, pleasantness, calm and being soothing. I cannot practice joy, it’s a result, but I can be pleasant instead of not, I can look for my inner calm and bring it to the surface, I can be soothing to the one who is hurting. I cannot be angry if I am doing any of these other things. There is no longer room for anger.

The opposite of “not keeping a record of wrongs” must be forgetfulness, choosing to “not recall” or dismiss the offense. And of course, forgiveness. They go hand in hand.

The last antonym for “not delighting in evil” is provided for us and is a surprise: rejoicing in truth. I would have thought it would be delighting in “good,” but instead, Paul chooses truth as the powerhouse to overcome evil. I can indeed practice truth and with it, I will be able to walk away from evil and lies.

The opposite of pride is humility. And each one of these opposites is embraced in this one word. Oh Lord, I am so far. Give me courage to embrace and exercise those aspects of love that will help me evolve truth in humility.

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Fear is a powerful driver. When we are afraid, we may choose to run… or fight… or stand like a deer in the headlights… or just deny anything is happening at all. If nothing is happening, there is no fear. I see now I have chosen denial all along and it has been like a cloud over my life.

Acts 24:25
As Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, “That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.”

I am a librarian in a small community and I have many responsibilities including service to teens. I try to go to the local high school once or twice a year to talk about good books to read. Just recently, among the books I brought to share with them was a book entitled After by Amy Efaw. This is a disturbing book about a teenage girl who has a baby in her home (alone), wraps the newborn in a black plastic bag, and then discards it in a dumpster. When arrested, she claims she didn’t even know she was pregnant. Before now, I always thought this was absurd.

But, I have discovered this story is not about unwanted teen pregnancy… it’s about denial. The girl was in such denial she could not accept or believe her pregnancy was possible. And of course, once the child was born, the emotional tearing in her spirit was overwhelming. A person in denial will go to extremes even in the face of staggering evidence.

Isn’t this how sin is perpetuated in our lives? Isn’t this how we justify unfaithfulness? Isn’t this how we enter into unhealthy relationships and stay in them? Isn’t this how we drink too much… smoke too much… eat too much? Isn’t this how we rationalize breaking the law? Isn’t this how we put our pain in a box? Isn’t this how we ignore our past and its impact on our actions today? Isn’t this how we get into debt? Isn’t this the seed that births the lie?

Gad, it’s even possible to be in denial about being in denial.

I am not sure where I am going with all this. But I know one thing: I don’t want to live a life of denial anymore. I want the courage to face and walk in truth. I want the freedom that truth can bring to my life. I want self-acceptance.

These are the true roots of joy…. not happiness per se, but joy.

Oh Jesus, as I am on your Way, open my eyes and give me courage.

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Acts 2:28; Psalm 16:11
You have made known to me the ways of life; You will enrapture me [diffusing my soul with joy] with and in Your presence. [Amplified]

David spoke as Jesus and Peter speaks for both. In either case, the path of life is laid out before them and in it there is promised joy. The trick is staying on the path.

If I had to pick words that typify my life, I cannot say that “joy” would be one of them. I cannot blame anyone but myself for this. I have strayed from the path of life many times. Of course, these course corrections are only evident in hindsight. At the time of choice, there is only that, my choice. I’m not sitting there thinking, “oh, I’m getting off this path of joy and striking out on my own.” No, I’m thinking I’m still on the right path for me.

Please don’t misunderstand me. The path of life… the path of joy… is not without struggle and even pain. The path is best known for our abandon to God’s way, a divine destiny. I’m not sure we are even aware of the true path, not really. Just calling oneself a Christian does not necessarily mean we are on the path of joy either.

Am I in God’s presence? Am I engaging God in my life? Am I including God in my decisions? Am I sharing my way with others? Am I really interested in experiencing joy?

Joy is not “happy.” Joy is contentment and conscious companionship with God in Christ.

I have always wondered what it means to pray without ceasing… today, I wonder, isn’t it really just Christ consciousness without ceasing? God is with me. Christ is in me. I am not alone. In this place, there is joy.

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John 17:13-14; 17
“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they [followers] may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world….For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.”[Jesus praying]

Three promises are embedded in these passages: joy, suffering, and holiness. These are part of becoming a follower of Christ.

I believe Jesus had joy because he completed his task on Earth. He accomplished what his Father had sent him to do. He was faithful. And out of his accomplishment and faithfulness comes joy. His joy is available to us because HE did the brunt of the work. As Julian of Norwich says, “All will be well…” Despite our circumstances, joy is available. “It is finished!” But we continue to struggle… we continue to make our own joy.

I believe Jesus understood his own suffering and anticipated his followers to experience suffering as well. Jesus was outside the norm of the day. He challenged the religious leaders of the time. He promoted actions and thoughts of paradox: love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, etc. But these teachings are no better understood or walked out today. Most Christians are uncomfortable with the idea of suffering for an ideal like the lion and the lamb dwelling together. Jesus world and our world are not that different, both worlds are equally violent. Perhaps the biggest difference is that we, in the West, have more to lose. Which bring us to the challenge of holiness.

I believe Jesus offered his followers a holy life by walking outside the the ways of the world. In order to know this life, we would have to willingly step away from our consumer lifestyle. Sanctification (holiness) comes from casting ourselves fully at the feet of Christ. It’s submission to the way of Jesus. It’s humility for the sake of the other. It’s letting go. It’s living sacrificially.

Oh, most patient Lord, forgive me for looking for my own joy, for running from suffering, and fearing holiness. Show me the narrow way.

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John 15:10
“If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.”

Want to get someone’s hackles up? Just tell them to obey. This is a word/idea that is no longer popular in today’s culture, particularly in the West. Too bad, I think we’re missing the point.

Why do we balk? What does it take to obey? First of all, it takes a certain humility. To obey a person, we must have respect for that person. We must believe in that person’s authority to command. We must trust in the commander to command wisely.

In a family, we expect children to obey their parents… these elements would still apply: respect, authority, and trust. Once any one of these elements is missing, natural obedience breaks down. Then parents try to demand obedience. But what do we get: obedience from fear. It’s a type of obedience but it is layered with rebellion. In other words, there will be hedging whenever possible.

In fact, hedging is counter to obedience. Whether we want to hear this or not, obedience is pretty much black or white. We complain about our kids, but truthfully, we adults are doing this all the time… we break the speed limit, we make photocopies at work, we cheat (just a little) on our taxes, we abuse our bodies with too much food, drink, you name it, we tell only part of the story, and we listen to only part of the command. Basically, we analyze the commands in relation to what we personally want to do or not do.

In the end, obedience is a choice. Here’s the sad part of this story: the primary command that Jesus is laying out here is to “love others as he loved us.” Why are we still hedging on that one? We have to be commanded to love? Think about it.

I’m guessing, if we were to obey this one foundational command, a lot of other things (relationships, needs, desires, for example) would just fall into place. In the next sentence Jesus says, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” It’s a command with a promise. I could use a little joy today. I can love today. I can choose to love.

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Luke 21:2-3
He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “I tell you the truth,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others.”

The hard part of giving is struggling with our desire to keep the stuff. At least, that’s one of my issues. I grew up fairly poor. My mother was a widow who somehow managed to raise two children on less than $10,000 a year. And yet, she always provided food on the table, invited people to our table who were less fortunate than we were, and always had cut flowers in our home and on her desk to give cheer and hope to others.

She gave out of what she had: her love for beauty, her time, her enthusiasm, her hope.

Although I have managed to attain a middle class lifestyle, I find myself holding too tightly to the things that come with it. I am afraid of being poor again. And I know that fear betrays my confidence in God to take care of me. I am ashamed to admit it and even more afraid to say it: will I be tested through an unexpected loss?

The poor widow in Jesus’s story understood that she had nothing to lose, things could only get better.

This past weekend, my brother’s apartment was robbed. They took everything that had street value: all of his electronics, movies, music, jewelry (including his wedding ring), and other miscellaneous valuables. He is being stripped of so many tanglibles and like Job, he wants to know why. I have no answers.

But it is a wake up call for me. I am being challenged to simplify my life. If I can let go myself, then it may not be needful to wrench the stuff away. Oh Lord, forgive my stubborn holding on to the ephemeral things of life. Give me courage relinquish “stuff” and cherish, instead, relationships, love, joy, hope, transformation, and Spirit.

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