fruitage of the spirit's journal

Expressions from the Heart

What has happened to all your joy?

smiley faceWhat has happened to all your joy? by Julie McAllen
The joy of the Lord is our strength. It’s in the songs we sing. Most likely you’ve said or heard this quote during a time when encouragement was needed.  I even have it written in bold letters on the front page of my Bible. “Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” (Neh 8:10)
As I write this, I am aware that many of my brothers and sisters in Christ are undergoing trials. Not enduring the same trials myself, I fear my testimony to joy may fall flat. For no one minds hearing “the joy of the Lord is your strength” when all is right with the world, but when you are enduring the flaming arrows of despair, sickness, and pressures beyond your resources, to hear a friend speak of joy may sound more like nails on a chalkboard. But James admonishes ” Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” (James 1:2, 3) Joy, then, is something to be considered as we go through our trials.
Consider the importance of forgiveness. It does not depend on the situation.
Consider the value of prayer. It does not depend on the situation.
So it is with joy. We hear, “the joy of the Lord is our strength” and answer “yea but, you don’t know the situation…” Is forgiveness, prayer, or joy, dependent on the situation, or are we expected to maintain joy within the circumstances?
  16Be joyful always; 17pray continually; 18give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thess 5:16-18)
 God’s will is that you be joyful always in any situation. If this command is having the appeal of nails against a chalkboard right now, take heart, the Bible also gives clues as to HOW that is achieved.
 The first lesson in joy is that you don’t have to be the one to produce it. That’s a relief in itself. God doesn’t need a cheerleader chanting “Hallelujah, rah! rah! rah!” for the sake of empty praise. Neither has God set us up for disappointment by telling us we never would experience the pain and suffering common to all men. In fact, we’re told frankly that because of faith in Him we will suffer persecution (Matt 5:11). He’s not surprised by our circumstances and knows our sorrows. So where does the joy come from?  Joy is a fruit of His Holy Spirit. It comes from Him.
 22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Gal 5:22-23)
 And we know Jesus wants us to have joy. Not just joy, but ABUNDANT joy.
 11 I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!  (John 15:11 NLT)
 What things has Jesus told his followers that would cause them to be filled, even over-filled with joy? As I scanned the gist of John 15 from which this verse was taken, I found some insight on how we might partake of Jesus’ joy.
 3 You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. (John 15:3, 4)
 As I pause on these verses, I hear Jesus telling us we are “purified by the message.” What he is asking we remain in is the message through which we became believers and experienced that first joy of salvation. Do not forget that you are are child of God (John 1:12). You are forgiven and have everlasting life (Ro 6:22, 23) You are blameless and holy in the sight of God (Eph 1:4). The blood of Jesus purifies you of sin (1 John 1:7). Can you find a place of rest in that, even joy? Apparently, the early church in Thessalonica did, for Paul recounts their joy in hearing the gospel in spite of severe suffering.
 5because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. 6You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. (1 Thess 1:5, 6)
 Joy being a fruit of the Spirit, one must remain in the Spirit in order to see it’s fruit. It has nothing to do with our outward circumstances and everything to do with remaining in God’s love which He has already demonstrated toward us. We received it by faith with joy once, now we must remain in it.
  5 “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. 7 But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! 8 When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father. (John 15:5-8)
 You may ask for anything, and it will be granted! Our Father is ready, willing and able to grant the fruit of His Spirit called joy. Didn’t Jesus promise us,
 7“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
9“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matt 7:7-11)
 Through this formula of ask, seek, and knock we don’t want to assume God is a cosmic genie ready to dispense the desired object of our longing. Too often we interpret the fruit as the end product behind the door. Even in a ministry, we may conclude that the joy is in the end result. But Jesus corrected that attitude in his disciples when they excitedly proclaimed the results of their ministry claiming that the demons were made subject to them. Jesus responded with “do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:20). Though the disciples had much joy in the end result, if that were the only time their ministry bore fruit, they’d soon lose their reason to rejoice. Jesus was giving them insight into how they can have joy in any and all circumstances. He reminded them of their standing before God. And we’re reminded of where the fruit of joy is grounded in us.
If we truly want the strengthening joy we think is lurking behind door number three, God has laid it out for us in a simple method: Ask, Seek, Knock. He is recommending prayer (ask), and meditating on His promises (seek), before we can walk in faith up to that door and knock.
 God wants to open that door for us, but our abundant joy comes from being filled with the Holy Spirit, not from what’s behind that door. It will open, he has promised, but the joy is found in following the pattern he laid out. Because within that pattern, we find the true object of our searching. We find the Presence of God in the asking and the seeking. As we submit ourselves to that, we make room for the King of our Spirit and find joy.
Keep yourself in God’s love,
Julie
 
 
 
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September 28, 2009 Posted by | According to Scripture, Expressions | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Where to go?

churchWhere to go? by Julie McAllen

Where to go? Where to go?

3 Year after year this man went up from his town to worship and sacrifice to the LORD Almighty at Shiloh, where Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were priests of the LORD. 4 Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. 5 But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the LORD had closed her womb. 6 And because the LORD had closed her womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. 7 This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the LORD, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat. (1 Sam 1:3-7)

It’s a sad fact that sometimes going to the house of the Lord is not filled with rejoicing but weeping.

Even the wise King Solomon advised, “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.” (Ecc 5:1)

Though we are told to “not give up meeting together” (Heb 10:25), have you ever been forced into a situation to decide where and with whom you should gather? Whether that question arose due to a major doctrinal dispute, a preference in worship music, or a relocation, the question of where to worship is not a new one. Even before “the church” was established, the question of where to worship was posed to Jesus in an encounter with a Samaritan woman.

 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.” (John 4:19-26)

The woman asked a legitimate question about where to worship God. Pay attention to the answer Jesus gave. Jesus denied that worship was confined to a place and this is consistent with the rest of the New Testament. Under the Old Law Covenant, the temple in Jerusalem was the place to go for worship and instruction but Jesus was preparing people to accept the new covenant in which they would worship God not in any one place, but in Spirit and in truth. Jesus ensured that his followers would be taught by the Holy Spirit excusing them from the need to seek God through the religious leaders found at the temple (John 14:26; 1 John 2:20, 27). Believers themselves would become the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19). Believers themselves would become the Holy Priesthood (1 Pe 2:5, 9). There was no need now to travel to a place of worship, it is within every believer born of His Spirit (John 3:3-8).

In Stephen’s speech to the Sanhedrin, he also denied the need for a building made by the hands of men and quoted from the prophet Isaiah.

 48 “However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says:

49 ” ‘Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord.
Or where will my resting place be?

50 Has not my hand made all these things?’ (Acts 7:48-50)

Paul also explained the change in worship: “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands.” (Acts 17:24)

As Jesus was gaining followers, people were coming out of their established, traditional organized places of worship. Therefore, it’s not surprising that the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Sanhedrin together and began to say: “What are we accomplishing? Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” (John 11:47, 48) What were these religious leaders afraid of? Jesus was bringing God near, near enough to even dwell inside Jews and Gentiles alike with no need of a special mountain, temple or synagogue. He prophesied the destruction of the temple along with all it’s physical forms of worship (Matt 24:1, 2) Soon there would be no need for a building, the priesthood, animal sacrifices, circumcision or laws on ceremonial foods. As correctly stated by the religious leaders in fear, “if we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”

And that is exactly what happened when the Romans destroyed the temple in 70 AD. Imagine if your place of worship were destroyed today. Imagine the pastor is gone, the worship team is gone, the great midweek programs, the coffee, the stain glass windows or even the property on which you gathered. Where to go? Where to go?

I can well imagine what a stumbling block this was for the first Jewish converts. No temple? Where will I worship? How will people know I love God if I’m not seen performing the religious duties there? As Jesus’ teachings penetrated the hearts of his chosen disciples, he restated the importance of this new form of worship devoid of everything physical.

 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”

66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:63-69)

Peter was in no different predicament then as we sometimes find ourselves today asking to whom shall I go? He understood Jesus himself had the words of eternal life, his very words were full of Spirit and life enabling one to worship in Spirit and in truth. But to follow the way, the truth and the life meant certain persecution from his own religion (Matt 5:11, 12; Matt 10:17-23; Matt 24:9; John 9:22; Acts 13:50), no wonder it says that many of Jesus’ early disciples turned back and no longer followed him. What did they turn back to? Religion. Empty religion devoid of relationship with God.

God did not come to earth to bring a religion to us, He came to restore a relationship with us. Peter verified that with his admission that Christ himself had the words of eternal life. That life was already strengthening him to follow Christ because he knew by doing so he was in danger of losing his religion. What a blessing! If we lost the elements of our religious routine, would we consider it a blessing? To whom would we go?

Gathering for church in a building is not wrong in itself, but if we’ve begun to follow the routine of religion thinking our faith is proven by attending services at a particular church, or shows in the way we dress, how much we contribute to the collection plate, or through our display of bumper stickers and jewelry, we’re not really relying on the Spirit which gives life. The Jews of the first century came to Christ with much difficulty. They did not attend Christian meetings because the people were so nice, the air conditioning worked, the chairs were comfy, the coffee good, or the music was great. They left behind family and friends who chose to stay in the synagogue and the security of a history containing a physical temple, a priesthood, rituals and festivals that made them feel religious, and they came to the bareness of Christ. Likewise, struggles to come to Christ today are not always a conversion from a wild lifestyle of sex, drugs and rock and roll, sometimes it’s the struggle to break free of religion and all its physical trappings and stand bare before Christ who offers nothing but Himself.

Where to go? Where to go?

Keep yourselves in God’s love, Julie

 
 

September 13, 2009 Posted by | According to Scripture, Expressions | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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