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Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Fruit of the Spirit: Joy

Joy, you would figure that anyone who calls their message the "Gospel" which means "Good News"would be the most joy-filled people around and yet this so often isn't the case. Go figure. Yet the most mature followers of Jesus I know all seem to have this sense of contentment and joy in life, which makes sense since joy is one part of the Fruit of the Spirit, a sign of maturity in life and in faith.
Joy is something wonderful but not always easy to experience or even to cultivate when life hasn't gone the way you have wanted or worked for. During times of deep sadness and distress, during times of loss or hurt or abuse, the idea of experiencing joy may even seem obscene. Yet joy is important and that it's important to know that it needs to be rooted in God, not your circumstances in life. Joy comes from knowing that God has saved you from a meaningless life that leads to nothingness, that he provides for you, protects you, chooses you as his child, and even loves you. This is the heart of the Gospel, this is the heart of Jesus' message and why he came. Joy is not so much a feeling as it is a confidence in life that no matter what is happening, you are not alone and it is not meaningless or pointless because it's shaping who you are as a person. Joy comes from knowing knowing God is with you no matter what is going on in your life, which allows even the most unhappy and even unjust circumstances to shape you into a more compassionate, and strong person more ready to reach out to others walking in their own hurts and time of injustice with understanding, support and grace. 
Hard times come and it's during those times that you discover how real your faith is and how much strength you receive from your faith because God is walking with you, reminding you through the Holy Spirit that you are not alone. When my sister died at 18, I was surprised that at her funeral that I could laugh at some of the memories that were shared. Yet it doesn't surprise me any longer because it happened with family and friends around in community, it happened with the words of Scripture reminding us that Toni is with the Lord, and it happened because I knew God was there and the sorrow would soften, never go away completely, but soften and God would not abandon us. I can say, looking back, that even at that terrible time, there was joy, not happy, but joy that showed up as a reassurance of God's love and compassion expressed through his people.
I'm reminded that joy comes from knowing and believing in Jesus as the Son of God, as our Redeemer and as our friend, and this leads to being filled with joy as Peter says in his first letter, "you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls."  Joy is closely tied to faith and hope because of our relationship with God, a way of approaching life and the world with a focus on Jesus Christ and our relationship with him. My joy is based on what Jesus has done for his people and his commitment to us, giving me the strength I need to live life well as a follower of Jesus no matter what my circumstances may be. May you live a joy-filled life.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Fruit of the Spirit: Love

There are 9 parts to the fruit of the Spirit and the first part is love. When you think about character and forming a Christian character within ourselves, it shouldn't come as a surprise that love is the first thing we should be working on. You can know lots about God and Jesus, you can know everything that your church stands for and believes about God, but if it's not shaped by love,  the rest is really meaningless, simply cold knowledge that will not change who you are as a person.
So how do you work on becoming more loving? 1 Corinthians 13 is a great place to start, "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails." When you look at how Paul describes love, what comes out is that love is based on who you are as a person rather than on a feeling. Love is about how you treat other people, not about how you feel about them, which explains how you can love even your enemies. Loving others is about having patience with them with kindness; it's about humility and being happy for them when things go well for them, Love doesn't take pleasure and doesn't participate in gossip, instead protecting others from being gossiped and spoken ill of by others. Love trusts in God, trusting that treating others this way gives God pleasure and honours God, all while resting in the hope we have as children of God. Finally, love never gives up, meaning you continue to act in these ways to others even if you get no benefit from it, and it doesn't change your relationship with them because it's not about you, it's about what God expects of you because of who you are as a follower of Jesus. 
Can you imagine the difference this would make in the minds and attitudes of those who are not followers of Jesus? It would make it more difficult to dismiss who God is if Jesus' followers were shaped by love instead of "being right." The true test of love is being able to see the image of God in the other person, no matter how different they are from you and embracing that image of God with love and respect. Imagine the changes in our communities if we all focused on loving the people there instead of trying to change them because we're working hard at changing ourselves more into the image of Jesus. Fear of others would begin to disappear and we would be able to have sincere relationships and conversations with those who see the world in profoundly different ways from us. Maybe we would change their fear of us and they might even come into our homes or visit our churches to see what it is that makes us so loving and meet the God of love who loves them unconditionally. 
In the end, this means trusting God that loving others, especially those whose values and lifestyles are radically different that ours, is how we become more Christ-like and that as we are changed into people of grace, that God will be honoured and the people God has placed in your lives will see your faith lived out, giving you opportunities to share with them why you follow Jesus.  

Friday, 11 September 2015

Spiritual Fruit: being ripe, tasty and at our best

It's been a while since I've posted and a lot has happened, including accepting a call to a new church effective November 1. I've also had the pleasure of serving part time as a chaplain for the Ministry to Seafarers at the Port of Montreal and with everything going on, I began to think a lot about how important our character is, who we are inside, in being a follower of Jesus. During my time as a chaplain at the port, we as staff spent time this past winter and spring talking about being shaped by the Holy Spirit into the people God has created us to be. We focused a lot on character because ministry is as much about who we are as it is about what we do.
Paul's image of the Holy Spirit's influence on us as being like ripe mature fruit really struck me, especially now with it being harvest time. I bought an avocado yesterday that was not quite ripe and it was rather tasteless, while last week we had bananas that became over ripe, and while you could still use  them in banana bread, they were rather unappealing to look at and kind of gross to handle because they were so mushy, and then there were those bothersome fruit flies that seemed to appear out of nowhere. I began to think that Paul was rather clever in comparing our spiritual life in the Holy Spirit to being like fruit; we can be ripe, tasty, and at our best when we focus on developing the various aspects of being fruity in the Spirit, or we can be tasteless or bitter because we're unripe, or rather mushy and gross if we become overly ripe; either way we become very unappealing to the world around us, making it much more difficult for the people in our lives to see and know God's grace and the love of Jesus for them.
So over the next while, I hope to do some reflecting on what Paul describes as the Fruit of the Spirit and invite you to join me in that reflecting. I thank the other members of the Ministry to Seafarers and I'm sure you'll see some of your thoughts and words here over the next while as I've learned much from you on how to be ripe fruit in the Spirit: Thanks!