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Saturday, 8 April 2017

Being a disciple of Jesus and joy

I wish I had a loonie (Canadian dollar) for every time someone asked my "Why do Christians always look so sober and grumpy?" Usually this question comes up after coming to church and seeing everyone sitting properly in rows, looking ahead, quiet and afraid to create any noise. Should a child make noise, all the person visiting sees is the child getting an elbow in the ribs to hush, or if the child is lucky a peppermint to keep them quiet, or really if they're really unlucky and mom or dad is grumpy that morning, they get marched out the back and downstairs where the child often becomes even louder. As one young man I was discipling told me, "Why would I ever want to become like them?" To be honest, I've sometimes thought the same thing after witnessing well meaning followers of Jesus who are passionate about God but so sober about life and seemingly scared of fun. Faith often seems to be all about seriousness and little about joy.

So then comes along Paul, a rather serious guy himself by all accounts, and he tells us that the second part of growing the fruit of the Spirit in us is growing joy! The website Theopedia describes joy this way, "Joy is a state of mind and an orientation of the heart. It is a settled state of contentment, confidence and hope. It is something or someone that provides a source of happiness. It appears 88 times in the Old Testament in 22 books; 57 times in the New Testament in 18 books.... Greek dictionary definition: chara, khar-ah'; cheerfulness, i.e., calm delight:--gladness" When you define joy this way, it makes sense considering who Jesus is and that he took our sin to the cross on our behalf so that our relationship with God the Father is made right again. We should be the most joyful people on earth and this should come out in how we approach life and the people in our life. 

Joy comes from knowing that God is in charge and we are not. It comes from knowing that Jesus loves us more than we can ever know. It comes from knowing that no matter what happens, the Holy Spirit is with us, understands what is going on and will never abandon us. It doesn't mean that God is going to make everything work out all the time the way we think things should work out, or that we won't experience suffering or pain; these things come with life, but we know that we don't face these things alone. Joy comes from having a faith community of people committed to following Jesus who have also committed to journeying through life together, looking out for each other, picking each other up when we fall, challenging us when we need to be challenged and encouraged when we need words of hope and grace. Joy comes from cultivating a spirit of contentment, seeing that everything we have has been given to us by God instead of concentrating on what we don't have. It's about learning to be grateful for all that we have and have been given. This is all about learning to see life through the eyes of God and in relationship with Jesus, meaning joy is something you can grow inside yourself; so grow it. 

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Being a disciple and love

The first part of the Spirit's fruit in a follower of Jesus is the growth of love in their life. Now this is not Hollywood emotional love; this is the kind of love that the Apostle Paul talks about in his first letter to the Corinthians, "Love is patient, love is kind. It 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. It always protects. always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails." This is the kind of love that God shows to us. He is patient with us, especially when we keep doing our thing instead of his. God is kind: he blesses us, he provides for us, he gives us his Spirit so we know we are never alone no matter what is happening in our lives. This is a special kind of kindness. God doesn't envy, he doesn't boast: God tells us who he is straight out and has no need to envy or boast because he is the creator of everything and everything belongs to him. God is not rude: go back to his kindness. God is not self seeking, he sent us his beloved Son for our sake, not his own, he sacrifices his most precious Son to pay the price of our sin. This ties into God protecting us from ourselves and from Satan. This is accomplished through giving us his Spirit to guide us and keep us pointed towards Jesus. God's love means he is not easily angered. It doesn't mean he doesn't get angry, he does: at sin and at death as we see in Jesus' tears at the grave of Lazarus, but he keeps his patience for us and controls his anger and so keeps no record of all the wrongs and sin we do because of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross. God definitely does not delight in evil, God definitely rejoices with the truth, he rejoices in his Son Jesus who is the truth. I love that love is about trusting and hoping and persevering because it shows that God desires an active living relationship with us. Jesus has trusted us with his mission of making disciples and growing his church. Jesus places the hope of the world in us as the church and he never gives up on us. God's love never fails as we see in the cross.
So what does this mean for us then? How do we love like this? It sounds impossible. I love my wife and family and dear friends, but I never even come close to loving like this. But this is why the image of fruit is so important. I may not love like this, but I have a goal now for what my love should look like. This is about giving my life to Jesus and allowing his Spirit to shape me, transform me more and more into the image of Jesus. I know I'm not always patient, just ask my wife and kids, but when I look at God's love, it makes me work on becoming more patient, and more kind and less self-centered, etc. By doing so, it will strengthen my relationships with my wife and kids and others, just as it strengthens my relationship with Jesus.
The hardest part is that Jesus not only calls us to love God with everything we are and have, but he also calls us to love each other, our neighbours and even our enemies in this very same way. So before you think you have loving down, stop and take a look at all your relationships. The painful part is that we also show how deep our love for God is through how we love each other and those we don't really like. So take a look at your love level and see where it's at. Don't let the level discourage you, but like it be the starting point of growing your level of love as you seek to grow the Fruit of the Spirit in your heart, soul and life and then watch God change you in wonderful ways.