Showing posts with label fruit. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fruit. Show all posts

03 April 2012

Are we joyful enough?

[ No earlier items | Chain Index | Fruit of the Spirit ]

Defining joy is not easy, but it's well worth a try. It is an internal thing, yet it can have great external effects in the lives of those who have it.

Beethoven used the 'Joy Theme' in his 9th SymphonyOne of the things I remember about church from my childhood days is that it seemed dull. Church was a chore. We had to get dressed in our best clothes, we had to be quiet, we couldn't read a book or play with toys, we had to stand up and sit down at the relevant times and say words we didn't really understand when everyone else said them. Oh, and we had to listen to a man in strange clothes talk about things that didn't engage us and that we'd soon forget.

Church even smelled boring! The combination of ancient, polished timber, the cool humidity of the massive stonework even in the hot summer sunshine, and the leathery, musty paper of well-worn hymnbooks spelled dullness. I was always glad to get home and change into ordinary clothes. Then I could read books, ride my trike in the garden, or play with toys on the sitting room floor.

And later, as a young adult with children of my own, church was still relatively sombre and heavy. It was a serious matter and laughter was out of place except, perhaps, over a cup of tea after the service.

Where was the joy? What is joy anyway? What good is it and why do I need it?

Joy is listed by Paul as part of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) yet it's not something we often study. We know the importance of love and peace, of patience, kindness and the rest. But joy? It seems to be an inner thing, not affecting those around us. It's like an inner smile, a peaceful sense that all is well, a deep gratitude that Jesus has saved us. But where is the fizz, the bounce, the excitement, the celebration?

In his autobiographical book 'Surprised by Joy', CS Lewis describes joy as an intense longing for something good. And described in those terms, surely joy is not only an inner smile, but also a sturdy force driving us to touch the hearts of others so they, too, may find joy in their inner being. Here's an extract from his preface.
How far the story matters to anyone but myself depends on the degree to which others have experienced what I call 'joy'. If it is at all common, a more detailed treatment of it than has (I believe) been attempted before may be of some use. I have been emboldened to write of it because I notice that a man seldom mentions what he had supposed to be his most idiosyncratic sensations without receiving from at least one (often more) of those present the reply, 'What! Have you felt that too? I always thought I was the only one.'
Joy is a tricky word to define. In some ways it suggests the opposite of dull and boring. The word also conveys a sort of inner energy, a hopefulness, and a patience in difficult circumstances. Yet it means more than that.

My friend Jenny, writing about anxiety in the Stamford Free Church newsletter for April 2012, puts it like this.
Lately I have been thinking about what we mean by worry and how we use that word when we mean all kinds of different emotions and feelings. Very often, when we say that we are worried about people, especially family members, what we mean is that we feel compassionate and have empathy with their problems and difficulties ... those sort of feelings are quite legitimate and show that we care.
Jenny goes on to describe other kinds of worry caused by financial difficulty, health issues, ageing and problems with relationships. She also mentions how negative reporting by the media may make us anxious about things we cannot influence. But then she reminds us...
Jesus told his disciples many times not to worry or be afraid and that he would give them peace, so let's give all the personal 'worries' to him, let's try to make prayer our first response instead of our last and as for the other things that the media would like us to take on board - why worry?
So perhaps it's fair to say that joy is also an absence of anxiety.

For Jesus, joy is a powerful and substantial motive force that enables him to endure. See, for example, Hebrews 12:2, 'For the joy set before him [he] endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.'

On the face of it, joy is a personal and private inner thing, a component of the fruit of the Spirit that is not visible externally (like the stone inside a peach). Yet it has great power, just like the stone that contains a seed capable of generating a whole new peach tree.

So joy, although it is internal, has the power to achieve much. Perhaps it's easier to say what it is not  rather than what it is. Joy is not dull or boring, it does not leave room in my heart for worry or anxiety to take root, and it strengthens me for greater endurance in love, peace, patience, kindness and the rest.

Only love comes ahead of joy in Paul's list in Galatians. And for good reason. Without love and joy the other aspects of the fruit might not even be possible. Along with peace these two are internal parts of the fruit. The other six are the active outward expression of the love, joy and peace within.

This article is part of a chain blog on 'Spiritual fruit'. If you want to write the next article in the chain please check the chain index for details.

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29 March 2012

Weeds in my garden

Weeds are unsightly and a nuisance in the garden. How do they get there? And what can we learn about our lives by analogy with garden weeds?

I sent a tweet yesterday, 'Weeds keep growing in my garden. There's a spiritual lesson in that, somewhere...'.

Plants and weeds growing togetherThinking about this later I realised there was an entire blog post just waiting to be written around the topic of gardens and weeds.

It is remarkable how weeds spring up, and looking at the horticultural aspects of this simple fact opens up many parallels with spiritual life. So let's consider where weeds come from and what they can tell us about our personal journeys with Jesus.

Any patch of bare soil tends to be invaded by thousands of baby weeds within a week or two (a day or two in warm weather). Where do weeds come from?
  1. Weeds can grow from small pieces of root or stem left in the ground. For some weeds with creeping roots, rhizomes or bulbs, this is a very common mechanism.
  2. Weeds can spring up from seeds that have been dormant in the soil.
  3. They can also grow from seeds carried in by the wind or by birds or mammals.
If I am following Jesus there should be signs of this in my life, there should be some results, some evidence. This evidence is called the fruit of the Spirit. If there are other, unwanted things in my life (such as anger, or unkindness, or a gloomy attitude, or unfaithfulness) there is a problem. Such things are like weeds. They grow where they are don't belong. The plan for the garden does not include them. They need to be removed. They come from the same sources as weeds in my garden.
  1. Small pieces of root or stem left in the ground. These are pieces of weed that are not visible, left in the ground by mistake. When there is an unhealthy attribute like anger, it's essential to do more than suppress the visible effects. If the cause is not dealt with, the visible effects will break through again and again.
  2. Seeds that lie dormant in the soil. These are too small to see and cannot be removed. The only way to control hidden seeds is to wait until they start to grow. The garden needs to be checked continuously and germinating seeds hoed out while they are still small. If they are left until they are large they will become unsightly problems and removing them may then leave fragments of root leading right back to problem 1.
  3. Seeds carried in. This will happen in our lives from time to time. Fresh sources of trouble will arise and the solution is the same as for problem 2, regular checking.
But there's a more fundamental truth here. It's self-evident that a garden can't weed itself. It's necessary for the gardener to intervene. It is action by the gardener that can dig out roots thoroughly. The plants in the garden will grow if there is sunshine and rain, but weeds will grow too. They need to be thoroughly removed and the garden regularly checked for new weeds.

Unlike a garden, I am capable of resisting the attentions of the gardener. I need to allow him access and accept the disturbance caused in my life by his action in dealing with the weeds.

Father, you are the Gardener in my life. You grafted me in to the true vine of your Son. You are the one who can remove the weeds - wherever they may have come from. Please deal with the weeds in my life, please reveal them and take them away so that I may remain clean and live according to your plan for me.

And guess what? A garden that is regularly weeded over a long period will eventually become completely free of sources 1 and 2. Once in this condition there is much less growth of weeds and the garden becomes far easier to maintain. This is the state of a mature garden. It is also the state of a mature life in Christ. Father, may I become ever more mature as you work in my life.

23 February 2012

Oneness and reconciliation

< The centrality of Christ | Index | New and old in church life >

This time we focus on oneness with Christ and reconciliation with one another. In the previous post we considered oneness in the church. Reconciliation underlies and leads to this, without it the church will remain disjointed.

I and the Father are oneContinuing the series based on revelation at Coventry, this week we look at the second topic - 'Oneness with Jesus and in church life, reconciliation'.

As we saw last time, Jesus really is building his church. We need to seize this as a source of supreme hope and comfort at a time when men and women (more often men) have been inclined to take control.

Last time we considered the centrality of Christ. We also took a look at the requirement for unity in the church which his centrality demands.

This time we will look at unity again, but this time unity with Christ rather than unity with one another. Both are essential, of course.

Oneness with Christ - Along the east interior of the new cathedral at Coventry is a series of Bible texts carved on large, stone tablets. One of them is shown in the photo above; it reads, 'I and the Father are one. He that hath seen me hath seen the Father'.

These words from John's gospel (John 10:30, John 14:9) spoke powerfully to me. Our oneness with Christ depends utterly on his oneness with the Father. How so? Read the whole of John 10 and then consider these points.
  • In verse 7, Jesus makes it clear that he alone is the way in and out.
  • Verse 8, others who had made this claim were thieves and robbers.
  • To be saved we must enter through Jesus. There's no other way (verse 9).
  • Verse 11, he lays down his life for the sheep.
  • Verse 15, he and the Father know one another. (They are one, verse 30). We know him and he knows us in the same way (verses 14 and 15).
  • And then John 17:20-23 - arguably the most amazing few verses in the entire Bible. 
'I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me.'

Let's be clear. Yahshua says that the glorious Father (the Most High) is in him (Yahshua, Jesus, Isa) and has given the glory to him. He further says that he (Yahshua) is in us and that he (Yahshua) has given the glory to us.

In other words the Most High is in us and we have been given the glory. It's all the same oneness, we are included in their oneness.

If that doesn't blow you away, nothing will!

Reconciliation in church life - In the ruins of the old cathedral is a statue entitled 'Reconciliation'. It represents reconciliation between nations that had been at war, a war that caused the destruction of the cathedral and many other beautiful buildings all over Europe. Millions of lives were lost.

But this sculpture also spoke to me powerfully about reconciliation in the church. Like the sculpture we are surrounded by the wreckage of a broken and fractured building. We need to be reconciled to one another.

We saw in the previous part that Yahshua wants us to be one, just as he and the Father are one. The Father, Son and Spirit are three representations of the One. They are three manifestations of the Almighty.

ReconciliationIn the same way we are to be one. We are all to be representations or manifestations of church. Each one of us is to be representative of the love of Christ, our head. Unlike the Father, Son and Spirit we can be seen as many disconnected individuals, or many sub-groups within the church. But this is not how we are meant to be. Instead we are supposed to be one body to which Christ will be attached as our one head.

That's why Paul wrote to the Corinthians, 'I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.' (1 Corinthians 1:10)

And it's why in Ephesians 4:4-6 he wrote, 'There is one body and one Spirit — just as you were called to one hope when you were called - one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.'

So you see why reconciliation is so important. Yahshua came to reconcile us with the Almighty, but he also came to reconcile us to one another. That is why the fruit of the Spirit is a reconciling fruit. Think about it! What are the characteristics of this fruit? They are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). It's the fruit of Jesus in our lives, it's the fruit of the Father. We are grafted in to the Son. Our Father, the gardener, did that work. Read John 15.

It's time to recognise our need for reconciliation to one another, and we will have to recognise it in our hearts, not merely as an intellectual exercise in our minds. It goes without saying that we should have the mind of Christ in this, but we also need his heart towards one another.

Every tiny, little step you can take towards reconciliation with a brother or sister or with a denomination or group (every little step) is a step towards oneness and the fulfilment of Jesus' mission. Every angry word, lack of patience, every unkindness is a step away from that supreme goal. I have been guilty of that so often.

It is impossible to have oneness without reconciliation. So hold nothing back in your striving for reconciliation! Ask Father to give you more and more of the reconciling fruit of the Holy Spirit in your life. It's the only fruit that has the flavour and aroma of the Father's love, made manifest in Christ our Lord and King.

< The centrality of Christ | Index | New and old in church life >

UK Fellowship Friday Blog Hop - This blog hop is for Christians who live in the UK to link to a post you have recently written that might encourage other Christians. Started by Rhoda, please visit her original article.

09 December 2011

Coventry Cathedral

< No earlier items | Index | Hearing from the Spirit in Coventry >

On a trip to Coventry today, I visited the old and new cathedrals, expecting to hear from the Holy Spirit while I was there. But he began pouring out thoughts before I left and continued after I arrived home. He delights in abundance!

Remains of stained glassI spent much of today in Coventry, visiting the Cathedral. There are actually two buildings, the old cathedral and the new cathedral, they stand side by side linked by a canopy. The old one is a ruin, destroyed by fire during a night of German bombing in World War II. The new one is the replacement built in the 1950s and 60s. My reason for going was that I have felt for a few weeks that Father wanted me to visit and that he would speak to me while I was there. And he did.

This was the first day that has been both free in my diary and forecast to be sunny. It seemed important to go on a sunny day.

I parked the car in a rather scruffy area marked as the Cathedral Car Park, walked past a university hall of residence and then turned left. I spotted the Cathedral immediately. I remember coming here with my parents to see the building progress so I recognised the scene right away. There's a lot that I could say about the day. Unexpectedly, I began hearing from the Spirit while I was preparing to set out, then again while I was in Coventry,  and yet again in the evening after returning home.

But I'll save that for another time. Tonight I want to leave you with some words of Simon Barrington-Ward, offered as part of his enthronement speech when he became Bishop of Coventry in 1986.
Coventry Cathedral itself offers us a wonderful picture of what Christ's love could do in us. On the night after the bombing when the roof had gone and all those matchless pillars, arcades and clerestories lay on the ground in broken heaps, it took the eye of faith to see what yet could be....Out of the sole sore loss and brokeness was fashioned a new harmony, a new richness, the sign of a healing and reconciling influence was to reach out all over the world.

That is what God's new love in Christ can do in us if only we will yield ourselves to him. The ruins of our very gifts and failure can be made new and brought into a greater pattern.
Yes, exactly! 'The ruins of our very gifts and failure.' I found those words tonight in a little guide book, 'Coventry Cathedral after the flames'.

'The ruins of our very gifts and failure.' It's true, isn't it? I can wield my gifts like weapons to cut down those who see things differently. I've been guilty of precisely that. And that is why the fruit of the Spirit is more fundamental than the gifts of the same Holy Spirit. A gift can be mishandled, misused, misapplied. It's not possible to do that with the fruit. (Galatians 5:13-26)

See also: Coventry pilgrimage

< No earlier items | Index | Hearing from the Spirit in Coventry >

22 September 2004

Eaton Ford - Touch and seasons

< 11th May 2004 | Index | 14th October 2004 >

Tonight we began by chatting and sharing a coffee. And then we settled down to see what our Father would say to us, and we were not disappointed!

Teddy bearsAt first we considered Daniel, Val had been reading the book of Daniel and had been impressed by his obedience. We were shown that Father's touch is very gentle. Like Daniel we're called to obedience in the face of whatever happens to us in the world, but the Almighty's touch is a gentle touch on the shoulder. His touch is for reassurance and support, he's always there for us, like Daniel we depend upon him.

Val had brought a notelet, the sort you might use to write a short message to a close friend. She showed us the picture in the corner of the notelet - a father bear and a little bear. The simple, child-like image said it all - there was the same gentle, reassuring touch that we'd just been thinking about!

Rachael said, 'When you wobble you need his hand on your shoulder'. How true! Just a few days earlier I'd been through a time when I very much needed his loving, steadying hand on my shoulder, and the same word, 'wobbly' had been mentioned then too! He knows all the things that affect us and is always there to help and guide. Thank you Father, thank you so much.

RhododendronsRachael also shared an experience she'd had recently. In her nursing job she'd been walking along a basement corridor to visit an elderly lady who was very ill. In fact, this lady died just a few days later. As she walked, Rachael became aware that the corridor had vanished and instead she was walking on a mossy carpet between beautiful plants and flowers.

The seasons seemed to be rolled into one, and time was speeded up so she could see the flowers opening and the fruit ripening. It was a beautiful and peaceful place. Rachael became aware that this was the way the corridor would have been if had been left the way it was supposed to be, the way the Creator had made it.

We wait for the seasons to come round because we are trapped in time, but our Father experiences things as they truly are. In fact, everything does happen in season, yet all the seasons come together just as they did along the mossy pathway.

In Rachael's vision there was a soft and gentle dew on the ground, and this reminded us of the manna which was all that the children of Israel needed. It provided all their sustenance and was always there in sufficient amounts.

We also thought about the fig tree that Yahshua cursed in Mark 11. Like Israel, this tree had failed to bear fruit for him. Now its chance to do so was over. But under the new covenant, which includes not only the Jews but also the Gentile peoples, there are no seasonal rules. We are to bear fruit at all seasons!

This in turn reminded us of the verse in Habakkuk 3 about the fig tree.

'Although the fig tree doesn't flower And there are no grapes on the vines, Although the olives fail to crop And the fields produce nothing to eat, Though there are no sheep in the pen And no cattle in the stalls, Yet I'll rejoice in Yahweh, And in my Almighty Saviour.'

'Yahweh Elohim is my strength; He makes my feet like deer's feet, He enables me to go up to the highest places.'

He makes it all possible for us, doesn't he! He has made us able to leap and balance like deer, and we are able to walk on his holy mountain, in his glorious presence. HalleluYah!

< 11th May 2004 | Index | 14th October 2004 >

13 May 2003

Eaton Ford - Tree of life

< 21st April 2003 | Index | 4th June 2003 >

For some time I've been feeling that I want everything to happen right now, that I want to 'get on with it', whatever 'it' is. This leads to frustration, of course, and above all we have to wait for the King to move. Our place is to follow.

Trees on the riverbankThis meeting helped me a lot. We talked about Matthew 24:36 where we are told to keep watch and learn that even the Son himself doesn't know when. So why should I be impatient!

We also talked about the way things that once seemed important to us, such as reading the newspaper each week, are really not important at all. Our lives are full of such things, few of them matter.

We were drawn to two passages about a river. In Ezekiel and in Revelation we read about this river, and the passages seemed to be very relevant to what we were being shown. Ez 47:1-12 shows that the river flows from the temple (Yahweh's dwelling place) and brings abundant life. Rev 22:1-6 tells us that the same river waters the trees, and their leaves are for the healing of the nations. We also read about the valley of dry bones in Ez 37, one of my favourite passages.

Clearly, we can do nothing by our own strength or abilities. But when the Almighty acts, he acts decisively! Let's not worry or be fustrated, instead let's recognise that many things we hold dear are unimportant, and that life and renewal flow like a river from the throne of the Almighty and of the Lamb. Only when he breathes into us will we truly come alive.

< 21st April 2003 | Index | 4th June 2003 >

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