Saturday, January 26, 2008

JUICY FRUITY JOY - Juicy Fruit of the Spirit - Part 3 - January 19, 2008

“Joy is the ribbon of the Lord's personality wrapped around and tied to all the gifts He gives us.”
Sharon West

My daughter’s middle name is Joy. According to one version of Webster’s dictionary, joy is “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.” Another version equates joy with happiness, gladness, cheerfulness. Bethany’s middle name is not based on Webster’s worldview, but on the Biblical meaning of joy.

This particular Fruit of the Spirit is a cornucopia of fruitiness, so lush and full that it is difficult to paint its portrait within the limits of this column. Close your eyes and imagine with me a cluster of warm, fragrant, fresh-off-the-vine grapes. Pluck and savor the burst of flavorful juice as you partake of each grape one by one:

1. Joy is a quality derived from our transformational relationship with God.

2. As we yield to God’s creative purpose—in which we are being transformed into His image—joy takes root, grows, blossoms, and produces fruit.

3. “Joy is the sign that life has found its purpose, its reason for being!” John W. Ritenbaugh

4. The fruit of love and joy are inseparable: Joy is the offspring of our obedience to Jesus’ command to love.

5. Biblical joy is not an end in itself; it is a blessing, a byproduct of our relationship with God.

6. Joy is a product, not of the natural mind, but of the Holy Spirit.

7. Joy involves self-denial. When carried out with the intent of serving God and ministering to others, selflessness produces sustained and eternal blessings.

8. Joy and suffering are woven together in the cloth of life. As we listen to the presidential debates, it is evident that our world is riddled with a multitude of insolvable problems. We live each day with an edge of anxiety based on an historical knowledge that all sorts of disasters, both natural and human-made, are inevitable. No presidential, candidate—or any political or religious world leader—has all the answers.

The first seven grapes are tasty and easy to digest. This eighth one gives me indigestion! The fact that suffering is an inevitable aspect of life is hard for me to swallow. Especially such bitter grapes as child and domestic abuse, war, terrorism, world hunger, poverty, greed, theft, murder, corruption in politics (and religion)… And yet, the Biblical message is that we are to “rejoice always.”

9. "Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crops fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength. Habakkuk 3:17-19

So how do we “yet…rejoice”? How do we not get bogged down in suffering and lose sight of joy? The ever present tension between these two realities finds resolution only when we yield to God’s creative purpose, to that mysterious transformation into God’s image (#2).
While God wants to save and transform us, Satan, “the god of this age,” seeks to separate us from God’s love. But keep in mind that:

10. “The devil may be able to attack you but he has no power to steal your joy. Joy is a spiritual force inside your human spirit. Satan can touch your body, finances and family as the book of Job teaches, but he can't touch your spirit. Your spirit is off limits to the devil.” (Tom Brown)

“Joy and sorrow are inseparable,” said Kahlil Gibran. “Together they come and when one sits along with you…remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.” When sorrow sits with you, remember that joy is curled up close by. When joy sits with you, do not let anxiety rob you of your joy. Partake of its juiciness and be strengthened.

True to her name, my daughter, Bethany Joy, gives me great joy, but her essence is a mere foretaste of the JOY to come!

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