Joy And The Holy Spirit


Most Christians have probably heard or read that joy is not the same thing as happiness. I think we’re pretty clear about the distinction.

A quick study reveals that joy is grouped with patience, peace, love, faithfulness, and a few other traits to constitute the fruit of the Spirit.

Why, then, I ask myself, do I think I need to manufacture joy?

And since the Holy Spirit is the source of joy, wouldn’t it be fair to say, if I’m not experiencing joy, I must be quenching the Holy Spirit?

I mean, Galatians 5:22-23 doesn’t make joy an optional piece of fruit. If we have the Spirit, we have the fruit. It’s a matter, then, of walking by the Spirit (Gal. 5:25). Or not.

As I’m writing this, the little chorus “The joy of the Lord is our strength” comes to mind. The words simply repeat that line over and over — a line from Nehemiah 8:10.

The returned exiles, struggling to make a go of it in the homeland most of them had never seen before, asked Ezra, one of their leaders, to read the book of the law. He read from dawn to midday. A group of others then explained the text and taught the people what it all meant.

Their reaction? Nope, not joy.

They were weeping and mourning. The Law exposed their sin, and they were undone.

That’s when Nehemiah stepped in. Stop crying, he said. Today is a holy day, set aside for the Lord. Get up and let the feast begin. Don’t grieve. The joy of the Lord is your strength.

And the people calmed down, got up, and celebrated “because they understood the words which had been made known to them” (Neh. 8:12).

Except, two verses earlier, their understanding caused them to grieve. But now? Celebration. How can that be explained apart from the joy of the Lord?

The Spirit convicts of sin. The proper response should be sorrow leading to repentance. And then comes joy, not a manufactured joy or an inauthentic emotion.

The reality was, their circumstances hadn’t changed. They were still returned exiles struggling to get it together. In their own estimation, they were still slaves:

Behold, we are slaves today,
And as to the land which
You gave to our fathers to eat of its fruit and its bounty,
Behold, we are slaves in it.
Its abundant produce is for the kings
Whom You have set over us because of our sins;
They also rule over our bodies
And over our cattle as they please,
So we are in great distress. (Neh 9:36-37)

Under those circumstances, Nehemiah gave them that salient truth: The joy of the Lord is your strength. Not bitterness or complaining, certainly. But not continued grieving, either. And not what we rely on today, a can-do spirit.

Their strength came from what only the Spirit could provide — joy from the Lord.

Ironic, then, that quenching the Spirit leads to the opposite of what someone going through difficult circumstances needs — strength. The little recap of Jewish history in Nehemiah 9 spells it out:

You gave Your good Spirit to instruct them,
Your manna You did not withhold from their mouth,
And You gave them water for their thirst. (v. 20, emphasis mine)

Indeed, forty years You provided for them in the wilderness and they were not in want;
Their clothes did not wear out, nor did their feet swell. (v 21)

You also gave them kingdoms and peoples … (v. 22)

You made their sons numerous as the stars of heaven … (v. 23)

So their sons entered and possessed the land… (v. 24)

They captured fortified cities and a fertile land… (v. 25)

But they became disobedient and rebelled against You (v. 26, emphasis added)

Therefore You delivered them into the hand of their oppressors who oppressed them. (v. 27)

Listening to God’s Spirit strengthened the people; rebelling against Him, didn’t.

So what was it those Israelites Nehemiah addressed, understood that made it possible for them to calm down, stop grieving, and celebrate?

Not a change in their circumstances, as I’ve noted. Not the promise of a change in their circumstances either. Rather, I believe they understood how faithful the Lord is and how He had not left them or forsaken them, and that He would not. They had the Lord, so they had His joy which gave them strength.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in August 2011.

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God’s Gift Of Weakness


WeightliftingWestern culture does not prize weakness. For that matter, I doubt if Eastern culture prizes weakness either. Generally society rewards the brightest and the best, the strongest and the fastest, the most beautiful and the most gifted. We give A’s to the kids that get the majority of the questions right, not the ones who say, “I don’t know.” We give the big athletic scholarships to the players who score the most points, hit for the highest average, win the most games. In other words, we’re not wired to look at weakness as a gift.

That God apparently takes a contrary view is just another evidence that His ways are not our ways:

For My thoughts are not your thoughts
And My ways are not your ways
Declares the Lord
For as the heavens are higher than the earth
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 59:1-2)

But is it true that God prizes weakness? Yes and no. What He prizes is humility.

Over and over in the major and minor books of prophecy, God’s men gave the message that pride was a cause of God’s judgment—whether against Israel or Judah or one of the nations around them.

The Lord GOD has sworn by Himself, the LORD God of hosts has declared:
“I loathe the arrogance of Jacob,
And detest his citadels;
Therefore I will deliver up the city and all it contains.” (Amos 6:9)

God’s great passion throughout the Bible is to be known. Consequently He brought famine to show that He controls nature; He brought war to show that He provides or withdraws security. He raised people from the dead to show that He rules over life. He forgives sins to show that He is sovereign over the spiritual realm.

Why? Because people who were well fed and safe and healthy and self-righteous began to take credit for creating a world that gave them what they needed and wanted. In other words, they stole God’s glory by their pride.

Something else God prizes—the eternal over the temporal. He tells us to store up treasure in heaven where moth and rust can’t get it. The picture is treasure that lasts versus treasure that must inevitably fade away.

Consequently, God is more concerned with our character, which lasts, than with our bank account, which fades away. When Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell all he had, He did so because He wanted the young man to yield himself completely to God’s lordship. The guy’s love of his money was standing in the way of a whole-hearted commitment to Jesus.

Which brings us back to the main topic. When we are strong, we keep fighting. We think we can still win. We believe in ourselves, believe we can come back from a deficit, that we can make it.

When we are weak, however, we have two options: give up or give in. We can quit, and some people do that, or we can give up—we can tell God He’s right, we’re wrong, He’s holy and we’re sinful, He’s perfect and we’re imperfect. When we give in, we say, we can’t make life work the way we want because we’re too weak, so we’re willing to let God make life work the way He wants.

Our weakness, in other words, presses us to God’s side. We are forced to cling to Him or let go because our grip isn’t strong enough. But there’s no better place, no safer place, no place more beneficial than at the feet of Jesus.

By showing us our weakness, by leaving us weak when we ask Him to make us strong, God gives us the greatest gift apart from His Son. He gives us an awareness of our need for Him.

But as I mentioned, we have the option of giving up when we see our weakness. We can choose from the stubbornness of our hearts to “go down with the ship” rather than to yield control to God. Then, at least, we think, we can say, “I did it my way,” as if that’s some sort of victory.

My way, which leads to destruction, or God’s way which leads to salvation. I wonder which one is real victory?

And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:9-10)

This post first appeared here in May 2013.

Published in: on April 20, 2016 at 6:51 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Fading Regard For Gentleness


daddy-loves-me-648389-mI kind of wonder how many people will read the title of this post, then move on to something else. Our society doesn’t think much about or of gentleness. On the other hand, God values gentleness.

In Matthew 11 Jesus declares Himself to be gentle (v 29), and in Galatians 5 Paul informs us that gentleness is a fruit produced by the Holy Spirit (v 23).

Further, he tells believers that the quality of gentleness may be the tipping point that turns around someone in opposition when correcting them. In other words, even in conflict, gentleness is a necessary attribute:

the Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. (2 Tim. 2:24-25, emphasis added)2

In writing to the Colossians, Paul specifically mentioned gentleness as a quality which marks those who have been chosen of God, holy and blameless. To the Ephesians, he wrote about unity, and gentleness was one of the traits he mentioned as integral to the process.

Peter identifies “the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit which is precious in the sight of God” as a woman’s internal adornment, more important than her external appearance (1 Peter 3:4).

Later in the chapter he names gentleness as a necessary ingredient in giving an answer, an apologia, for the hope that is in us.

Despite God’s clear esteem for gentleness, western culture seems to hold this trait in less and less regard.

More than once I’ve heard or read that what editors are looking for, particularly in young adult literature, is “a kick-ass heroine”—a teenage woman who is “forceful, vigorous, and aggressive” (Oxford-American Dictionary). They aren’t mentioning gentleness.

Meanwhile, guys are supposed to “man up” and are to show by their tough, fearless, and aggressive behavior that they have man parts.

Even the feminization of men has not included a return to the quality of gentleness. Sensitivity? Sure, metrosexual guys can be sensitive, especially if it means they are easily offended. But gentleness is not on the desired list of attributes.

For many, gentleness equates with weakness, and therein lies the problem. No one wants to be weak today. We deserve great things, the best, actually, or so the media tells us over and over. Women want to be empowered, and too often those with few resources feel entitled to the resources of others.

Coaches tell young children to take the word “can’t” from their vocabulary. Parents and teachers tell kids they can do or become whatever they wish. No one is weak. No one is less. We’ll get where we want to go if we Just Do It.

And “it” has nothing to do with gentleness. It has to do with working and striving and pushing to be the best. Ironic since every soccer kid wins a trophy, but we still all want to be at the top.

Our talk show hosts are blunt and crass. Our top athletes are boastful and vain. Our entertainers are vulgar and selfish. Politicians or those in their campaign smear one another at least as often as they tout their own virtues. Business men wheedle and manipulate and arm-twist to get the best deal they can, no matter who they hurt in the process.

Those out front and most visible in our society seem bent on getting what they want at all costs.

And gentleness?

Who’s telling the banker or salesman or editor or Senator or airport screener to treat people with gentleness?

Paul in 1 Thessalonians described how he and those with him presented the gospel when they first arrived in their city:

just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts. For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness—nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority. But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. (2:4-7, emphasis added)

So I wonder, if Paul could go into an environment which he described as filled with “much opposition” and eschew his authority as an apostle, choosing instead to treat the people tenderly like a nursing mother cares for her children, might there be more power in the trait than meets the eye, no matter what propaganda we see splashed over the media?

Think about it. Jesus said He is gentle. Was Jesus weak? Hardly. But He knew when to touch a leper to heal and when to turn over moneychangers’ tables in the temple. He knew when to blast the Pharisees with imprecations and when to take children in His arms to bless them.

The key to gentleness, then, is actually knowing when to harness strength and when to keep power at bay.

Have you ever seen football players spike a ball? Many do as part of their celebration after scoring a touchdown.

Have you seen them spike a baby? Of course not. Sometimes after a Super Bowl win, a dad will bring his family down to the field with him, and he’ll carry a son or daughter in his arms, but spike them? With their children, these burly men who make their living by hitting each other restrain the power they have.

Or they used to. Is it any wonder with the disregard our society shows toward gentleness that we have had an increase in domestic violence?

When we stop honoring what God honors, quite frankly we should expect society to be confused, at best, and more likely, increasingly harmful.

Published in: on November 12, 2014 at 6:25 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Deception Of Power


Gideon and his three hundred men. Judges 7:9-23

Gideon and his three hundred men. Judges 7:9-23

In the book of Judges, Samson is a natural. A boy whose birth was supernaturally announced to a barren couple, set apart to God from the womb, and gifted with incredible strength.

Gideon, on the other hand, was pretty much the opposite. The youngest of his family, a member of a split tribe that wasn’t particularly influential, and questioning where the God of all the old stories was.

If I was choosing a judge, a liberator of a nation, I’d pick Samson. God picked both men, and as it turned out, Samson was the disappointment. He did more to liberate his people by his death than he had in his life. Everything he did with his strength while alive was for his own revenge.

Gideon, on the other hand, had no strength, except perhaps the power of persuasion. When he called for men to join his army, they came in the thousands. Interestingly, God didn’t use that one strength Gideon had to offer. Instead, He told His chosen leader to send most of the recruits home.

And with a small force outnumbered 1000 to 1 or more, Gideon routed the enemy. Well, God routed the enemy.

When Samson fought the Philistines and defeated them, Scripture says the Spirit of the Lord came upon him. As a man, Samson may have looked impressive, but God was the source of his strength just as He was Gideon’s.

On the flip side, the Midianites Gideon fought had chariots and huge numbers and allies. They looked invincible. But they were up against the living God, and they were no match for Him.

Because God’s ways are not our ways, He delights in using the weak and the simple and the broken and the wounded and the poor and the humble. When He does, there’s no question where the glory lies.

Samson was blind and broken when God used him most. Gideon’s army was seriously outnumbered when God used them to defeat the enemy.

Oddly, even knowing what we know because of God’s word, the majority of us, if given the choice, would align ourselves with the greater army equipped with the best weapons, positioned in the best place, in charge, on top, in control.

We understand with our heads that God is all powerful, but we’re more apt to rely on our bank account or credit rating or home security system or any of the other stuff we surround ourselves with to make us safe and secure.

When we trust in our own ways, I think it’s a bit like Samson after he broke his Nazarite vow and God’s Spirit was no longer with him–he still jumped up to take on the enemy, but that time, in his own strength. And it wasn’t enough.

Published in: on October 24, 2013 at 7:25 pm  Comments (2)  
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God’s Gift Of Weakness


WeightliftingWestern culture does not prize weakness. For that matter, I doubt if Eastern culture prizes weakness either. Generally society rewards the brightest and the best, the strongest and the fastest, the most beautiful and the most gifted. We give A’s to the kids that get the majority of the questions right, not the ones who say, “I don’t know.” We give the big athletic contracts to the players who score the most points, hit for the highest average, win the most games. In other words, we’re not wired to look at weakness as a gift.

That God apparently takes a contrary view is just another evidence that His ways are not our ways.

For My thoughts are not your thoughts
And My ways are not your ways
Declares the Lord
For as the heavens are higher than the earth
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 59:1-2)

But is it true that God prizes weakness? Yes and no. What He prizes is humility.

Over and over in the major and minor books of prophecy, God’s men gave the message that pride was a cause of God’s judgment–whether against Israel or Judah or one of the nations around them.

The Lord GOD has sworn by Himself, the LORD God of hosts has declared:
“I loathe the arrogance of Jacob,
And detest his citadels;
Therefore I will deliver up the city and all it contains.” (Amos 6:9)

God’s great passion throughout the Bible is to be known. Consequently He brought famine to show that He controls nature; He brought war to show that He provides or withdraws security. Why? Because people who were well fed and safe began to take credit for creating a world that gave them what they needed and wanted. In other words, they stole God’s glory by their pride.

Something else God prizes–the eternal over the temporal. He tells us to store up treasure in heaven where moth and rust can’t get it. The picture is treasure that lasts versus treasure that must inevitably fade away.

Consequently, God is more concerned with our character than our bank account. When Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell all he had, it was because Jesus wanted the young man to yield himself completely. The guy’s love of his money was standing in the way of a whole-hearted commitment to Jesus.

Which brings us back to the main topic. When we are strong, we keep fighting. We think we can still win. We believe in ourselves, believe we can come back from a deficit, that we can make it.

When we are weak, however, we have two options: give up or give in. We can quit and some people do that, or we can give up–we can tell God He’s right, we’re wrong, He’s holy and we’re sinful, He’s perfect and we’re imperfect. When we give in, we say, we can’t make life work the way we want because we’re too weak, so we’re willing to let God make life work the way He wants.

Our weakness, in other words, presses us to God’s side. We are forced to cling to Him or let go because our grip isn’t strong enough. But there’s no better place, no safer place, no place more beneficial than at the feet of Jesus.

By showing us our weakness, by leaving us weak when we ask Him to make us strong, God gives us the greatest gift apart from His Son. He gives us an awareness of our need for Him.

But as I mentioned, we have the option of giving up when we see our weakness. We can choose from the stubbornness of our hearts to “go down with the ship” rather than to yield control to God. Then, at least, we think, we can say, “I did it my way,” as if that’s some sort of victory.

My way, which leads to destruction, or God’s way which leads to salvation. I wonder which one is real victory?

And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:9-10)

Published in: on May 3, 2013 at 6:35 pm  Comments (2)  
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Solomon: The UltimateTestimony To Man’s Success


businessmanFor years I’ve had a problem with Solomon, King of Israel, son of David. I’ve complained about his life style and even declared his book of Ecclesiastes my least favorite book of the Bible . . . until his book of Song of Solomon edged it out this year.

Of all the people in the Bible, I understand him the least. I mean, this guy had it all. His father was “a man after God’s own heart,” so Solomon had a spiritual heritage. As a newly anointed king, he himself had an encounter with God.

Unlike David, Solomon never lived in a cave, never had to run for his life, never experienced a civil war or open rebellion.

Though he stockpiled horses and chariots–the military might of his day–Israel lived in peace. Other kings paid tribute to him and allied with him.

His building projects succeeded, his trading ventures brought in incredible wealth. His influence expanded.

Solomon didn’t know defeat or failure or financial ruin. He never lost his job or went bankrupt or faced foreclosure.

I’ll say again, he had it all. He was the ultimate success. Status? He had it. Fame. Yep. Money, comfortable lifestyle, bling–he had all that too.

Oh, yeah, the guy was wise. His counsel was sought after by other rulers. He apparently amazed the Queen of Sheba when she tested him by asking him questions, to the point that she said, “How blessed are your men, how blessed are these your servants who stand before you continually and hear your wisdom.”

From my point of view, the guy had no excuse for what happened toward the end of his life. Solomon had it all. All. Everything people dream of. He is the ultimate testimony to success. And here’s what he did with it:

When Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away after other gods; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians and after Milcom the detestable idol of the Ammonites. Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and did not follow the LORD fully, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable idol of Moab, on the mountain which is east of Jerusalem, and for Molech the detestable idol of the sons of Ammon. Thus also he did for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and sacrificed to their gods. (1 Kings 11:4-8 – emphasis added)

So Solomon is a testimony to the truth that Mankind’s success means nothing when it comes to the eternal things of God.

In contrast, the Apostle Paul said, his weakness made room for God’s strength.

And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.(2 Cor. 12:9-10)

God lays it out clearly in Jeremiah,

Thus says the LORD, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD. (Jer 9:23-24)

What’s of lasting value, what matters most is that we understand and know God.

The events of these past few weeks ought to make this lesson clear. The US has more military might than any nation before us, and we couldn’t stop a gunman from shooting down children in school. We are a people boasting in our own wisdom, riches, and might. We are not boasting in our knowledge and understanding of God. We know less and less of His lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness–the things in which He delights.

In other words, we are Solomon. And we should be Paul.

Published in: on December 21, 2012 at 6:11 pm  Comments (4)  
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Joy And The Holy Spirit


Most Christians have probably heard or read that joy is not the same thing as happiness. I think we’re pretty clear about the distinction.

A quick study reveals that joy is grouped with patience, peace, love, faithfulness, and a few other traits to constitute the fruit of the Spirit.

Why, then, I ask myself, do I think I need to manufacture joy?

And since the Holy Spirit is the source of joy, wouldn’t it be fair to say, if I’m not experiencing joy, I must be quenching the Holy Spirit?

I mean, Galatians 5:22-23 doesn’t make joy an optional piece of fruit. If we have the Spirit, we have the fruit. It’s a matter, then, of walking by the Spirit (Gal. 5:25). Or not.

As I’m writing this, the little chorus “The joy of the Lord is our strength” comes to mind. The words simply repeat that line over and over — a line from Nehemiah 8:10.

The returned exiles, struggling to make a go of it in the homeland most of them had never seen before, asked Ezra, one of their leaders, to read the book of the law. He read from dawn to midday. A group of others then explained the text and taught the people what it all meant.

Their reaction? Nope, not joy.

They were weeping and mourning. The Law exposed their sin, and they were undone.

That’s when Nehemiah stepped in. Stop crying, he said. Today is a holy day, set aside for the Lord. Get up and let the feast begin. Don’t grieve. The joy of the Lord is your strength.

And the people calmed down, got up, and celebrated “because they understood the words which had been made known to them” (Neh. 8:12).

Except, two verses earlier, their understanding caused them to grieve. But now? Celebration. How can that be explained apart from the joy of the Lord?

The Spirit convicts of sin. The proper response should be sorrow leading to repentance. And then comes joy, not a manufactured joy or an inauthentic emotion.

The reality was, their circumstances hadn’t changed. They were still returned exiles struggling to get it together. In their own estimation, they were still slaves:

Behold, we are slaves today,
And as to the land which
You gave to our fathers to eat of its fruit and its bounty,
Behold, we are slaves in it.
Its abundant produce is for the kings
Whom You have set over us because of our sins;
They also rule over our bodies
And over our cattle as they please,
So we are in great distress. (Neh 9:36-37)

Under those circumstances, Nehemiah gave them that salient truth: The joy of the Lord is your strength. Not bitterness or complaining, certainly. But not continued grieving, either. And not what we rely on today, a can-do spirit.

Their strength came from what only the Spirit could provide — joy from the Lord.

Ironic, then, that quenching the Spirit leads to the opposite of what someone going through difficult circumstances needs — strength. The little recap of Jewish history in Nehemiah 9 spells it out:

You gave Your good Spirit to instruct them,
Your manna You did not withhold from their mouth,
And You gave them water for their thirst. v. 20 (emphasis mine)

Indeed, forty years You provided for them in the wilderness and they were not in want;
Their clothes did not wear out, nor did their feet swell. v 21

You also gave them kingdoms and peoples … v. 22

You made their sons numerous as the stars of heaven … v. 23

So their sons entered and possessed the land… v. 24

They captured fortified cities and a fertile land… v. 25

But they became disobedient and rebelled against You v. 26 (emphasis added)

Therefore You delivered them into the hand of their oppressors who oppressed them. v. 27

Listening to God’s Spirit strengthened the people; rebelling against Him, didn’t.

So what was it those Israelites Nehemiah addressed, understood that made it possible for them to calm down, stop grieving, and celebrate?

Not a change in their circumstances, as I’ve noted. Not the promise of a change in their circumstances either. Rather, I believe they understood how faithful the Lord is and how He had not left them or forsaken them, and that He would not. They had the Lord, so they had His joy which gave them strength.

Published in: on August 16, 2011 at 6:09 pm  Comments Off on Joy And The Holy Spirit  
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