Advent Joy

It’s the start to the third week of Advent, where we look at JOY. But I have to say I am just not feeling joyful. I’m not.

I anticipate and look forward to this time of year so much and yet I find myself sitting in this time of shear unjoyfulness. There’s just this immense lack of it in my heart and mind. All around me I see it, and I desperately want it, but it’s just not there. It’s as if this overwhelming grief and sadness has just enveloped life for me.

It’s jarring to even admit because I have been trying to cover it up, put on a mask and smile and be joyful when deep within I ache and want to shut off everything and every one. It’s the glimpses of a seeping depression coming through cracks in my life that I have attempted all too poorly to patch up with manufactured things, stuff that doesn’t fill those cracks.

The opposite of joy is fear, it’s the basis and the origination of sin from the very beginning. Fear of missing out, fear of being alone, fear of not being enough, fear of being too much. It compounds and mounts, leading to more of me trying to figure out or patch it up. To overcome the fear with confidence and gusto. But the more I tried in my own might I kept finding the grasp I was holding onto was slipping.

While the world looks at joy as emotion evoked by success or well-being, Biblical joy is a fruit of the Spirit, born out through labor and toiling, by pruning and stripping back. James tell us that we are to count it all joy when we are face to face with trials. It’s hard, it’s difficult and we often feel guilty for not feeling this exuberant joy all the time when it looks as though things are great on the outside.

This morning as I struggled to face the week of Joy in Advent I pulled open His Word to Zephaniah 3. (Yes, it’s a book in the Bible, but I did have to look in my index to find it too) These words cut deep to a heart struggling in fear and searching to make joy on it’s own.

“Do not fear; Zion, let not your hands be weak.
The Lord your God in your midst, the Might One, will save,
He will rejoice over you with gladness;
He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.”

We’re not to fear, to not resign ourselves to hopelessness. He is with us, the Warrior God fighting for us. He rejoices over us. He quiets our hearts with His unending love. He sings over us. Words of love, beauty, mercy, grace and JOY. He joys in us when we can’t find joy for ourselves. HE is our JOY. He is MY JOY, when fear tries to take hold and pull me under. When fear thinks it has won the battle in my mind and heart. He brings JOY to fight, songs of redemption is His battle cry, His strength in my hands for taking up the fight.

Joy may not look like a smiling, successful, fortunate turn of life. It may be the cries of the heart in battle, with God singing over us as He is with us. But JOY has come for us. To be with us. And for today, for now, we cling to a joy in Christ’s coming that brought hope, peace and love with the joy of today.

 

I have a black thumb. Not from banging it on something or in a door. No, this is more of a metaphorical black thumb. Anything that is in a pot or needs planting, I tend to kill. I can keep them alive for about three good months, then whoosh something happens and everything dies.

Even the simplest of veggies to grow in an urban environment, I have killed.

This spring I was determined that I would grow something, giving it time and attention. So after several long months I have one big ol dead tomato plant and these beauties.

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Oh they are small, but when you urban garden you get smaller plants from a smaller pot. I had just picked these the night before I read this passage in Mark.

“The kingdom of God is like this,” He said. “A man scatters seed on the ground;  he sleeps and rises—night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows—he doesn’t know how.  The soil produces a crop by itself—first the blade, then the head, and then the ripe grain on the head. But as soon as the crop is ready, he sends for the sickle, because the harvest has come.” Mark 4:26-29 (HCSB)

As we enter in to a new season of school starting, fall coming in and many harvests coming to bear out their final fruits, I cannot help but look at the life of the church. It’s a season of growing, of planting seeds, of doing the work of the sewing even in this time. We are working night and day with the seeds, unsure of whether something will sprout…

But then months later someone understands a passage, someone hears a Word of Truth and it springs up for their life specifically. They are introduced to Christ in a way they would never have done had we not taken time to seed. To nurture and place time and effort into caring for the ground it was planted in.

Then again we may not see the sprouting, it may not be ours to pull fruit from the vine they produce. But others will see the seed in which is planted today, in the next week or the next month. But we plant anyways. We water regardless of what we will or won’t see. We do it all as a means of the kingdom work we have been called to do. We don’t kill the seed, or choose to hold it only within ourselves. That’s not what seeds were meant to do, and not what we are used for.

So in this new season of fresh perspectives, rest and investing in groups may we support and nourish the work of seed-planting. May we diligently work towards gardens planted across the community that ignite feasting on His Truth. I think that’s a garden I could be fruitfully planted and working in.

 

 

 

Fruit-Bearing Mondays

It’s the Monday of Holy Week. As a kid growing up Southern Baptist I didn’t think much on this week, except with anticipation of the Easter drama at church and the basket from the bunny. The week itself didn’t really hold much meaning for me up until a few years ago.

I am currently in a study which is taking a look at each day of this week, with focused intention at the journey of Christ during this week. Monday intrigues me somewhat, especially as I sit here on a Monday night reading over His words from so long ago, that are resonating with this heart preparing for Friday, anticipating Sunday.

Palm Sunday brought adoration, worship, jubilant praise of “Hosanna!” Monday brought judgement in the temple from Christ. It brought a lesson to the disciples. It brought prayer to the forefront once more. For many, even in the study I am in, the focus is on Christ cleansing the temple on this Monday. I have even missed the rest of the day because of the great act of flipping the tables (I have a deep-seeded desire to flip a table in righteous anger too).

The fig tree got the judgement as well on this Monday. As Christ used it as an illustration to those who look full of promise, but bear no fruit. He was specifically pointing towards Israel but He casts a wider audience with us all. The fig tree didn’t bear fruit in the spring, during this Passover season. They are fall fruit-bearers. Yet there are leaves that sprout giving a small hope of promise but not fulfilling that. Christ came hungry, desiring a taste of the fruit one more time as He journeyed towards the weight of the world crashing down upon Him. He sought the faith of those willing to see miracles, to see answered prayers, to bear out the fruit of their lives He was beckoning them to be.

Likewise He desires us to bear fruit, fruit of promise and in all seasons. He seeks for us to know Him, having faith in Him, believing that He walked towards the cross to give us the life He hungers for us to have in Him. The hunger He has for us isn’t one easily satiated with figs, but with real fruit born out in our lives of faith, believing in prayer, seeking miracles through faith in Him, knowing He is our reality.

 

Faux Fruit & My Mamaw’s House

Growing up, when we would go to my mamaw’s house I would get fascinated with the fruit bowl she had sitting in the formal living room. The formal living room, in and of itself, was a fascinating place to be. The white carpet and couches had protective coverings over them. We were to remove our shoes before even stepping on said plastic coverings. It held every breakable thing known to mankind. For two very mischievous cousins (who incidentally were wreaking havoc on the car port just moments earlier), this was our quiet space. It was the place we had to tiptoe into for fear of her finding us in her most prized possessions. It was also the place where mamaw would hide the Reese’s peanut butter cups from our papaw because he never went in there.

This fruit bowl that sat on the coffee table or side board, depending upon if company was coming over was a source of fascination for me. It held grapes, lemons, and the occasional apple…it seemed to float around in places. The bowl was this beautiful crystal, a part of a set I believe my mamaw had, but it held this fruit which from afar looked real. For this inquisitive child though, I quickly learned appearances were deceiving. All of the fruit was fake, faux, not real. After a while, I would pull off the grapes and strategically rearrange them, leaving some in the bottom of the bowl to continue the facade that my mamaw kept her perishable fruit in this pristine bowl in a room no one was ever really allowed to be in except for Christmas and when the pastor came over.

The fruit came to mind as I have been looking at the fruits of the Spirit. For the better part of my faith journey I have thought the fruits of the Spirit were of my own making. That I could conjure them up within me if I prayed and did just as best I could. It was very formulaic for me. But the deeper I dig into this study on them I am finding they are truly conditions of a lasting relationship with Christ.

None of it I can finagle or check off in order to get joy or goodness. It’s about abiding and allowing Him to work through me to produce that fruit. This fruit, as Sarah Matheny says, “is a manifestation of who He is.” So it’s not within me to produce but He does a work, in making me into His image have the capacity to know joy, to carry joy and to be joy for others.

That fruit is one that is not faux but one that continues to produce as I grow in relationship with Him. It’s not something to be left untouched, or put on display, in a room for others to admire. It’s pruned, fed, and comes in seasons to be relished and feed others just as the Spirit feeds me when I am in Him.

Here’s to no longer crafting plastic fruit, that seems like fruit but is only a best attempt at being something. Here’s to growing deeper in relationship with Him and having the fruits made manifest out of that relationship through me.