girl whispering into ear of another girl who has covered he mouth

Gossip Turned Upside Down / Spiritual Meditations

Avoiding gossip is one of those parental teachings that has stuck with me.  My father would say “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all” (sound familiar?). Prompted by a friend, I decided to see what the Bible says about this. 

Shocker #1

I found that there are surprisingly few occurrences of the word “gossip” in the Bible, but they all indicate a bad characteristic.  A search of the NIV resulted in only 8 instances!  Checking out a few other versions, I found the WEB has only 4 instances!

So now I’m wondering: Why this lifelong emphasis on the evils of gossip? and How did the WEB translation of the Hebrew/Greek result in only half the references?

A big clue to the difference:

29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; (Rom 1:29-30 NIV)
29 being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, malice; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil habits, secret slanderers30 backbiters, hateful to God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, (Rom 1:29-30 WEB)

Now I understand the emphasis on the dark side of gossip.  But if it can be translated as “slander”, a very serious accusation, gossip seems kind of minor.

Shocker #2

The academic definition of gossip is simply that

“you’re talking about someone who isn’t present”.

 What?!  I do this all the time!  I thought gossip was supposed to be really bad!

Gossip Started with Our Ancient Ancestors

Social Psychologists tell us that when disparaging gossip, we overlook the fact that it’s an essential part of what makes the social world tick; the nasty side of gossip overshadows the more benign ways in which it functions.

In fact, gossip can actually be thought of not as a character flaw, but as a highly evolved social skill.

Evolutionary psychologists believe that our preoccupation with the lives of others is a byproduct of a prehistoric brain.  According to scientists, because our prehistoric ancestors lived in relatively small groups, they knew one another intimately. In order to ward off enemies and survive in their harsh natural environment, our ancestors needed to cooperate with in-group members. But they also recognized that these same in-group members were their main competitors for mates and limited resources.

Living under such conditions, they faced several adaptive social problems: Who’s reliable and trustworthy? Who’s a cheater? Who would make the best mate? How can friendships, alliances, and family obligations be balanced?  In this sort of environment, an intense interest in the private dealings of other people would have certainly been handy – and strongly favored by natural selection.

Recent Studies of Gossip

Only 15% of Gossip is Negative

New research published in the journal Social Psychology and Personality Science analyzed thousands of daily conversations to better understand the true nature of gossip. Contrary to conventional wisdom, gossip may not be as negative as we tend to think.

To arrive at their conclusion, researchers at the University of California Riverside analyzed daily conversations of 467 people over a multi-day period using an Electronically Activated Recorder (EAR, for short). EAR is a portable device that continuously samples sound from a wearer’s immediate environment. Participants were encouraged to wear the device all day during the test period. This allowed researchers to unobtrusively listen in on, and analyze, the contents of participants’ daily conversations.

Here’s what they found. First, the researchers reported that females gossiped significantly more than males (which is consistent with past research as well as general beliefs on gossip). They also found that extraverts and agreeable people tended to gossip more than others.

But it gets more interesting. The researchers separated gossip into three distinct categories:

  • positive/flattering gossip,
  • neutral gossip (i.e., observations about people that aren’t necessarily positive or negative),
  • and negative/malicious gossip.

Examining these three categories separately, they found that younger people tended to gossip more negatively than older people. They also found that people with higher incomes tended to gossip more neutrally than people with lower incomes.

Perhaps most interesting, however, is what the researchers didn’t find. For one, when it came to evaluative gossiping, (positive/flattering and negative/malicious gossip), they found no evidence of a gender difference. They write,

“Despite popular notions, the most reliable evidence for women gossiping more than men was for neutral, rather than evaluative, gossip.  The study revealed less consistent evidence for evaluative gossip and therefore did not support the notion that women evaluatively gossip more than men.” 

Women are no more “catty” than men.

They also dispelled another common misconception—that poorer, less educated people engage in gossip more than the affluent. If anything, the results suggest the opposite.

The researchers were also interested in understanding how people gossip. In other words, what are the common topics, times of day, and conversation characteristics that define gossip? To start, they report that just about everyone gossips. (Only 34 individuals out of the 467 did not gossip at all.) Specifically, they estimate that the average person spends 52 minutes per day gossiping.

However, they note that most gossip (75%, to be exact) is non-evaluative, or neutral, in nature. Fifteen percent of gossip is negative while the remaining 10% is positive or flattering. They also note that gossip tends to be about acquaintances more than celebrities, and typically involves an exchange of social information rather than thoughts about one’s physical appearance or achievements.

Gossip Creates Relationships

In studies reviewed by Ellwardt, Steglich & Wittech, harmless gossiping in the workplace was found to build group cohesiveness and boost morale among colleagues.

Gossip also helps to socialize newcomers into groups by making them privy to group norms and values. In other words, listening to the judgments that people make about the behavior of others helps the newbie figure out what’s acceptable and what isn’t.

What’s more, gossip also fosters trust and closeness among friends, and can provide moral guidelines for behavior. Those who can’t do it well often have difficulty maintaining relationships, and can find themselves on the outside looking in.

Among a group of friends or coworkers, the threat of becoming the target of gossip can be a positive force; it can deter “free-loaders” and cheaters who might be tempted to slack off or take advantage of others.

I Just Couldn’t Help Myself

 A 1993 observational study found that male participants spent 55% of conversation time and female participants spent 67% conversation time on “the discussion of socially relevant topics”.

They also found a physiological distinction to be drawn between active and passive participation in gossip. Matthew Feinberg, an Assistant Professor of Organizational Behavior at the University of Toronto’s and his colleagues explored this in a 2012 study.

When subjects heard about another person’s anti-social behavior or an injustice, their heart rates increased. When they were able to actively gossip about the person or the situation it soothed them and brought their heart rates down. The act of gossiping, Feinberg explains, “helps calm the body.”

So, it could be a struggle to stop gossiping, but if you wish to do so, Sarah DiGiulio has some suggestions.

Criteria for Useful Gossip

A good gossiper is someone who people trust with information and someone who uses that information in a responsible way. If you find out your friend has a crush on someone with a bad reputation for cheating, you let your friend know, not to hurt your friend, but as a warning. You may find out someone in your company is not a team player and you let other coworkers know so that they can try to avoid working with that colleague.

A bad gossiper, on the other hand, is someone who shares confidential information about others in order to get ahead, get an advantage for themselves or is just reckless. Negative gossip is frequently a means of making perpetrators feel better about themselves by putting another person down. People don’t tend to trust “bad” gossipers with private information. “If someone is speaking negatively about my friends to me, they are likely to be doing the same thing to me behind my back.”

Research has indeed shown that a lot of gossip has both positive effects and moral motivations, explains Robb Willer, Professor of Sociology and Director of the Polarization and Social Change Laboratory at Stanford University, who studies the social forces that bring us together and drive us against one another, including gossip.

Studies from his group have shown that the more generous and moral among us are most likely to pass along rumors about untrustworthy people, and they report doing so because they are concerned about helping others. They call this type of gossip “prosocial gossip” because it serves to warn others — which has the effect of lowering overall exploitation in groups, Willer says. “A lot of gossip is driven by concern for others and has positive, social effects.”

Here’s how to make sure you’re gossiping in a responsible, trustworthy way:

1. Think Twice Before You Do It

Whether you’re gossiping in a responsible way or not is all a matter of when you’re doing it and with whom you’re sharing the information.  Are you stabbing someone in the back by telling that story? Is that news going to stop something bad from happening?

2. Don’t Gossip for Personal Gain

If you’re doing it for your own personal gain, don’t; it’s probably not doing anyone any favors. “The form of gossip we’ve found beneficial is negative gossip about people who have behaved in an antisocial way,” Willer says.

3. Don’t Distort Information

Tell it like it is. Leave the exaggeration at the door, Willer says. “People often exaggerate what they pass on to make a better or more coherent story — or to justify why they are speaking about someone.”  That’s not a responsible way of sharing information. Gossip doesn’t do a lot of good if its informational content is unreliable.

Conclusion

Despite multiple studies that reveal an upside to gossip, negative opinions about gossip are resistant to change.

Whether it’s workplace chatter, the sharing of family news or group texts between friends, it’s inevitable that everyone who talks, talks about other people. And that’s OK if we first ask ourselves: Is it true? Is it good? Is it useful?

You may not be able to always answer “yes” to all 3 questions, but always do your best.  Some days are better than others.

To sum it up gossip is light talk about a person that may or may not be true but is often public knowledge, most often about family, friends and coworkers. Slander, on the other hand, are outright lies about a person’s actions or character and can seriously harm their reputation. It is good to remember that even though gossip is not illegal it can hurt a person’s feelings and reputation as well as damage relationships.

If you found this post to be interesting, inspiring, informative or helpful, please share it.

Relevant Scripture

… if you utter worthy, not worthless, words,
you will be my spokesman….(Jeremiah 15:19)

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Eph 4:29)

References

The Truth About Gossip” by Mark Travers Ph.D.

Gossip Is a Social Skill, Not a Character Flaw” by Frank T. McAndrew Ph.D.

Good News about Gossip” by Megan Robbins Ph.D.

The Science Behind Why People Gossip—and When It Can be a Good Thing” by Sophia Gottfried 

Psychologist Say Gossiping is a Social Skill.  Here’s How to Know if You are Doing It Right” By Sarah DiGiulio 

statue of Jesus blessing

Uncover Blessings Concealed in Beatitudes / Spiritual Meditations

Every day we hear someone say “I’m blessed” referring to just about anything.  It’s usually the receipt of something: a goal achieved, support or endorsement, a gift or acquisition, money.   Although the words “I’m blessed” imply that the receiver credits God for the gift, which may be legitimate, the type of blessings spoken of by Jesus, the apostle John and the Psalmists are quite different.

What we consider a blessing is often still the same as it was when Jesus walked the earth.  At the time he taught the Beatitudes, the “blessed” ones were considered to be those who lived on a higher plane than everyone else.  Either:

  • They were gods.
  • They were humans who had gone to the world of the gods.
  • They were the wealthy, upper crust. They were those with many possessions. The blessed were those people and beings who lived above the normal cares, problems, and worries of normal people.

Matthew (reflecting Jesus’ thoughts) uses the word  “blessed” in a totally different way. It is not the elite who are blessed. It is not the rich and powerful who are blessed. It is not the high and mighty who are blessed. It is not the people living in huge mansions or expensive penthouses who are blessed. Rather, Jesus turned it upside-down and pronounced God’s blessings on the lowly: the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the meek, and the mourning.

So, when you read the Beatitudes do you see yourself in one or more of those blessed groups?  This is the way I always looked at them; as separate groups. That is until I started doing some research.  Then I had a real eye-opener.

With the help of my friend Rev. Nathan Carlson. I’ll tell you what I found.

Setting the Scene

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.  (Matt 5:1-2)

Matthew wrote his gospel many years after Jesus spoke on the mountainside. In his view, the ‘crowds’ included  the new groups of  Christians who would be reading his Gospel. His intention was for a closer look at this part of the teaching, targeted to disciples already living in a post Easter, post Ascension, post Pentecost times.  Therefore, although the ‘disciples’ who were mentioned may have included only Jesus’ current 4 disciples, it most likely referred to all those who were part of the crowd, or indeed, all readers of Matthew’s gospel, including you and me! 

Some have understood the beatitudes as teaching the true meaning of either Torah or prophetic pronouncements upon Israel. And the beatitudes borrow heavily from themes and phrases found in the Prophets and Psalms, which you can see by reading the Relevant Scriptures at the bottom of this article. Thus, Jesus could be viewed as explaining the meaning and fulfillment of texts well known to his Hebrew listeners who would have interpreted Jesus’ teaching as concerning the coming of the promised land of Israel. 

Therefore, note that there are multiple parallel thoughts running through the beatitudes: the Hebrews on the hillside were expecting the creation of the state of Israel, Christians (who existed at the time Matthew wrote his gospel) were expecting the Kingdom of Heaven on earth at Christ’s second coming, and  those who believe that the Kingdom of God is the individual’s inner relationship with God anticipates that relationship for each seeker of God.

The Beatitudes

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

11 Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven,

The purpose then of these beatitudes is not to prescribe actions necessary to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, but to describe the type of characteristics expected to be seen in those who are in the Kingdom of Heaven. The Kingdom of Heaven, here, refers specifically to God’s reign on earth.

Blessed are the Poor in Spirit for Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven

Whereas Luke (Luke 6:20-26) only mentioned the poor who are in a state of financial and physical need and excluded those who are wealthy, Matthew included the qualifier “in spirit”, opening the inclusion of everyone. Various meanings of the words “in spirit” have been suggested, however, Rev. Carlson believes the best use for them relates to those who are entirely dependent upon God’s grace, mercy, sovereignty, and care. There is supporting evidence throughout the Gospel of Matthew and it makes sense with what follows in these verses.  For the Jewish community, the poor are those missing a homeland – themselves.

Blessed are Those who Mourn for They will be Comforted

This should be understood as those who mourn the loss of the things of this world that reflect the will of God and the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven. They will be comforted by the restoration of the kingdom, whether it be land, the second coning or our inner connection with God.

Blessed are the Meek for They will Inherit the Earth

If you equate “meek” with “milk-toast”, you are not alone.  But my friend and Hebrew/Greek/English translator, Dr Frank Leeds, gives us a much more accurate way to visualize what the Greek speaking folks of the time understood ‘meek’ to mean.

Greek is loaded with ‘picture’ words and English simply does not have the language to fill in the difference.  Meek is a horse term which the New Testament is full of.  Here is the picture:  A horse is by its very nature, scared to death of fire.  It sees fire and it bolts away to save its life.  When the Romans used horses for military purposes, they often used them at night and soldiers at night needed torches to see properly. Light a torch and the rider had a crazy horse to deal with.  However, by training a horse, a torch could be passed in front of its eyes and it wouldn’t move.  Taking its cue front the calm of its rider rather than the fire of the torch, the horse was declared to be “MEEK”.  What was going on around the horse, no matter how frightening, the horse took its perspective of life from its rider not from its environment.  When Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek” he is saying, “Blessed is the man who does not get all bent out of shape and scared to death about what is going on around him, but is strong enough to take his cue from his master.  It is a description of the person who does not ‘fly off the handle” but remains perfectly in control. It is about a person who has reached beyond his or her nature.  It is a person who takes their cue from God.

So, the meek reflect the character of Jesus as the suffering servant. Those who have been used and abused by tyrannical political systems and have the strength to not fight back. Those who exhibit the peaceful nature of the Kingdom. Those who confront power not with power but with God’s love and promise as their fortifying backbone.

Can you now accept being called ‘meek’? I can.

Promised to the meek is “the earth”. In the prophet’s words in Isaiah, the same concept is used to signify the earth being not the globe but the promised land of Israel.  This is the long-awaited hope of the people of Israel; that that for which they mourned the loss, will be restored to them. Or It will be given to those who reflect the nature of Jesus with the coming of the Kingdom of God.

Blessed are Those who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness for They will be Filled

Like Luke, Matthew raised up those who are hungry, but also those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.  The idea of hunger and thirst relating not just to the physical body, but also to the spiritual body, already existed in Psalms. What does it mean, however, to hunger and thirst for righteousness? This addition cuts several directions.

  • First, righteousness indicates a right relationship with God. This meaning absolutely applies to this verse.
  • The second meaning of the word in Greek means justice, specifically God’s justice. This then has something to do, potentially, with the judgment at the end of the time.
  • Considering the oppression of Israel’s people by the Romans, ‘justice’ also refers to the coming of God’s will to provide Israel with a homeland.

The fulfillment of these would be a right relationship with God and for the Kingdom of Heaven to be perfectly represented in the new ‘earth’ spoken of in the previous verses.

Blessed are the Merciful for They will be Shown Mercy

Mercy, the act of forgiveness even in the face of the unforgiveable (as Jesus demonstrated on the cross for his crucifiers and mockers) unveils the true nature of the Kingdom of God in the present kingdom.  This then is a mark of a right relationship with God which will be made apparent as those who are merciful have already received God’s mercy and at the final judgment will receive God’s mercy.

Blessed are the Pure in Heart for They will See God

This has often been mistreated as a matter of Christian thought and is worth exploring. Some recent and historical Christian teaching has suggested this to be a matter of moral or ethical purity: “I need to keep my mind pure; I need to keep my actions pure; I need to keep my mouth pure”. This value, while commendable, does not seem consistent with the original language. The original Greek used the term “katharoi” whose first meaning is “purified by fire”. One commentator suggests that a good translation would be “Whose heart is unalloyed”. The person whose heart is not a mixture of two things, but single minded, of single purpose, of single devotion; this is the one who Jesus speaks of here. Then we can see that those whose hearts are single-mindedly focused on God without including any other gods or devotion to anything else alongside God; those people will be the ones who see God.

Blessed are the Peacemakers for They will be Called Children of God

The focus here is on the Hebrew word “Shalom”. Shalom is not a passive peace but a peace forged out of the hard work of reconciliation between God and humanity and humanity and itself. Peacemaking in the sense of uniting individuals’ hearts with themselves, uniting conflicting people with one another, uniting people to God who have been estranged, and even uniting the vision of the Kingdom of Heaven with the current reality. These people are the peacemakers. The conclusion of this verse should be translated Sons of God. Sons of God is a phrase used early in scripture to denote the angels in heaven. Therefore, peacemakers on earth act as the angels in heaven bearing God’s message to all.

Blessed are Those who are Persecuted Because of Righteousness, for Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

This verse does not address all who are persecuted, but rather those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, which as we have seen is living a right relationship with God and their desire to see the justice of the Kingdom of God reflected in the world. This concludes the words spoken by Jesus on the hillside to the crowds. Notice that up to this point all the beatitudes begin with “blessed are those.” This will be important in a moment.

Bracketed by verse 3 and 10 in which the received blessing is the Kingdom of Heaven, Mathew may have, and likely did, include verse 4-9 as being the same blessing, while providing further augmentation of what characteristics would be found in those who reach the Kingdom of Heaven.

Blessed are You when People Revile You and Persecute You and Utter all Kinds of Evil Against You Falsely on My Account.   Rejoice and be Glad, Because Great is Your Reward in Heaven

Jesus in this moment inserts Himself into the equation in the same place as righteousness in the verse before. He becomes, for Matthew and us, the righteous one. This verse is seen by some as a Matthew insertion because it points to the time after Jesus was on earth in the flesh. Verse eleven makes little sense in a context in which many are following Jesus and during which there is little present threat to Him or His followers.

It speaks directly to Matthew’s community of Christian Jewish followers ostracized by both the synagogues and Rome.  The reward for faithfully following Jesus through all of this, for standing up for Him and claiming Him is that “your reward is great in heaven.”

Conclusion

We can clearly see that the nine beatitudes were written as much for those who were in the Christian church of Matthew’s day as well as spoken to the first disciples and the crowds.

Even amid persecution and separation from the synagogues and other Jewish groups, Matthew saw Jesus as still calling this community to peacemaking and reconciliation. They, and those who followed after them, would be persecuted for maintaining a right relationship with God – especially as found through Jesus – and their reward was the Kingdom of Heaven. We can also see how the beatitudes today relate, not how the church OUGHT to live, but how the true people of God WOULD live. It is less prescription and more description of the nature of the lives of disciples.

They were poor, potentially, for being disinherited from sacred Jewish spaces, mournful for their loss, meek in taking their cue from God to avoid conflict with oppressors, hungering and thirsting for right relationships with God and for justice, merciful in that they still desired to extend the Gospel to those around them and were quick to forgive those who had wronged them (think Saul/Paul), pure in heart as they believed in and sought God above all things including family and possessions, persecuted by the Roman authorities and those around them, and persecuted from within their own Jewish community and ostracized from it. This, then, for Matthew and his Jesus marked the traits of the authentic community of the people of God and identified the promises for which their hearts longed.

If you found this article interesting, helpful, inspiring or informative please share it.

Relevant Scripture

The meaning of the word ‘beatitudes’ (μακαριότητα in Greek) is ‘the joys of heaven’ or ‘a declaration of blessedness’.  As you will see here, they are not limited to only those in Matthew 5.

Blessed are all who take refuge in Him. (Psalms 2:12)

Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit. (Psalms 32: 2)

Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside from false gods. (Psalms 40:4)

Blessed are those who have regard for the weak; the Lord delivers them in times of trouble. (Psalms 41:1)

Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you.  Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. (Psalms 84:4-5)

Blessed are those who act justly, who always do what is right. (Psalms 106:3)

Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in obedience to him. (Psalms 128:1)

But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. (Matthew 13:16)

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)

Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”  “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.” (Rev 14:13)

Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God.” (Rev 19:9)

Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years. (Rev 20:6)

viewed from behind 6 people with arms across each others shoulders.

The Pandemic Interrupts My Hug-fest!! /Spiritual Meditations

If pre-pandemic you attended church most Sundays, you have probably been missing the hugs as much as I have.  This week I happened upon this writing by Dietrich Bonhoeffer which speaks so poignantly to our current pandemic restrictions that I felt it was handed to me by God for our benefit and gratitude.  Giving this to you is not meant to express any opinion on when churches should open or how to provide for the safety of their congregations.  I share this as a reminder of one of God’s gifts that many of us take for granted and our responsibility to extend this gift to others wherever needed, now and post-pandemic.

Community by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers and sisters to dwell together in unity!” (Psalms 133:1 ). In the following we shall consider a number of directions and precepts that the Scriptures provide us for our life together under the Word.

It is not simply to be taken for granted that the Christian has the privilege of living among other Christians. Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end, all his disciples deserted him. On the cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evil doers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christians, too, belong not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work.

“The kingdom is to be in the midst of our enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared?” (Martin Luther)

So between the death of Christ and the last day it is only by a gracious anticipation of the last things that Christians are privileged to live in visible fellowship with other Christians. It is by the grace of God that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly in this world to share God‘s Word and sacrament. Not all Christians receive this blessing. The imprisoned, the sick, the scattered lonely, the proclaimers of the gospel in foreign lands stand alone. They know that visible fellowship is a blessing. They remember, as the Psalmist did, how they went “with the multitude… To the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holyday “ (Psalm 42:4).

But they remain alone in far countries, a scattered seed according to God’s will. Yet what is denied them is an actual experience they seized upon more fervently in faith. Thus, the exiled disciple of the Lord, John the Apocalyptist celebrates in the loneliness of Patmos the heavenly worship with his congregations “in the Spirit on the Lords day “ (Rev 1:10). He sees the seven candle sticks, his congregation, the seven stars, the angels of the congregation, and in the midst and above it all, the son of man, Jesus Christ, and all the splendor of the resurrection. He strengthens and fortified him by his word. This is the heavenly fellowship, shared by the exile on the day of his Lord’s resurrection.

The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer. Longingly, the imprisoned apostle Paul called his “dearly beloved son of the faith,” Timothy, to come to him in prison in the last days of his life; he would see him again and have him near. Paul has not forgotten the tears Timothy shed when last they parted (2 Timothy 1:4). Remembering the congregation in Thessalonica, Paul prays “night and day….exceedingly that we might see your face“ (1 Thes 3:10). The aged John knows that his joy will not be full until he can come to his own people and speak face-to-face instead of writing with ink (2 John 12).

The believer feels no shame, as though he or she were still living too much in the flash, when he or she yearns for the physical presence of other Christians. The human being was created a body, the son of God appeared on earth in the body, he was raised in the body, in the sacrament the believer receives the Lord Christ in the body, and the resurrection of the dead will bring about the perfected fellowship of Gods spiritual–physical creation.

The believer therefore lauds the Creator, the Redeemer, God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for the bodily presence of a brother and sister. The prisoner, the sick person, the Christian and exile, sees in the companionship of a fellow Christian a physical sign of a gracious presence of the triune God. Visitor and visited in loneliness recognize in each other the Christ who is present in the body; they receive and meet each other as one meets the Lord in reverence, humility, and joy. They receive each other’s benedictions as the benediction of the Lord Jesus Christ. But there is so much blessing and joy even in a single encounter of brother with brother, how inexhaustible are the riches that open up for those who by God‘s will are privileged to live in the daily fellowship of life with other Christians!

It is true, of course, that what is an unspeakable gift of God for the lonely individual is easily disregarded and trodden underfoot by those who have the gift every day. It is easily forgotten that the fellowship of Christian brothers and sisters is a gift of grace, a gift of the Kingdom of God that any day may be taken from us, that the time that still separates us from utter loneliness may be brief indeed. Therefore, let them who until now have had the privilege of living a common Christian life with other Christians praise God‘s grace from the bottom of their hearts. Let them thank God on their knees and declare it is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brothers and sisters.

The measure with which God bestows the gift of visible community is varied. The Christian in exile is comforted by a brief visit of a Christian brother or sister, a prayer, together and a brothers or sisters blessing; indeed, he or she is strengthened by a letter written by the hand of a Christian. The greetings in the letters written with Paul’s own hand were doubtless tokens of such community. Others are given the gift of common worship on Sundays. Still others have the privilege of living a Christian life in the fellowship of their families. Seminarians before their ordination receive the gift of common life with their brothers and sisters for a definite period. Among earnest Christians in the church today there is a growing desire to meet together with other Christians in the rest periods of their work for common life under the Word. Communal life is again being recognized by Christians today as the grace that it is, as the extraordinary, the “roses and lilies”, of the Christian life.

If you found this article interesting, informative, inspiring or useful please share it.

Relevant Scripture

These things I remember
    as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God
    under the protection of the Mighty One
with shouts of joy and praise
    among the festive throng. (Psalms 42:4)

On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, (Rev 1;10)

Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. (2 Timothy 1:4)

Reference:

A Testament to Freedom: The Essential Writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer   edited by Kelly & Nelson

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (German:  4 February 1906 – 9 April 1945) was a Lutheran pastor, theologian, anti-Nazi dissident, and key founding member of the Confessing Church. His writings on Christianity’s role in the secular world have become widely influential, and his book The Cost of Discipleship has been described as a modern classic.

Apart from his theological writings, Bonhoeffer was known for his staunch resistance to the Nazi dictatorship, including vocal opposition to Hitler’s euthanasia program and genocidal persecution of the Jews. He was arrested in April 1943 by the Gestapo and imprisoned at Tegel prison for one and a half years. Later, he was transferred to Flossenbürg concentration camp.

After being accused of being associated with the 20 July plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, he was quickly tried, along with other accused plotters, including former members of the Abwehr (the German Military Intelligence Office), and then hanged on 9 April 1945 as the Nazi regime was collapsing.

person comtemplatin cross with bay and city in background

Are You Listening for God’s Messages?/Spiritual Meditations

Because you are a follower of Spiritual Meditations, I believe your faith is, at least, partially based on your own experience with the Holy Spirit.  As such, the following content is especially being sent to you to enhance that experience.  The process of becoming Spiritually Conscious may be new to you or you may practice it regularly. You may be on the first steps of your spiritual path or you may be fully aware of God’s daily presence in your life.  If the following content seems foreign to you, I encourage you to ask God to help you absorb and utilize it to form a greater connection with Him. 

Before getting to the heart of Consciousness, I want to avoid any confusion. 

Conscience is an inner feeling viewed as acting as a guide to the rightness or wrongness of one’s behavior. It includes a sensitive regard for fairness or justice. Although a desirable trait resulting from care and nurturing, that conforms to spiritual consciousness, this is not what will be discussed here.

The medical community will define consciousness as being fully alert, aware, oriented, and responsive to the environment.  It is the worldly perspective but by substituting the word “God” for the words “the environment” we have a good working definition of Spiritual Consciousness.

Those who try to understand the inner life intellectually will meet with failure. The life for which they are looking will vanish in the analysis. S. S. Singh

Spiritual Consciousness Provides Fulfillment

The secret of harmonious living is in the development of spiritual consciousness. Fear and anxiety disappear, and life becomes meaningful with fulfillment as its keynote. The degree of spiritual consciousness which we attain can be measured by the extent to which we relinquish our dependence on the external world of form and place our faith and confidence in something greater than ourselves, in the Infinite Invisible, which can surmount any and every obstacle. It is an awareness of the presence and the grace of God.

Our work may require greater strength, greater knowledge, greater ability then we seem to possess, or there may be greater demands on our finances then we can meet. The human belief may be that there is a physical, mental, or moral demand made upon us that is too great. Instead of accepting this apparent lack, let us remember, “He performs the thing that is appointed for me…. The Lord will perfect that which concerns me,“ or some other scriptural passage. The very moment we turn to God’s spirit, recognizing that He performs that which is given us to do, a weight drops off our shoulders, and the sense of personal responsibility lifts. Suddenly, we are given the necessary ability, which we discover is not our ability at all; it is His ability being expressed through us. Out of our weakness comes strength, but not our strength; it is His strength, and we perform the work through His strength.

We are Not of This World

There is a specific practice which will aid in the attainment of this spiritual consciousness. It is a practice which can be carried out throughout the day as the world crowds in upon us. To every insistent desire proposed by the world, let our answer be “No, no. This is not what I need or want. Thy grace is sufficient, nothing else, only Thy grace“. Let us learn to hold to this resolutely.

Gradually, as over and over the temptation comes to say, “I need; I want; I haven’t enough; I am insufficient “; we remember that our sufficiency is in the Infinite Invisible. This practice deepens spiritual consciousness. Brother Lawrence called it practicing the presence of God. The Hebrews called is keeping the mind stayed on God and acknowledging God and all ways. Jesus called it abiding in the Word. It is a practice that ultimately leads to a complete reliance on the Infinite Invisible, which in its turn brings the visible into our awareness as we need it.

As consciousness becomes more spiritual, confidence in the Infinite Invisible increases, and our love, hate, or fear of the external world diminishes. We see the Infinite Invisible as the law, cause, and activity of all that is and drop our concern for the form, whether it be personal, thing, or condition.

Material living puts its faith in forms of good. Spiritual living makes use of that which is in the world; it enjoys the form, but its reliance is on that which is the substance of the form, that which has created the form, the Invisible God.

The Kingdom of God is Within Us

All spiritual revelation has shown that the substance of this universe is in us. Every issue of life is determined, not by external conditions and things, but by our consciousness. For example, the body, in and of itself, has no power, no intelligence, and is not responsible for its actions. A hand, left to itself, would remain right where it is, forever and ever. There must be something to move it, and that something is called “I”. That “I “determines how this hand will be used; the hand cannot determine that in and of itself. The hand exists as an effect or as a form, and it responds to direction. As a vehicle or tool, it is obedient to us, and we impart to it whatever usefulness it has. This idea can be applied to other parts of the body.

Once we understand this principle, we will have grasped the entire principle of life. Literally, the “I” is the Kingdom of God within us; the law of life – the substance, the activity, the intelligent direction of life – is within us. If we can prove this to ourselves in one single way, that the life, activity, substance, and harmony of our being is determined by the law of God within us, we shall have no difficulty in proving this in every phase of our life, in the health of our body, and in all the relationships. The audio lecture entitled the Inner Kingdom will provide further explanation.  

The whole secret lies in the word “consciousness.“ And intellectual knowledge of the fact that ‘God is all’ is of no value. The only value any truth has is in the degree of its realization. Truth realized is spiritual consciousness. If we are conscious of the presence of the Lord (some will recognize this as the Holy Spirit) we are conscious of the activity of God

God is Omnipresent

In most religious teachings, we are told that the Spirit of God is everywhere just as electricity is everywhere. That is true. Electricity, however, is of no value to us, unless it is connected in some way for our particular use. So it is with the Spirit of God. It is everywhere, in an absolute, spiritual sense. But it is only effective in our experience to the extent we connect to It.

God is; there is a God – never doubt that. God is infinite in nature; eternal, universal, impartial and omnipresent. But how do we avail ourselves of that which God is? How do we bring this that we know about God into our individual experience? To illustrate, we can turn to the field of music. The principle of music is absolute. If, however, we fail to understand its principal and the sounds produced turn into a jumble of discordant noises, we do not fault the principle. We apply ourselves more diligently to practicing the principal until we become proficient in its applications. So it is in our God experience. God is, and God is here, and God is now, but God is available only in proportion to our realization and willingness to accept the discipline that is necessary for the attainment of that mind which was also in Christ Jesus.

There is a spirit in everyone. There actually is a spirit – the Spirit of God. No one is devoid of it, but most of us are unaware of it. God is with us. His presence fills our space; the Spirit of God dwells in us. But how many people have felt that presence? It is talked about, prayed about, theorized about, and sermonized about; but it is not experienced. It is the conscious awareness, the actual feeling or realization of the presence which is necessary.

How to Attain Spiritual Consciousness

Scriptural Immersion and Truth

Spiritual consciousness is attained through the activity of truth in consciousness. Dwelling on scriptural quotations or statements of truth helps to spiritualize thought. The more truth that we read and hear, the more active is truth in our consciousness. Thus, we learn to abide in the Word. This is the first step on the way.  It is important to learn all that we can about the correct letter of truth, to understand every principle, and then to practice these principles until we go from an intellectual knowledge to an inner awareness of them.

Take scriptural passages which embody spiritual principles and live with them. Take them apart, one by one, considering every implication and meaning, talk to God about them. Carry one of them with you day in and day out for a week or a month. Then take another and live with it, using it as a yardstick with which to measure every experience. Hold them up as a banner in the presence of any and every problem, until these principles become automatic.  Here are a few suggestions:

  • God is the only power
  • Love your neighbor as yourself
  • To him who has, more is given.
  • I can do all things through Christ
  • Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart
  • I and my Father are one.  He is always with me
  • My peace I give to you

If we solve enough problems and seek to understand the truth behind issues and situations, day in and day out for one, two, three, or more years, we shall have all the answers available for instant use. Years and years of contemplating God and the things of God, meditating/praying and communing with God, will have eliminated our worries about the things of this world. When a question arises, the right answer is immediately revealed.

Listening to the Holy Spirit

The second, and more important step, is to be able to receive truth from within, to be receptive and responsive to the truth that comes to us. At that point we do not think, read, or hear truth with the mind. We are becoming aware of the importation of the word of God from within because the inner ear and the inner eye have been developed through our knowing the letter of truth, dwelling on it and clearing our mind through meditation. Do not expect to hear from God whenever you meditate. For me, this practice enhances my ability to hear God when He has something to say.

How do we know when the Spirit of God dwells in us? If we are letting go of hate, envy, jealousy, malice, self-seeking, self-glorification, prejudice, and bigotry, we are making room for the Spirit of God, for God cannot dwell amid such qualities. As long as these qualities are present in our consciousness we have more work to do abiding in the truth and letting the truth abide in us, until such time as the Christ has come so alive that’s such mortal thoughts no longer touch us. Then the Spirit of God dwells in us, “which is Christ in you, The hope of glory… Behold I stand at the door, and knock; if any man hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into him, and will stop with him and he with me. “

The listening attitude, the expected attitude, developed through meditation, creates a kind of vacuum into which God rushes with the things we need, whether it be wisdom, power, grace, or with whatever may be necessary.  For further info about meditation, you will find the audio entitled The Art of Meditation very useful.

Living with Spiritual Consciousness

The student of spiritual wisdom cannot go through his day, satisfied that he has read some truth in the morning, or that he is going to hear some truth in the afternoon or evening. There must be a conscious activity of truth going on all the time or a pause at frequent intervals for the practice of the presence (clearing our mind and listening for God). That does not mean that we neglect our human duties and activities; it means that we train ourselves to have some area in consciousness always active in truth. Whether we look out at forms of nature such as trees, flowers, or oceans, or we are meeting people, we find some measure of God in each experience. We train ourselves to behold the presence and activity of God in everything around us and remember that “My grace is sufficient”, that the spirit of the Lord God is upon me, and that His spirit of peace and joy is discernible to me and to all those who come within range of my consciousness.

The goal of God-awareness is very close to us, but nonetheless, as close as it seems, it is far away, because with every horizon reached, another beckons beyond. As we go forward in our quest or search, we can measure our progress in this way: We see the horizon before us and we have the feeling, “oh, I have just a short distance to go”. Sometimes, it takes only a few weeks or months to reach that horizon, then the whole world of spirit is opened before us. We believe we really have entered the kingdom of heaven, and we have – for a few days. Suddenly we become accustomed to this light and we are aware of another horizon that urges us forward, another advance that must be traveled step by step, and again, we press forward to even greater spiritual consciousness.

Conclusion

It is important that we let no hour of the day go by without some conscious reminder within us that the goal of life is to attain that mind which was also in Christ Jesus. The goal of the spiritual life is to attain God consciousness – to live and move and have our being in the eternal awareness of God‘s presence.

It is possible for anyone to change the trend of their life, not by hearing or reading truth, but by making it an active part of their consciousness and daily experience, until it becomes a habit every moment of the day, instead of an occasional thought. Make these principles operate in consciousness morning, noon, and night, until gradually the actual awareness comes. Then we make the transition from being hearers of the word to being doers of the word. Then we shall be abiding in the word and shall bear fruit richly.

A friend once asked me why some people experience God’s presence and others do not.  Only God can answer this definitively, but I can affirm that the practice described above created a stronger God-connection for me. Anyone with enough desire for a realization of God can achieve that realization – the grace of God will guarantee it.

If you found this article useful, informative, inspiring or interesting, please share it.

Relevant Scripture:

Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer regarding his disciples and all believers, was prayed as he was about to leave this world and was already mentally moving into the next.

11 I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are….

16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. 18 As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. 19 For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.

20 I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; 21 that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.

22 The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; 23 I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.

25 “O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me; 26 and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”  (John 17:11-26)

Reference:

Practicing the Presence: The Inspirational Guide to Regaining Meaning and a Sense of Purpose in Your Life by Joel S Goldsmith

fisherman waist high in water throwing fishing net and facing into sun.

Why was Israels Catch & Release Like Habakkuk’s Fish?/Spiritual Meditations

Most of the time when I read the Old Testament, I am understanding only what is in front of me at the moment.  My friend Dr. Frank Leeds III has a much broader perspective and lays out for us how it all fits together historically.  In this post he tells us the fascinating hows and whys of the Babylonian catch and release of the Israelites, as well as some amusing results and long-term repercussions. He writes:

Bibles are so plentiful in these days of digital printing that it is easy to forget that they are a very ancient collection of manuscripts. In the very earliest of them Moses required and instructed the people to “keep the commands”. To the casual reader the word ‘keep’ is generally assumed to be ‘obey’. It is much more than that. The admonishment is “to guard them with your life”, to always have them, because your life and your children’s life depends on them. Paraphrasing Moses, “If you do not teach your children the Torah, they will think you’re crazy, because no one has ever experienced what you have and you must teach your children what you have seen and heard and experienced as the Lord leads us out of Egypt.”

Coming out of Egypt was not the only “EXIT” that was provided to the children of Israel. The following is another story of an exodus. We are told, “I have set before you two paths. One leads to life and the other to destruction”. Choose wisely. You too dear reader will have times in your life where you will need an EXIT because you are on the wrong road. May the Holy One of Israel provide it to you as you call upon his authority over life.

Habakkuk’s Lament

The prophet Habakkuk asked the following from the Holy One of Israel.

Are we only fish, to be caught and killed? Are we only sea creatures that have no leader? Must we be strung up on their hooks and caught in their nets while they rejoice and celebrate? Then they will worship their nets and burn incense from them. “These nets are the gods who have made us rich!” they will claim. Will you let them get away with this forever? Will they succeed forever in their heartless conquers?

The context of this prophet’s questioning comes after being informed that Israel and her terrible Kings [although they did have some good ones] were going to be overrun and conquered by a nation that was far less righteous than they were. He spoke of Jewish kings who taxed the people heavily so they could build big palaces for themselves. They dishonestly gained wealth and ignored the poor. They trusted in their ill-gotten wealth as their security blanket. So, the nation must learn afresh what life is all about and what is important. Thus, I wish to tell you another story about life.

King Solomon’s Folly

Life is a process, but all stories must begin somewhere. For this one, I have chosen to begin with King Solomon. In the minds of many, he is known as the wisest of kings. At the start his kingship his prayer and heart’s desire was to be wise and his early reputation was that of a wise king. His wisdom was displayed in his decision about which mother was the real mother of a child when he threatened to have the baby cut in half to resolve the conflict. (1 Kings 3:16-28)

I suppose we all have our wise moments whereby we shine in the sun. In looking over his entire life, however, he was not just a fool, but a fool of gigantic proportions. His self-centeredness not only corrupted his person but laid the foundation for the destruction of the nation of Israel. Why do I say that?

It was Moses who laid out the criteria for the people to know when they had a good king. Here is what he said:

When you have a king, the king must not acquire a great number of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you. “You are not to go back that way again.” He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold. When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law…he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not to consider himself better than his brothers … (Deuteronomy 17:14-17)

Compare the above standard with Solomon’s reign. To his credit he did build an extremely gorgeous temple in Jerusalem. When built, it stood as the pride of the nation and a beacon for the surrounding nations, or did it?

Contrast for a moment the building of the tabernacle under Moses’ leadership and that of the temple under Solomon.

For the tabernacle, everyone contributed a tiny portion. They all put their two cents in, so to speak, so the tabernacle had everyone’s participation. Following, people contributed to the cost as they felt led to do so. Some gave a little more. Many gave significant amounts. When it was completed, it was all paid for and they had excess money. Every penny was accounted for and the people were told, “no more is needed.”

With Solomon, he built the temple in a similar fashion to Pharaoh’s methods. He used slaves and he even made slaves of his own people to get the project completed. He got it built and that would be considered a great success, if that were the only reason to have it built in the first place. But he enriched himself with the collection of huge amounts of gold. He then added collections of silver. How about wives? He collected those as plentiful as gold coins. And then there is the prized collection of horses, which he got from Egypt.  He built magnificent stables that were better than the homes of the poor.  Solomon’s leadership was all about Solomon and the use of his kingship to line his own pockets. It is a very familiar story throughout history. By the end of his reign, the temple no longer stood for the righteousness of their loving God, but it became a symbol of corruption. By contrast, his father – King David – never rode a horse. He rode the peoples’ transportation – a donkey.

Now, I happen to live on the water and have been able to have a small boat most of my life. The rule of the water way is: “A person is responsible for the wake that he leaves behind.” Solomon left a mess. So much so, that when he died, the people revolted because of his poor leadership and the nation split into two parts: A Northern and Southern Kingdom and no longer a united Israel.

A variety of kings follow for each kingdom but when history came to King Josiah, it found him very different from Solomon. By the time we reach the Prophet Jeremiah, the son of Josiah, is the target of the prophet’s wrath [cir 640 BC] as he describes the greed and warnings to another bad king.

Woe to him who built his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his countrymen work for nothing not paying them for their labor. He says, “I will build myself a great palace with spacious upper rooms”. So, he makes large windows in it, panels it with cedar and decorates it in red. Does it make you a good king to have more and more cedar?  Now, take a look at your father, did he not have food and drink? He did what was right and just, so all went well with him. “He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 22).

The prophet then makes it clear, this self-centered kingship that centers on lining one’s own pockets is a disgrace that leads to destruction. He then tells the nations they will be destroyed. They have made alliances with Babylon to fight against Assyria and they did likewise with Assyria to fight against Babylon. Now, the whole world knows their word is no good and the temple is a symbol of shame.

A side note about the promise of ‘destruction’. This is not, ‘you did bad therefore I will punish you’. Rather it is, ‘you did bad and your bad behavior will take you down the path of destruction’. That is true for all of us. When we make poor decisions, we are left with poor options…unless we change our ways.

Anyhow, the prophet declares, the temple is now a symbol of evil and must be destroyed.

Now to the Catch part of “Catch and Release”

The Babylonians head east and conquer Israel just as the prophet proclaimed. They begin by destroying the temple. They remove its precious jewels, gold, and silver. They then take it apart piece by piece. Anything of value is removed. Items that are too large to carry back to Babylon are cut in half for ease of transport.  In time, the temple is no more and much of Jerusalem is destroyed.

As the temple is being destroyed, all the leaders, the politicians, the ‘movers and shakers’ are taken to Babylon. After that, they remove all the artists and musicians. When these people get to Babylon, they lament as in the 137th Psalm.

By the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, and tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?” If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy. Remember, O Lord, what the Edomites did on the day Jerusalem fell. “Tear it down,” they cried, “Tear it down to its foundation!” O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us - he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.

So, the leaders are gone and so are the artists and musicians. Next to be deported are all the people with skills [the butchers the bakers and the candlestick makers – stone masons, etc.] Eventually, young men of ‘army age’. What remains in Judah are women and children and grandparents.

After this, the Babylonians look at the Northern Kingdom, particularly Samaria, and here they do things differently. They remove all the men of marrying age and replace them with Babylonian men. This way, they have support in the north, and these men marry the Samaritan women.

What follows in Israel is a management plan. Very large areas simply had to be broken into small areas for management purposes.

When the Hebrews arrive in Babylon, they are not made slaves. Rather, they are given ‘good land’, just as they had been in the Egyptian exile. The purpose of King Nebuchadnezzar was not to enslave them but rather to keep an eye on them relative to the balance of power in the area. As a result, they prospered. They had good land and they were exposed to new trade routes.

In their old land of Israel, people often joke that the Lord led them to the only area without ‘oil’, which is correct. However, the main trade routes between the region north and south of the Mediterranean Sea went through their turf. In fact, the mountain pass that everyone had to go through was Megiddo, from which we get our term Armageddon. Whoever controlled that pass controlled that part of the world, so they were very knowledgeable of trade in this area  Now, in Babylon, they were on a different trade route and, with their earlier experience, their knowledge was doubled and allowed them to  prosper.

Seventy years go by. A new force in the area is a man called Cyrus. For me, he is the Sam Walton of the area. Walton is the gentleman from Arkansas that developed WALMART CORPORATION. I mention him because no one saw him coming. The big stores in the USA were J.C. Penney, Kmart, and Sears. Before these big box stores knew that Sam Walton existed, he was gobbling up their market shares. In brief, he was eating them for lunch, and he passed them before they even knew he was approaching. Likewise for Cyrus. He learned early that it was easier to manage people that were happy than people who were your enemies. He conquered many of the smaller areas and before anyone knew what happened, he conquered Babylon.

Now we switch to the ‘Release’ part of our story.

The man, Nehemiah, goes to the King and requests permission to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. From what I can understand, Nehemiah was an extremely wealthy and generous man. The King gives him permission to do so which seems consistent with Cyrus’ style.

Nehemiah goes and as you can guess, the logistics are overwhelming. The area has been destroyed and there wasn’t even any place for builders to live. So, houses needed to be constructed as well as much else..

During this process, Cyrus declares “The Lord God of the Most High has come to me and told me to let these people go.” He then declares to the Hebrews in captivity, that they are free to go. “Go where?” they ask. “Anywhere within my realm” the King declares. That is half of the known world. “Do we have to?” they ask. “No” they are told. “You may go or stay. Whatever you prefer”.  Remember, this is 70 years later so these people have never been to Jerusalem. Babylon has always been their home.

Let me ask you the reader. Did you ever make a significant locations change? If so, It was probably because of your job. People move to a location where they can support their family. It was a job that brought me from New Jersey to Florida. The Israelites in Babylonia did not suddenly pick up and move one day; they gave it some thought. For all of those involved in ‘trade’, they chose to go where they had business contacts. Some of these followed their grandparents contacts when they were in Jerusalem. Others added contacts from trade during their time in Babylon. As a result, they eventually moved all around the Mediterranean Sea. Some chose to stay in Babylon. Some went toward India.

Some went to Jerusalem. This is where it gets really interesting, at least to me. A group of people moved from Babylon to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. While there, the Samaritans came and offered to assist. It sounds like a good move to me, but it immediately presented a problem.  Nehemiah and Ezra, who organized the reconstruction, had an underlying motive. They understood that the temple was destroyed because Israel’s corrupt kings failed to live up to the standard of the Lord God and the failure of the people to abide. As a result, they made a commitment to rebuild the temple and to stick as close as they could to the Torah. [Nehemiah 8 & 9]

This included, but was not limited to:

  • To separate themselves from all foreigners.
  • To stand and confess their sins and the iniquities of their fathers.
  • To set their seal to a confirmatory document to which they bound themselves under oath to keep the divine law.
  • To refuse intermarriage with Gentiles.
  • To abstain from trade on the sabbath.
  • To leave the lands untilled.
  • To release all their Jewish debtors every seventh year.
  • To pay a third of a shekel of silver each year for the maintenance of the temple service and to contribute tithes, first fruits, and various freewill offerings for the same purpose.

Additionally, they had other manuscripts that gave the history of their past kings and the prophets. In their intent to be as pure as possible as a people, they added these ancient manuscripts to the Torah. These combined manuscripts then became the basic ‘constitution’ of their rebuilding of Jerusalem. This is the Hebrew Scriptures, as I refer to them, or what is commonly referred to today as The Old Testament.

Now, back to the Samaritans. These people no longer spoke Hebrew. In fact, the intermarriage was so significant [remember that the men had been moved to Babylon and the Babylonian men were moved to Samaria] that there were questions as to whether they were really Hebrews anymore. For the sake of ‘purity’ the Samaritans were told “Thanks but no thanks on your offer to help us rebuild the temple.”

Did the Samaritans find this offensive? They were outraged!!! As expected, outraged people often try to get even. They went to their Satrap [manager of the area] and he wrote a letter to the new King of Babylon. (King Cyrus had died by this time and the new King was Darius.) In essence, they said to Darius, “if you go back and check your records, you will discover that there was a reason that King Nebuchadnezzar took this people from Jerusalem to Babylon. It was because they could not be trusted and their ‘word’ was no good. If you let them come back to Jerusalem, you will live to regret it. You will have a new enemy on your hands.”

As a result, Darius had all the records checked to see ‘why’ and ‘what’ King Cyrus had proclaimed. When the records were found, they revealed the following orders from King Cyrus.

1. The Hebrew people were free to remain in Babylon, or go to Jerusalem, or go anywhere they so choose.

2. All the gold, the silver, the precious jewels that were in the temple were in storage, and everything in the warehouses that came from Jerusalem was too be returned.

3. In addition to returning everything that was taken from Jerusalem, the treasury of Babylon was to make a very handsome donation to help rebuild the temple.

As you can guess, the people of Samaria were furious that their plan had backfired. The people of Jerusalem were ecstatic. Given this very strange turn of events, one can understand why there were hard feelings and resentment still flowing many years later at the time of Jesus and the reason that the Samarians rejected the idea that God could only be worshipped at the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem. One can also understand why today in Israel, there is a main boulevard named after King Cyrus.

The Hebrew people moving not only to Jerusalem, but all around the Mediterranean Sea, and westward toward India.  Although the temple was  rebuilt, it was no longer the center of their physical life. For their spiritual life, study of the Torah and community, they formed synagogues. With their common Torah studies, their continued observance of the Passover meal established by Moses and taught their history to their children. The Jews continued to be Jews and to be bound to each other via the synagogue.

Conclusion

The Israelites were caught as prophesied but released in a fashion that defied human understanding. No one saw it coming. In all our lives, there are times when we get caught, trapped, left without options that we can see. Just like the EXIT provided by God in the EXODUS, these ‘caught’ people were released and set free when they least expected it. When you, the reader, find yourself trapped, trust the Lord that the ‘Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow’.

Dr. Leeds posted another fascinating article that tells us what transpired between the Old Testament and the New Testament that set the stage for Christ’s arrival. You will be amazed and delighted by God’s timing.

If you found this article interesting, useful, inspiring or informative, please share it.

Unleash Your Good Samaritan Impulses /Spiritual Meditations

The parable of the Good Samaritan (who pays it forward in a big way) not only compares the actions of the self-righteous and the righteous but speaks of human motivations to help or not help. Although we vilify the priest and the Levite, we find ourselves exhibiting the same avoidance behavior (sin of omission) on a regular basis.  How can we recognize and overcome our tendencies to ignore opportunities to show compassion?

Why do People Help?

Evolutionary Model

The evolutionary model maintains that people are naturally inclined to help one another because it contributes to the survival of the species. This is especially true in situations that are considered low or moderate risk, such as helping someone pick up something they have dropped.  

In higher risk situations, however, a phenomenon called kin selection occurs. Kin selection indicates that people are more likely to help only their relatives, because they are intuitively carrying on their genetic line.

Egoistic Model

Whereas the evolutionary model seems to employ a more collective effort for helping behavior, the egoistic model suggests that sometimes people egoistically help others because helping elicits some type of reward. People who are intrinsically motivated, help others because it makes them feel good inside. Their empathy allows them to understand what another person is feeling and their desire to relieve them of their suffering elicits an altruistic behavior.  Think of it this way: when you give a donation to a cause about something you care about, you are not necessarily expecting anything in return.  Because you deeply care about that cause, it makes you feel good to be a part of it.

When intensified to an emergency, bystanders may feel fear, anxiety or sympathy.  Being upset by this emotion the bystander feels a need to relieve it.  The greater the perceived need for help, the greater the bystander’s emotional response and the greater their likelihood of providing assistance.  But not always as you will soon see.

Reciprocity

Reciprocity states that people help because they expect to be helped in return. Additionally, it states that a person who has been helped previously, will feel indebted to help those who helped them.  And often that is true.  But let’s say that you give a donation to your cause, but you know that you are getting a gift card to your favorite restaurant in return.   Although this may seem like a selfish motive it is not necessarily so.  Often it is apparent that the donation is of a far greater value than the reward-it is a thank you rather than a reciprocation, but it’s just enough to make the giver feel like they are also getting.

Furthermore, helping someone and thus receiving something in return, can benefit your family. Although the welfare of your family can be seen as a gesture of self-interest, you may be motivated knowing you are contributing to their health, safety, and happiness. Of course, we can also see an example of the evolutionary perspective here as well: you are helping someone and receiving something in return in order to enhance the survival of your family, which in turn carries on your genes.

Social Responsibility

Social responsibility is a feeling that a person has an obligation to act in such a way that benefits the whole society. With this, a person has a duty to fulfil or maintain the balance in his environment. A person may do this actively, by donating money to government NGO’s or recycling their garbage, or passively, by ensuring that he commits no harm to others.

The passive response brings to the surface a discussion of the “sins of omission” wherein we don’t further damage someone in need, but neither do we do anything to help them.  We ignore them: let’s see why.

Why do People NOT Help?

The Bystander Effect

This concept states that the presence of bystanders inhibits or decreases the likelihood of a person helping another. The more bystanders there are, the less likely that a person will extend help [an experiment on bystander effect]. Several variables explain why this occurs.

Ambiguity

This variable pertains to a person’s perception of how grave the need is. High ambiguity situations would cause a person to have second thoughts about helping – for example, a soft cry vs. a loud scream.

Cohesiveness

This variable affects the likelihood that bystanders will help another based on familiarity with the person in need.  Remember evolutionary kin selection above?

Diffusion of Responsibility

The presence of other bystanders leads one to believe that the others will take responsibility. This may be affected by skills or qualifications, in which one believes that others are more qualified to help, thereby avoiding giving unwarranted assistance.  How many films have you seen in which a crowd gathers on a beach watching a drowning person?  Did you admire the one or two individuals who stepped out to provide the rescue?

Modern Good Samaritan Rescues Boy from Humiliation

I found the following post on social media. It provides a great example of someone who acted compassionately, but also note that it appears that there was only one bystander who might have inhibited the woman’s intuitive response to help.

Amber Schaefer
February 14, 2019
So, I just stopped at Arby’s to treat myself to a mint shake for V-day. While waiting for my order I was watching this silly and playful group of high school boys order lunch for V-day for the girls with them. One young man who was hanging towards the back of the group was being pretty quiet and particularly caught my eye. The last boy placed his order for the young lady and ordered nothing for himself. The girl then ran away with her gaggle of other girls to go get seats. I watched this boy fumble through his empty wallet holding only $2. He then hands over his debit card slowly and of course it declined. I watched his little head look down with the saddest feeling of defeat and boy did it pull at my heart strings (I literally could feel his heart sink into his stomach while his mind frantically raced as how to fix this situation without his friends knowing)…I pray no one ever has to feel that feeling of sheer embarrassment and helplessness because of lack of money…Lord knows I’ve stood right where he was many times in my life…it’s awful.

Just then, his girl comes fluttering back to the counter to check on him…the cashier and I’s eyes locked and it was just this overwhelming feeling in my body that I had to do something. Being a mom makes you look at the whole world differently. So, as though it was second nature, I quickly bent down and pretended to pick up $20 as though he dropped it. I handed it to him and he paid with his mouth wide open. He then tried to hand the change to me as his girl went to fill up her drink cup. I politely declined and told him he still needed to get her dessert. In that moment, a 15 year old boy grabbed my hand and squeezed it so tightly…with tears welling in his eyes he simply stated “Thank you…thank you for your kindness ma’am”

That was an awesome moment. As I went to leave with my shake, the cashier winked and said with a giant smile, “well played!”

I didn’t change the world today…but maybe, just maybe, I helped a boy know that love and kindness can come in many forms. Damn that felt good…especially on Valentine’s Day 💘

This lady had just gloriously avoided a “sin of omission” and gives us an excellent example of empathy and altruism in action.

How Can We Realize Greater Christian Perfection?

Dr Samuel Paul Veissiere provides brilliant insight on how we can do better at avoiding the sins of omission by merely acting on our natural impulses.

He observes that probing the core of what makes us human can seem rather bleak in these times of humanitarian crisis. That we have such a crisis to begin with speaks to the terrifying violence, callousness and ignorance we are all capable of.  But there is also something deeply precious about our unique nature-nurture, and now more than ever, it is time to remember, honor, and summon that part of the human in each of us.

Altruism, cooperation, and caring for the vulnerable is what made our species unique. It is empathy and cooperation, not self-interest and competition, that drove our physiological, cognitive, linguistic, cultural, social, and technological evolution. We wouldn’t be the large-brained, neurally-plastic, intelligent, cumulatively-learning, empathetic beings that we are without the mutual help that characterizes our everyday interactions.

Our evolutionary history is one of collective child-rearing, cooperative hunting and gathering, caring for elders and the sick, and freely sharing information. Raising weak, slow-maturing human infants requires immense amounts of collective effort and the free sharing of knowledge, attention, time, love, joy, and fun. This is a miracle that we have reproduced in each generation. That every one of us can walk, think, talk, and imagine in one or more language(s) and navigate complex social worlds is a testament to this collective miracle. We owe this miracle to everyone alive today, and all that came before us. We could never be our own selves, in other words, without others – without all others in time and space!

In his excellent ethno-history of money and passionate debunking of the rational-actor, homo econominus‘ view of human nature, anthropologist David Graeber points out that for most of human history, the reciprocal expectation that social obligations had to be repaid in kind was simply not the norm.

What’s in it for you, after all, when you stop a stranger to let them know they dropped their wallet, when you freely give them directions, or watch their belongings on a beach or at a café? Absolutely nothing! Nothing beyond the intrinsic, automatic urge to help a fellow human.

Sympathy is feeling sorry for someone but does nothing to help their circumstances. It is without consequence or action. Another way to look at any problem is through the lens of empathy; and to distinguish between what we may term deep and shallow levels of empathy.

Empathy requires the ability to put oneself in someone else’s perspective. Intuiting ‘correct’ behavior from a set of implicit rules  (something at which humans are extraordinarily skilled) requires just such perspective-taking abilities. We behave according to the way we expect others to expect us to behave in any given context. Empathy is a highly complex cognitive operation that we engage in without conscious effort in all but the most trying of everyday actions, from knowing how and where to sit on a bus or waiting room to ignoring the homeless.  Bystander experiments in social psychology have shed ominous light on our collective social minds: as strange as it may seem, someone being harassed in public is more likely to be helped by a stranger if there are fewer people around; if the bystander mode of attention is one of callousness and ignorance, breaking that spell becomes counter-intuitive and very difficult for all involved.

Consider the following scenario. You are sitting in a crowded subway, and notice a pregnant woman standing by the doors. Every part of you is aching to get up and offer your seat (deep empathy), but everyone on the train is looking down at their mobile phone and blocking off the social world around them with their headphones. You find yourself, somehow, too shy to offer help.

You leave the train filled with shame, and soon forget about the incident.  Your basic empathetic abilities in this case are translated into a pro-social urge to enforce local norms-do what everybody else is doing. This is what Dr. Veissiere terms shallow empathy.

The scenario described above is something we have all experienced. We experience it daily. We experienced it with tears and horror when we saw the picture of the dead Syrian child washed ashore on the Turkish beach during the September 2015 refugee crisis. We desperately wanted to help, but soon felt too shy or insignificant. Some of us shared the picture on social media and wept a little more; some of us donated money here or there, but soon, we all moved on to the next Facebook post about cats, cars, or vegan meals, and resumed our ignorant bliss as usual.

What it takes to break out of the hypnotic pull of rule-governed shallow empathy, then, is an approach to virtue ethics that is best exemplified in Confucian and Taoist traditions; one which, as neuroscientist and philosopher Francisco Varela argued can be broken down in cognitive-scientific terms. In the Confucian and Taoist practice of wisdom, the sage does not rely on abstract rules like those of the western sense of obligation, but rather trusts his or her intuition to act virtuously according to the minute particulars of each situation (remember the lady at Arby’s). Who would not ‘violate’ someone’s private property to rescue a child drowning in a residential swimming pool? Surely, the virtuous thing to do in such a situation is to overlook our respect for another’s property in order to save a life.  But how many of us would allow our socially-created conscious to delay us too long before jumping that fence and submerging ourselves, cellphone, wallet and all, to save that drowning child?

As we can see, intuition is no simple matter. The autopilot through which we navigate most of our everyday situations is deeply conditioned by largely implicit social regimes of attention that shape our every movement. This, in a nutshell, is what anthropologist Pierre Bourdieu  described as the “habitus”, or the way in which our most ‘personal’ styles of thinking, moving, and feeling, are constrained by a broader cultural context. It is this “broader cultural context”, (see ‘Why People Do Not Help’ above), which we must become more aware of as each situation presents itself.  To overpower it with our more ethical intuitive response to assist others allows us to avoid sins of omission
Once we are conscious of this problem, the virtuous approach entails an arduous back-and-forth monitoring of our conscious and unconscious intuitions, and the search for that right gut feeling, that feels counter-intuitive most of the time, on which to base our actions.  It supports our desire to offer our seat on a bus to a pregnant woman or comfort a homeless man who was crying on the sidewalk.  It also begins with a critical, ongoing examination of how we see others that continually shapes our relationships. In this process we may discover that our culture has fostered the wrong kinds of standard values.  At this point we are ready to rediscover and learn from other cultures, that have made charity and hospitality a sacred tenet, what it is like to be human.

The tradition of care and hospitality to strangers, to be sure, has been encoded, honored and kept alive in many languages, moral systems, and everyday modes of relations. This is what the African tradition of Ubuntu, “the quality of being human” stands for. In the island Mayotte off the coast of East Africa, people like to say mañka uluñu uluñu uluñu: “what makes a person is other people”.

In the postindustrial capitalist West, our deepest sense of ‘self’ has been shaped by the false notion that individual problems are distinct from social problems. As we forget our history and that of the world, we become content, selfish, and ignorant. We are not entitled to any of the privileges we take for granted.  More than our privileges, we owe our very life to humanity and the planet as a whole. This is a debt that, as David Graeber points out, can never be repaid.  The road ahead, then, entails honoring this Gift through compassion, love and care for others, even – and especially! – when it seems socially counter-intuitive to do so.

Conclusion

Even though he had just heard of the death of his cousin John the Baptist, Jesus wasn’t just sympathetic to the crowd before he fed the 5000. He didn’t just feel sorry for them. He had compassion for them, and that gut reaction spurred him to do what he could to help them. He cured their sick. He met them at their need and did what he could to serve them, to minister to them.  

It’s a heart issue. The sin of omission is allowed by the widespread hardness of societies heart. But everyone has the choice to follow their instinct and step out of the crowd in a stand for virtue ethics. When you listen to the Still Small Voice or act on your natural desire to help, you can welcome refugee families in your homes; show mercy for those trying to escape from violence and deprivation; campaign for healthcare, and immigration law reform in your countries, and so much more.

Then think further and keep questioning your allegiances to such strangely violent and narrow rule-governed divisions such as race, political party, and nation-states.  You can do it.

If you found this article interesting, informative, inspiring or useful please share it.

Relevant Scripture

Jesus replied and said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion,  and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’ Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?”  And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.” (Luke 10:30-37)

References

“Caring for Others Is What Made Our Species Unique” by Samuel Paul Veissiere PhD

“Psychology of Helping Others” by Instructor: Joshua Mummert

The Psychology Notes HQ    

single orange lily

The Parable of the Lily / Spiritual Meditations

The following is written by my friend, Dr Frank Leeds III

This story begins with “Once upon a time…”

Before continuing with our story, I recall seeing another in which a father was reading to his daughter. She interrupted him and asked, “Daddy, do all fairy tales begin with once upon a time?” No, said the father, most fairy tales begin with “If elected, I promise to…”

Thus, today’s story is not a fairy tale. It is a parable, but it begins with “Once upon a time…”

Once upon a time, there was a lily. She was a gorgeous lily that lived in the forest, surrounded with other colorful flowers, large and small trees of various hues, green grass, rolling hills, and a little brook gently meandered down the slopes providing a sweet-sounding music as it flowed over the stones in its path.

The lily was a very contented lily. She soaked up the sunlight that shone on her during the days, she watched the branches waved to and fro as the breezes moved through the trees. Her world was full of color and soft sounds, and lily was just ecstatic about being alive. You may want to think of her as the lily that Jesus talks about when he asked,

Have you considered the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. [Mathew 6:8]

Then one day, a little bird flew into Lily’s life. The bird landed a fair distance from Lily and she watched as the bird slowly pecked at worms in the soil, and then flew away. A few days later, the bird returned and did likewise. When he flew away the second time, she wondered where he went and what he saw. The thought began to puzzle her and in fact kept her from having a good night’s sleep.

When the bird returned a few days later, and got a little closer to Lily, she said “Good morning bird. My name is Lily.” “Lily” he scoffed, “You do not look like a lily to me. I have flown all over the world and I have seen the most gorgeous lily and you do not look like her at all. She was quite pretty and you are rather ugly.” The bird then flew away.

That night, Lily could not sleep at all. The rolling brook that used to lull her to sleep now became an irritant that kept her awake. With each passing day she seemed to wilt a little.  She began to envy the bird’s freedom to come and go as it pleased, while she felt stuck in one place.

Eventually, the bird returned. When it did, she said to him, “Bird, where do you go when you fly away?” “Oh” said the bird, “I go many places. I just go where I want to go.” Lily then asked, “Will you take me with you? I want to see the lily that you described that is so much prettier than I.” He agreed, that on his next visit, he would take Lily with him.

A few days later, he returned. He started by chewing away the base of her stem to free her from the spot where she felt enslaved. When he finally “cut her loose”, he held her under his wing and flew the distance toward “the most gorgeous lily”. On the way Lily withered and died.

Why did I tell you that story? Lily is not the only one that has someone whisper in her ear that she is not “good enough”, that she is in the “wrong place”, that she is “not created the way the Lord wanted her created”, that there is something “wrong” with her.

The One who created and loves you, did not give Himself to die for the person the bird says you are. He died for the person you are. Be careful what voices you listen to. Your life could depend on it.

The End

Longing to Reciprocate God’s Astonishing Love /Spiritual Meditations

God is love. The supreme surprise of God’s love is that it has nothing to do with you.  God loves you because He decides to.  You don’t influence God’s love. The apostle John didn’t say that God is occasional love or frequent love, but God IS love.  If your actions altered God’s love, it would be human love. 

God Loves Everyone, Always

God’s love is unconditional. Life may be good or we may wallow in despair. Success signals God’s love no more than struggles indicate the lack of it.  When you abide in His love, you make it your home in the good times and the bad times.

“God’s love is all-inclusive and takes under its wing all being, your being and mine, saint and sinner alike.  Until you understand that this is the nature of God, you cannot know Him aright” writes Joel S. Goldsmith.

In his book Practicing the Presence, Mr. Goldsmith writes “the nature of God’s love is forgiveness.  Who loves and holds in condemnation! Who loves and holds a memory of something to be forgiven! In the heart of the lover there is no condemnation, there is compassion.  There is no condemnation from parent to child, no condemnation from lover to beloved.  There is no condemnation wherever there is love.  We do not hold those we love in condemnation.”

This can be seen in the recounting of the last earthly days of Jesus.  At the last supper in Matthew 26:31, Jesus says “tonight all of you will desert me”. All the disciples scoffed at the idea. Yet before the dark became dawn “all his disciples deserted him and ran away“. But when Christ rose from the dead, he never brought it up. Never. Not even one “I told you so.“ The disciples deserted Jesus, but he still loved them.

God Revealed the Extent of His Love to Julian of Norwich

Elaine A Heath gives us insight into the visions of Julian of Norwich as a part of her book The Mystic Way of Evangelism. It was revealed to Julian that not only does God forgive but that He understands that the emotional wounds that we experience in life are the cause of our sin.

Julian, a 14th century anchorite of Norwich, England, spent most of her life in a small cell attached to the church of Saint Julian, from whom she took her name. As an anchorite, her life was devoted to prayer, not for herself but for the world. Julian’s wisdom arose from a lifetime of meditation on a series of 15 visions she experienced on May 8, 1373, while gravely ill.

She saw to her astonishment that God‘s judgment is without wrath, that it will heal the entire cosmos. She saw that God looks at human sinfulness and brokenness “with pity and not with blame.“ Yet how could it be, Julian questioned, in light of sin, the devil, and the traditional teaching of the church, that God‘s judgment would be without wrath? Julian wrestled with God, unable to resolve the tension between what God showed her and what the church taught. Bewildered by the absence of God‘s wrath (as she understood it) in her vision, as well as God’s silence concerning the Damned, Julian wept, begging God to give her some way to reconcile the tension.  Then He gave her a 16th vision which she continued to contemplate.

As the years passed and Julian prayed, she came to understand that her vision told of the fall of humanity, cast not as willful or prideful rebellion, but because of childlike exuberance leading to a mistake. Julian’s God loves with a power that is deeper than sin, that heals all wounds, a love that binds humanity to God forever. Love is God’s meaning. God‘s essence. God’s overwhelming message to her is one of security for the saved. Even though she believes in the genuine possibility of hell for people, Julian’s stance becomes one of great help for all people who are the wounded. No matter how dreadful our conditions, the “sweet eye of pity is never turned away from us, and the operation of mercy does not cease. “

“The maternal grace of God draws and protects the sinful soul from the moment the soul is breathed into the body”, Julian writes. “Within our very physicality exists an operation of the Holy Spirit that mysteriously inclines us to God.”

Paul Explains the Depth of God’s Love

By pulling directly from Romans 8 we see where Paul initiates his love hunt with five life-changing questions for us to consider:

  • Question one: “if God is for us, who can ever be against us?” (verse 31). The presence of God tilts the scales of security forever in our direction so who could hurt us?
  • Question two: “since God did not spare even His own son but gave him up for us all, won’t God, who gave us Christ, also give us everything else?“ (v. 32). Would God save our soul and then leave us to fend for ourselves? Will He address eternal needs and ignore earthly? Of course not.
  • Question three poses: “who dares accuse us whom God has chosen us for His own? Will God? No! He is the one who has given us right standing with himself “ (v. 33). Once God excepts you, what other opinion matters? Every voice that accuses you, including your own, sounds ineffectual in the tribunal of heaven. God‘s acceptance trumps earthly rejection.
  • Question four continues: “who then will there be to condemn us? Will Jesus Christ? No, for he is the one who died for us and was raised to life for us and sitting at the place of highest honor next to God, interceding for us” (v. 34). Adjacent to God, within a whisper’s distance of your Maker, sits the one who died for you. So, let your accusers or your conscience speak against you. Your divine defense attorney mutes their voices. Why? Because he loves you.
  • Question five asks the primary question of this chapter, even the question of life: “can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? “ (v. 35). This question crests the top step of a great staircase. As we stand with Paul at the top, he bids us to look around for anything that can separate us from God‘s love. Can you name one element of life that signals the end of God’s devotion?

God Loves You, No Matter What

Are you convinced that you have never lived a loveless day? Not one. Those times you deserted the Christ: he loved you. You hid from him: he came looking for you. And those occasions you denied Christ, though you belong to him; were home with him?   God let you feel the shame of conscience and feel the heat of tears. But he never let you go. Your denials cannot diminish his love.

Nor can your doubts. While there is much we cannot know, that we’ll never know, we can be sure of this: doubts don’t separate doubters from God’s love.

Years ago, I confessed to God that, although I understood that He existed and loved me, I felt no love for Him in my heart.  This was during a period when I started searching for a closer relationship with God and had begun daily prayer and meditation.  Not long after, as I became closer to God, He opened the way for my reciprocal love.  He already knew my heart, but the confession of my separation from Him made it possible.

God sees the worst of us and loves us still. Your sins of tomorrow and failures of the future will not surprise him; He sees them now.

Longing to Love God

When You said, “Seek My face,” my heart said to You,
“Your face, O Lord, I shall seek.” (Psalm 27:8)

Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) was a mystic, activist, and author who had a great influence on Italian literature and the Catholic Church. Canonized in 1461, she is also a Doctor of the Church.

God spoke to Catherine in a vision saying

“When my goodness saw that you could be drawn in no other way, I sent him [Jesus] to be lifted onto the wood of the cross. And this way he drew everything to himself: for he proved his unspeakable love, and the human heart is always drawn to love. He would not have shown you greater love than by giving his life for you. You can hardly resist being drawn by love, then, unless you foolishly refuse to be drawn.”

Bernard of Clairvaux, founder of a French monastery in 1115 described his observation of how we journey toward God in his manuscript entitled On the Love of God. Perhaps you will see yourself in this continuum.

The first-degree of love : love of self for self’s sake.

In the human realm people love themselves for their own sake. This love of self is held in check by the command to love our neighbor. If we cannot love our neighbor because of our love of self, then we must restrain our lusts and give to our neighbor’s needs. Your love will then be temperate when you take from yourself and give it to your neighbor.

The second-degree of love: love of God for self’s sake

God blesses us with His protection. When we suffer from calamity, we turn to God and ask His help, calling upon Him in times of trouble that are beyond our abilities to remedy. This is how we who only love ourselves first begin to love God. We will begin to love God even if it is for our own sake. We love God because we have learned that we can do all things through him, and without Him we can do nothing.

Or as the apostle Paul asks, “does it mean He no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity or are persecuted or hungry or cold or in danger or threatened with death?“  Earthly affliction does not equate to heavenly rejection.

The third-degree of love: love of God for God’s sake

As trials and tribulations continue to come upon us, every time God brings us through, even if our hearts are made of stone, we will begin to soften because of the grace of the rescuer. Thus we, we begin to love God not merely for our sakes, but for himself.

In order to arrive at this, we must continually go to God with our needs and pray. In those prayers the grace of God is tasted, and by frequent tastings it is proved to us how sweet the Lord is. Thus, it happens that once God’s sweetness has been tasted it draws us to the pure love of God more than our needs compel us to love him. Thus, we begin to say, “we now love God not for our necessity, but we ourselves have tasted and know how sweet the Lord is.“

When we begin to feel this, it will not be hard to fulfill the second commandment: to love our neighbor. For those who really truly love God in this way also love the things of God. Also, it becomes easier to be obedient to all the commands of God. We begin to love God‘s commands and embrace them.

This love is pure because it is disinterested. It is pure because it is not merely in our words that we begin to serve, but in our actions. We love because we are loved. We care for others because Jesus cared for us.

We have obtained this degree when we can say, “give praise to the Lord for He is good, not because He is good to me, but because He is good.“ Thus, we truly love God for God sake and not for our own. It should be noted that in this third degree we will stand still for a very long time.

The fourth degree of love: love of self for God’s sake

Blessed are we who experience the 4th degree of love wherein we love ourselves for God’s sake. Such experiences are rare and come only for a moment. In a manner of speaking, we lose ourselves as though we did not exist, utterly unconscious of ourselves and emptied of ourselves.

If for even a moment we experienced this kind of love, we will then know the pain of having to return to this world and its obligations as we are recalled from the state of contemplation.

This perfect love of God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength will not happen until we are no longer compelled to think about ourselves and attend to the body’s immediate needs. Only then can the soul attend to God completely. This is why, in the present body that we have, it is difficult to maintain. I do not know if we can attain this degree in this life.

Conclusion

God has created in us a need for love and a need to express love.  He created our souls in His image as loving extensions of Himself so that we will seek a loving relationship with Him.  The perfect reciprocal love, for which we strive, is only found in Him.  Do you feel a longing to be one with God?  You can be, through deeply felt prayer and meditationIt takes time, so be patient with yourself.  When we connect with Him we become fountains from which His abundant love can be poured out for others; our spouse, family, friends, strangers, and even our enemies. In the moment we are enfolded in God’s love, His love permeates our being.  His love is the central theme of our being.  His love is our life.

Relevant Scripture

Whom have I in heaven but You?
And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalms 73: 25-26)

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us. If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also. (1 John 4:7-21)

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love,  may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. (Eph 3:17-18)

References

 Come Thirsty by Max Lucado

Revelation of Devine Love by Julian of Norwich

On the Love of God by Bernard of Clairvaux

The Dialogue by Catherine of Siena

The Mystic Way of Evangelism by Elaine A Heath

Does Your Idol Speak Louder than Jesus /Spiritual Meditations

Why is there an intense fascination with celebrity?  29 million people in the United States watched the wedding pageantry of British Prince Harry to Megan Markle, an event which affects none of them personally.  Magazines like People and TV shows like TMZ or Entertainment Tonight provide details into celebrities’ comings and goings far beyond what is of any practical value to anyone.  Professional sports players and politicians are lifted as role models and heaped with praise while parents, teachers, godparents, and friends (whom are far more important to a person’s moral development) are hardly acknowledged. 

When we hear the word idol, we often think of statues and objects reminiscent of those worshiped by pagans in ancient cultures. However, the idols of the 21st century often bear no resemblance to the artifacts used thousands of years ago. Today, many have replaced the “golden calf” with an insatiable drive for money or prestige or “success”. Some pursue the high regard of others as their ultimate goal. Some seek after comfort or a myriad of other passionate, yet empty, pursuits. Sadly, our societies often admire those serving such idols.

We support politicians and self-professed leaders. We media-stalk and try to emulate celebrities.  We buy shirts displaying the names of our sports heroes. We behave as though these are infallible and worthy of our devotion. If only we were as wealthy, talented or beautiful as they are, we would receive more attention which appeals to our sense of vanity. Since those dreams are not likely to become reality, we settle for the next best thing – we consider ourselves a part of their ‘flock’. We mimic their rhetoric and make it our own and the more we repeat it the more we are emotionally bound to it.

They become our idols when they absorb our heart and imagination more than God; when we make then more important than God; when we follow their voice like sheep

Of course, we can make idols of possessions, careers, relationships, hobbies, sports, entertainment, goals, greed, addictions to alcohol/ drugs/ gambling/ pornography, etc., but today I’m just talking about people we admire…maybe admire a little too much.

Who are Our Models?

I’m not a “fan”.  I don’t consider anyone more significant than another, but I believe admiration is appropriate when a person demonstrates characteristics consistent with the Golden Rule or as extoled in the Bible.   In my mind, the “A list” of desirable traits is produced by the fruits of the Spirit.  Think of someone famous today, someone that you support, and then compare them to the following:

Envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Gal 5:21-23)

How did your celeb measure up?  No, nobody is perfect and thank God for His grace, but how many of these traits does your favorite politician, hero or celebrity exhibit?  What does their history and lifestyle say about them?  If they profess to be a follower of Christ, are the fruits of the Spirit evident in them?  Can they be a positive influence or model if they aren’t manifesting some of them?

In many cases we see both wealth and poverty as deserved: wealth as the reward for their virtuous behavior and poverty as the reward for their vicious behavior.  With this in mind you may confess that you think that “he / she would never have become great if the fruits of the Spirit were important to them.  They were justified in pushing a few people aside to get where they are.” 

But what is so great about where they are?  If you answered their money, their power or their talent, you are missing the point of Christ’s teaching or have compromised your beliefs to be part of their flock.  What do they have that is of value to the Kingdom of God?  

Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave;  just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:26-28)

Are your celebs serving anyone besides themselves? Don’t know? Here are some examples of how they can use their fame.

God, as revealed through Christ, is the only One truly worthy of our devotion, our service, and our love.  Those earthly beings that we put on a pedestal are nothing compared to Him.  Although the Holy Spirit seeks each lost sheep, God rejoices in those who listen to His voice and work within His will.  Each person must decide if they want to be part of God’s Kingdom or a part of the world’s pollution.  One can’t be both.

“Anyone who isn’t with me opposes me, and anyone who isn’t working with me is actually working against me. (Matt 12:30)

Wisdom as a Prerequisite to Leadership

Wisdom isn’t necessarily required for a rock star or actor, although it wouldn’t hurt, and some have delved into the spiritual. But for a political or military leader, wisdom is prized though, unfortunately, rare.  According to scripture, these are a few ways to determine if someone is wise.

  • They accept correction when they know they were wrong.
  • “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” (John 7:24)
  • They have godly integrity.
  • They are not easily offended
  • They are not obsessed with being ‘right’. When pride comes, then comes dishonor, But with the humble is wisdom. (Prov 11:2)

Again, in Proverbs, the wisdom book:

“For wisdom is better than jewels;
And all desirable things cannot compare with her.
“I, wisdom, dwell with prudence,
And I find knowledge and discretion.
“The fear of the Lord is to hate evil;
Pride and arrogance and the evil way
And the perverted mouth, I hate. (Prov 8:11-13)

If We Aren’t Part of the Solution, We are Part of the Problem

Maybe I’m being too hard on our idols when it is we who are elevating them to this status.  The first commandment is clear.

Thou shalt have no other gods before me

We know this but don’t always realize it when we are creating our idols.  We are so easily led.  It is no wonder that God so often refers to us as sheep as in Psalm 23.  Regarding the jumble of lies and facts surrounding politicians, we know that we don’t know everything and, therefore, accept what our friends and the media tell us; it’s easier.  We usually have the resources to obtain our own answers, but we don’t take the time to do the research. Instead we acquire new opinions that augment or conform to what began as one idea or experience…a small sample of life and perhaps an insignificant one.  With the accumulation of the like thoughts we select, that initial idea grows into a mantra and manifesto.  Now it is hard to see truth; much easier to rationalize it away; more comforting to jump on the “band wagon” with our tribe; less threatening to our egos to continue in our chosen stance.

The Lord is My Shephard

When Jesus referred to us as sheep, He was talking about our vulnerability and His compassion for us. Jesus loved humanity so much that He pushed Peter to an emotional response, making it a point Peter could never forget.

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?" "Yes, LORD," he said, "you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my lambs." Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" He answered, "Yes, LORD, you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep." The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "LORD, you know all things; you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my sheep. (John 21:15-17)

But why this crazy metaphor of sheep of all animals?  Here are just a few of the characteristics we have in common: 

*Sheep can’t defend themselves. When a sheep is frightened, the only thing it knows to do is run.  People can “fight” as well as “flight” but both reactions are based in fear, something God tells us repeatedly is unnecessary. Politicians are notorious for creating fears and then trying to convince us that only they can resolve them. But God is the only defender we need. “The LORD is my defense; and my God is the rock of my refuge” (Psalm 94:22).

*Sheep aren’t intelligent. Sheep are not known to be smart or cunning animals when it comes to safety; rather, they are susceptible and tend to wander away from the protection of the shepherd.   Compared to the wisdom of God, which is all knowing and all loving, human intelligence is miniscule.  (1 Cor 3:19).  People tend to wander away from God and bestow their affection on their idols.

*Sheep are Directionless.  Not only are sheep wanderers, but they get lost easily. When even one sheep goes astray, the shepherd goes after it and restores it to the flock. As Isaiah 53:6 indicates, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way.”  If a sheep wanders off from the rest of the herd, it will have a hard, if not impossible time, finding its way back. They have no sense of direction. So it is with those outside the Lord, there is simply no sense of spiritual direction in their lives.

*Sheep follow the voice of their own Shepherd (no other shepherd). The Bible says the sheep know the voice of the shepherd. They follow the one whom they know. You may never have a complete understanding of your circumstances with all the answers to the questions of life, but you will understand the love of God and the importance of following the Lord to the green pastures and living water.  Likewise, the shepherd leads the sheep. The sheep know their shepherd, the sound of his voice and follow him. This is also the way that the sheep are separated into separate herds after grazing or sleeping together. The shepherd calls the sheep and they come. They need no markings to distinguish them – all they need is the sound of the shepherd’s voice.

*A Sheep is a Personal, a Prized and a Precious Possession. This sheep belonged to the shepherd, he paid a personal price to own it and won’t stand idly by while it is lost. (Ill. The price Jesus paid for the sheep – Ill. Calvary – 1 Cor. 6:19-20)- This sheep may have been no different from any other ordinary sheep, but it was special to the shepherd. Despite their differences every sheep was precious in his eyes. So it is with the Lord. He loves all His sheep equally.

*Sheep must be led to grass, just as the Holy Spirit leads us to what we need. If left to themselves sheep will graze in the same place until all the grass is gone. A good shepherd leads them to the best places to graze to keep them healthy. He leadeth me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Conclusion

There are many people out there vying for our attention and hoping we will contribute to their income.  They want our political donations, votes, ticket buys, and endorsement purchases among other things.  Granted, a little entertainment gives us relief from a stressful world, but let’s consider the source of that entertainment before we count ourselves as a member of its flock.  No person should be made an idol or be blindly followed.  We must open our eyes to who they really are. Only God has our best interests at heart and deserves our devotion.

What do you think?  Are the celebrities, heroes and politicians who you endorse worthy of you? You – one of God’s children?  Whose sheep do you choose to be?  I’m hoping you will answer “Jesus’”.

If you find this article interesting, informative, inspiring or useful, please share it.

Relevant Scripture

You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.  You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. (Ex 20:4-6)

 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, parties, envyings, drunkenness, revelings, and such like; of which I forewarn you, even as I did ]forewarn you, that they who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.  Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned;  and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. (2 Peter 2:1-3)

 Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue;  for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God. (John 12:42-43)

Like a roaring lion and a rushing bear
Is a wicked ruler over a poor people.
A leader who is a great oppressor lacks understanding,
But he who hates unjust gain will prolong his days. (Proverbs 24:15-16)

A fool always loses his temper,
But a wise man holds it back.
If a ruler pays attention to falsehood,
All his ministers become wicked. (Proverbs 29:11-12)

The words of the wise heard in quietness are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools. Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good. (Eccl 9:17-18)

Your rulers are rebels
And companions of thieves;
Everyone loves a bribe
And chases after rewards.
They do not defend the orphan,
Nor does the widow’s plea come before them. (Isaiah 1:23)

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. (John 10:11)

References

“Five Reasons Why God Calls His People “Sheep””  by Bethany Hayes 

“Why Does God Call Us Sheep? on For His Service

“Why is Idol Worship Such a Powerful Temptation?” on Got Questions

“Why Do We Admire Celebrities?” with Jon Murphy 

flowers sky woman joy

How to Realize Spiritual Joy. Don’t Miss Out/Spiritual Meditations

 

Joy is almost a mystery, isn’t it?  Sometimes we struggle to grasp the biblical view of the elusive “joy” because of the way it is defined and described in Western culture today.

What’s the Difference Between Joy and Happiness?

In particular, we often confuse joy with happiness. Happiness may be momentary, as it is a result of short-term contentment; but joy, being related to the inner self, is long lasting. It is a deep-seated sense of what God has done and what He is doing. Happiness simply pleases a person, while joy brings warmth to the heart, and contentment to the soul. Probably the easiest distinction to understand is that happiness is dependent on outward circumstances, whereas joy is a spiritual quality independent of outward circumstances.

That doesn’t mean that all worldly events are without joy. An appreciation of God’s creations, such as nature and music, can be a source of joy.  The “Kingdom of God” is the manifestation of the astonishing sovereignty and glory of God. Sometimes God displays His glory and power by healing (2 Kings 5:1-14). Sometimes He puts a believer in a position of power (Esther 8:1-2). And sometimes He blesses His children with material possessions (Job 42:10-17). The key is that it is God who blesses, and although we may appreciate the gift, we rejoice that He has chosen to pour out His love, sovereignty, and power on us. We rejoice in the Giver, not just in the gift.

The Sources of Christian Joy

Once you realize that joy is not the same as happiness, it becomes a more difficult feeling to recognize but I hope you will be able to identify it by considering your unique experiences in relationship to the following sources of joy.

Joy is a Fruit of the Holy Spirit

Galatians 5:22-23 lists the fruits of the Spirit:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
“Fruit” here means “the result of labor.” The laborer is the Holy Spirit.  So, what Galatians 5:22-23 really describes are traits characteristic of a believer who has yielded to the Holy Spirit’s work in his or her life. One of these character traits is joy.

God’s Presence Brings Joy

In Thy presence is fullness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore (Psalms 16:11).

“There is a joy which isn’t given to the ungodly, that of those who love thee for thine own sake, whose joy thou thyself art; and this is the happy life to rejoice in thee, and of thee. This is it and there is none other.” – Augustine

Joy is Found in a Personal Relationship With God.

The Holy Spirit is God’s spirit, so when you unlock the presence of God or the Holy Spirit you may be feeling joy. This is the source of joy that I identify with the most strongly.  As I write this, I feel my heart, my soul connected with the heart, the Spirit of God. It is an extraordinary contentment or heart happiness.

If you have not already done so, this is something you can experience, in time, by meditating on spiritual truths as described on my blog page entitled “How to Meditate to Reach Higher God Consciousness.  There is an expansion of this idea in my post entitled “A Clear Mind Improves God Awareness”.

The Knowledge that God Answers Prayer is a Source of Joy

“Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
We can feel assured, that all our needs shall be supplied from the fountain that is inexhaustible—and that “no good thing” will be withheld from us. We can trace every mercy, every blessing, to the hand of God, and know that God has sent them in all the kindness and tenderness of a loving Father.  Which brings us to the point that our answered prayers are those within God’s will.

Alignment with God’s Will Brings Joy

We are never filled with more joy than when we are in the center of God’s will. When God can’t be persuaded to do things our way or we can’t change our situation, we finally give ourselves over to the will of God. Let’s surrender to and commit ourselves to pursuing God’s will. In this there is true joy. Also read Acts 20:24 and James 1:22-25.

God’s Word Brings Joy

God’s Word can be a glorious source of joy for the believer. As you read the Bible you may come across passages that suddenly speak to you in the moment, touching your heart with the recognition that God has just spoken to or answered you.  What joy!

Serving God with Other Believers is Joyful

Philippians 2:2 tells us that “complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”  If you have been inspired to work with other Christians to provide service to those in need, you know how the gratitude received and the goals accomplished bring you unbelievable joy and satisfaction.

The Joy of Hope During Difficulties.

Because joy resides in our soul, it may not prevent us from experiencing negative surface emotions. To the Christian, who is living near to the throne of grace, there are sources of joy unknown to all others. He or she can even “rejoice in tribulation,” and “be glad in the Lord,” while experiencing pain, suffering, and distress. Not that we are insensible to trial and affliction, or that we steel ourselves to their endurance; not that we can gaze unmoved on the wreck of all our hopes, or see, without a tear of agony, beloved ones laid in their silent grave.

No! our affections are warmer and more tender; our sympathies deeper and stronger; our sensibilities more acute and lively, than those devoid of joy. We can feel and feel intensely the robbing of earthly joys. But then, we know where we can go for comfort, peace, satisfaction and hope and we remember the words of the Savior, “Ask and you shall receive, that your joy may be full.”
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said,
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:4).
Given that the Bible tells us it is perfectly legitimate to experience mourning, sorrow, and grief, these feelings do not separate us from God. For we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope (Romans 5:3-4). The key is knowing. If we are to stand up under trials and experience joy, we must have a vision toward hope.  Remembering Jesus’ care for us and our ultimate victory in Him, we can experience joy even in our hidden hardships.

Jesus told His followers:

Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you, and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy!” — Luke 6:22-23

The writers of the epistles followed Jesus’ lead:

You received the message with joy from the Holy Spirit in spite of the severe suffering it brought you. — 1 Thessalonians 1:6

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials. — James 1:2

One of my favorite Bible stories is the story of Paul and Silas in the Philippian jail. They were beaten; they were imprisoned; and who knew what would happen to them the next day? But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. — Acts 16:25

The kind of joy that gets you singing in jail at midnight with your back bleeding and your life hanging by a thread — that’s joy worth cultivating!

In our culture of instant gratification and constant amusement, it’s hard to understand the suffering the apostles endured for the sake of the gospel. We’ll do anything to avoid trials and tribulations. But often, in an attempt to keep anything uncomfortable from touching us, we miss the very thing God wants to use to lead us to the joy in Him. We can’t avoid difficulties, but amid all our troubles — there is God and His effervescent love.

This doesn’t mean we deny or disguise our feelings. It doesn’t mean we can or should shrug off pain or disappointment or try not to feel sorrow when we have good cause. It means we place our trust in God, and He opens the door to a joy beyond anything we can know on our own: the joy of knowing we are in His hands forever.

Gratitude for Our Salvation Brings Joy

The moment of salvation is inexpressibly joyous. This is our eternal, spiritual delivery from separation from God and our entry into heaven. Jesus came so that we might be saved, and the New Testament testifies that this experience is an occasion for priceless joy; for those converted and for those involved in the process. Many tears of joy have been shed when someone estranged from God, or who has been an enemy of God, has become His adopted son or daughter.

In Luke 15, Jesus told three stories of precious things that were lost and then found, and each was an occasion for joy: the shepherd who left ninety-nine sheep to search for and find one lost lamb; the woman who lost a valuable coin and found it; and the prodigal son, who was lost but found his way home.
In each story Jesus spoke of the rejoicing that surrounds the saving of one soul, and He described the joy that results:
I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance. — Luke 15:7
After the Ethiopian eunuch was saved, he went on his way rejoicing (Acts 8:39). Luke recorded the conversion of the Gentiles “caused great joy to all the brethren” (Acts 15:3). The Philippian jailer and his family were filled with joy when they became believers in God (Acts 16:34). Never doubt that salvation, the most profound of new beginnings, is also infused with joy beyond description.

The Joy of Helping Another to Heaven

Soul winning is one of the greatest sources of joy a believer will ever experience both now and in the life to come.  Imagine the Apostle Paul in heaven. A great multitude walks by and the Lord says to him, “These are here because you cared, sacrificed and remained faithful to your call (Acts 20:24). Wow, what joy!

The Joy of Knowing Christ and His Love for Us.

The Christian rejoices because he has found Christ, “the Friend who sticks closer than a brother.”  Jesus lived, and suffered, and died that “all that great debt” we owed to law and justice, was washed away.

The Christian rejoices in the thought, that Christ not only “appears in the presence of God for us,” but also that He is ever present with His Church and people on earth. “I am with you always, even unto the end of the ages.” “I will not leave you comfortless, I will come to you.” And He prepares us for the enjoyment of His heavenly kingdom.

How to Attain More Joy in Your Life

That brings us back to this matter of how we can be joyful as a matter of discipline or of the will. How is it possible to remain joyful all the time? Paul gives us the key: “Rejoice in the Lord always”. We all can certainly enjoy and appreciate God’s creation but the key to Christian’s joy is its source, which is the Lord. If Christ is in me and I am in Him, that relationship is not a sometimes experience. All our attempts to find joy will be futile if we do not abide in Jesus, because we cannot make ourselves joyful by our own power. But as we live in Christ, His perfect joy will dwell in us and make our experience of joy ever more consistent and full (John 15:10–11).

Even if Christians cannot rejoice in the circumstances, if we find ourselves passing through pain, sorrow, or grief, we still can rejoice in God. We rejoice in the Lord, and since He never leaves us or forsakes us, we can rejoice always.

You who have not discovered your personal relationship with God, have been overwhelmed with sorrow and grief at some time. But when you give your heart to God, He will turn your sorrow into joy. And nothing will be able to steal that joy from you.

When we voice our concerns to God and allow ourselves to be reminded of His goodness, we release our burdens. Jesus said,
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
But it doesn’t stop there. Paul goes on to say,
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things (Philippians 4:8).
After we have given our requests to God, we keep a proper perspective. We think on things that are pure, full of splendor, excellent, right, and praiseworthy. We do not dwell on our heartache but on the goodness of God and the beauty He infuses into our lives. This is important to remember when circumstances are less than joyful. James 1:2 says,
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.
In trials, joy is not found in the immediate situation but in the promise that God’s Kingdom will be revealed through the situation. 1 Peter 1:7-9 says that current trials bring an assurance of faith, making the future joy even greater when Jesus returns. Similarly, James 1:3-4 says that trials will strengthen our character. We can rejoice in that trials point to a future gift.

Conclusion

True joy can be found in Jesus (John 15:11). If you look for God’s work and gifts in your life, you will always have joy. Even in hardship, your joy remains, because it depends on God and His promises, which do not change.  If you get caught up in temporary hardships and worldly desires, your joy will be fleeting and weak.

Joy comes when you make peace with who you are, where you are and why you are. The joy of the believer is not bestowed by any man and, therefore, cannot be taken away.  When you need nothing more than truth and the love of a good God to bring you peace, then you have settled into the abiding joy that is not rocked by anything.

Love of God is an essential ingredient of joy, I think, something not necessarily true of happiness.

Relevant Scripture

Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost. (Romans 15:13)

Break forth into joy, sing together, For the Lord has comforted His people. (Isaiah 52:9)

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.  The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.  We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.  We write this to make our joy complete. (1 John 1:1-4)

May those who delight in my vindication
shout for joy and gladness;
may they always say, “The LORD be exalted,
who delights in the well-being of his servant.”
My tongue will proclaim your righteousness,
your praises all day long.  (Psalm 35:27–28)

I encourage you to save this post to be reread on unhappy days, thereby realigning your perspective and reminding you of all you have to be joyful about.

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References

“Difference Between Joy & Happiness” on DifferenceBetween.net

“Christian Joy” Grace Gems

“Sources of Joy” by Dr Gary Linton

“The Source of Joy” on Ligonier Ministries

“Joy vs. Happiness” by Sandra L. Brown M.A.