[No audio version of the blog posts this week]
The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! – Galatians 5:22-23
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. – John 15:9-11
“I would judge the gathering to be successful if there was joy.” The observation by a fellow pastor struck me in a very positive way. We were discussing “Circuit Winkels” (The German word, “Winkel” means corner, angle, place, or spot; and in the early days of the LCMS, the circuit pastors’ meetings were called Winkel Conferences.) There were many other answers offered to the question of what a successful Circuit Winkel would look like. But I remember only his. That was memorable, in part, because it was simple and unambiguous. It was memorable because it struck a deep cord of truth in my spirit. And it aligns with the second mentioned fruit of the Spirit.
The judgment also reminded me of a book he had recently shared with me, The Other Half of Church by Jim Wilder and Michael Hendricks. In that book the authors outline four characteristics of a spiritually-healthy and transforming community. They leverage the latest insights of the brain’s left and right sides and how they’re both critical to experience lasting, full-brain transformation. They ground that understanding on four scriptural characteristics:
- True joy found through connection and relationships
- Hesed love of securely attached communities
- Group identity based on the character of Christ
- A culture of uplifting, healthy correction
And the first of those is joy. But joy is not a lone wolf emotion or feeling. It is actually a result of knowing more fully of the Father’s will and ways together with Jesus’ grace and truth. John records Jesus’ teaching about abiding, bearing fruit, his New Commandment, and connects it with his gift of joy. Just as love and all the subsequent fruit of the Spirit flow from the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives, so joy is an outgrowth of God’s love finding its home in our hearts.
This joy is not experienced in isolation. This is not a Jesus and Me exercise. This is not something we go away to discover. This joy is experienced in deep connections and relationships grounded in grace and truth. It is a matrix of joy, love, identity, and correction experienced in the context of community.
A friend of mine once said, “Dead hearts feel no pain.” A heart alive with God’s love will therefore experience the pain of sin on all sides. But in the context of a community of love our hearts can be lifted to higher delight in God’s goodness and a greater joy. Such is the gift of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our personal lives as well as in our communities of grace and love.