The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace… Gal 5:22
I am reminded of a children’s song that the kids liked to sing when I taught at a Christian school years ago. The song is I’ve Got Peace Like a River.
The fruit of the spirit is love, joy… (Gal 5:22)
Joy is a word that I believe is easily misunderstood. Let me give you an example. About eleven years ago, I adopted my little dog. I named her Joy because her personality radiates joy.
One day a young workman came to my house. After he finished the repairs in the kitchen he asked me, “You named your dog after soap?” He was referring to the bottle of Joy detergent that was on my kitchen counter. I explained that she was not named after soap, but I named her because she always acted so joyful. He did not seem to really understand, but I think that is not as unusual as it may seem.
Joy and happiness are often used interchangeably and people assume that they cannot have joy unless they feel happy. I disagree.
Over this past year, the Lord has been teaching me about His timing. I certainly don’t have the answers about timing but here is what I have observed.
First, God has an incredible sense of humor. When I tried to do or make something happen, the humor that God displayed in the answer made me laugh instead of being hurt when He said NO.
Don’t confuse God’s love and grace with His delight.
You can have the former, which is unmerited, but still miss the latter, which comes from doing His will and obeying His commands.
I figure that if half of the folks reading my blog say “amen!”, and the other half say “oh my!”, then I’m right where God wants me.
The consternation and angst – in blogs, Facebook comments, podcasts and the like – generated by this series have convinced me that what I said needed saying.
My point is simple, and 100% Biblical:
I go, do and obey because of who I am in Christ. It is His life in me, expressed through me.
But here’s the kicker: If I do not “do”or obey as Christ commands, then the life of Christ in me is a lie – at least in those areas where I choose to disobey or stay trapped in my own sensibilities.
This scene from Chariots of Fire helped define my life when I saw it as a young man in 1981.
In it, Olympic runner Eric Liddell explained what motivated him: “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”
What a wonderful way to feel, know and experience the Lord and His purpose.
Most of my life has been guided by the sense of His pleasure as I’ve been the man He created me to be and done the things He created me to do. Even when there’s been adversity, I have felt His pleasure as I serve the King of Kings with whatever gifts He’s given me.
There is no greater joy, no greater fulfillment, no greater purpose.
Sitting on a log beside a quiet stream as it weaves it way through the forest, to me is peace. I used to do that often before I married Jim since my house was very close to Bull Run.
I spent many hours in those woods, near the stream, because it was my favorite place of solitude. That scenario is not as available now, so the Lord has been teaching me that peace is not dependent on location.
Streams are interesting. They display a multitude of facets. After a storm they can race, foam and spill over their banks. During a drought, they can dry up or stagnate, with mosquitoes hovering over the scummy pools. Throughout a normal spring season, the water flows serenely as it curves around the bends. Streams, like rivers, only flow in one direction. There is no going back.
So are the streams in my life.
“Church” – as a platform for the gifted man and his anointed ministry – is crumbling all around.
As people start peeking outside the walls through the cracked facades, some find liberty.
Many, however, choose to remain trapped in the ruins.
We all have a choice. Liberty and life, or bondage and stagnation.
Seek grace, find courage, embrace joy and venture forth.
You’ll be surprised at how many other brave hearts await you outside the walls.
God’s call is clear: It is time to be the church once again.
As my close friends know, for the last seven years I’ve been dealing with a rare autoimmune condition called scleroderma (also known as systemic sclerosis).
Recent medical tests indicate that it is now impairing my lungs. This is a progressively debilitating and likely fatal development, and there is no known cure. I was not surprised by the latest test results, as I’ve been feeling my health deteriorate more rapidly over the last several months.
I’m posting this to be transparent and so none of my friends feel blindsided. I am totally open about what’s happening, and not bashful over it, so don’t feel you have to ignore it when you’re around me. If you have questions or want to just talk about it, feel free!
However, I also do not want it to define me. My life has been, and will continue to be, about so much more than this disease!
Like a comfy, worn, ragged, favorite sweatshirt, life sometimes meanders along. Then a tidal wave comes and drastically alters the course of the stream.
So it is with the Lord. At times He allows me to peacefully follow His path; but then He turns my life completely inside out, with all of the fuzzy, bumpy, frayed edges exposed instead of hidden beneath the surface.
To me His ways are usually convoluted.
Today is the 100th birthday for Oreo cookies.
I LOVE Oreo cookies! They are proof that God loves us and has a wonderful plan for our lives.
Enjoying an Oreo cookie also theologically demolishes all arguments one may muster in support of a pessimistic, doom and gloom eschatology. Ah, the joy!
But enough theology …
The great thing about Oreos is that they single-handedly satisfy the FDA’s recommended daily requirements for three of the four essential food groups.
Those four essential food groups are sugar, lard, chocolate and caffeine. To achieve a balanced diet, though, I often have a mug of hot coffee with my Oreos.
I once made the mistake of mentioning our four American food groups to a friend from Canada. He seemed surprised, and said he thought the four major food groups in the U.S. were fast, fried, deep fried and refried.
I told him that was only true in the deep south. In Virginia, by God, we may be south of the Mason-Dixon line, but we’ve managed to hold onto some remnants of high culture!
I must confess, however, that strawberry “fig” newtons are my other weakness. At least they provide some pretense of being healthy (applying snobbish Canadian standards), since they contain fruit (that red goo is real fruit, right? – if not, don’t tell me and destroy my ignorant bliss).
Anyway, happy 100th birthday.
Now where did I put my box of Oreos …
Early Virginia mornings with a cup of freshly brewed Columbian coffee is proof enough that God still smiles over His creation.
(A recent tweet. I’d love to connect with you on Twitter. My handle is OrganicSower.)
My wife, Marianne, wrote this. Where I am vision and logic, she is feeling and heart. The Lord speaks to us in very different ways, and we have learned to passionately value those differences.
Anyway, I think this was for both of us, and maybe it will speak to you too as the first of hopefully many devotionals from her.
As I was in the midst of an intense struggle over some situations in my life, the Lord spoke to my spirit: “Acceptance with joy.”
I responded, “Lord, I don’t even know what it is that I am to accept, but whatever it is, there certainly is no joy.”
For me, it became pray, pray, pray: I cried my heart out in hopes that somehow He would let me see what He wanted.
With me, the Lord speaks in pictures, and the picture He showed me was not encouraging.
My greatest joy is walking with guys as they learn to stop being knuckleheads and become men; to minister to hurt and wounded women as they find not just healing, but health and wholeness; to let others come forth into life and gifting as they exceed me in the Kingdom. For all of this, Lord, I am grateful and humbled.
There’s nothing like flying along at 10,000 feet with my fiancé — in and out of white bellowing clouds with quilted green earth below and majestic blue sky above — while listening to Norah Jones in our headsets and enjoying the three dimensional wonder of God’s creation.
That’s where I find heaven on — or should I say above? — earth!
The church that meets together at my home each Friday evening to share a meal, encounter God and minister one to another is an improbable assembly of believers and even not-yet believers. We cut across races, cultures, nationalities, social status, and so many other lines – producing a rich tapestry of interwoven lives.
It reminds me of Adullam’s cave, where “every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented” went to flee from Saul. While there, God began the process of forging them into leaders who eventually established and became pillars in David’s kingdom. 1 Sam. 22:2.
Likewise, if you saw us you would laugh and wonder, “what can God do with these people?” Yet, isn’t that God’s way: to establish his Kingdom on earth by transforming lives, cultures, nations and history not with the ordained, but with the ordinary?
Of the seven spiritual gifts listed in Romans 12, the last – but, I believe, the greatest yet least appreciated and most abused – is mercy.
As I watch and sense what God is doing with an emerging new spiritual generation, I see that their dominant characteristic is mercy. I also have begun to realize that God wants to use “mercies” (those with the primary spiritual gift of mercy) as catalysts to unleash additional gifts in others. That, in turn, will bring this rising generation to new pastures where God wants to dwell among us.
This doesn’t mean everyone in this new spiritual generation has mercy as their dominant individual spiritual gift. But as a whole, they nonetheless seem to collectively exhibit the main motivations of mercy – which are a deep, personal craving for the presence of God and for genuine intimacy with others.
As a result, this rising generation has little interest or patience with the moral and cultural wars of my generation, or with our prevailing hypocrisy as we tried to fix everyone else but failed to exhibit God’s presence in our own lives. Nor can they understand the focus on programs and institutions – with a resulting lack of authentic community – among older Christians.
This Sunday, like most Sundays, I will be fellowshipping with the “Church in D Pod” at the local jail.
D Pod is a unit housing around a hundred men, and God has been pouring out his new wine in an exciting way among those inmates.
A couple of months ago, I started shifting my focus from “conducting” church services “for” the men. God was challenging me to start mentoring and training them instead to “be” the church by learning to minister one to another.
At the same time, God sovereignly arranged for two brothers from Africa — where Christians generally are way ahead of their American brothers and sisters on these issues — to be jailed in that unit. They, too, understood the concept of ministering one to another and started fostering authentic fellowship among the men.
As God brings forth new wine in a new generation, there’s a fundamental dynamic that can’t be ignored. To put it bluntly, new wine sucks!
In my younger days, I was an amateur wine maker. So I know what Jesus means when he says, “no one, having drunk old wine, immediately desires new; for he says, ‘The old is better.’” (Luke 5:39)
Here’s an interesting article, reprinted below, on how people will stick to what they believe or think even in the face of contrary facts or circumstances. As I’ve watched people react to challenges and controversies over the last couple of months, and to God bursting old wine skins as he brings forth new wine, I can believe it!
Isaiah 9:6-8 tells us that God’s Kingdom, from the incarnation onward, has been and will continue to be ever advancing. As such, God is constantly fermenting new wine — and providing new wine skins to contain it — as his progressive plan of redemption moves forward from one spiritual generation to each successive spiritual generation (which can include individuals of all ages!). God’s active and ever expanding intervention in history is clear, and his tendency to discard the old while bringing in the new is repeatedly seen in Scripture.
Yet it never failed to fascinate me, as a graduate student in church history back in the 1970s, to see how — time and time again — most Christians reject God’s new wine of new anointing for new generations. Instead, they choose to stick with their old wine and old wine skins.
My closest friends have seen me walk through some very difficult times with my health over the last several years. Where others see the “together”, upbeat and accomplished Jim, they see the reserved, careful and slow-paced Jim who is learning to live with chronic fatigue.
This all started several years ago. I had founded and was running a number of successful international businesses, including a law firm and a cutting edge scientific consulting firm. But in 2006 I had to walk away from it all due to debilitating chronic fatigue that began more than a year earlier.
Stress As a Factor
At first, I thought I was struggling with routine burnout – which I now realize may have been a factor but was not the full story. In early 2008, my doctors discovered that I had been suffering from a very rare autoimmune condition called systemic sclerosis (sometimes known as scleroderma).
Initially, I was relieved to know that my fatigue wasn’t “all in my head” and that I really hadn’t gotten lazy. But that didn’t make the fatigue or the impact it was having on my life any less devastating.
Eventually, as I researched systemic sclerosis and talked to my doctors, I learned that stress – as typically is the case in many autoimmune diseases – was a big issue. It doesn’t necessary cause the disease, but it can trigger the onset and then exasperate the symptoms.
With me, those symptoms – which on top of the fatigue also included mild depression, chronic pain and joint stiffness – had become so bad that in 2007 I couldn’t function anymore in the basic aspects of life. By early 2008 I was reduced to walking with a cane due to the fatigue and the overall pain, and my prospects were bleak.
I ended up losing everything: my marriage, my family, my businesses, my wealth and eventually my sense of self.
Since then, God has been bringing resolution to many of the stressful relationships that were making things worse – sometimes by giving me the grace to let folks go who couldn’t otherwise handle my deteriorating situation.
As I began to find my validity in how He defines me – rather than how I and others were defining me – I’ve seen great improvements. As part of that process, I’ve also been learning to manage any stress that still occasionally surfaces by understanding, more and more, that God – rather than some circumstance – is sovereign over my life!
Overall, as I’ve been re-discovering the joy and wonder of life, most of the more severe symptoms of the disease have abated. The pain has lessened (although I still need various medications, but at greatly reduced doses) and since early this year the intensity of the fatigue has decreased.
Nonetheless, I still have fairly constant, low-level chronic fatigue.
Running Out of Energy
To those wondering about chronic fatigue, the best way to describe it is to contrast my life with “normal” folks.
Most folks wake up each morning with essentially a full reservoir of energy. Think of it as a big gallon jar (although the size of the jar will vary from person to person) that’s filled with stamina and spunk.
Someone who is healthy uses and replenishes the energy in their jar throughout a typical day. They do some things that are a net energy drain, but they also restore their stamina by doing other things that energize them. Those things vary from person to person, but their jar very seldom runs totally dry and after a good night’s sleep the jar usually is full again and ready for a new day. (And please, don’t tell me how drained you are at the end of the day — unless you have experienced chronic fatigue, you have no idea how much energy you really have even after a particularly exhausting day!)
Someone suffering from chronic fatigue has the same gallon jar, but they struggle with all of the expectations – both their own and from others – of what they once could do each day with their normal reservoir of energy. But now the gallon jar is never full – it is partially empty even when they wake up from a good night’s sleep. More significantly, as they participate in the activities of life, those things that once energized them can’t replenish their energy as quickly as before.
Two Kinds of Fatigue
With my systemic sclerosis, I’ve experienced two kinds of chronic fatigue. With one kind, the valve used to draw energy out of my jar is very, very constricted. I can’t suck much energy out at any one time. It’s like stepping on the gas pedal, but the car barely sputters along and lacks power. There’s gas in the tank, but I just can’t get it flowing fast enough to run the engine at full speed.
That’s what it was like when my fatigue started and I ended up divesting myself of all of my business and professional interests. I just couldn’t get enough energy flowing to do much of anything. The simple, routine tasks of life were nearly impossible — even when I was motivated and wanting to do more.
With the second kind of chronic fatigue, the valve is able to handle a full flow of energy and I rev up my engine just like normal people. The problem is, there’s just not as much energy to keep that flow going. In this example, I step on the pedal and the car accelerates to 60 mph just fine, but it’s just not going to go very far before the tank runs dry. To use another analogy, I am “good in the moment” and full of spunk and life, but when the task at hand is finished, so am I! This is more like my life now, although I’ve learned some important coping mechanisms.
Under either type of chronic fatigue, I’ve learned to pace myself if I want to keep from depleting my energy jar. I don’t have as much energy in my jar as most folks, and even if I’m able to get a good flow of stamina going, I know I can’t replenish that energy fast enough to take on the whole day at a “normal” pace.
This means I need to carefully regulate my activities throughout the day so that I don’t use more energy than is needed for the entire day and it’s expected activities, while also protecting my ability to do those things that energize me (howbeit more slowly than normal) – which may be a nap, lunch with a close friend, taking a quiet walk, reading a good book, generally just chillin’ out, bass fishing or whatever.
For those suffering from chronic fatigue, and those dealing with this condition in friends and loved ones, accept what’s happening. Denial is deadly! Everyone involved needs to adapt to an entirely new reality. If you have chronic fatigue, don’t beat up on yourself because you can’t do everything you once did at the pace you once did it. Such guilt only causes more stress and makes your situation worse. Rather, find joy in simplifying your life and learning to focus on what’s truly important. Also learn to let others do some of the things for you that you previously did yourself – for me, allowing this remains very hard but I’m learning to adjust.
Most of all, learn to monitor how much energy you have left in your jar at any given time, how much energy is needed (and how quickly you need it) when evaluating what you should and shouldn’t do, avoid over-doing things, and find time for the things that uniquely replenish your energy reserves (while factoring in the reality that it will take longer than normal).
Adjusting to Reality
When dealing with chronic fatigue, you will feel guilty and struggle for a season over what you can’t do. Others may not understand your slower pace, or why you can be perfectly “normal” when doing one thing but then need to excuse yourself from further activities. But if that relationship is worth keeping, they will learn to accept and understand your limitations. But most of all, take joy in learning all of the new things you can do as you re-order the obligations and responsibilities of life. If you let it, that will be a wonderful journey of discovery.
The bottom line is that you need to get comfortable with figuring out your own pace and activities so that you minimize how frequently your energy jar runs dry. It will take some time, but I’m learning that it certainly can be done.
Despite it all, I have found that a slower paced life – where I can take the time to relish fulfilling relationships, focus on the truly important things of life, and enjoy those things that renew my energy – is more fulfilling than my past life. For that, I’m grateful and I can’t imagine ever going back to the hectic, stress-filled existence I once fought so hard to foolishly preserve.
In an odd way, I have become a better and a happier person.
~ Jim Wright
On Sunday I taught men in the jail, using Psalms 116:5-7 (ESV), about moving from woundedness to life. I challenged them not to settle for mere comfort when confronting hurt, but to embrace life instead.
Gracious is the LORD, and righteous;
our God is merciful.
The LORD preserves the simple;
when I was brought low, he saved me.
Return, O my soul, to your rest;
for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you.
When hurt and wounded, too often all we can muster is a desire for God’s comfort or soothing presence. Although he’ll sometimes do that, what he really wants is to move us past woundedness into brokenness – that low place where we are willing to surrender to him. Only then can we hope to experience the bountiful life, both in us and around us, that comes from finding and finally doing God’s joyous will.