LIFE ON THE VINE:
Read John 15:8-11
We want to live our life, and our life together, connected to the true vine. We want to bear the fruit of the spirit. The fruit of the spirit is love. Genuine love. The kind of love that the Father has for his son Jesus. The kind of love Jesus has for us. If we remain in Christ, then we will remain in his love. The result of this is joy. And the fruit of the spirit is joy. Christs teaching about the vine and branches tells us a couple of things about joy.
One of the most extravagant meals I have enjoyed is a plate of beans and rice shared with a family of 6 living in a 10 x 10 box of wood and corrugated metal in Mexico. With gratitude and joy they shared their food with Karen and me. Joy was served up at that meal. We were touched by their generosity and their hospitality not because they could show us hospitality, but because they did!
- Joy is directed outward. Notice in verse 11 that Christ is teaching us this lesson so that his joy may be in us and our joy may be complete. He does not say, do this and you will be joyous or I am doing this so I can be joyous. A relationship is assumed. The loving, vine & branches, obeying Christ, asking & receiving relationship leads to a by-product: Christ takes joy in us and our joy is made complete because we take joy in him.
Real joy is not something you pursue for its own sake. In fact, you cannot. Joy cannot be manufactured. It is a natural product that is a by-product of taking delight in something external. (Like honey you can encourage the development of honey, but only bees can make it.) This strikes us as strange because we are a culture and a people who invest a great deal of resources in entertainment and pleasure. We will come back to this in a moment, but lets just notice that joy is something altogether different that entertainment and pleasure. Being entertained can lead to joy. And when we are joyous we may be pleased. But it is a mistake to equate these with joy.
- One of the ways we know this is true is because joy can thrive even in suffering and difficulty. Notice that branches are sometimes pruned so that they will become more fruitful. A survey of the apostles teachings on joy will show you that joy can emerge in the midst of great difficulty. Consider it nothing but joy when you face difficulties of any kind, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4
Mature and complete! Joy grows out of the stoniest and harshest of soils, but it is one the sweetest of fruits and if you have ever experienced joy grown in suffering or difficult circumstance then you know ...
Our joy becomes complete in maturity for this simple reason: The more we are drawn out or ourselves the more we likely we are to find joy. If we are drawn out of ourselves toward God and one another, then we are more likely to cultivate joy.
It can be hard to cultivate joy in our culture, especially if that means being drawn outside ourselves being called to mature.
- As I have already mentioned, joy is too often confused with pleasure. Heres the root of the problem. We get the cart before the horse and assume that pleasure leads to joy. And we are disappointed when our attempts to find joy fail. In our culture we are conditioned to consume what we want, not what we need. This makes our lives and our life together vulnerable to some of the pestilence in our culture that makes joy difficult to cultivate ...
- We are bombarded by attempts to manufacture desire. How were we conditioned to want and desire? The spirit of the age. Just as the Holy Spirit gives life and ripens the fruit of the spirit, the spirit of our age tries to bring life to desire. Much of our culture and economy is based on gratifying desires. This is sometimes very obviously bad. But sometimes not so bad. Perhaps you would like to get a better education or get healthier. These are not bad. And if you invest your time, money and energy in pursuing these things you are gratifying a desire. Just pay attention to the ways that our culture (media, peer pressure, expectations) attempts to manufacture desire and then offer the means to gratify it. This becomes most detrimental to cultivating joy when the cycle of manufacturing and gratifying desire becomes an endless pursuit of happiness ...
- And our culture too often equates happiness with excess. We live in a Super Size culture that craves More and we are convinced that Bigger is Better. Until recently, cars have gotten bigger and bigger. I have no problem with anyone driving a Humvee. But if you had told me 10 years ago that there would be dealerships selling anyone their own battlefield assault vehicle I wouldnt have accepted it. What is interesting is that excess begins to hurt and now the gas bills are starting to compare with the loan payments. Small care or large car we are all starting to think about excess. Let that examination carry over to other areas - I dont understand why we complain that gas is $2.75 a gallon when we are paying over $3 for 12 oz. of coffee at Starbucks. (How was I ever convinced to pay so much for coffee?)
We have become a distracted people. Sort of like the man Jesus spoke of who kept building bigger barns to store his wealth, but ran out of time to enjoy what he had acquired. This is why the endless pursuit of happiness doesnt necessarily lead to joy. Excess prevents us from being thankful with what we have. We become insatiable. When we gather to worship we cannot give thanks because we feel such insatiable desire rather than gratitude. (We often say that we cannot evangelize those we meet through benevolence until we meet their physical needs. In other words, we cannot preach the gospel to empty stomachs. I think we have the same problem in our worship sometimes. We cannot preach the gospel or enjoy the fruit of the spirit because we are spiritually hungry. The good news is that there is food for the soul).
- Finally, joy is choked out by the weeds of fear and anxiety. The endless pursuit of happiness that accepts the principles of excess often lead to financial burdens that create fear and anxiety. Some of the desire that our culture tries to manufacture is the desire to feel safe. So we are sold products that are supposed to eliminate our fear and worry. Jesus taught us about the seed and the sower and that some of the seed fell on rocky soil and thorny ground. These are those who receive the word with joy, but trouble and persecution (rocks and stones) or worries and desire for wealth (thorns) choke out the seed or keep it from taking root. The result is the same it yields nothing. It doesnt mature.
So how do we cultivate joy? How do we encourage the environment that allows us to find joy and allows joy to mature and ripen in our lives and our life together? (Note the importance of cultivating joy among us, since we cannot seek joy for its own sake and since joy is experience when we are drawn outside ourselves.)
Story of the boy at Fort Chaffee: A Katrina evacuee from New Orleans who took joy in the toys we found for him. He taught me a lesson about joy and I took joy in his delight.
- Joy thrives in worship, because joy draws us outside ourselves. In worship we focus on God and what he has done for us. Our worship is a response to Gods actions. The confusion in our culture could create some concern among us because we assume that joy contradicts reverence. Especially when joy is mistaken for pleasure. Joy takes place in worship when we are drawn outside of ourselves either to God or one another.
- Joy is nurtured by contentment. I didnt know if anyone could ever improve on "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," but Tim Burton did. He has so captured the spirit of our age. One of the characters, Varuca Salt, is a spoiled brat and her father gets her whatever she wants. She wants a golden ticket to visit Wonkas factory. Mr. Salt drives his workers to slavery to unwrap thousands of chocolate bars in search of the golden ticket. When he finally gives her the golden ticket (through no work of her own) he offers it to her with a smile hoping for a bit of thanks, but instead without missing a beat the child says Now daddy, I want a pony. Without contentment, none of us can experience joy. Discontent family members can rob the joy from the whole family. And discontent church members can rob the joy from a congregation. This is why the cultivation of joy is so associated with maturity, because it is nurtured by contentment.
- Now having said that it seems odd that I would next suggest that if we want to cultivate joy, we should Learn From Children. When we think of adults who act spoiled, discontent, grouchy, stubborn, selfish we call them childish. Maybe that is unfair. Maybe children who act in those ways are really acting adult-ish! Some of the most childish behavior in kids is just an imitation of a more sophisticated, but just as negative, adult behavior. Children are just like us, they have their good days and bad days, and we can learn from them on the good days.
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 2 October 2005
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