Vol. 2 Issue 3
January 18, 2008
The weekly newsletter of True Potential Publishing
â€œBut the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no lawâ€ (Galatians 5:22-23).
Thinking of this weekâ€™s subject, joy, I was having a tough time getting my mind around the idea. Joy, according to Websterâ€™s Dictionary is: â€œintense happiness or great delight.â€ Happiness or delight about what? People display joy (intense happiness or great delight) over all sorts of things â€“ a new house, a new car, a new baby. What makes joy, as a fruit of the Spirit any different than joy in general?
As usual, God had an object lesson in mind for me.
I attended church services at Kehilat HaCarmel last Saturday. Kehilat HaCarmel, or Carmel Assembly, is a non-denominational Christian church on Mount Carmel in northern Israel; not too far from the seaside city of Haifa and not too far from the Lebanese border. Remember the Bible story about Elijah calling fire down on the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel? Thatâ€™s the place.
Carmel Assembly is a Messianic Jewish congregation; that is, most of the congregation is made up of Israeli Jews who have accepted Yeshua (Jesus) as their Messiah. But the congregation is by no means exclusively of Israeli or Jewish descent. The Christians of Carmel Assembly are made up of native Jewish, Arab, and Druze Israelis and immigrants from America, Russia, Asia and Africa â€“ itâ€™s a pretty international group.
Christian pilgrims from around the world often visit Carmel Assembly when theyâ€™re in Israel. My friend, John, knew the pastor from past visits and invited me and a few other friends to join him for Sabbath services. We sang hymns and worship songs in Hebrew (the words were translated into English and Russian so the non-Hebrew speakers could understand and sing along). The sermon was preached by an Arab pastor, in Hebrew, and translated into Russian by an interpreter on stage. I listened through headphones as an unseen interpreter fed me the pastorâ€™s words in English.
Iâ€™m not a big fan of going to church for churchâ€™s sake. Christians gathering together in fellowship, community and worship is a good thing; weâ€™re told to do it in the Bible. But, going to a building every week, sitting through a bunch of music and words and thinking that the act will somehow gain you brownie points in Heaven isnâ€™t biblical and frankly, itâ€™s a waste of your time.
When the Bible talks about the church itâ€™s talking about you and me, those individuals who make up the body of Christ. Itâ€™s not talking about a building or a denomination or a tradition. Itâ€™s too easy for folks to confuse a relationship with Jesus Christ with â€œgoing to church.â€ The difference between the two is that one will give you eternal life and the other one wonâ€™t.
The people (the church) that gathered at Carmel Assembly last Saturday were, to me, a wonderful example of what a church gathering ought to be. People from every nation, language, tradition, and race, united in worship of the One who made them a family and gave them a life that doesnâ€™t end.
What I saw in their faces and heard in their voices was joy. By joy, Iâ€™m trying to convey something more transcendent than just mere happiness. Happiness speaks to the circumstances – a new house, a new car, a new baby. Joy is deeper; it speaks of something beyond our present circumstance.
The people (the church) in Carmel come from a lot of different backgrounds and life experience. In many ways their daily existence probably isnâ€™t a lot different from ours. They have jobs and spouses and kids. They need groceries and electricity. They worry about the world going to pot all around them and the unique dangers we all face from the outside world in this century. They juggle families and parents and in-laws; all of these relationships in various states of grace or disrepair; just like us.
Theyâ€™re a lot like us â€¦ almost. Their faith, because of their unique location and situation seems a little closer to the surface, a little more practical in light of their daily reality. Whether we like the idea or not, itâ€™s a universal truth that faith is developed and matured in the presence of trouble. If life is good and everything is going your way how much opportunity do you really have to get your faith out of the closet, dust it off and expose it to the light of day?
Let me explain. Yousef, the pastor who gave the sermon on Saturday is an Arab Christian. He wasnâ€™t born into a nice Arab Christian home and he didnâ€™t grow up in a nice Arab Christian neighborhood. He was born and raised a Moslem. When Yousef gave his life to Christ, he was kicked out of his home. His family hasnâ€™t spoken to him since.
Before they were married, Yousefâ€™s pretty wife gave her life to Christ and became a part of the family of God too. Good thing, because her family divorced them both on the spot and havenâ€™t spoken to them since. Still, they got off easy. Itâ€™s perfectly acceptable under Islamic law to have them both murdered for rejecting Islam and disgracing their families.
Undeterred, they started a small fellowship for Arab Christians. Their little church was firebombed by the neighborhood watch. Did that discourage them? Nah â€¦ in fact they rejoiced. Their unique circumstance allowed them to experience the kind of faith described by James the brother of Jesus. â€œConsider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseveranceâ€ (James 1:2).
David and Karen, the husband and wife team who founded Carmel Assembly began their ministry in Israel by opening a drug rehabilitation center. Worthy cause right? The community wasnâ€™t exactly happy about the idea. The men of the town paid the couple a visit to voice their displeasure â€¦ with guns. Did the death threats put their plans on hold? Nah â€¦ they found joy in Paulâ€™s words as his life was threatened for preaching the good news of Christ. â€œFor our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternalâ€ (II Corinthians 4:17-18).
Church announcements were along the same lines as church announcements in this country, but the details were a little different. â€œDonâ€™t forget that next Saturday after the service we begin our fifty hour intercessory prayer meeting.â€ â€œFor all of those beginning the forty day fast next week, we ask that you not fast from water.â€ â€œOur mid-week prayer service will be held in the bomb shelter.â€ Like I said, typical church announcements, only the details are a little different from what weâ€™re used to.
Are these people better Christians or intrinsically more holy than us here at home? I donâ€™t think so. Itâ€™s just that their unique circumstance gives them more opportunity to practice their faith in the light of tribulation that the Bible promises will come upon us in this life.
If you live your Christian life in a world where nothing ever goes wrong, where your family never threatens to murder you for your faith, where the neighbors never fire-bomb your church or threaten to kill you for ministering to drug addicts, where you never have prayer meetings in the same bomb shelter you retreat to during missile attacks, then certain aspects of your faith can seem sort of theoretical. Believe me, trials and tribulation arenâ€™t theoretical to the people of Carmel Assembly.
So what affected me so remarkably about this group of Christians? Was it their situation or perseverance or sacrifice or exposure to imminent threat? All those things are a part of their daily reality, much more so than we, as a body, in this country have ever experienced. But that wasnâ€™t what impressed me. It was their joy.
They celebrated plenty in their worship; singing, dancing, hugging and greeting one another, but they werenâ€™t necessarily more joyous than Christians here. A lot of us do that sort of thing. Iâ€™m not comparing their level of joy as Christians to ours. Iâ€™m comparing the evident source of their joy, or rather, their joy in spite of their surroundings.
Because I learned a little bit about their reality, I could see that their joy wasnâ€™t because their daily circumstance was all that great, it was because they know what their eternal circumstance is. Iâ€™m not criticizing Christians who have been blessed by living in a society where mom and dad love Jesus and theyâ€™re tickled you do too, where the neighbors are happy to see a new church or street ministry pop up and donâ€™t consider fire-bombing the church building or coming to your house with guns in the night to discourage your ministry and where we donâ€™t have bomb shelters because we donâ€™t have missile attacks. I donâ€™t wish any of that on us or on them. Iâ€™m profoundly thankful that my reality isnâ€™t their reality, but I take it as a gift, as a blessing Iâ€™m not deserving of and as a responsibility to use what Iâ€™ve been blessed with in His service.
What I was able to see in them was a spirit of joy that I knew didnâ€™t come from an easy situation or abundant possessions in this world. It came from their hope in the next. Joy, as displayed by the folks of Carmel Assembly, is a fruit of the Spirit. Itâ€™s a result of God living inside of us. Itâ€™s something the world has no ability to give to us and no power to take away. Joy is immune to hardship and trouble and tribulation. Itâ€™s a gift from the next world that weâ€™re allowed to hold onto today.
Peter, who was a guy that knew something about church and something about tribulation, also knew something about joy. He explained the relationship.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead! The inheritance to which we are born is one that nothing can destroy or spoil or whither. It is kept for you in heaven, and you, because you put your faith in God, are under the protection of his power until salvation comes â€“ the salvation which even now is in readiness and will be revealed at the end of time. This is cause for great joy, even though now you smart for a little while, if need be, under trials of many kinds. Even gold passes through the assayerâ€™s fire, and more precious than perishable gold is faith which has stood the test. These trials have come so that your faith may prove itself worthy of all praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. You have not seen him, yet you love him; and trusting in him now without seeing him, you are transported with a joy too great for words, while you reap the harvest of your faith, that is, salvation for your souls.â€ (I Peter 3-9)
In yours prayers, remember our brothers and sisters in Carmel and around the world who share our joy in spite of their circumstance. Until next week, I wish you joy in Christ.