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Summary: People display joy (intense happiness or great delight) over all sorts of things – a new house, a new car, a new baby. What makes joy, as a fruit of the Spirit any different than joy in general?

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23).

Thinking of this week’s subject, joy, I was having a tough time getting my mind around the idea. Joy, according to Webster’s Dictionary is: “intense happiness or great delight.” Happiness or delight about what? People display joy (intense happiness or great delight) over all sorts of things – 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? That’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 – it’s a pretty international group.

Christian pilgrims from around the world often visit Carmel Assembly when they’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 pastor’s words in English.

I’m not a big fan of going to church for church’s sake. Christians gathering together in fellowship, community and worship is a good thing; we’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 isn’t biblical and frankly, it’s a waste of your time.

When the Bible talks about the church it’s talking about you and me, those individuals who make up the body of Christ. It’s not talking about a building or a denomination or a tradition. It’s too easy for folks to confuse a relationship with Jesus Christ with “going to church.” The difference between the two is that one will give you eternal life and the other one won’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 doesn’t end.

What I saw in their faces and heard in their voices was joy. By joy, I’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 isn’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.

They’re a lot like us … 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, it’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 wasn’t born into a nice Arab Christian home and he didn’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 hasn’t spoken to him since.

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