Posted in Advent/Christmas, Faith

Celebrating with the God of Joy

Joy

Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Christmas time is a season of great joy. As followers of Jesus, we rejoice in the greatest gift given to humankind. We celebrate that God came to earth as the Baby who would be The Way to a relationship with Himself. We remember the glorious announcement made by angels, the excitement of the shepherds to find the Baby lying in a manger, and the determination of the wise men to follow the star and search for the Holy Child until they found Him. In the midst of all the splendor, we may lose sight that the God we serve is the God of Joy.

Yes, our Lord is all powerful and all knowing. He stands against sin and hates its consequences. He is also the God of perfect love, and the source of our joy.

Take a look at some Scriptures that illustrate God’s joy.

  • The first chapter of Genesis shows that God delighted in creation. The phrase “God saw that it was good” is repeated multiple times.
  • Nehemiah 8:10 says “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” This refers to the joy that He gives. It also refers to the joy that He experiences.
  • In John 15:11, Jesus states, “I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!” (NLT, bold emphasis mine).

I love the picture in Zephaniah 3:17. The Lord delights in us with gladness. He rejoices over us with joyful songs. This is not a stern and passively involved Savior. He is actively engaged in celebrating us.

As I understand that joy is part of God’s character, it changes the way I view the presence of joy in my life. Joy is available to me in the midst of difficult circumstances with family, ministry, or place of employment. No matter what challenging situation I face, I can walk in joy. But it goes beyond this. God’s presence is with me, and His Spirit dwells in me. In His presence is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11 NKJV). Joy is more than something God provides; joy is who He is.

This Christmas we celebrate the miracle of God’s love. Remember, too, that we are celebrating with the God of Joy.

For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17 NLT).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for giving joy and being joy. Teach me that as I walk in Your presence, I walk in Your joy. During this Christmas season, may I rejoice with You and experience Your joy in deeper measure. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Graphic designed by Jordanne Babcock.

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Posted in Faith

Joy Comes with the Morning

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Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning (Psalm 30:5).

My grandpa passed away earlier this month. Yesterday I attended a memorial service for a gentleman who was active and well respected in the community. I also learned that one of Life Choices’ long time monthly supporters lost his battle with cancer. In addition, people who are dear to me are struggling with serious trouble in their relationships. My heart has been heavy with loss, grief, and concern.

In the midst of difficulties, I have to remind myself that sorrow will not last forever. This verse in the Book of Psalms keeps me grounded and hopeful In Jesus. It is comforting to know that what is now will not always be forever. There are better days ahead, even when I don’t see them!

In her devotional book, Jesus Always: Embracing Joy, Sarah Young writes “Sadness tends to duplicate itself along the timeline—convincing you that you’ll always be unhappy. But this is a lie! The truth is, all My followers have infinite Joy ahead of them, guaranteed throughout eternity.”

When you think about night, what comes to mind? At night, the darkness is present and it is difficult to see without a source of light. In the Bible, night often represents a time of adversity, despair, and overwhelming confusion.

Thankfully, night is not a forever condition. In Alaska during the December winter solstice, there is as little as two hours of sunlight. That’s a lot of night! But, even there it isn’t dark forever, and families find ways to celebrate the shortest day of the year with lanterns.

As a little girl, I was an early riser. (I wish I were like that now.) My parents’ rule was that I had to stay in bed until the sun came up. I remember sitting at the edge of my bed and looking out the window waiting…waiting…waiting… impatient for the dawn. It was arduous to gaze into the dark. I thought the daylight would never come, but suddenly the sun rose slightly above the horizon. I was free from the restraints of night!

If you are currently in a dark season of life, take heart. It will come to an end. The dawn will arise, and scatter the night. Joy comes in the morning.

Because of that experience, we have even greater confidence in the message proclaimed by the prophets. You must pay close attention to what they wrote, for their words are like a lamp shining in a dark place—until the Day dawns, and Christ the Morning Star shines in your hearts (2 Peter 1:19, NLT, emphasis mine).

You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:8-9).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You that You are always near, even when I don’t sense Your presence. Help me during this dark season of life to keep hope alive. As I weep during the night, comfort me with the knowledge that joy comes in the morning. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Character, Faith

Rejoice in the Lord…Always?

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The last two weeks have been difficult. Within this time period, my family and I have faced pregnancy loss, an uncle’s surgery for quick-spreading aggressive cancer, and the unexpected death of a loved one. On a broader context, I am deeply concerned for the division and polarization of our country, grieved by the anger and violence displayed on both sides of the political fence. There also have been multiple deadlines at work. To top it off, the imbalance of hormones common to women my age has been toying with my ability to stay calm, cool, and collected as everything around me seems to be pressure-filled or falling apart.

It was in this environment that our staff devotions featured Scriptures on joy.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again—Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4)

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

As the boss, I figured I shouldn’t roll my eyes at these passages, but I was doing it on the inside. I like these verses. They are feel-good words…when I’m feeling good. But when life is such a mess, they sound superficial and even seem to mock my current reality.

As I kept myself in check, the Lord clearly and ever so gently challenged my thinking.

You don’t need joy when things are going well. You need joy when life is hard, and I am always there to supply it.

I tend to be black and white in my thinking. I want things to be “either-or,” rather than “and.”

Alas, James 1:2-3 throws a monkey wrench in my preference for linear order.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.

Sorrow and joy are not mutually exclusive. The Lord intended joy to be an ever-present feature in the believer’s life. Even in the midst of trials, in chaos, and in the messiness of relationships.

I am thankful that it doesn’t say, “Be happy whenever you face trials of many kinds.” There are trials and pain in life, and I’m not going to be happy about them. I don’t have to paste on a smile and pretend that everything is beautiful. I can acknowledge the struggles, and that’s okay. My happiness is an emotion that changes with my circumstances.

However, as a follower of Jesus, joy is independent of my circumstances. Joy is based on my trust in the Lord, my confidence in His constancy that gives me security and well-being. It focuses on the hope and future anchored immovably in Christ.

Unfortunately, we will all encounter trouble. Jesus said we would in John 16:33. We will be moved by tragedy, but it will not define us.

Job lost everything dear to him—family, wealth, and health. He was devastated and praised the Lord from the depths of his soul.

Paul instructed us to “Rejoice in the Lord” while he was in prison.

Jesus wept at Lazarus’ tomb and then raised him from the dead.

Joy comes from the Holy Spirit, not from us. As we walk in the Spirit and allow Him to flow through our lives, we will experience joy. We will be able to rejoice in the Lord. Yes, always.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:8-9).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, I come to you just as I am. You know what I face and what I am going through. Thank You for always walking with me and for giving me the strength I need for every situation. Help me to trust You, so that joy is a steadfast presence in my life. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Faith, Servant Leadership

Sacrifice Doesn’t Have to Hurt

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“How much do you sacrifice for the Kingdom of God?” It was a profound question asked by the pastor during the Sunday morning message. The challenge was to live with a Kingdom mindset, passionately putting others’ interests above our own. It caused me to examine my life.

I began to wonder if there is any area that I truly sacrifice. Certainly I try to live in obedience to the Lord and have an open heart to the needs of others. But most of the time it doesn’t feel inconvenient or like a burden. I tithe ten percent of my income and give extra as the Lord leads, but it is a blessing for me. Is that sacrifice? Can sacrifice be sacrifice if it doesn’t hurt? I spent some time prayerfully searching the Scriptures for answers.

This is what I believe: Sacrifice doesn’t have to hurt.

Of course I agree with the concept of sacrifice. After all, sacrifice is a recurring theme in the Bible. Sometimes we get the idea that sacrifice must be painful, or, at the very least, uncomfortable. There is no doubt that the Old Testament sacrifices involving animals were painful for the animals. However, for those who believe that Jesus Christ was the ultimate sacrifice given once for all, sacrifice takes on a different flavor.

Romans 12:2 says, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”

To interpret the passage, it’s important to know that “bodies” refer to the whole person—spirit, soul, mind, will, and emotions—as embodied individuals.

Because of the final blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ, Jews and Gentiles alike belong together as the people of God. In response, we offer our entire selves in an attitude of thanksgiving as people spiritually alive, in active relationship with Him.

As I look at the responses of the early Church leaders to sacrifice and suffering, they mirror thanksgiving and joy.

The Apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the name (Acts 5:41, NIV).

Wait a minute, they had just been flogged for preaching the Gospel.

At about midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and signing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them (Acts 16:25).

Really?! They had just been attacked, flogged, and unjustly thrown into prison.

If it were me, I’m afraid my response might be something like this.

“Oh, Lord, look at me Your humble servant. Do you see how much I am sacrificing for Your Name? Gloom, despair, and agony on me. If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all (insert dramatic moaning). I think I’ve sacrificed enough for a life time. Would you please give me a place to live on Easy Street?”

Thankfully my responses haven’t been recorded for everyone to read.

I believe that we can pay so much attention to the acts of sacrifice that we lose sight of what it means to live a surrendered life. Sacrifice by itself is empty. Sacrifice can look impressive, but if it does not flow from surrender the motivation is selfish and the results fleeting.

Surrender is the root; sacrifice is the fruit.

When we surrender ourselves to the Lord, we give the control and use of our lives to Him. All of our time and resources belong to Him. We live with a constant realization that everything we are is a gift from Him, and we offer it all back in worship to Him.

When we are surrendered to Jesus, sacrifice is not drudgery. Not always easy, not always comfortable, but never drudgery. There is freedom and joy to sacrifice—to give up something, because something else is more important. What is more important than loving and serving people, so that they experience the love of God?

When sacrifice feels painful or when resentments begin to surface, it’s time to examine our hearts again. We thrive when we are fully surrendered to Jesus. Sacrifice is a glorious by-product.

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me (Galatians 2:20).

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God (Hebrews 13:16).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, I give my life to you anew. Help me by Your Holy Spirit to live a surrendered life before you. As I surrender, may sacrifice flow with love and joy. Use me to sacrifice so that people are touched by Your love. Let me be Your hands, feet, and heart to others, so that Your Kingdom is built. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Character, Faith, Servant Leadership

So Much to Smile About

Have you heard of the frown-smile? I hadn’t until I had teenagers at home. One of them excitedly shared the discovery. First, you frown. Make sure you have a scowl on your face. Then, smile with your lips only, while keeping the frown expression in tact. We spent some hilarious moments as a family practicing this new-found skill, and spread the joy when visiting friends. Amid the laughter we learned you simply can’t keep a frown when your lips are smiling. Somehow your lips take over, and the smile spreads across your face. A couple of my kids managed to master the frown-smile without laughing, but there was no way to take their frowns seriously.

If you’re around me much, you know that I like to smile. I don’t smile when I’m in deep thought or concentrating. But when others are around me, I try to smile. I have even taken to smiling when I’m alone and I don’t feel like it at first. It’s not that I’m trying to be fake. Smiling is contagious, and I believe it positively influences my attitude and outlook. When I’m tired or feeling down, I smile. Very quickly, the rest of me follows suit. I can actually feel the change inside me.

When I meet new people or encounter situations that are uncomfortable, I bring a smile. It helps to dispel awkwardness and creates a friendly environment. A smile can communicate confidence and warmth during times of uncertainty or anxiety.

This month my husband has been preaching a series on being thankful at our church. He said that Christ-followers should be the most optimistic people on the planet. I agree with him. Even when walking through difficult circumstances, we serve the God of all hope (Romans 15:13). His peace guards our hearts and minds (Philippians 4:7). He gives us joy, and everything else we need (Galatians 5:22-23). This hope and peace and joy must not stay bottled up inside. It should show on our countenance, and burst forth in the form of a smile.

With the Thanksgiving holiday right around the corner, it’s a great reminder to keep gratitude in focus. It’s a great reminder that we have so much to smile about.