Living In Joy?



Photo by Andre Furtado from Pexels

In Isaiah 55 the prophet says, “For you will go out with joy/And be led forth with peace.” In Nehemiah this governor of the returned exiles tells them, “The joy of the LORD is your strength.” King David write in Psalm 16, “In Your presence is fullness of joy.” In fact, the various psalmists write about joy a lot.

Even the writers of the New Testament have a lot to say about joy, and those who penned the gospels report that Jesus mentioned it more than once. Yes, sometimes they speak of future joy, as Isaiah did, but sometimes they talk about joy in the immediate, even in the midst of trials.

James is a case in point when he says, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.”

Of course Paul includes joy among the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians, in essence saying that every Christian has joy.

We do?

I was listening to Pastor Greg Laurie this afternoon. At the end of the program he interviewed a guest, Pastor Levi Lesko, author of I Declare War. He mentioned that often we reach a crossroad in our day at which we can choose.

Interesting that another sermon I heard at breakfast mentioned how under sin, we had no choice. Meaning that sin controlled us. Now, as believers in Jesus Christ, we’ve been set free from sin. We are no longer slaves.

And here was Pastor Lesko saying, we have a choice to live in a funk or to believe what God says in His word. Things like, the joy of the LORD is our strength.

He then told us about how casinos in Las Vegas are built. Apparently when you’re on the outside, the entrances are clearly marked and the access is easy. But once you get inside, in the middle of the casino, it’s constructed like a labyrinth and finding your way to sunshine is like walking the maze.

I don’t know how true that is, but the illustration certainly seems to apply to sin and specifically to choosing joy over its counterpart—despair, regret, discouragement, depression. Sin, even though we are free from its mastery over us, is still compelling. It’s gained strength over the days and years and has created habits that are easy to fall back on.

This is a really simple example, but I’ve decided I want to treat other drivers (and here in the LA area, we all have to drive all the time, everywhere, or so it seems) with more courtesy and respect. Which is good. Until someone cuts me off in traffic. At that point all the frustration and anger at someone not willing to wait his turn flares inside me.

It’s a habit. For far too long, I’ve been an angry driver, always in a hurry, more aggressive than is good for me, and wanting every other driver to play by the rules. Breaking that habit doesn’t come over night.

Instead I have to let the word of God inform me what is true. Behind the wheel of that car is someone who Jesus included when He said, For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but will have everlasting life.

But I don’t love that guy even to the point of giving him a little grace on the road. In truth, I don’t know what the driver’s problem is. God does, though, so instead of steaming about his bad behavior, maybe I should bring him to God in prayer.

That’s the cool thing about joy. Yes, joy. We can actually choose joy in the same way that we can obey the command to be filled with the Holy Spirit. It’s not by trying harder. It’s by reminding ourselves, by preaching to ourselves—really by letting the Holy Spirit bring to our remembrance—what God’s truth is.

And His truth is that no matter what circumstances we live under—financial pressures, wayward kids, unhappy relationships, unemployment, open disdain for our faith in Christ—we have the joy of the LORD. Not, we can have. Not, we will have some day. No. The Holy Spirit lives in every believer and gives us all His fruit, which includes joy.

I think the fruit of the Spirit is part of the abundant life. Jesus painted a metaphor in which He said He was the door to the sheep pen. But then He goes on to say, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Sin does steal and kill and destroy. For one thing, it steals our joy. But we have this fountain of joy in us through the provision of the Holy Spirit.

When I was a kid we sang the little chorus,

I’ve got I’ve got that joy joy joy joy down in my heart –Where?
Down in my heart –Where?
Down in my heart –Where?
I’ve got that joy joy joy joy down in my heart –Where?
Down in my heart to stay

There’s so much truth there, but it’s so easy to forget, so easy to let the old habits dictate and confuse, so easy to let sin steal that joy.

God’s truth makes it clear: we can live in the light of His word—and live according to the joy in our hearts—not in a maze of darkness and confusion

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Have We Made Christmas Too Beautiful?


I think it was a message on the radio by Pastor Greg Laurie that got me thinking about the beauty of Christmas. In some ways Christmas should be beautiful because we have a beautiful Savior whose birth we are commemorating. It’s sort of like the now-ignored idea that when we go to church we wear our “Sunday best,” because God deserves our best.

But that idea morphed into an unhealthy tradition that actually kept some people away from church. So I wonder, is our beautiful Christmas doing the same?

First, the original Christmas was far from beautiful. Even the glory of the Lord that shone upon the shepherds caused them to be terrified. Not just a little disturbed. Not just mildly agitated. Terrified! That’s not so beautiful. These were men who stayed with their sheep during the night so that they would be in position to protect them. From robbers. From wild animals. From wandering into the dark. They likely were prepared to face all kinds of danger. But God’s glory terrified them.

Of course the message the angel delivered to them was beautiful. Joy. A Savior. The long expected King, born today! But that meant He was a newborn. Who couldn’t yet focus His eyes. Who had no bladder control. Who couldn’t eat solid food. Who needed to be burped. Who had a feeding trough for a bed. He couldn’t sit up or crawl or smile or speak or do anything king-like. He could sleep and cry and breast-feed and not much more. Not so beautiful when you think about it. But there is something beautiful about babies.

But they were in a stable, or wherever the manger was located. Not a clean hospital or a nicely decorated nursery. No cute matching outfit, not even a soft receiving blanket. Just strips of cloth wrapped about Him to protect Him from whatever was in that manger. Straw? Or had Joseph cleaned it out as best he could and the Christ lay with his step-dad’s cloak beneath Him? Had Mary the help of a midwife to cut the umbilical cord, to take care of the afterbirth? Was she able to get a quick bath before the shepherds showed up? Whatever. We can be fairly certain that Jesus’s surroundings weren’t so very pastoral as we often picture them. Not so peaceful or so beautiful.

In spite of this, the shepherds believed the message the angel had delivered. This was the Christ, born to be the Savior. Their Savior. They determined to go see this thing “that had happened,” not because they were skeptical and wanted to see if what the angel said was really true, but because they believed it was true. Their faith was beautiful.

Maybe the least beautiful part of the original Christmas was the fact that Jesus came to earth to be the once-for-all sacrifice for the sins of the world. That meant He was destined for the cross of Calvary, that the red of Christmas is His blood, shed for all who believe in Him.

The green? Perhaps the evergreen of eternal life that is ours because of Christ.

So the red and green of Christmas is truly beautiful, but not that first Christmas. The suffering of death was still ahead for the baby as He lay in the manger. And the thing about shed blood, about sacrifice, is that it’s not beautiful as it is happening. It’s painful and messy and full of loss and sorrow and, in Christ’s case, betrayal, rejection, disappointment, confusion. Not beautiful.

But after the fact, the wonder of His love is proven by the nail prints in His hands, the hole in His side, the red wine that represents His blood, the broken bread that represents His body. All the evidences of Christ, alive are beautiful, sacred, filled with such meaning they cause us to weep even today.

So which is it? Is Christmas beautiful or not?

I suppose it depends on whether or not we scratch the surface. Today we make all the outside trappings beautiful—decorated trees, Christmas wrapping, music, light displays, special Christmas cookies, cozy and warm settings with snow falling outside. You know, the Kincaid picture (the kind I love so much).

But what’s underneath? If we don’t get to the Savior who brings joy and peace, who solves our sin problem, who gave Himself as God’s gift to the world, then all the external beauty we manufacture stands in stark contrast to the reality of that first Christmas. I guess it’s up to each of us to make Christmas beautiful indeed.

Published in: on December 20, 2018 at 5:44 pm  Comments (2)  
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