Joy And Rejoicing-A Reprise


Christmas_shoppers_in_Leeds_in_December_2009Complaints. Angst. Cynicism. Malaise. Western society seems bent toward dissatisfaction. I blame this in part on our consumerism. We are constantly being told we need something other than what we have which instills a sense of disgruntlement. At the same time, however, we’re aware that wherever we turn, someone is trying to sell us something or scam us, spam us, or hack us, so we have our guards up.

Ironic. Perhaps no people on earth have more material goods than those of us in western societies. And yet, as one pastor said recently, we are a covetous people.

Instead of enjoying what we have, we plot and plan how to get more, even as we worry and work in order to keep what we’ve got. We spend hundreds of dollars purchasing warranties and insurance–health, auto, home, renter, life, dental. There are specific kinds of insurance, too–flood, fire, earthquake, theft, comprehension, accident, collision.

Protect, protect, protect. We have passwords to keep people out of our computers and mobile devices and social media sites. We have security alarms in our homes and cars and places of business. We have cameras and automatic light systems and safes and security doors and gated communities and security guards.

I’m not saying any of those things is wrong, but quite frankly, I don’t know how anyone keeps up. And I understand why so many people seem unhappy.

In the midst of all the frenzy connected with getting and keeping, magnified during the weeks known as “the shopping season,” the US has tucked into the last week of November a day we call Thanksgiving.

After cooking and cleaning and gathering together in our family groups, we eat our feasts, then go through the appropriate motions of being thankful to whomever for whatever before we rush off to the next hurried and hectic day of shopping.

A friend recently wrote a blog post that indited Christians for not being joyful, not laughing, not making merry. I don’t think it’s a problem with Christians as much as it is with people living in western societies. Oh, sure, there’s laughter in places where the people have had too much to drink or are making sport of others.

But joy? Where do you go to see people with joy oozing from their expressions?

Well, certainly it ought to be the Church. Joy is a product of contentment, a fruit of the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t require happy circumstances, and it doesn’t need to be greased with a pint of the bubbly.

Rejoicing is the same. James says the poor man is to rejoice in his humble circumstances. Peter says the believer is to rejoice to the degree that we share the sufferings of Christ (1 Peter 4:13).

It’s already abundantly clear that lots of stuff doesn’t lead to joy and rejoicing. Sure, sitting down with a group of friends or finding the perfect present at a bargain price or cheering for a team that wins all might make us happy for a time, but joy lasts and rejoicing doesn’t need an occasion.

At least not a new occasion. We already have received the good news of great joy which is for all people. And that’s reason for rejoicing for all time.

This article originally appeared here November 2013.

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Published in: on November 17, 2017 at 4:15 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Peace That Is Up To You


mall-at-christmas-699243-mMuch of the time, when we talk about peace, we’re referring to the absence of conflict. Most of us don’t relish conflict in our lives. Oh, we love it in the novels we read, the movies we watch, and in our favorite TV programs. When it comes to stories, conflict makes them tense and puts us on the edge of our seats.

Some people might even like conflict in an intellectual way, so they encourage debate and get involved in controversial Internet discussions.

But few of us like conflict with our family or friends or boss or co-workers. We don’t have that fictitious expectation that the conflict will work its way out for the good and the protagonist (ME) will reach a new state of happy equilibrium. In real conflict, we get thrust into uncertainty. What if this problem is so great it leads to divorce? What if my son defies me? What if my friend pulls away? What if I get fired? What if my co-worker takes his complaint over my head? What if . . .

Conflict is so uncomfortable, some people just wish it away. If we wait long enough, the thinking goes, emotions will simmer down and we won’t have to confront these ugly conflict issues because the other party won’t care so much. Honestly, that tactic can work. Except there’s an unspoken list of grievances that gets started. At some point, that list gets so long, the person keeping it simply has had enough and out comes every fragment of unresolved conflict that’s been added from the start.

The explosions of temper can be hard to handle. One party may have no clue where this sudden and seemingly unreasoned flare up has come from, and the other, armed to the teeth, lets loose with every vindictive accusation imaginable. It’s not a pretty scene and one that will be much harder to dig out of than the original conflict.

But we don’t like conflict. So are we destined to face either huge blow-ups from time to time or a steady diet of smaller conflicts we have to resolve?

Certainly some conflicts are inevitable. You can’t both have the last piece of pie. You can’t both drive. You can’t both pick the movie you’re going to see. These are small things, but they illustrate the point that some conflict will come our way and must be resolved.

In the resolution we have some guidance from Scripture. 1 Thessalonians 5:13b says, “live in peace with one another.” But clearly this is not an admonition to avoid conflict because the next verse goes on to say, “We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all men.”

Hebrews adds another layer to these commands: “Pursue peace with all men . . . See to it that . . . no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble and by it many be defiled” (12:14-15).

The command nature of these passages suggests this peace is dependent upon what we do. We can live in peace or not. We can pursue peace or not. In Romans Paul gives instruction how we’re to do this:

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom. 12:9-21, emphases added)

So much wisdom there. In a nutshell, we aren’t going to achieve peace in every circumstance because it isn’t entirely up to us, but we should take care of what we can take care of.

We can be devoted not to ourselves but others, give preference to the other guy, hang in there when it’s hard, share what we have with people in need, speak kindly to those harassing us, empathize with people whether they’re in good circumstances or hard ones, keep from being proud, realize we aren’t all that, refuse to pay back those who hurt us, defeat bad behavior with good.

Peace at Christmas seems to be a tad harder than at any other time. We have more to do, for one thing, but we may also have more people in our lives than usual. We have the annoying aunt spending the week with us or the guy from the mail room we usually avoid who we end up sitting next to at the office party. We have the kids’ Christmas program to go to and all that shopping in the overly crowded malls.

Even looking for a parking place can send peace flying from our minds. Preference to others? No way! That was my parking place. I saw it first and I’ve been circling this lot for the last ten minutes!

Here’s the key. Imagine we’re servants (think Downton Abbey and the downstairs servants). We are at the beck and call of the upstairs people we serve. We eat and sleep according to their schedules. We go to them when they ring, no matter what they might be interrupting. Our focus is simply on their needs, not ours.

That, I believe, is the way of peace this passage sets out—so far as it depends on us.

Published in: on December 11, 2014 at 5:58 pm  Comments (1)  
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Joy And Rejoicing


Christmas_shoppers_in_Leeds_in_December_2009Complaints. Angst. Cynicism. Malaise. Western society seems bent toward dissatisfaction. I blame this in part on our consumerism. We are constantly being told we need something other than what we have which instills a sense of disgruntlement. At the same time, however, we’re aware that wherever we turn, someone is trying to sell us something or scam us, spam us, or hack us, so we have our guards up.

Ironic. Perhaps no people on earth have more material goods than those of us in western societies. And yet, as one pastor said recently, we are a covetous people.

Instead of enjoying what we have, we plot and plan how to get more, even as we worry and work in order to keep what we’ve got. We spend hundreds of dollars purchasing warranties and insurance–health, auto, home, renter, life, dental. There are specific kinds of insurance, too–flood, fire, earthquake, theft, comprehension, accident, collision.

Protect, protect, protect. We have passwords to keep people out of our computers and mobile devices and social media sites. We have security alarms in our homes and cars and places of business. We have cameras and automatic light systems and safes and security doors and gated communities and security guards.

I’m not saying any of those things is wrong, but quite frankly, I don’t know how anyone keeps up. And I understand why so many people seem unhappy.

In the midst of all the frenzy connected with getting and keeping, magnified during the weeks known as “the shopping season,” the US has tucked into the last week of November a day we call Thanksgiving.

After cooking and cleaning and gathering together in our family groups, we eat our feasts, then go through the appropriate motions of being thankful to whomever for whatever before we rush off to the next hurried and hectic day of shopping.

A friend recently wrote a blog post that indited Christians for not being joyful, not laughing, not making merry. I don’t think it’s a problem with Christians as much as it is with people living in western societies. Oh, sure, there’s laughter in places where the people have had too much to drink or are making sport of others.

But joy? Where do you go to see people with joy oozing from their expressions?

Well, certainly it ought to be the Church. Joy is a product of contentment, a fruit of the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t require happy circumstances, and it doesn’t need to be greased with a pint of the bubbly.

Rejoicing is the same. James says the poor man is to rejoice in his humble circumstances. Peter says the believer is to rejoice to the degree that we share the sufferings of Christ (1 Peter 4:13).

It’s already abundantly clear that lots of stuff doesn’t lead to joy and rejoicing. Sure, sitting down with a group of friends or finding the perfect present at a bargain price or cheering for a team that wins all might make us happy for a time, but joy lasts and rejoicing doesn’t need an occasion.

At least not a new occasion. We already have received the good news of great joy which is for all people. And that’s reason for rejoicing for all time.

Published in: on November 8, 2013 at 7:37 pm  Comments (2)  
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