As a fire department chaplain, I have had the opportunity to see many life and death situations. For some it’s a near death experience where people get a wake up call to their mortality. However, as a pastor I’ve also witnessed many people having a near life experience. These are the times when people hear the truth of God, and know it to be true, but make excuses to put off their commitment to live under God’s blessings. Jesus shares a story that warns us of this peril in Luke 14:15-20 (take time to read it some time today). In Acts 26:28 Paul the Apostle has an encounter with King Agrippa who put off the truth in saying, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.” Likewise, Governor Felix rejected the truth, though fearful, he asserted, “Go away for now; when I have a more convenient time I will call for you.” (Acts 24:25)
I’ve noticed that the older people get, the harder they seem to get. When people put off eternity for a more convenient time, it would appear that for many there will never be a convenient time.
Once on a ride along with the SDFD, we responded to a call where a 48 year-old man was having a heart attack. The paramedic asked him a series of questions, and with each question the gentleman’s countenance intensified with despair. “Does your family have a history of heart problems?” “Yes,” was his answer. “My father died of a heart attack.” Ensuing question, “How old was your father when he passed?” “He was 47.” “What is your age?” “I’m 48.” The paramedic continued, “Are you currently on any medications?” “I have a prescription for some heart issues, but my prescription ran out a week ago and I haven’t gotten around to renewing it.” Next question, “Do you smoke?” “Uh, yes.” “On a scale of 1 to 10, how much pain are you feeling?” To which he replied, “It’s like an 8 or 9. I feel like a car is on my chest.”
The questions continued, but what got my attention was looking into this man’s eyes. It was as if this was a quiz on the choices to make to die young. This man was living out his life choices rejecting the truths about which his doctor had warned him. His eyes were filled with terror, to the point where he clutched the paramedic’s jacket and pleaded, “Don’t let me die!” Fortunately, this gracious medic didn’t assert, “A little late to get serious about your health situation, don’t you think!” But I would imagine he thought it.
Think about it. Are you putting off eternal decisions that you know you should be attending to? Are you making excuses for a more convenient time to get serious about the things of God? Are you almost persuaded to align your life with the truth? Every day, the Lord calls out to us through circumstances, through people and through our consciences. And every day, we have opportunities to respond in faith and obedience. These are near life experiences. In Deut. 30:19 Moses pleads with an entire nation, “I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live!” Stop right where you are, survey your heart as to where you honestly are in relation to eternity. Choose life! It’s as serious as a heart attack? If you need help, meditate on 1. John 5:11-13, “And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life,and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.”
Of late I have observed quite a number of quick tempered people who are swift to criticize, assume, judge or flat out blow up over other people’s perspectives or efforts. I actually witnessed an angry criticism from an individual who was distraught that Bible study software was being promoted at a church to help people study the Bible more. Really?! Even the current “Love Your City” series at the Rock Church has upset a few people because a vision to bring Hope to San Diego and the world has been shared that will involve sacrifice. Pastor Miles even qualified his entire message that he is just asking people to pray as to what God will have people do and he encouraged people to simply be obedient to God. Rick Warren’s recent interview about all the rumors and slander against his ministry makes a clear case how people take second-hand information to spread discord, which by the way, God hates (Proverbs 6:19). (The interview I’m referring to is at www.edstetzer.com/2012/03/rick-warren-interview-on-musli.html )
Then there’s the YouTube video “Kony2012” that seeks to rally people around stopping the murder and kidnapping of children. Just read the trailer comments and you will see the sparks fly. It just so happens that Jason Russell who leads Invisible Children and who is the director of Kony2012 is a family friend. I know the man and the organization in relation to their humble hearts and that they simply are burdened to stop the killing of children. I’m sure there are as many opinions on the issues as there are people who have watched the video. But to know the family is to know that their hearts are simply burdened to see children saved. To react to or to assume about situations without first-hand information or relationships leads to so much heartache. And perhaps right now, as you read this blog your heart rate is starting to race because you have strong opinions on subjects I’ve just introduced. I guess we are not too different from the early church. Paul dealt with division, but his response was “…whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice.” (Phil. 1:18) When those who came to Jesus and had a different way of doing things, He stated, “Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side.” (Luke 9:50) Now please hear me, I’m not saying that truth doesn’t matter. Paul also wrote, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.” (Gal. 1:8) Truth and love tend to be in tension at times. Truth does bring division into situations (just read Matthew 10:34-39). But before reacting, hear people out, listen, learn and discern. Consider the grace shown to you in Christ and then reflect that grace to others. Then pass everything through the filter of 1. Corinthians 13. “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails…” (verses 4-8) I have found that when I take the stance of love, seldom does it fail. I fail, but love never does.
“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.” (John 15:7-8)
Personally, I believe that if you take time to really savor the experience of abiding in Jesus Christ, it will alleviate many of the lesser ills that plague the soul. This theme is mentioned ten times in ten verses in John 15. In abiding, spiritual fruit multiplies, prayers are answered, God is glorified and much much more. In its essence, abiding is the hope of grace. The word “abide” in Greek is meno, which means, “to stay in a given place, state, relation; to continue, be present, remain.” Basically, the encouragement is to keep one’s continual attentive connection to the Source of our life-Jesus.
As a pastor, it has always been my passion that God’s people would find their source and purpose in life in being Christ-centered. Over the years I have encouraged people to be active in their church, to serve God’s Kingdom purposes, to share their faith and to grow in the means of grace. Yet, in these pursuits I hope they do not fall into the routines of obligatory faith, empty-works, guilt-seeded duties of legalism. But on the other hand, I would like to caution you to not grow idle in grace whereby you settle into the comfortable place of being a spectator of Christ’s work, watching from afar, never engaging fully your calling. God calls us to be a light and witness to Him and to the people Jesus brings before us every day. To ignore the Great Commission and the Great Commandment is to ignore Jesus’ passion. When we live in God’s sweet spot, the beauty of the abiding life will overflow all that we are and all that we do. When we find ourselves overly busy with the routines of life, we will slowly grow dry and parched bearing the harvest of discontent, conflict, dissatisfaction and a multitude of bitter tasting fruit. But on the other hand, if we align our heart with the burdens of religious rituals and tradition we will expunge Christ right out of Christianity. It is the balanced fulcrum of abiding that Jesus bids us to flourish within that escapes these other diluted allurements. Pause for a moment before reading on and ask God to speak to your heart. Are you in an abiding relationship with Jesus? Are you experiencing the richness of the faith that He has for you? Are you abounding in the fruit of a rich faith that is saturated in the things of Christ? Are you passionate about Jesus?
Recently I experienced one of those gorgeous sunny San Diego days where we have summer in February. On this day, I watched my granddaughter successfully learn to ride her two-wheel bike at La Jolla Shores. On the same day, I had the honor of presiding over the memorial service for a dear Christian woman who was married to her surgeon husband and lover for sixty-four years. This is life – the joys, the sorrows and everything imaginable in-between. And Jesus wants to be with us in the midst of it all. He longs that we discover Him in the ordinary and even the mundane. He waits for us to commune with Him in the everyday, common routines of life. It is the renewing of the mind in Romans 12:1-2 that perhaps aligns with this marinating faith as well. And all of this brings me to the delight of a new word that I’ve been introduced to of late. It is the word quotidian from Kathleen Norris’ reflections entitled The Quotidian Mysteries. The word itself simply means “everyday, mundane, routine, usual, ordinary, commonplace.” It is a concept that describes probably 80% of our human existence. However, when sparked by the majesty of Christ, our daily routines can ignite into a flame of passion and purpose. I’m borrowing some of Kathleen Norris’ metaphors here so I’ll give credit to where credit is due. But think for a moment about the mundane chores of house care – sweeping, vacuuming, cleaning, gardening, polishing, and dusting ad infinitum. Most of us are a bit allergic to emptying the dishwasher or leaning over the sink to wash the dinner dishes. But on the other hand, if you watch children play at these very same tasks you get a glimpse into the delights of life. Fill the sink with soapsuds, cups, plates and bowls and they will enjoy the task at hand. The quotidian things of life can become the “temple of holy leisure” as God invites us to play and experience His presence as we soak in His love and hear His whispers. These experiences become our manna of the day, our daily bread. It is only good for the moment, as tomorrow it will spoil. Of manna Moses recorded, “So when they measured it by omers, he who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had not lack. Every man had gathered according to each one’s need. And Moses said, ‘Let no one leave any of it till morning.’” (Exodus 16:18-19) In a similar way, God bids us to walk with Him throughout each day’s experiences, gleaning the orchards of the ordinary as it blossoms the soul. Sadly while wandering in the wilderness, God’s people eventually took the daily provision of manna for granted. Similarly, we too can miss the Lord’s nourishment amongst the quotidian moments throughout each day.
My encouragement for you today is to return to that childlike faith of savoring each day’s routines as an opportunity to experience God’s joys as you abide in Christ’s presence. Don’t miss His playful voice amongst the deafening sound of life’s clutter. Stay connected to the Vine throughout each day’s mundane experiences, and what is ordinary will be transformed into the extraordinary. And when I’m old and all wrinkled over and you see me sitting alone overcome with a smile and a chuckle, know this, I’m not senile, I’m just enjoying God’s voice in the moment as I play in the suds of the quotidian.
“Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, ‘But Lord, what about this man?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.’” John 21:21-22
“And do you seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them; for behold, I will bring adversity on all flesh” Jeremiah 45:5
Over the years I have learn in my walk with Jesus that there are two questions that we should never ask. They are two of the most common questions that seem to come like a cold drizzle upon our minds nearly every day. They are subtle questions and yet they are the very thoughts and words that have pierced through so many hearts to give birth to bitterness and pride. I find these questions to be like a nettle in my brain, pricking my thoughts when the injustices of others intrude into my world. And when we are prompted deep down in our souls with frustration these two questions seem to bleed upon those around us that can literally pollute an entire family or community. As you can see in the verses above, even the greatest of saints are not immune to these tempting morsels of misguided words. Peter asks the first question and it is Baruch, who penned Jeremiah’s prophesies, who asks the second question.
Question 1 (John 21:21-22): “What about him (or her or them)?” There’s such a strange thing in the Christian faith when we really stop and contemplate all that God has done to forgive us of our sins. We deserve eternal separation from our Holy God because of our rebellion against Him. And yet, God loved us so much He sent Jesus into the world to pay the debt for our sin. Once forgiven and in relationship with God, there’s a sinister prompting of the flesh to judge and condemn others for their sins. Jesus shares a punctuated parable in Matthew 18:21-35 about the unforgiving servant. The servant was forgiven of millions of dollars but wouldn’t forgive his debtors of just a few bucks. Why is it that our sins look so much worse on others?
One evening after work my wife and I went for a walk in our neighborhood. These are always such special times for us to share about our day’s activities and experiences. However, on this one evening I was bothered about the dealings of someone who had caused a number of injustices that were affecting me personally. As I started to spew out my criticism, my wife quickly brought me back down off my high horse and said, “Honey, you follow Jesus.” What was funny was that the very next morning at work another pastor relayed a parallel experience on the very same night before. He and his wife had gone on a walk where he was stewing over the very same thing I was, though he wasn’t aware of my struggle. His wife cut him off in the middle of his tirade and simply told him to keep his eyes on Jesus. Rather humorous that these two Godly women gently guided their husband-pastors back in line with the Holy Spirit through Jesus’ tender words of correction. Guess we were in good company with the Apostle Peter.
There are so many times when life and ministry seem unfair, yet I’m often reminded of God’s encouragement through the prophet Ezekiel (18:25) that His ways are not unfair, but our ways are unfair. His ways are so far above our ways and His thoughts are far above our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). We are greatly limited in our perspective of things. We definitely don’t have all the facts. Even David who was the king over the entire realm of Israel and Judah learned that there are a lot of issues he didn’t have the facts straight. When David penned Psalm 131, I can only imagine that he also struggled with some of the injustices of life. However I get the sense that he humbly learned that his perspective was limited and that he needed to entrust any judgments to the Lord. “LORD, my heart is not haughty, nor my eyes lofty. Neither do I concern myself with great matters, nor with things too profound for me. Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with his mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.” (Psalm 131:1-2) What peace to come to the conclusion that there are things too high for us to get frustrated about. When you feel a surge in your heart to burst forth with the question, “what about…?” Let the Lord quiet your soul as you trust Him to make things right and then simply follow Jesus.
Question 2 (Jeremiah 45:5): “What about me?” In reality, this question is really the same question as question one, but asked from a more subtle root of pride. It is not as overt in attacking others but is instead the perverse poison of promoting self. “What about my needs?” “What’s in it for me?” “Why didn’t I…?” “Do you seek great things for yourself?” Though asked in a variety of ways, it all comes down to the same self-centered core where sin is birthed. Even Satan’s fall found its origin in the “I will…” “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.” (Isaiah 14:13-14) Some call it egocentrism. Others call it narcissism. It is also labeled anthropocentrism (wanted to impress you with all the big words I know). These are all variant terms describing a very destructive reality. It is this issue that corrupts a leader. It is this essential trait that dissolves families. It is disguised and covered up with many other vices but ultimately it is sin at its essential root. But what is God’s heart towards the darkness of people’s hearts. Is He full of wrath and fury? Is He strategically waiting for a time to annihilate the filth of His creation? Interesting verse that I read this morning in my journey through the Bible, “I was crushed by their adulterous heart which has departed from Me, and by their eyes which play the harlot after their idols; they will loathe themselves for the evils which they committed in all their abominations. And they shall know that I am the LORD…” (Ezek 6:9-10) It breaks God’s heart as He sees that such a self-centered view leads people to loath themselves and to find themselves apart from all the blessings that God had intended for them.
Every day it is all too easy and natural to let these two questions surge up to the forefront of one’s mind and heart when befuddled with the troublesome circumstances that invade our lives. The temptation, so subtle and often unnoticed, to burp out “What about him/her?” “What about me?” “This is unfair!” When this dark cloud of enticement comes upon you simply pray, “I will follow Jesus!” Always LOOK UP as opposed to looking at others and yourself. It is there that your soul will be quieted and your heart will find a place of perfect peace. “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusts in You. Trust in the LORD for ever: for in the LORD JEHOVAH is everlasting strength.” (Isa 26:3-4)
‘Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.’ Genesis 1:26-27
This takes us to the very beginning of God’s original design and intention for humanity. Think about it – perfection, beauty, enjoyment and pure relationships, all without any hint of pain, sorrow or stress. To love God, to love one another and to enjoy His amazing creation, was all that was expected of Adam and Eve. But of course in Genesis 3 sin entered into the human race and paradise was lost. If you think about it, all we needed was Genesis 1 & 2 and life would be perfect. However, because of Genesis 3 we now have Genesis 4 through Revelation 22 to transform us back into Genesis 1 – the image of God (Imago Dei).
I love how the whole Bible is in harmony with a number of central themes. Truly it is a Divinely inspired revelation that is given to us as a kiss from heaven. The beginning of human existence started with a crash in our ultimate humanity. The rest of history is about God redeeming and reconciling things back to His original plan and design. Meditate on these verses: “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” 2. Cor 3:18 “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.” Philippians 3:20-21 “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.” Romans 8:28-29 “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Romans 12:2
Here’s the just of it all, we are broken and God wants to fix us back to how He designed us – The Imago Dei. And there is an amazing process for this to take place. Of course it starts with grace lived out by faith, conversion and repentance. From there we experience the work of death of the old self and the resurrection of the new self. “For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:5-11
Recently at the 1825 ladies mid-week gathering I had the honor of teaching about fatherhood and the influence of dad’s on their children’s future relationships. It has been said that “little girls grow up to marry men just like their dads, and that’s why so many mom’s cry at weddings.” As it happened as part of our discussion I asked the ladies to give me a list of qualities of what they admire in a man (e.g. humility, Godliness, a family man, good sense of humor, transparency, honesty, graciousness, etc. etc.). As you would expect, I asked who they just described – Jesus! When you really think about it, things get really simple. Whatever we do that moves us closer to who Jesus is, the more we become who God wants us to be. Whatever moves us in the other direction is taking us away from our authentic humanity. What’s more, the fruit of growing more like who we were designed to be, the more wonderful life becomes. If you want the ultimate blessings in life, let God do His work to slay the old self and to resurrect the new self that is in His likeness. It’s painful and horrible but at the same time, it’s glorious and wonderful. For His life to live, our ways need to die. The spiritual disciplines of prayer, Scripture, fastings, etc. are all part of the means of God’s grace whereby this happens. But it’s important to remember that the flesh can’t conquer the flesh. The Good News is that God doesn’t just want to make a bad person good, His intention is to make a dead person alive. Alive to all that He has for us in the life that now is and the life that is to come – the life in the Spirit. And what’s amazing about this life is that through true faith in Jesus Christ we are totally secure and that there is nothing we have done or will do that will make Him love us any less, and there is nothing additional we can do to make Him love us more. We don’t obey to be loved. We are loved so we obey. Human effort isn’t what produces Christlikenss. It is a work of grace and a work of His Spirit. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10 Our part is to partake of the means by which our heart becomes fertile soil for His love to take root.
The other day at the Rock I happened to ask a number of people how they were doing. Out of seven people six of them asserted that they were just flat-out too busy. That seems to be the mantra of our era. Busy may appear to be a good thing when in reality it is stealing away our growth in Christ. It is somewhat of a paradox but in reality we must slow down to speed up the fruits of grace. And slowing down doesn’t mean taking more time off to feed our flesh. To truly slow down, means to withdraw to the place of quiet. It’s the place where God can pierce our soul and do His best work of transformation. Take some time today away from all the busy of life to slow down and listen, learn, love and laugh. Let His workmanship continue to produce His own likeness in your heart to be reflected to a needy world. It is out of our abiding in Christ that the fruit of the Spirit ripens. (John 15:1-5)
As pastors at the Rock Church we long for God’s people to be active in their faith, to be serving in ministry, sharing their faith with others, experiencing the joys of sacrifice, service and stewardship. But we also realize that these elements are not birthed out of guilt, duty, or obligation but rather from the abundance of the overflow of the heart. In the same manner, it’s our hearts desire that the Rock Church be rich in harmonious relationships abundant in the joys of love and God’s grace. As the old adage affirms, the closer we grow to God the closer we grow to each other. Lives lived within harmonious community is at the very essence of God’s created order and design for all relationships. Yet once more, to experience God’s best, people need to be transformed from the inside out. Thus the passion of the Apostle Paul’s heart for the church is evidenced in Galatians 4:19 “My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you.”
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction. My son, hear the instruction of your father…” Proverbs 1:7-8a
Perhaps you are familiar with this verse above. Most believers who journey through the Proverbs grab hold of this truth as it alerts the heart and mind to a central truth of life. But I often find that at people’s core, many don’t grasp the significance of all that this entails. I would assume that all of us want wisdom and knowledge. It was Solomon’s ultimate request of God in his youthful divine dream. And of course, this becomes a central theme of Solomon’s Proverbs. The path to this knowledge is clearly the fear of the Lord. But here is the issue that is often overlooked, what is the fear of the Lord? Such a simple thing but I have found in my inquiry amongst friends most haven’t contemplated its essential foundation.
When I ask people as to what they believe the fear of the Lord is, most settle on the obvious – “Deeply respect Him and to be in fearful awe of God who is All Powerful.” For sure this is absolutely correct. However, I believe there is one more step closer to living this out in a practical sense when one considers Solomon’s reflection at the end of his life. It’s found in Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.” This was written at the sunset of Solomon’s life after he reflects on all of his folly confessing that he squandered his days living for the pleasures, experiences and accomplishments of earth’s deceptive and fleeting gratifications. And please note that there is nothing wrong with pleasure and accomplishment. Yet it was the focus and direction of his life that was amiss. Solomon failed to embrace the central issue of the fear of the Lord from which his wisdom and knowledge was to be bestowed. And sadly, it’s at the end of his life that he finally awakens to the promise of his youthful dream. And it is this burden that Solomon wants to share with his son in the writing of Proverbs; hence, “My son, hear the instruction of your father.”
At the heart of the fear of the Lord is the realization that each and every one of us will some day stand before God to give an eternal account for our brief time on earth. And even more so, everything will be exposed with nothing held back or hidden. As Paul wrote, “…in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.” (Romans 2:16) You will find that this revelation is all through the Bible. The secrets will be laid bare before the eyes of the Lord. The Scriptures sometimes refer to this period as “that Day.” There is a day when we will all given an account. Sadly most people don’t ponder the significance of “that Day.” They tend to neglect the fear of God in deference to misappropriating the grace of God. Both grace and truth are eternal realities but how we live out our priorities and values on earth, gives evidence of our true character and faith. For those who are allured to live solely for the temporal and yet rest on the grace of God’s mercy, give evidence of a misguided faith. True faith results in an eternal perspective of our accountability to a Holy God who sees our every thought, motive, word, attitude and behavior. However, we shouldn’t negate God’s mercy either, thinking it’s by our works that we must earn our acceptance before God. God is both just and the justifier of those who have faith in Jesus. He is gracious but also holy and we must always live in that balance of Biblical faith. Sorry if this all sounds so ethereal and theologically lofty, but truly this is a burden of my heart since so many people view church as a place they go to, rather than a person they are to be, under the calling of God.
Awhile back I was babysitting my grandkids at a park near their home. What joy to be digging in the sand with their sand-toys. A neighborhood kid close to their age moved nearby and borrowed a shovel. Gently and respectfully my 5-year old granddaughter took back her shovel and she moved us all to another part of the sand area further away. The neighbor child eventually ended up making his play spot close to us again seeking to borrow a toy, to which my granddaughter pack up and moved again. Once settled, I realized that this was a teachable moment. I told that sometimes it is a good thing to share with others. After a brief pause of reflection, she quipped, “sometimes it is a good thing to share and sometimes it’s not a good time to share. This is one of those times when it’s not a good time to share.” Such a cherished memory I have of that moment when I burst out in love and laughter for my grandkids.
The lessons of life find their seeds planted very early. Truly life at its core is amassed with moment-by-moment choices. And these choices give evidence of the true nature of our faith and beliefs. In cognizance of this fact, it would be my prayerful encouragement to you to seek to live in an awareness of God’s presence every waking moment of your life. I believe it is there that you will find that the life in the Spirit gives rise to the greatest peace and joy that God wants for you. And it is there that the fear of the Lord is experienced and wisdom is birthed. Hence, I would like to share with you my life verse: “You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11) In agreement with the heart of Solomon, hear the instruction of a pastor. Sometimes it’s a good time to share, and this is one of those times to learn an essential truth of God as you grow as a person after God’s heart.
"…I bring you good tidings of great Joy! Which shall be to all people." Luke 2:10
Great joy! Not just joy, but great joy. Jesus came and brought great joy. Joy is perhaps one of the most abused and ignored, or at least taken-for-granted, gifts from God. Like love, joy in Christ is not just a feeling or an emotion, but is a commitment of choice. As Christians, we are enabled by the Holy Spirit to draw upon the resource well of living water (John 7:37-38). Even when our circumstances are slowly engulfing us, God gifts us with a special experience of inner joy.
Here's a great analogy I found that allegedly comes from an old survival guide. Though it's probably a legend, it's something to ponder if you're ever swallowed up by a large trial. It was written for those who would dare to journey in the Amazon Jungle. It tells a hiker on what to do in case he or she is attacked by an anaconda. The anaconda is the largest snake in the world growing to over 35 feet in length and four hundred pounds. This is the advice the manual gives:
1. If you are attacked by an anaconda, do not run. The snake is faster than you are.
2. Lie flat on the ground. Put your arms tight against your sides, your legs tight against one another.
3. Tuck your chin in.
4. The snake will come and begin to nudge and climb over your body.
5. Do not panic (yah, right!)
6. After the snake has examined you, it will begin to swallow you from the feet end—always from the feet end. Permit the snake to swallow your feet and ankles. Do not panic.
7. The snake will now begin to suck your legs into its body. You must lie perfectly still. This will take a long time.
8. When the snake has reached your knees, slowly and with as little movement as possible, reach down, take your knife and very gently slide it into the side of the snakes mouth between the edge of its mouth and your leg. Then suddenly rip upwards, severing the snake's head.
9. Be sure you have your knife!
10. Be sure your knife is sharp! (Good advice)
In a sense, when the circumstances and stresses of life begin to overwhelm you (swallow you up), lie still, and use joy like a knife—and make sure it's sharp. OK, maybe a poor analogy but you get the point (no pun intended).
Conversely, most people seem to adopt Charlie Brown's philosophy in stressful times. In a comic strip, Charlie tells Linus his philosophy: "I've developed a new philosophy. I only dread one day at a time."
Even the Westminster Confection of Faith encourages us in joy in that our ultimate purpose is to "glorify God and to ENJOY Him forever." The Jews were exceptionally focused on this element of faith. They partook of numerous annual feasts throughout the year. The feast of Tabernacles for instance lasted seven days. They were not to work for seven days—instead they were told to celebrate (celebrate in the Hebrew in Leviticus 23:41 is khawgag – "to move in a circle, to be giddy, to dance.") Yet so many of us just take life too seriously. Dudley Zuver stated that, "one of the quickest and on the whole, the most effective ways of getting rid of God is to reverence Him out of existence." Similarly, C.S. Lewis warned the church that there was too much false reverence, "too much speaking in Holy Tones." Even our United States Constitution guarantees us the pursuit of happiness. But even greater, is that in Jesus Christ one can experience the "fullness of joy". When it comes to spiritual things, Billy Graham wrote that people mistakenly think they are to "become sober and quiet, and wear black, and never have a good time or enjoy a religious event." People cheer at a football game and clap at the circus, but when serving or worshipping the Lord they almost seem bored. Jesus came to give abundant life. It is He that is the source of all joy. And the joy I am referring to is not mere smiles and happy laughter. Christ's great joy is an inner strength and peace that rejoices even in sorrow and pain. Many of us don't learn that Jesus is all we need for joy, until Jesus is all we have. This Christmas season, remember that at Christ's birth, the angels brought the declaration that joy had come to the world through God's only begotten Son. How so? Because He came to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10). Christ has set us free from the bondage of sin, Satan and death.
When you get some time today, read through the following principles of joy that you will discover in the Scriptures:
1. Joy comes from living in God's presence. Psalm 16:11 (also Neh. 8-11, Isa 40:31)
If we wait on the Lord, He will renew our strength and the Joy of the Lord is our strength.
2. Joy come from the filling of the Holy Spirit and is a fruit of the Spirit.
Ephesians 5:17-19, Galatians 5:22, Luke 1:44
3. Joy comes from knowing and obeying God's Word.
4. Joy comes from prayer.
5. Joy unspeakable comes from the knowledge of our purpose in life.
1 Peter 1:7-9
6. Supreme Joy is to know that you are loved.
Zephaniah 3:17, Hebrews 12:2, John 3:16, Romans 8:38-39
7. Joy comes from Christian fellowship
Mark Twain once stated that to get full value of joy we must have someone to share it with.
Just like God is love, one of His perfections is joy. And since God is eternal and He never changes, He is eternal joy all the time in its fullest sense. Even the Beatitudes promise that we will be blessed (bliss to its fullest extent). What's more, our giving is to be done with joy (2 Corinthians 9:6-7 – the Greek word for cheerful is Hilaros'). "To miss joy is to miss all," wrote Robert Louis Stephenson.
To kill joy in your life, consider the following:
1. Let little things bother you – little irritants that rob your joy.
2. Keep a critical eye on yourself and others.
3. Be perfectionistic in what you expect from yourself and others.
4. Always be right – dead right. Argue it.
5. Live for yourself and the world's pleasures.
6. Never take risks. Don't ever venture beyond your comfort zones.
7. Live in the past or future and only endure the present.
This Christmas give yourself a gift and read Psalm 100:1-2, and 126:1-5 and commit to the life of Christ's great joy. And since the Word of God is analogous to a double-edged sharp sword (Hebrews 4:12), you won't need a sharp knife when swallowed by a trial.