The Party’s Over – What Now?

party.jpg

 

Christmas 2019 is history.  My decorations are all back in the boxes and the boxes are all in the storage area in the basement where they will sit until next December.  Here and there I see a few houses with Christmas lights still up but most of my neighbors have removed all the reindeer, snowmen and nativity sets from their yards.

Gifts have been given.  Some were, no doubt, a big hit.  Others may have been a disappointment.  Store clerks have been busy at the return counters.

Children are counting down the days until they have to return to school while many are heading back to work after a few vacation days.

Here and there I hear comments about the letdown after Christmas.  It is understandable that after all the shopping, decorating, baking, parties and family gatherings, going back to the “normal” routine of life can be a bit of a anticlimax.

But I have to wonder:  If we really understood the true meaning of what we just celebrated – that God Himself came to earth to make things right with us – to restore a right relationship with Him – to bring us His peace – why would we experience such a letdown.

Did we not really “get it?”  The real meaning of Christmas has nothing to do with the decorations, the gifts, the parties, the family gatherings.  It has everything to do with our relationship with this little baby that grew to a man, died and rose again.

Having just celebrated that fact – should not our hearts be filled with joy?

Perhaps the problem is we hear a lot about keeping Christ in Christmas.  What we really need to do is keep Christmas in Christ.  Christmas is only a date on the calendar.  Christ is our source of joy year long.

 

 

Have I Got Great News For You!!!

There were some shepherds living in the same part of the country, keeping guard throughout the night over their flocks in the open fields. Suddenly an angel of the Lord stood by their side, the splendor of the Lord blazed around them, and they were terror-stricken. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid! Listen, I bring you glorious news of great joy which is for all the people. This very day, in David’s town, a Savior has been born for you. He is Christ, the Lord. Let this prove it to you: you will find a baby, wrapped up and lying in a manger.”

 

This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.

 

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

 

Where is the Evidence?

This past Sunday I missed the service at my own church filling in at another local church for the organist that was out of town.  The pastor’s sermon really spoke to me and reminded me of a song I heard years ago.

Since that time I have seen one line from that song on church’s signs, in church bulletins and even on Pinterest.

If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

The pastor spoke about the need to be more than a “churchy Christian.”

He shared the story where Jesus had fed a multiple on a few fish and bread.  He was drawing large crowds and the people were ready to make him their leader.   If a poll had been taken then his popularity rating would have been high.  Now was the time to begin setting himself up as a great rabbi.

But Jesus did something that in the natural really seems illogical.  He began talking about his body and blood being the source of eternal life.  (I will not try to get into any theological discussion about the meaning of all this.)  The point is – what he did was unreasonable to the natural mind.  If you were wanting to increase your following, this was not the way to do it.

At that point many of his followers turned away.  Jesus even questioned his twelve closest followers if they too would leave him.

The pastor then pointed out that truly being a follower of Jesus Christ may often require us to do things that seem unreasonable, things that go against all that our culture tell us is the right thing to do.

Is it really reasonable to love your enemies?  To pray for those persecuting you?  Is it really reasonable to put others before yourself?

He then asked the congregation if we are more than “churchy Christians.”  People who go to church, support the church with our finances, even do “good” deeds to others.  But when it comes to being passionate about our faith, when our commitment to God calls us to do the unreasonable, where do we stand?

Got me thinking today.

If I were arrested for being a Christian and my neighbors, family, friends were called as witnesses, what would they say about me?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are We Worshipers or Art Critics?

Today we sang a song in worship and it started me thinking.

When we go to church, are we coming as worshipers or art critics?

We often hear people complain about the church.

  • It’s too formal
  • It’s too informal
  • The preaching is too long
  • The preaching is not long enough
  • They are too many hypocrites
  • It does not meet my needs
  • They only sing old hymns
  • They never sing old hymns

On and on it goes.

Now I know church is important for us as individuals.  We need a place where we can find answers to our questions, where we can feel loved and accepted, where we can be challenged and encouraged.

Church should be a place that meets our needs.

But I wonder if we have become so focused on ourselves, we forget what true worship is supposed to be about.

This song reminds me:

It’s all about you, Jesus!

I’ll bring You more than a song for a song in itself is not what You have required You search much deeper within…

 

 

 

Those thick-headed disciples!

I love to read the Gospel of Mark.  His story is full of action.  More about what Jesus did rather than what He said.  This week as I read once again how His disciples seemed to simply not “get it” I thought:

What was wrong with them?  How could they be so blind – so stupid?

They saw Jesus take a few fish and a little bread and feed a multitude.  And He did this not first, but twice.

fish

 

So – you think they might get it.

This man, this rabbi they were following was more than a man, more than a great teacher.

Besides the miracles of feeding the crowds that followed Him, He also had calmed the violent storm by merely speaking to it.  He had healed a man who had spent years naked living among the tombs and cutting himself with stones.  He had raised a young woman from the dead.

So – you think they might get it.

Yet as they rowed across the lake once more and Jesus began to try to teach about the hypocrisy of the religious leaders by telling them to beware of the “yeast” of the Pharisees, they immediately thought they were in trouble because they had forgotten to bring any bread with them.

Those thick-headed disciples

Then, I stopped and realized I’m not different.

How many times in my life have I cried out to God and He has answered?

How many times has He healed me?  Comforted me?  Gave me strength when I so desperately needed it?

Yet, what is my tendency when I get sick, when trouble comes, when I feel weak mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually?

Just like the disciples, I often forget what I have seen my God do – and I start to worry, to get all upset at the situation.

I’m so thick-headed too!

I wonder how God must feel sometimes at my inability to “get it.”

When my girls were growing up, I am sure I made mistakes in my parenting.  But even so, I was a good mother.  I saw that they had food to eat, clean clothes to wear, a comfortable bed to sleep in.  I worked hard to provide not only their material needs, but made myself available to listen to their concerns, to play with them, to support them in their efforts in life.

I wonder how I would have felt if I had heard one of them say to a friend:

I really hope I have food to eat tomorrow.  I hope mother doesn’t forget to wash my clothes this week.  I’m really afraid Mom won’t buy me the new shoes I need.

How upset I would have been if I had heard them say that.

How could you say that?  Haven’t I always had good meals on the table every day?  Haven’t I always washed your clothes?  Haven’t I always bought you new shoes and clothes as you needed them?  How could you possible be worrying that I would not provide for you?

Perhaps God is up there saying

Barbara, how can you be worried?  Haven’t I always be faithful to you?

Forgive me Lord.  Help me to “get it.”  To trust in who You are.  The great I AM.

God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble….Psalm 46:1

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greetings – Chairein – Joy to You

Jesus laughing

I love this picture of Jesus laughing!  I think too often we vision Him as somber, even stern.  But He talked about giving us joy.  At His birth, the angels proclaimed “Joy to the world.”

Studying the book of James this week I again realized how much we miss when the Bible is translated from the languages of Hebrew and Greek into English.  James begins his letter by saying what is translated in most of our English version as “Greetings.”

To me I have just thought James was basically saying hello.  Just the kind of start to a letter we often would use (in the days when we really wrote letters instead of texting or posting on Facebook).

Hi!  How are you?  I am fine.

As I began to take a more serious look at this word, I find it has much more meaning than just “hi”.

The word James used is “chariein” and it means basically “to rejoice exceedingly” or “to be well.”  Used as a greeting James was essentially saying “joy to you.”

“Joy to you” seems a great way to start a letter to friends.  Hey, I’m wishing you joy, happiness, that you do well.  We do this for birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas.

joy

 

joy baby

 

 

 

On continuing to read this letter it is clear that James is not just being friendly in wishing his readers joy.  After saying “joy to you” he immediately speaks of times of difficulty, trials, tests.

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.

Hold on there a minute James!

You just wished joy and well-being to your readers and then you talk about troubles.  What gives?

James was writing to the Jewish people who had accepted Jesus as the Messiah but who were now experiencing difficulties because of their belief.  He indicated difficult times can be opportunities not just for joy – but great joy.

Hold on there a minute James!

Difficult times bring joy?  Trials, tests bring joy?  What are you – some kind of Pollyanna?

James is not suggesting to his readers that they thank God when a loved one dies, when they get cancer or lose a job.  (These are the things we think of as trials.  The people James was writing to were probably experiencing more severe trials such as real persecution because of their stand for the Messiah, not just experiencing the normal cares of life that we characterize as trials.)  Rather he was telling them they should recognize that these difficult times, while not in themselves something to take joy in, would bring about a real change in them – and that would be something to rejoice about.

When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realize that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance. But let the process go on until that endurance is fully developed, and you will find you have become men of mature character with the right sort of independence.

Hey James, I think you are right.  As I look back at times of real trials (like becoming a widow with two young girls at 33 or getting aggressive and advanced cancer at 53) I realize that those times brought me much closer to God and gave me a strength I would never have had without those difficult times.  While I will never thank God for the death of my precious husband, for seeing my body deformed after surgical removal of a breast or for the effects I still suffer in my body because of chemo and radiation, I am thankful for the growth I gained because of those trials.  I am thankful that I have truly discovered what Jesus was talking about when He spoke of the joy and peace He was giving us.  

Finally, James not only tells his friends to find joy in difficult times, he lets them know how they can do that.

And if, in the process, any of you does not know how to meet any particular problem he has only to ask God—who gives generously to all men without making them feel foolish or guilty—and he may be quite sure that the necessary wisdom will be given him

You make it sound simple James!  But life is not simple!

Oh I get it!  That’s the beauty of the gospel.  It is simple.  Trust and obey.  I sometimes make it so hard.  My mind doesn’t want to just trust.  I want detailed answers to my questions.  I want to know the end before I take that step of faith God is asking me to take.

Peter sums it up pretty good in his letter to the church.

And though you have never seen him, yet I know that you love him. At present you trust him without being able to see him, and even now he brings you a joy that words cannot express and which has in it a hint of the glories of Heaven; and all the time you are receiving the result of your faith in him—the salvation of your own souls.

Yes that it is.  It is a joy that words cannot express.  Joy unspeakable and full of glory!  To all my friends who follow me on my blog, chairein!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is the “Joy of the Lord?”

Jesus laughing

We hear a lot from Christians about “the joy of the Lord.”  Often a verse from Nehemiah is quoted when speaking of joy.

The joy of the Lord is my strength.

But I wonder what does that mean?  What is the joy of the Lord and how does it give me strength?  I have found many times in my life when I was going through a difficult time and struggling with pain or sorrow that well-meaning people would quote that verse to me suggesting if I would just be “happy” I would find strength from the Lord to get me through this difficult circumstance.

If I would just adjust my attitude.

If I would just think positive thoughts.

If I would just “put on a happy face.”

Then, God would give me joy.

So – strength from God depended on me.  If in this time of despair I could just either “pretend” to be happy (“fake it ’til you make it”) or if I could somehow find some inner strength to think positive thoughts, God would give me joy and strength.  Our culture (and many TV preachers/teachers) tell us having the right attitude, having self-esteem, is the road to the joy of the Lord.

Yet we know that many great men of God did not always have a positive attitude.  Look at the Psalms.  They are full of times when David and others even questioned if God cared.

for you are my God, my only safe haven.  Why have you tossed me aside?

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
    Why are you so far away when I groan for help?
Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer.
    Every night I lift my voice, but I find no relief.

As I look at the verse in Nehemiah what stands out to me is that the joy Nehemiah is talking about is not some feeling I produce by my own ability to “put on a happy face” and adjust my attitude.  Rather, this joy is the joy OF THE LORD.  It is something that comes from God.  True joy, I submit, does not come from within me – it comes from without.

The joy of the Lord is not dependent on me adjusting my attitude or thinking positive thoughts.  I am not disputing that our thinking, out attitude does many times needs some work.  Paul wrote in Philippians:

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

And the writer of Proverbs told us:

For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.

But if having God’s joy is simply me thinking on things worthy of praise, then the joy of the Lord is not really from the Lord.  It is simply having a good philosophy or a good outlook on life.  That benefits those of us who have a tendency by nature to be positive, who bounce out of bed each morning ready for the day and get excited about the new coffee favor we just bought at Target.  However, it puts those who have a more melancholy personality and basically say “don’t talk to me until I have had my coffee” at a great disadvantage.

So – what is the joy of the Lord?  And how do we get it?

Take a look at the times Jesus spoke about joy.

In the Beatitudes he told us:

 What blessings await you when people hate you and exclude you and mock you and curse you as evil because you follow the Son of Man. When that happens, be happy! Yes, leap for joy!  For a great reward awaits you in heaven. 

One reason for joy, then, is the hope we have of what awaits us.  This life is not all there is for us.  Regardless of what is happening to me right now, I have a great future awaiting me and when I realize that I have something to look forward to it can give me a sense of peace and comfort.  This present circumstance may be terrible but it is not the end.

But how do I find joy in difficult times for the “here and now.”  Does this mean my only joy is in anticipating what will come in the future?  Can I find joy in this life now?

The Psalmist gave us the secret when he wrote:

in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.

When we learn to stop running about and trying to solve everything ourself, when we take time to be still and quiet with the Lord, when we allow our minds to dwell on Him and His Word, we will find that joy that Peter wrote about that is:

At present you trust him without being able to see him, and even now he brings you a joy that words cannot express

The joy of the Lord gives us strength to face those difficult circumstances because it is the joy that comes from a real relationship with Him, not from something we can create.  I submit if you are lacking joy, ask yourself these questions:

  1. When was the last time I spend some time just sitting quietly reading God’s Word or listening to a good worship song and just remained quiet and allowed God to speak to my heart?
  2. When was the last time I took some moments to sincerely make a list of all the blessings God had given me and then took some time to truly thank Him?
  3. When was the last time I looked at the difficult situations in my life and asked God to show me where/how I could use these times to grow more like Him?

As we take time to focus on God, to allow Him to speak to us, as we come into His presence, there we will find the joy of the Lord.

Help us all Lord in the midst of our busy and crazy lives to take that time and allow You to minister to us of your love and fill us with your joy.