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“For behold, I bring you good news of great joy…….for unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord” Luke 2:10,11
“Joy to the world, no more let sin and sorrows grow”. “I bring you good news of great joy” Joy? Really? Have you seen the world today? Have you seen my life? Where do I start with what’s going wrong! Joy? Really? This is more like a time of depression and despair instead of joy. Maybe there was joy back then but joy? Today? Really? I often I see these type of sentiments expressed in many different forums in today’s world. Thus what should be our reaction to the reason for the season.
Yes joy, really, absolutely. So do understand, I do know depression for I have battled it. I know disappointment, even and especially at this time of year. From and where and why should I or do I have any right to have joy when I look at the state of the world or the state of my life?
We’ve heard an aspect or narrative of Christmas being under attack. From the outside, it can be considered insensitive to those of other faiths or no faith, to use the words Merry Christmas. Religious symbols should not be shown in conjunction with government or even public places. Santa Clause is okay but Jesus Christ is not. Yes I will admit that the worldly want nothing to do with the Christ in Christmas.
Yet I’ve also seen a trend of late in houses of faith that I believe is rooted in a proper intent but that can also minimize or, in fact, leave out the message of joy altogether. I’m talking about the desire to strip away the colorful “mythology” that has grown around our Savior’s birth and stress the “factual reality” of the occasion. True, the bible has no drummer boy. We read nowhere of animals talking at midnight at the birth of Christ. Yes the shepherds would have been looked down by most of the society at the time. However, the very real challenge of wanting to dig into and focus on the “factual” nature of world of the time is to minimize the otherworldly, virtually incomprehensible, utterly immeasurable, joyous event and gift that took place on that day.
Joy? Why joy? Quite simply because God came to earth! God came to earth! Well Doug, you might ask, hadn’t God been to earth before? Yes, there are brief instances where God came to earth, but only momentarily and also He came as God of Heaven, in heavenly form. God came in a form that no person could behold and live. Moses, one so close to God and such a wonderful servant of God, could only glimpse God’s back in passing or Moses would have been destroyed. Now God was again coming to earth. But now He was also coming in human form; and not just some shell or likeness of human. No in some miracle too wonderful to fully understand; Jesus Christ was full human and fully God in one being.
Joy? Joy really? In other religions, did’t their gods come down to earth and take human form? Yes in the worldly religions there are stories of gods coming to earth, but more often it was for selfish or even sinister reasons. The One True Son of God came down, not to trick, not to get revenge, not to dupe some unwitting soul; no, Jesus Christ came down for one reason and one reason only. Jesus Christ came to save you and I. He came for our salvation. The only way Jesus Christ could do that was to take our place. To suffer the judgement we so deserve and He never did.
Jesus Christ came that through Him, we might live in relationship now and forever with our Father in Heaven; to live a life of abundance, knowing a peace and yes, joy that surpasses all understanding. Joy, absolutely Joy.
Also understand this; this was defeat for the enemy. When Jesus Christ came, the enemy lost the war. Yet, even though defeated the enemy still has not stopped fighting. That is one of the reasons that this time of year can be such a fraught filled time. The enemy will throw everything he can at this time to try to rob us of joy. He will try guilt, sorrow, worldly desires, worldly distractions, misdirection; whatever he can do for us to lose focus and turn away from Jesus Christ and the celebration and joy that should be natural from His gift of salvation.
Not only for us, but the enemy wants to show the world, believers acting without joy at this time of year. Why should people who don’t know Christ, feel positively toward seeking Christ if his own followers can’t or won’t feel and express joy at this time of year.
Thus Dear Sisters and Brothers, reject the world and its temptation toward darkness especially at this time of year. While our joy can and should be triumphant, it should not be separating or prideful. That is to say, we deserve the joy and you, unbelievers do not because we are better. No, instead let our joy be infectious and inviting. Let it be a shining light placed on the proverbial hill for all to see; people of faith or not. Let the joy be humble, acknowledging that it comes solely and souly from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, through the plan of our Heavenly Father, revealed to us by the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Joy? Yes Joy! Joy to the world! And in that more recent song written and sung a few millennia Joy to you and me! May you have a joyous Merry Christmas as well as joy filled next year.
Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, that we cannot adequately express our profound gratitude at the gift of sacrifice of Jesus Christ should not keep us from trying. We thank You that Your plan for Christ was that of salvation and not judgement. Through Your Spirit, reveal to us the true joy and peace that we should be feeling and expressing at the coming of Jesus Christ. Forgive us, Most Merciful Father, when allow the despair of the world to rob us of the joy You so desire us to have. Through Your Mercy and Power, restore us to a sense of joy, peace and reverent worship, that will be inviting to those who don’t You and bring praise to Your Most Holy Name. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Therefore Sarah laughed within herself saying: ‘After I have grown old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being so old also?'” Genesis 18:12
“Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, ‘Lord save us! We are perishing!'” Matthew 8:25
“Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word and my servant will be healed.” Matthew 8:8
I heard a fascinating exchange on television today that really crystalized some thoughts that I wanted to share. Now the discussion was between a highly educated, historian, businessman and politician (HBP) and a newspaper person(NP). In retelling the exchange I’m not going to get into details of the discussion itself because what they were discussing is not germane to the epiphany; it was how the interaction was framed that was so enlightening. It went something like this:
(HBP): Most everyone I talk to says this about that
(NP): But the data, the facts say that is not true
(HBP): Well maybe, but that’s not what they feel. They feel that this is true about that
(NP): But again, all the data points to that not being true!
(HBP): Look, I’ll go with how people feel and you can stick with what your data proves…..
Now this is not the first time I’ve come across this sort of interaction. In my career as an Organizational Behavior/Improvement facilitator, I often come across very strongly held opinions/fears. Yet when I try to get to the root of the opinion or fear, the actual experience or data that supports them; most often that data or personal experience doesn’t exist. Yet they feel that the negative risk is out there. It’s not only toward negative things. I find that it is not uncommon when people want some change to happen and you start to discuss the potential questionable impacts of the change on the organization based on business or other data; they are often quick to dismiss the data because the change would make them feel better.
What does this have to do with our spiritual life? Everything, I believe! You see, we may be studying the Word of God, may be listening to and even agreeing with sound of profound preaching. In our head, we may know that God is the Creator, that Jesus Christ is His only Son our Savior. We may acknowledge that the Holy Spirit is a gift from God, sent to help us. All those things we may acknowledge from a standpoint of knowledge and yet that acknowledgement can be irrelevant to our very lives and salvation if it does not evoke some sort of feeling about it. I say that because it has been my experience that we much more often behave based on how we feel then what we think, although the two are not mutually exclusive.
The bible is full of examples of this. Sarah did not doubt that God existed. She had witnessed His grace to them in their journey to the promised land. Yet she felt that having a baby in her 90’s and Abraham over 100, was ridiculous so she laughed when the angel of the Lord promised it. At least some of the disciples had witnessed Jesus baptism and heard God’s proclamation about His Son. They had witnessed the miracles, heard His preaching, knew He was the Son of God, yet; when the storm arose, that knowledge did not keep them from feeling terror and crying out to Jesus, though none of them expected Him to silence the tempest. It’s not only lack of feeling or faith, the Roman Centurion felt so confident of Jesus’ power that he humbled himself and told Jesus not to come to his house but just speak the word and the Centurion’s servant would be healed. David felt so confident in God that he went out to face Goliath, not with sword and armor, but a sling and stones because He was confident in the power of Almighty God.
Thus for us Dear Sisters and Brothers, the question is, not so much what do we know but, how do we feel about God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Now please understand, I’m not trying to disparage reading the bible or taking other steps to learn about God; no far from it. Yet my questions for you and I are: when we finish reading a scripture passage; how does that make us feel? When we say “Amen” at the completion of our prayer; what emotion do we have? As we walk from a church service or bible/spiritual class, do we feel any different?
Dear Sisters and Brothers I feel that it is vital that we feel. The whole nature of our relationship, the most significant commandment is not about knowing it is about feeling; feeling love, first for Our Heavenly Father and then for each other. When is it appropriate to feel fear? What or who should we feel confident in? Jesus Christ came that we might experience the feeling of His Peace, His Joy.
So a paramount question for you and I, especially when it comes to Our Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit is how/what are we feeling? A second, follow-up question is; why are we feeling that?
Dear Sisters and Brothers, please feel. In this world full of data, proof and desired logic; FEEL! Feel the love of God from God and feel a love for God in return. Feel the love of God for each other. Feel a sense of confidence in Jesus Christ. Strive to feel His Peace, His Joy. Feel those and then act on those feelings. And should those feeling flee; pray. Pray for the Holy Spirit to fill you and bring you back into a feeling of close relationship with the One who feels so strongly a love for you and I; that He sacrificed His Son for us.
Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, in Your perfect wisdom, You have granted us the ability to feel; to have emotions, to love. We thank You for the love that You have for us and ask that, through Your Holy spirit, we may learn to love You completely and share Your perfect love with each other. Forgive us when we either let feelings of fear or doubt drive us from You, or try to minimize or discount the power of our feelings through the search for knowledge. That with feelings of confidence, compassion, forgiveness, joy, peace and most of all love; we will act upon those to bring praise to Your most Holy Name. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen
“Lord, lift up the light of Your countenance upon us. You have put gladness in my heart” Psalm 3:6-7
“These things I have spoken to you; that My joy may remain in you and your joy may be full” John 15:11
I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting but when I searched books on Amazon.com about happiness, I received 81,379 choices. I am also an author of books but fortunately I have not written a book about happiness because there would be quite a lot of competition. If you choose all departments on Amazon it jumps to over 366,000. Google happiness and the total jumps up just a little; to 354,000,000! I guess it’s safe to say that happiness is a topic that a significant number of people are interested in (I confess, yours truly included).
I won’t bore you with too many, but you know what the world teaches; happiness can be found in:
Material things – the right car(s), house(s), boat, clothes, jewelry, property, …..
Financial things – money, salary, stocks, bonds, return on investment, gold, silver, …..
Habits – exercise, diet, sleep, eat mainly meat, don’t eat any meat
Fun – vacation, retirement, alcohol, leisure time, sex, drugs, …..
Other – mindset, attitude, religion, friends, power, job, loving family and on and on and on
In one of our country’s most sacred documents, non other than the Declaration of Independence it boldly proclaims that a self-evident, unalienable right, right up there with human equality, life and freedom, is the pursuit of happiness. First, please don’t misunderstand me, for I’m not saying that there is no value to exercise or diet, having a great job, loving family, etc. Yet interestingly enough, with all those books, written about it, all that information on the internet about it; roughly 7.2 billion human beings searching for it; no one has definitively cracked the code. No one has been able to derive a formula, put forth a process or invent a device that guarantees happiness. That is a curious thing, unless of course, that ability to be truly, consistently happy, does not rest totally within the human realm of influence.
King David knew this, at least in terms of gladness. Countenance is a person’s facial expression, the way they look at you. David was saying that God’s very countenance is light and the simple act of God lifting His countenance toward us filled his heart with gladness.
Jesus Christ knew this. Jesus Christ new the joy of being in the Father’s love. What Jesus had just spoken to them was that if they will follow Jesus commandments; because Jesus abides in the Father and the Father loves Jesus, then the disciples can ask for whatever they want and the Father will grant it for them. He knew and told them, that His joy would remain in them and therefore their own joy would be complete.
This takes me back to a very profound but brief exchange I had with a colleague in the Air Force when we roommates on an exercise. We had the day off and he was getting ready to go out and I happen to be reading my bible. He stopped and very respectfully asked me about the value I perceived and received from reading the bible and believing in Jesus Christ. I briefly recounted many of the blessings; family, success in job and school, health etc, that I had received and felt had come from Christ. He then, in curiosity, respect and no confrontation asked what I believe to be the deepest, most paramount question for any or all of us. He asked: “Couldn’t you take credit for all those things?” My answer in no way measured up to the importance of the question as I replied something about I possibly could but, knowing myself, did not think taking credit would be accurate. With no more conversation, he left the room. However, that question and the sincerity with which it was asked has echoed down the years to me; can’t or shouldn’t I take credit for it.
You see the ramifications of the answer can’t be overstated. If I take credit, if I believe I’m responsible for, if I believe that I’m in control of, then off I go searching through 80,000 books, 350,000,000 bits of information hoping to come across the answer to being happy; and note you can substitute the words, wise, healthy, rich, powerful, and on and on into the space after “being”. Yet even if I find the answer, will I be able to consistently execute that answer to achieve the results?
Starting in the book of Genesis and continuing through to the book of Revelation it seems pretty clear that we’re not to take on the responsibility for, nor the belief that we can find on our own, nor is it accurate that we take credit for, finding the answers to questions about being happy, or wise or healthy etc. It seems rather clear that we are to look to Our Heavenly Father for those things. It is in our belief that He supplies those things; not in some begrudging or random fashion; but in a joyous and loving fashion that we find both confidence and humility. Thus to be able to receive those things, like happiness, we must have faithful belief in Him. That our belief in Him would lead to an ever closer, loving relationship where we strive, and yes stumble, but still strive to keep the commandments of His Son Jesus Christ. That our belief in Him would lead us to sincerely praise His Holy Name, knowing that good, happiness, peace, wisdom, love, in short all blessings in this life come from Him. Thus there’s really only one book we need own; the book of His Word. The only information we need to know is how much Our Heavenly Father loves us. After all He gave His Only Son as a sacrifice for us did he not? Praise be His Holy Name.
Our Most Gracious and Heavenly Father, we thank and praise You for Your Love that sustains us that You’ve seen fit to give us all that we will always need. That You sustain us through our material needs, our emotional needs and most importantly our spiritual needs. Thank you for the joy that You have placed in our hearts. Forgive us Dear Father when we look to other things than You to fulfill our needs. Fill us with Your Spirit who testifies to Your supremacy and sufficiency of all that we will ever need or rightly want and all that Your will would have us accomplish. We pray this in the Name of Jesus Christ. Amen
“In the world you will have tribulation but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you…” John 14:27
We just finished celebrating Easter so it might seem strange that a Christmas story; in reality Charles Dickens’ classic: A Christmas Carol would come to mind in pondering Easter, or more accurately, our response to Easter.
“What right have you to be merry? What reason have have you to be merry? You’re poor enough”, said Scrooge.
“What right have you to be dismal? What reason have to you be morose? You’re rich enough”, returned the nephew.
This exchange comes from the main character; Scrooge, truly a man of the world where wealth and the security it brings is the only thing, and Fred, Scrooge’s not nearly as successful nephew. The focal point of the their exchange is Christmas and whether or not it could or should be merry. Scrooge finds no merriment in the concept of Christmas because wealth is spent with no guarantee of any return. Fred sees Christmas as a time not to be concerned about return on investment or any other matter of wealth accumulation but of charity and forgiveness. Scrooge, man of the world, demands that his nephew depart and take his foolish thoughts with him.
Okay, Doug, fine story you say, but what has that to do with Easter? Great question. You see it all comes down to this premise; what is my response, my behavior based on the acts of Easter and why do I have the right to behave in that manor? It is the conflict of two perspectives.
Let’s take the world’s perspective for a moment. Before last Easter Sunday and after last Easter Sunday, there was war, where human beings were and are doing unspeakable things to each other on a disastrously grand scale. There were and are famines and droughts, plagues and natural disasters, swindlers and thieves and troubles of ever size and kind. The logical, natural and right responses to these circumstances would be one of despair and woe, feelings of anger and perhaps fear. One might very well expect for their to be widespread angst, depression, worry and gloom.
Then along comes a person of faith. That person is cheerful maybe even joyful, with a smile on their face and a heart full of love and yes even hope. They have a confidence about life. And while they will mourn with those that are hurting, there is a deep sense of peace and faith in a rightful outcome. The man of this world might say to them, cry out to them, scream in their face: “What right have you to be joyful, peaceful, full of bliss!?”.
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ, we must be careful about our behavior. We must look to see if the concerns, worries, cares and fears of this world are causing us to behave in a way of despair and giving up. We must ask ourselves: “What right have we to act in a manner of hopelessness, of worldly fear and human rage and judgement?” Jesus Christ described our description in His prayer to Our Father when he said: ” As you sent Me into the world; I also have sent them into the world, “. Yet He also declared in that same prayer that: “….they are not of the world just as I am not of the world.”. (John 17: 18 & 14) The world is always trying to pull us down to its level. The world does not want us to see us as any different than it is. On the one hand it is true that we are not different. That is to say that we are not more deserving, more inherently righteous than the world.
What right have we to be joyous? What right have we to be at peace? What right do we have to act confident in our faith? We have the right and we have the duty to act in this way, in and through Jesus Christ. The gift of Easter gave us that right. In the end, world knew and knows death. Death was and is the outcome of all things worldly. If we are of the world, we are very correct to fear death and all things associated with it. But Jesus Christ conquered death; once and for all! Let that last part sink in….once and for all. That means that no one other than Christ ever need die in sin again. Jesus Christ took all of our sin upon Him. Also, Jesus Christ died for us all. Jesus just didn’t die for the chosen people of Israel, or the people who go to church on Sunday, or the people that give a certain amount, sing a certain song, go to a certain church. No He died for us all.
Sadly, not everyone responds to the sacrificial gift of Jesus Christ and the plan of salvation from our Heavenly Father. Bewilderingly, they would rather stay in the world, stay in worry, stay in hopelessness and die in fear.
Let us not follow them. Let us give everlasting thanks and live joyously and confidently in the knowledge of the love our Heavenly Father has for us by His gift of His Son, Jesus Christ. Through the gift of understanding through the Holy Spirit, let us live right lives in love, mercy, charity and forgiveness. If and when asked what right do we have to live this way; let us not claim it as our right but more accurately claim it as His Right, the right to live in Jesus Christ who came to live, to teach, to heal, yes to die and yes to save through His resurrection, which is the only right life indeed.
Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we are so thankful for the loving sacrifice of Your Son Jesus Christ, coming to live among us and die for us. Fill us with Your Spirit of Joy, Confidence, Forgiveness and most of all Love, that our lives may shine as beacons to Your Name. Forgive us when we fall into the temptation to live as the world lives, in fear, hopelessness and dread. Restore us in faith, we pray, that the way in which we live our lives will entice others to call upon and praise Your Most Holy Name. We pray in the Name of Jesus Christ. Amen
“Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has afflicted me?” Ruth 1:21
“In the day of prosperity be joyful but in the day of adversity consider: Surely God has appointed one as well as the other.” Ecclesiastes 7:14
Many a wiser more gifted writer than I has attempted to come to grips with the question of pain and suffering and that is not directly my attempt here and now. No, this is more a thought about the perspective that we have that defines pain and suffering. In the book of Ruth, Naomi is Ruth’s mother-in-law. The story starts with an affliction, a famine in the region of Bethlehem. Naomi, her husband and two sons go to the country of Moab where they have heard there is food. Naomi’s two sons get married and for awhile all seems blessed, prosperous. Then Naomi’s husband dies and next her two sons. We don’t know how. Naomi decides to return to Bethlehem when she hears that the Lord has lifted the famine. Naomi tries to have her two daughters-in-law stay in Moab where they will be better cared for. One stays and one, Ruth, goes to Bethlehem with Naomi.
From Naomi’s perspective and through a certain eye even today we would say that Naomi has had it rough. First having to move due to a famine then, losing a husband, and subsequently two sons would be hard to see as anything other than tragic. I would not attempt to say that these things were not excruciatingly painful and would bring about remorse and mourning. Yet Christ will proclaim, centuries later, blessed are they that mourn, for they will be comforted.
So I wonder what comfort there might be if looked at from a different perspective and how it might change our insight to pain and affliction; especially coming from the Lord. I at one time was a runner (some who accompanied me are laughing at this point). I got to a point where I ran several half marathons or 13.2 miles (21.09 kilometers). I got quite a sense of accomplishment and exhilaration each time I finished a race. However, I will tell you, there were many days of soreness that led up to those accomplishments. Before I started I knew that there might some discomfort in the training, but if I had a very clear idea of the amount of pain and the days and days which I would feel it, would I have started in the first place? Looking back, I absolutely believe it was worth it. Now to my female readers, I will apologize for this next example as I can’t begin to understand the true extent of the this process. I have two grown children. For my wife and I they have been and continue to be blessings throughout their entire lives. However, I saw the impact that pregnancy had on my wife, the sickness, the tiredness, the lack of comfort and then the indescribable pain that happened at the time of birth. Today, my wife would say it was all completely worth it with not the slightest hesitation. But would there be any hesitation if, going in to process, a person was able to truly communicate in graphic detail to bring about a complete understanding, what the months were going to be like. Would that make a difference?
So back to Naomi and God’s plan. She says that she’s been afflicted, that the Lord has testified against her. I wonder if it would have made any difference if she knew that she was going to be the great-grandmother of the greatest human king of Israel, David. Would it change the perspective that Ruth, a Moabite, would have to come to Bethlehem (thus something would need to cause the family to go to Moab). That Ruth would need to marry Boaz (thus to be able to marry, Ruth would have to be a widow. Her son would need to die). How might the perspective be different knowing that the eternal King of Kings, Jesus Christ would come from lineage of David, leading back to Ruth).
So for us today, If God were to come to us and say I plan to bless all humanity for all time to come and I plan to use you to accomplish it. I’d like to think that I/we would exclaim Yes Lord! Use Me! We might ask and He might even show us the end state as people are reading about us and shouting Alleluia! But here is where truly, the devil tries to turn us away, is in the details. What if that plan requires an illness of ours, a seemingly, human suffering of a loved one. If even knowing the glorious outcome, would we still exclaim Yes Lord. If Naomi knew what was going to happen in Moab, might she have tried to convince her husband to just stay in Bethlehem and take their chances?
Faith. The belief that God is in control and no matter what is happening to us and no matter what conclusions the world is making because of it, we are certain of the Love and Wisdom of God Almighty. Faith. The belief that can cause Paul to proclaim in writing, even though he had been imprisoned, beaten, threatened with death, that all things work together for good to those who Love God.
There is a saying and response that we often say in our church: Statement: God is Good! Response: All the time! Statement: And All the time! Response: God is Good! I can not say that this perspective is easy. I will absolutely admit that I am no where close to mastering this concept. I take comfort in the fact that the humanity of Christ drove him into the garden to pray for help, even though as God, He knew the plan and the glorious outcome. The comfort is that He knows my struggle and will be there for me when I can’t see the glory for the pain. May the understanding be that we can and should always go to the Father to help us through.
Our most Gracious and Heavenly Father, we proclaim that You have a plan and that plan is a perfect one. Forgive us when we turn away from You in disdain of your plan. Give us Your Power to strengthen us when our weakness would have us abandon Your plan. That it not be that we need to see the outcome, that it is enough that we are able to see You. This we pray in the name of Jesus Christ, our savior. Amen