Joy


Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.

Philippians 1: 27

This is a description of what it means to be a follower of Christ in the modern world. It doesn’t seem to matter whether the current date is in the first century of the Christian Era or in its twenty-first century. The day, month, and year in which Christians find themselves living is a time when there will be pressures applied upon that person’s faith in Christ and adherence to the gospel so that the ability to stand up in the face of those forces will be in question. This world can be a harsh and a challenging place to live. There are real and highly active forces in it that are seeking to overthrow the gospel of Christ at every turn, and their target for this attempted coup against the King of the Universe is each and every person that gives their life to Christ as Lord and Savior.

In his process of waging war against Christ, Satan attacks both individual followers and the church. So, we must be prepared to stand up to these assaults by virtue of our deep commitment to Christ and submission to His will and by seeking to be of one mind with other followers of Christ as we gather as His church. Now there is no doubt in my mind that any gathered body of people will see many things differently, one from others. Yet, we can know the same Christ, be led by one Spirit, and submit to the singular Word of God. Then our strength comes through the unity that is hard won and thoroughly worked out by the process of living out together the challenges of life. Christ is fully committed to His church, and we are asked by Him to respond by being fully committed to seeking unity by and in His Spirit.

Paul’s joy and pleasure at hearing about the way that people in Philippi and in other places where he has shared the gospel of Christ are living as upright followers of that message of righteousness, love, and enduring faith reflects Christ’s feelings upon the same response in all of His people. Christ, Himself, is delighted when we lean into Him for strength, encouragement, and wisdom as we engage with the powers and forces in our world that are attempting to overthrow our faith and shatter the fellowship of belief that Christ has formed. In Christ we can find the singularity of purpose that overcomes all forms of difference. The Spirit works among us to focus our hearts and minds in on the redemptive message of that gospel and to make our points of disagreement into issues and concerns that can be set aside for the sake of standing together as we live out our faith in the world and before its eyes as a testimony to Christ.   

For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.

1 John 5: 3

John is talking about a relationship that is built upon love. God loves each of us, and He does so in a total, absolute, and infinite manner that is beyond my restricted, conditional, and limited understanding. When God tells us to obey, to keep His commandments, He is not being authoritarian. Rather, the Lord does this out of love, for God’s direction for our lives takes us along a path through our days that is healthy, joyous, and filled with grace and mercy. In a manner that is both hard to grasp on the surface yet becomes very clear as it is engaged in, doing God’s will always leads to freedom and to true empowerment for our souls. Following the Lord’s will releases us from a real and a tangible form of imprisonment that our natural course through life has constructed about our hearts and minds.

God’s commandments bring us closer to Him. They are founded upon His love, and they are grounded in engaging with the world out of that same love. The Lord intends for us to seek Him out in all aspects of life, and He also sends us into the world around us to live out the nature and character of God in the midst of the places where we dwell. Living out our faith can be a challenging thing to do. It is guaranteed to bring contention our way and to cause there to be challenges and trials in our days. In simple terms, there are strong forces in our world that fight hard against this same love, grace, and mercy that God pours out into us and that He desires to see us tender to those around us. Love and control are opposed to each other, and the evil of the world exists to control people.

Therein lies an essential difference in following God verses granting allegiance to the world. God sets us free to accept others without restraint or restriction. He grants us permission to enter into relationships that are based upon grace and to seek to truly know others without needing to judge them. In Christ, we have experienced this same form of unfettered acceptance, and through Christ, we can grant the same openness and fearless engagement to people that are different from us and that have not conformed to this world’s standards for what people should do, say, and believe. The burden of judgement belongs to Christ, and we are no longer required to hold others accountable to a certain standard of performance before we can allow them into our lives. Although we are to live out God’s standards for belief and behavior, we apply them to others with a different intent. For, through Christ, we seek to guide others into acceptance of a way of life that will grant to them this same freedom and joy that we experience through our relationship with the Lord.    

It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be exalted in my body.

Philippians 1:20

Today, we have some questions to consider. Does every fiber of your being shout about its freedom in Christ? If not, why not? When you think, do the thoughts that are generated by the Spirit of Christ dominate, or how about the way that you act, do people see Jesus in His full expression when it is your hands that are touching them? When I answer honestly, my sad response is, “No, not so often, not as much as I might, or not even on the same continent as my potential.”

Yet, Christ’s Spirit of transformation and change reaches into the very deepest and to the smallest bits of our beings; He brings about a state of being that is completely redefined and whose orientation is brought into alignment with God’s. When I don’t face my day with this sense of anticipation of living in the center of the glory of Christ and when I enter into contact with people with a aura of fear and dread surrounding my heart and mind, I can seek the wisdom, truth, and discernment of Christ, and I can also seek to set aside the old-life concerns and my now, through Christ, outdated perspective on interacting with others, too.

When I accept the change, recognize the transformation, and trust the Spirit to direct me, I can and should live in a manner that shows the confident love of God to my world. This life perspective is grown on the inside, in my heart and mind, and as it takes over each and every cell of my body. As I stop holding onto the old and embrace this change, I am filled with a reasoned courage that compels me to engage life in a fresh and a vigorous way. Then every molecule of my being can truly shout with joy at the presence of the Lord.

For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Colossians 2: 1-3

There is wealth to be had in our world. Its availability is something that is spoken about regularly by various voices that are inspired and influenced by divergent sources. If any one of us is lacking, then there must be something amiss with the way that we are going about life, for there is abundance to be gathered up from the pavement of our streets. Depending upon the speaker, this bounty may be financial, positional, be defined by power, or be counted out in various types of spiritual currency. It is said that all that is really required of people in order to be wealthy is to follow the right leaders and to ascribe to proper teaching. Then, our accounts will be gorged upon the world’s abundance, and our lives will be lived out in the luxury and the comfort of plenty. However, this idea of easy riches and of universal wealth is mistaken, and it can lead people far away from the only enduring riches that exists in the universe.

This essential difference in what it means to be wealthy is one of the great mysteries of faith in Christ. God views wealth from a different perspective than do most of us that are looking outward from the earth. For we see only what is right before our eyes, and our depth of vision is restricted and cut off by the haze that is in the air around us and by the curvature of the earth itself. No matter how hard we may try to see or what aids or devices we might employ, we will never view the entirety of what is out there in our world or in the air above us. Additionally, when we consider wealth, we tend to think in terms of things that we can hold in our hands and that give us that desired position or power in our world. God contemplates what is means to be wealthy in far less tangible terms as His treasury is filled beyond imagining with all that has real meaning and that carries with it eternal significance.

In Christ we posses all that endures beyond the grave, and at the same time, we are blessed by and through Christ with the full extent of what is needful to live fully and joyously during our allotted days of life on earth. The luster and shine and the absolute beauty that radiates off of God’s knowledge and wisdom exceeds the glitter and the glow that is given off from this world’s brightest diamonds or its storehouses of gold. Nothing that we can acquire by way of earthly authority or by means of human wisdom can begin to replace the wonder and the blessings that are to be found in exploring the depths of a relationship with God. Thus, the great mystery that Christ reveals for us is the one in which all people can be equally wealthy as we stand on common ground at the foot of Christ’s cross and are filled by His Spirit with the love, grace, truth, and wisdom that define what it means to be blessed with riches beyond all comparison. 

Sing praises to the LORD, O you his saints,

   and give thanks to his holy name.

For his anger is but for a moment,

   and his favor is for a lifetime.

Weeping may tarry for a night,

   but joy comes in the morning.

Psalm 30: 4, 5

David knew a lot about life, for he seems to have experienced a wide range of that thing that we know as living. He knew victory, and he had experienced the direct relationship between faith in God and achieving the impossible. David had lived out human isolation and rejection, which gave him a deeper appreciation of the love and acceptance that came to him from the Lord. He had acted in direct opposition to God’s will and had rejected His Law of Life in thoughts, words, and actions; so, David had also incurred God’s anger and knew that a form of death always follows sinfulness. The king had been raised up by God, and he had become humbled and lowly by the actions of people; actions that the Lord allowed to happen. David had known many nights of sleepless tears, and he had gone through others that were filled with the deep despair that comes when all hope has slipped away. He had also seen many mornings when the sun came up, the song birds sang, and the presence of the Lord was the sweet aroma that filled his heart with song.

This morning song is the part of the on-going process of life that David wants us to grasp and to understand. There will be pain, and we will needfully cry tears along the way. These hard days and interminable nights when worry, fear, and grief are near at hand present us with the need to release emotions and to draw upon resources that come from outside of our strength. These are the hours of life when the Lord’s presence in its many forms can be the reality that takes us through until that first glimmer of the promised dawn’s light touches our troubled eyes. Hope is found in the certain knowledge of Christ’s victory over death and over all of that dark angel’s underlings in the form of disease, injury, broken relationships, and the many other forms of loss that come about due to the fallen nature of this world. We all sin, for we all think, say, and do things that are contrary to God’s will and that operate in rebellious disregard for His Law. Still, Christ has redeemed us from all of this, and God’s grace holds fast to our souls throughout these times.

So, even God’s anger and grief at our wandering away from Him is temporary. The Lord welcomes each of us back with open arms of love as He sings forth a song of restoration and hope. In reality, most of the hard times that we experience during the journey of life are not caused by any personal departure from God’s will. Instead, their presence is the result of the broken nature of our world. We do not bring about illness nor cause it to be present, we are not responsible for most of the injuries that we incur and almost none of them come about due to sinful acts. The pain of loss and the grief that follows are real, but life comes to an end as a result of the fact that this life is nothing more than the temporary first act in an eternal drama wherein our souls continue on into infinity. In Christ, the promise of morning’s approach is present in each of these hard situations. Christ went before us as He went through the darkest of all nights and then gave to us the gift of that resurrection dawn when hope is poured out upon all people of faith. Although we may be living in the dark hour of pain and loss at this moment, Christ’s light of redemption and joy is already poised to break out over the horizon at the dawn of a new day. 

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.

1 Peter 5: 6, 7

There is an almost wildly crazy aspect to the way that God designed us humans, for we have this strong, independent streak that runs throughout our nature and that affects almost everything that we do. As elements of this characteristic existed in Eve and Adam from the first accounts of their existence, it seems that this was something that God designed into them. Yet, it is this same independence that leads to the sort of self-sufficient arrogance that got them and that gets me into many of the situations that cause us so much grief and worry. Then, for me, the worry, concern, and stress drive me deep inside myself. They close me off to engaging in healthy and helpful dialogue with other people, and they cause me to hide out from God. In the end, the situation just gets worse.

So, in trying to resolve this mystery of my Creator’s design for me and my relationship with Him, I have come to this understanding. God wants me and everyone else to desire to be involved in the relationship with Him. The Lord is first and foremost my loving Father. He wants to guide, nurture, counsel, and empower me to live a life that is full and joyous. God delights in the things that we do and in the way that we grow in our understanding of His righteousness. Recognizing my own need for the Lord’s continual guidance and wisdom is the first step toward living in the freedom that God intends for me to enjoy. Then, the next step is the hard one, for I must take my controlling hands off of the outcome and humbly allow God to take charge of the direction that I go in all aspects of my life. 

There is no instantaneous or miraculous cure for a lifetime of practicing the form of self-directed thinking that results in the type of isolation from God that I have experienced with its attendant anxiety and loss of peace and joy. Yet, the Lord provides me and all of us with great hope, for He is gracious with us. He places no restrictions or preconditions on His acceptance of the desire of our hearts to embrace His truth. As I yield myself to Him, God gives back to me and blesses me in ways that are far greater than I could have imagined. As we turn over everything, each and every challenge, worry, concern, struggle, and uncertainty to our loving Father; we can expect the miraculous, for He will provide the answers to it all while allowing that created independence and drive to flourish in ways that are made possible by dwelling in the center of the Lord’s will. 

And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his son.

1 John 5: 11

Testimony is serious business. When a person is called upon to provide it, the words that come out, either in written form or as an oral statement, need to be carefully considered and be as accurate as the witness is able to recall. The words solemn and formal are found in the definitions of testimony. According to John, God’s own testimony is found in this simple expression about life. God gives life to us, and it comes by and through God’s Son, Jesus Christ. This is the solemn truth that God would have all people know, grasp, and follow. This is the simple summary of all that is contained in God’s Word regarding relationship with Him. Life, in its fullest expression and to its ultimate extent, is a gift that comes to people in Christ, and it is found nowhere else in all of the universe.

This spark, this mysterious yet tangible difference, is often visible in the way that Christ’s followers think, act, and speak. It is even more apparent in the attitude that they carry forth into life wherein the things of this world do not hold them down or burden them to the point of breaking. For the truth is found in the fact that this place has its harsh qualities and its burdensome aspects, and no one escapes their grasp. We encounter these trials, struggles, and times of suffering as a part of the normal course of living. Yet, Christ within us changes things in ways that are real and tangible. Christ provides the perspective of eternity for us to use as the lens through which these earthly struggles can be viewed. Christ grants us a form of strength that is only slightly associated with the capacity to do physical work and that is absolutely related to our capacity to continue on with living with peace in our hearts and with the gospel of love on our lips.

God’s testimony is found in Jesus, and our testimony is the lives that we live in His name and for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This fact makes each of us, in Christ, into daily witnesses to His grace, love, and mercy as it also places us on view as examples or exhibits in the great and grand trial that is life. For we are being looked over and examined so that the lives that we live and the way that Christ influences the conduct of those lives is under the scrutiny of the people of the world around us. The peace, joy, and love that we exude is being observed, and the way that we carry on with life regardless of circumstances and situations is also seen by others. I am not saying that followers of Christ should put up false fronts and pretend to the world that everything is perfect and that there are no challenges and struggles in our lives. Quite the opposite is true, for we can and should be free to be open, transparent, and honest in sharing our lives with others and in seeking the Lord’s engagement with our needs. Yet, in Christ, the lives that we live with their faith, hope, peace, and joy are even more so a testimony to our Lord in the hard days and the challenging times.  

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