Joy


For the LORD gives wisdom;

   from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;

he stores up sound wisdom for the upright;

   he is a shield to those who walk in integrity.

Proverbs 2: 6, 7

There are words all around us. They are shouted out in the morning, and they are whispered into the dreams of the night. Many people attempt to influence others into thinking in a certain manner by using skill with expression or through the pouring out of an overwhelming volume of sound and its accompanying fury. Yet, in all of this flood of thoughts, opinions, and concepts, there are only a few words that are spoken from a reliable source, and there is only one ultimate author that should be given complete acceptance and listened to with undivided attention. For in all of the aggregate information and influence that is out and around us in our world, only the words that God has set forth and ordained as His are absolutely thrust worthy, and come to us with the certainty to inform our journey through life in a manner that is both good for us and that brings healing to the hurt places in our world.

People who realize this eternal truth and who therefor seek after God’s Word with consistency and with diligence are to be sought after. They are aware of the sorts of wise things that are good and useful in living out each day as people who desire to love others well, to care about justice, and to hold up righteousness as the standard to follow through all of life. So, these are people to follow, and these are people to draw near to when we need understanding and guidance regarding the challenges and the struggles that we are facing. All of this sounds so serious and heavy; yet, there is great humor to be found in traveling in the presence of the Lord. He sees the irony and the curious silliness of life in a manner that only one who is very close to the subjects at hand could view them. So too does the person who dwells in the presence of the Creator hold a special place in his heart and mind for all that is light and humorous that comes about during these long and too often arduous days.

God’s wisdom is to be sought after. It is found in His Word and illuminated by His Spirit. These are the words that cut through the distractions and the untruths that are so prevalent in the air that we breath in our world. The Word of God provides the foundation from which all other thoughts, ideas, and concepts can be judged and evaluated as to their validity and usefulness in providing guidance for us. Thus, people who hold God’s Word as sacred and who search its depths as their source of wisdom and encouragement are to be valued and sought after. These are women and men who do dwell in the presence of the holy, and they are people who understand that strength of character is a gift that comes from the Lord and that love is the Godly characteristic that prevails in the face of all other forces and factors that might come at us during the day. People who so value the word of life that comes straight from the mouth of the Creator are to be prized, and their wisdom, grace, love, and humor are valuable beyond all measuring. 

Dedicated to Mark M. upon entering the next phase in service to our Lord.  

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Therefor do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

2 Timothy 1: 8-10

In Christ, shame is gone. That is a very big idea, and it is one that, in general, is hard for most people to fully grasp onto. Yet, as people who know Christ and who are also held onto by Him, we have nothing in life or beyond it to be ashamed of. We may have lived a life wherein we did and said things that were highly worthy of rebuke and shame, and we do get to own the damage that we may have done along the way. Yet, the grace that Jesus pours over His people is such that we can be set free from the fear and the doubt that accompanies realization of the sinfulness and the harmful nature of the way we have lived. Christ grants to us a newly formed and discovered strength of will, character, and person that enables us to make radical course changes in life and to also do the hard work of repairing damage done in the past.

It is this dramatic and transformative change that can establish the reason for proclaiming the work of Christ as the cause and motivation for what others are seeing as a new person. In addition to the difference in approach to life that Christ makes in His followers, He also gives each of us a gift or gifts of His Spirit that are to be used in the support and the promotion of the outworking of God’s kingdom upon the earth. The presence of Christ within us should make us bold in our use and application of these gifts. We can go through life with the confidence of Christ in both putting what He has given to us to practical use and also in speaking out about the source of this newly found capability and capacity for doing God’s work in our world. In Christ, we are fully alive, and the way that we live out our days can reflect that reality to others.

Death itself is the result of sinful disobedience to God. Each of us is born into a life that is overshadowed by the prospect of our own mortality, and the weight of that knowledge can work to constrain and to curtail our joy and our freedom in living in the fullest expression of what it means to love and to care about the world around us. Jesus overcame the hold that death has upon humanity, and He put human mortality into its rightful perspective. We all will still die, but in Christ, that is just a momentary change in the location of our residency. For Christ transforms our living spirits into ones that dwell in this life in the presence of the divine as the Holy Spirit comes to reside within us; then, when this life ceases, Christ takes us into the next aspect of our existence with Him as we continue on with a life that is carried out in the presence of God in the spiritual realm of heaven. This certainty of our eternal destiny is also something that we can proclaim to our world in the shamelessly bold manner of one who now lives in the center of the glorious truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  

Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Nehemiah 8: 10

At certain times it is natural to feel contradictory emotions. This is one of those times for the people of Israel. As Nehemiah, Ezra, and the priests were going among them and reading God’s Word of the Law to them, they were struggling greatly. They had much to be thankful for in that the wall that surrounded Jerusalem had been rebuilt and their city was being restored to its former greatness. They had returned to their homeland from exile, and the throngs were gathered in order to celebrate all that God had done for them and to give thanks to the Lord. As God’s Word was read, they heard the story of how God had been faithful to His people throughout all of history. They were given the details of the Lord’s call to holiness and to righteous living, and they were also struck by the stark contrast between God’s faithfulness to them and their sinful departure from His way of truth and life.

It was surely painful for them to face into the reality of how they had acted in response to all that God had done for them. The very ground that they were standing upon was something that God had provided for them. The great work of rebuilding that had just been finished was necessary because they had not remained true to God’s way of living and had allowed the ruin of rebellion against God to overtake their world. The Word of Truth must have been convicting to them, and their hearts were overcome with the need for repentance. Yet, they were being called out into a joyous celebration, for this was a time for a festival of thanksgiving and singing of songs of praise to the Lord. So, Nehemiah calls upon the people to enter into the party. They were to do things that indicated that their hearts were at peace and that their minds were filled with expressions of thanksgiving for all that the Lord had done and hope for where they were headed as a nation and in each of their lives. They felt sorrow, regret, and a need for repentance, and the Lord accepted all of that and called them into a heart-deep attitude of resting upon His grace and understanding that the Lord finds great joy in the return of His people to Him.

Very similar things are true for us today as well. We neglect our walls of truth and holiness. We leave God’s righteous way in order to seek out our own path through life, and the results of all of this can be just as troubling and even similarly disastrous as departing from the Lord’s will and way was for the Israelites. Christ calls upon us to return to Him, and He leads us into doing His work of restoration and rebuilding in our own lives. With grace and mercy He takes us back into the center of God’s will for the life that He has gifted to each of us. And just as it did for the people gathered in Jerusalem with Nehemiah and Ezra, God’s Word presents us with the full scope of His unceasing faithfulness to His promises to us and depicts our need for repentance for each of us in such a stark and powerful manner that it is hard to be anything other than sorrowful in the light of this revealed truth. Yet, Christ tells us to enter into the celebration and to be joyful in the presence of the Lord. These times of returning and of rebuilding bring joy to God’s heart, and His joy is cause for us to join with the Lord and to accept His gift of redemption that comes complete with His provision of the strength that we will need to move forward with the work to which Christ is calling us to engage.      

Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for people.

Colossians 3: 23

Performance standards are a big deal in the work world. If proof of this fact is needed, just ask any employee about the stress that is usually associated with the time of year that is known as Annual Performance Review Time. It is important from God’s perspective to strive to meet and to even exceed the standards that our employers set out for us, too. Yet, I think that the Lord wants for us to get more out of our work than just a sort of grit your teeth and do it well for the sake of the Kingdom of God type of satisfaction. God wants us to find joy and peace in all aspects of our lives.

Perhaps the key to doing this is found in the sorts of standards that we are setting for ourselves. The standards that people set for themselves and in the workplace tend to revolve around the tangible results that will come from the effort. So, profit tends to rise to the top when success is measured, and frequently, there is only limited regard for developing deep relationships in the process of seeking it. Whereas, God’s highest measure of success is defined by relationships. The Lord has committed all of Himself to bringing people into intimate connection with Himself. The human realm usually considers gain, power, and control as primary objectives; whereas, the Lord wants us to make compassion, understating, mercy, spiritual growth, and the pursuit of righteousness our primary goals.

The difference between these two view points in our workinglives is actually rather subtle, and God doesn’t want us to stop seeking to meet the tangible goals and objectives that our employers are seeking. However, it seems that a key to achieving satisfaction in work while achievingsuccess in the marketplace is found in adopting the Lord’s standards as our primary ones. When we place our human relationships above everything else, continually seek God’s wisdom for our interactions and our decisions, strive to be the face of Christ in our world, and perform with God’s righteousness as the focal point for our actions, we will better know the peace and the joy of the Lord during the work day. Also, our employers will benefit from the full presence of the most completely equipped worker possible.

Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of God.

Matthew 18: 4

Children are very interesting. There is usually a simplicity to the way that they face into life wherein they can say what they think without a lot of filtering or needless rambling around the topic at hand. They tend to trust those who care for and about them in a way that allows them to engage with direction or even with discipline with relatively easy acceptance. These young people can laugh in a manner that fills a room with their joy, and they are also not afraid to cry when things hurt and they need someone to hold and to hug them until the hurt fades. They also try things and risk failure with a certain carelessness that turns the failure into learning. This image of what a child is like was a part of what Jesus seemed to have had in mind as He talked about the life of a person who wanted to truly know and to follow God.

Unfortunately, people tend to lose much of this easy exuberance, trust, and simple faith as we age and leave behind the dependence of childhood and take on the independence of our adult years. It seems that we start to think that we need to possess all of the answers and have our responses to life figured out. This sets us up for both the appearance of arrogance and also for a false sense of self-determination and control. There is a fine balance to be achieved in all of this, for God has designed us to be thinking beings who take on responsibility and grow in wisdom and the strength that we require to serve Him well in our world. However, He also desires to remain involved and engaged with us as we go about doing His will, for God does not want any of his children to be separated from the influence of His Spirit or the fellowship and encouragement of His body.

Maturity in Christ is thus very different from the model of that advanced stage in life as it is often portrayed in our world. It is freeing in that it grants us permission to need the input and the involvement of others in our thoughts and actions. It also provides us with the ability to walk through our days in the company of others who are all seeking to serve the same Master with like-minded goals on view. We are set free to laugh out of the deep joy of Christ in our hearts and to cry with an openness that responds to the hurt and the pain that is all around us in this broken place. Childhood reentered in Christ is a blessing to our souls as it also brings that special sparkle of innocence and easy submission into a world that is too full of life’s heavy burdens. As adult children of the Father we are sent out on the great journey of service to God’s Kingdom while we are also held close in loving care and life-giving counsel and support.  

But let all who take refuge in you rejoice;

   let them ever sing for joy,

and spread your protection over them,

   that those who love your name may exult in you.

Psalm 5: 11

There is something really strange going on here. It is the sort of thing that I cannot remember ever having seen in film or encountered in a book, either. The. Author is facing some sort of dangerous adversary, and it would seem that the opponent is gaining the upper hand in the moment; yet, this same imperiled person starts singing. The song that is sung is not one of those nervous and tenuous sorts of tunes that are intended to demonstrate courage and a calm heart but actually show the exact opposite, either. This is a song of joy, peace, contentment, and even one that speaks out about victory in the current situation long before any rational person would have seen that victory was possible. This is the type of song that may not be expressed in audible fashion, for it is a song that starts and that resides deep within the singer’s heart.

A song like this is something that is formed out of the words that God implants within His people. These lyrics are the hope, joy, peace, and confidence that are shaped up out of the eternal certainty that comes from knowing God through and by being in a relationship with Jesus Christ. Yet, this sort of knowledge of God is useful and helpful not only as assurance of life beyond this world but it is also something that can be relied upon to provide strength, wisdom, and courage to face into all of the challenges, fears, and risks that come our way during the process of living out our daily lives. The song on view here is individual and personal for each of us as we engage in walking through our days with the Lord, but it is also something that we can join together with other followers of Christ in singing. Christ invites us to join in His choir of faith that is continuously formed up by all people who know Him. The words to the songs that it sings are supplied through God’s Word and are made accessible to the chorus by the presence of the Holy Spirit in its midst. God is the author of these lyrics of joyous praise, the Spirit trains and coaches the singers in their deep meaning, and Christ is the director of this heaven-focused band.

All of this would sound great, but it would be practically useless if it were not for the reality of God’s involvement in the lives of people. We may not even realize the extent or the nature of His involvement in our days, but the Lord is with each of us in the various situations and circumstances that form up the substance and the structure of each of our days. This protection and care are usually not highly apparent, for God’s hand is operating all of the time in the background of our world as He holds together the fabric of this chaos-bound environment. Still, there are times when God and His ministering angels are the only truly rational answer to what has transpired in a moment or during the process of the day. Still, hard, harsh, and painful things happen in our world. There are instances when the hand of God seems to reach out and stop the dangerous or the harmful event in its course. There are other situations wherein God’s presence brings comfort in the wake of the injury or the illness. In it all, we are always granted the hope of our assurance in Christ that there is nothing that can come our way in this world that can truly and eternally harm our souls. In all situations and through each circumstance that life tosses at us, we can join the choir of faith in singing out in exultant praise the name of the Lord who protects and whose love has saved us from all harm.   

But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Mark 8: 33

These are harsh words. These is the sort of thing that most people are very uncomfortable with saying to someone else; especially, to someone that we are close to and that we care about greatly. Yet, this was exactly what Jesus needed to say to Peter and to the rest of His close group of followers. When Jesus had stated the reality of where they were headed and of what that destination would mean for Him, they were troubled to the point of completely rejecting the idea of sacrifice. They seemed to be pleased with the miraculous healings and even with the way that Jesus managed crowds and fed their physical bodies while filling the souls with new life. They didn’t necessarily understand most of this, but they were delighted to participate in it all. But now Jesus reveals the balance of the story, and with that image of suffering and of pain came the sobering prospect of their own participation in that same self-sacrificing service to God.

Yet, that sacrifice is what was to be required of Jesus in order to overcome humanity’s sinful rebellion against God. The antagonism of the world would need to be poured out upon the perfect love that God gave to Creation in the form of the spotless lamb of glory, the Christ. By extension and by virtue of inclusion this same antagonism is something that all people who follow Christ do encounter. In conjunction with healing, deep joy, peace, and fellowship with God and with His body of faith comes pain, rejection, grief, and real loss. So, these last elements of life in Christ are things that Satan would have us join with Peter in attempting to reject. “Surely an all-loving and caring Father, God would not demand that His beloved children undergo such hardships. Either you are misunderstanding what God is requiring of you, or He is not all that great and caring a being. Regardless of which is true, God’s commandments and His direction for life and about living it are to be questioned and set aside when they disagree with personal comfort, pleasure, or happiness.” So, spoke the Serpent to Eve and Adam, and so too we hear Satan’s whispered lies in our ears.

In the light of this reality, Jesus does not sound so harsh. As I consider that the alternative to listening to Christ is following Satan’s guidance, even a verbal slap in the face from the Lord is not too much to handle. In order to truly live as a child of the Risen King, I must be willing to set aside the easy and the comfortable things of this world and follow Christ to His cross and beyond it into a life that is guaranteed to be unpopular and troubled. In so committing myself to serving Him, I am placing truth above conformity, love as greater than safety, compassion in the role of guiding principle for embracing people, and loyalty to justice as supreme to any other form of allegiance that might attempt to call my name. Jesus loved Peter and His disciples greatly, and He loves each of us with the same depth of passion and absolute commitment to caring for our hearts, minds, and souls as He did them. That is why He was so direct with them in matters such as this, and this is why the Lord is also direct with us. We must be willing to trust Christ enough to follow Him into the sacrificial living that seeking to make a difference in our world requires. We are called upon by the Lord to love when that is unpopular, to give away what we hold dearest, to speak and live out truth even as it is held in disdain by our culture, and to give up all human rights for the sake of eternal glory. These are the sorts of actions that leave Satan and his whispered lies behind and that relegate him to the dust of his destiny.      

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