Joy


But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”

Luke 18: 16

 

On the surface of it all, it would seem that Jesus liked children. Now I think that He probably did enjoy them. Although, He had none of His own, it is easy for me to envision Jesus playing with a group of children, telling them stories, and comforting them when they fell and were scraped and bruised. All of that seems reasonable, and it all fits into my image of how God views the behaviors of children, too. The Lord delights in the simple innocence that they bring to much of what they do, and He also is overjoyed when that innocence in life transitions into a simple and easy faith in God, Himself. God is fully aware of just how much harder in becomes to have faith in Him as we gain in years and grow in the depth of our human understandings. The knowledge and the experience that we acquire tends to get in the way of accepting Christ based upon faith alone.

 

So, Jesus wanted to have the opportunity to engage with the young ones who had not become too wise and gained worldly understanding that was greater than their own good. They were easier to talk with about living in the manner that God desires for us to live. They were open to having their lives shaped by God’s Law as they gave themselves over to following the Lord in all aspects of life. Unfortunately, this sort of total and absolute surrender becomes ever more difficult for us as we become older, for then we believe that we know better than do others, including God, and we think that we have too much to lose in surrendering our lives to Christ. All of this is untrue; yet, this is the sort of thinking that holds people back from entering into a relationship with Christ, and this is also a part of what keeps those of us who already know Him from opening up and yielding all of ourselves to the transformative work of the Spirit.

 

In fact, we do not need to be young in years in order to come to Christ and to enter into a full and complete relationship with Him; however, it helps greatly if we have an attitude of youthful enthusiasm for Christ and for His Word and if we can set aside complex reasoning and simply accept eternal truth as being real, valid, and absolute. There come times in all of our lives when we must enter into this sort of surrender. We will all encounter situations and conditions in life that are beyond our ability to reason them out or to think our way to a satisfactory conclusion. The necessity of faith is inevitable, for we all will come to a place where the only option available to us is the one where we come to Jesus and let Him give us the comfort, care, and strength that we need to continue on through the day. There will be a time when everyone needs to be like a little child in the presence of the One who loves us beyond this life and into eternity.

 

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Kiss the Son,

lest he be angry, and you parish in the way,

for his wrath is quickly kindled.

Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

Psalm 2: 12

 

God is not to be trifled with, and neither is His Son, Jesus. Although the Lord does come to all people in love and with grace and mercy extended to the ends of the earth, He is also the God of righteousness and justice. He is Lord and Rightful King over all of the earth and the entirety of the universe beyond it. There are no limits to that authority, and there exists no end to God’s reach when it comes to redemption or rebuke. This reality is something to hold in great awe and with extraordinary respect. Christ has been restrained in His application of judgement upon our lawlessness and sin, but that restraint will end, and that end may come at any moment. People and nations should be ready to answer to their Lord from the depths of their hearts and with the ledger of their life’s thoughts, words, and actions opened and fully displayed for judgment.

 

Although this verse caries in it a strong note of warning, it also comes with the strongest possible one of hope. There is the absolute promise of blessing that God speaks throughout history over His creation. The Lord’s blessing brings life in its fullest sense. So, it carries with it peace, joy, care, compassion, mercy, comfort, love, and redemption. The Lord’s blessing provides those who place ourselves under His authority and inside of the law of His holy kingdom with understanding and wisdom to use in conducting the affairs of life in a loving and just manner. His Word brings us into the center of His will for all of the aspects of conducting life on this earth, and His Spirit guides us ever deeper into knowledge of that word’s author so that its wisdom can be applied to every circumstance and situation that we might encounter. There is nothing in this life or on this earth that does not fit within the guidance and the wise direction of the Lord.

 

So, there is no good reason to wait or to delay in turning to Christ and in giving all over to His authority and rule. In fact, it is both foolish and personally harmful to withhold anything or any part of ourselves from Him. God desires to bless our lives greatly, and He grants His blessings to us throughout all of the days of our lives in ways that impact every aspect of our journey through life. He also wishes to redeem and to bless the entire world in like manner, and Christ calls upon everyone that He has blessed with His presence to participate in this redemptive work. We are to seek after justice and to promote mercy in every corner of our world, and we are to do these things in the name of our Lord, the Savior of the World, Jesus Christ. There is no true redemption without Christ at its center, and there is no lasting peace absent the truth of God’s Word. In the end, all salvation comes from God, and His salvation with its unending blessings is found only in Christ who we are called upon by the Lord to continuously proclaim in all of His glory and might.

Oh that you had paid attention to my commandments!

Then your peace would have been like a river,

and your righteousness like the waves of the sea.

Isaiah 48: 18

 

Only if? This is one of the great regret questions that people ask of themselves. Only if I had responded differently, or my attention had been given more of the time. Things would have been so different, and the outcomes would have been so much more enjoyable. Yet, what is done, is indeed done. Things said already resonate off of the hills as our actions have already brought about pain, grief, and separation. At this moment, each of us has cast a shadow of the past upon the future, and that shadow is now a tangible part of the landscape that we will need to navigate during the coming aspects of life’s journey. Yet, God has always wanted each of us to understand that this situation does not mean that life is hopelessly diminished or that joy is beyond redemption during our days.

 

Christ offers the true hope of redemption to anyone who will enter in to His life-giving sacrifice and so allow grace to bathe a weary soul in His healing blood of rebirth. This does not eliminate the relational and the life pain that our actions and words have caused, but it does grant to us a form of forgiveness that brings freedom to the soul and that frees the body to take the steps of repentance and restoration that the situation requires. We may not be able to repair all of the harm that we have done during our days, but Christ walks with us in the attempt to do so, and He empowers and equips us to enter into the effort. With Christ we are baptized in the rushing current of God’s river of peace, and we can ride the waves of His righteousness as they break down barriers that sin has built around people’s hearts.

 

We might like for God’s peace to be a calm and a soothing place for us to dwell, but it isn’t. Righteousness is not smooth and placid, either. The peace that Christ gives to His followers is active, powerful, and compelling. His righteousness is challenging, disruptive, and forceful as it assails the defensive barriers that sin has constructed in our world and within our relationships. When we enter into Christ’s peace and engage in a life that is compelled forward by His righteousness, we are swimming in an unstoppable current that is intent on pulling all who will yield to its Lord and Master into its redemptive flow. The power of this river is found in the love and the grace that Christ grants to everyone who enters into Him and engages in a life that is now defined by God’s Word of truth. God’s peace is active, engaged, and often leads us to venture into turbulent waters, but at the same time, it allows us to do all of this while experiencing a calm, a joy, and the sure knowledge of salvation that come directly from Christ.

Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down,

but a good word makes him glad.

Proverbs 12: 25

 

Anxiety is real. It is not a false emotion or the result of a failure of faith, of trust, or of any other aspect of discipline or understanding. When a person is anxious, normal processes and functions are disrupted and are often interrupted. An anxious mind is seldom one that clearly processes information, and it struggles with making quick and well-reasoned decisions. This all happens in degrees, for sometimes we experience a sense that things are not alright or that there is something unpleasant coming our way. However, at other times, this same sort of feeling can become so strong as to set off hormonal responses in the body as it starts to trigger strong responses such as fight or flight. There is something in the nature of our world today that is causing us to be an anxious people, too. There is certainly much to be uncertain about, and our days are burdened with concerns and cares that are present on every level of society and in almost every culture, nation, and group of people.

 

God has given us the gift of science and also the gift of the knowledge and skill of people who have learned to assess and to diagnose the issues that plague our bodies and our minds, and He has also provided us with treatments and with medications that work to combat the disabling effects of anxiety. I endorse the seeking of professional medical and mental health support and the appropriate use of therapies and medications. I also believe that God has given to us tools of faith to use in order to gain the upper hand on our concerns, fears, and other disabling feelings and emotions. As we can see from this proverb, anxiety is not new or singularly a part of our troubled modern world and its culture. Anxiety goes back to the beginning of human existence, for I would not be surprised if we could speak with Adam and Eve that they would be able to testify to their own highly anxious moments of hiding out from the presence of God as He was taking His afternoon garden stroll. However, anxious thoughts can lead us to something very good.

 

Adam and Eve came out into the open and faced into the issues at hand with the Lord. Not all that happens as a result was pleasant for them, for sure, but not all of it was bad, either. Their anxiety was the direct result of their disobedience to God; yet, that is not always the case with others. When sin is the causal issue, confession, repentance, and seeking God’s gracious wisdom is often a means to find relief from the disabling aspects of the concerns at hand. In other situations, we can still turn to God in honest and open prayer while also seeking out the wisdom that is found in God’s Word and through the counsel and advice of other people with faith in Christ. We can also turn to the people in Christ’s body, the church, to walk through these difficult times with their arms enfolding us in the tangible presence of Christ. These people of faith, God’s Word, and the voice of His Spirit are all sources for those good words that the Lord gives to us to encourage our spirits and to focus our minds on truth. The presence of Christ brings peace and clarity of thought, and from this hoy place, we can more readily face the challenges of today with Christ’s joy in our hearts and on the mind.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

Romans 15: 13

 

Hope is an interesting idea. It seeks the future and anticipates a positive or a good outcome for that dream or desire. Hope has its feet planted confidently on a basis of truth and experience that leads to consideration of that future outcome without giving today’s situation or circumstances much consideration or weight. So, hope may seem to defy logic, and it might appear foolish or unproductive to people who do not share in faith in the same foundation and source. Hope takes us from the cares and trials of today and grants to us a vision of the potential for redemption in the future. When hope is founded in Christ, it leads us out of the slavery to fear, doubt, and guilt that attempt to stifle our ability to love and that attempt to defeat our capability to serve the Lord with our gifts and talents.

 

Christ brings healing for all that is broken in us. He pours out grace upon our battered hearts, minds, and souls, and He guides us out of the darkened places where we have been dwelling so that the light of truth can cover us and show us the path into service to God in our world. Christ’s healing touch is applied to each and every area of our lives that has been damaged by sin and by its effects and consequences. This includes things that we have done and the many other things that come our way because we live here in a world where Satan and his agents are actively seeking to deceive, damage, and tear down all that is good, just, righteous, and holy. Christ guards us and guides us through this earthly and spiritual battleground so that we can know true peace and dwell in the deep-seated joy of the Lord’s presence.

 

Although hope might seem insubstantial and even dream-like in its lack of firm definition and tangible substance, it, in fact, brings with it great power. For hope that is grounded in a relationship with Christ is established upon the singular truth of eternity, a truth that overcomes all of the deception and lies that press down upon us. Hope frees us up to receive love, and grants to us the gift of love to give away to others. Hope steps through and beyond difficulty and even past pain in order to allow us to see God’s plan for us with a clarity that propels us forward. There are hard days, and there will always be challenges to face, but hope in Christ and a view of tomorrow that is set upon His promises and guided by His love and grace will move us forward into His joy and peace.

 

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

Jude 24, 25

 

We have all seen what it is like in a courtroom. This may be true from real life experience or these impressions might have come to us through television or film. There is one word that generally does not describe the scene in that place, and that word is joy. The exception to this is probably when the verdict is pronounced, and then. sometimes joy or joyous describes the prevailing party. This verse depicts a different sort of courtroom where the outcome, the verdict, carries a much more significant weight than does the one that can be handed out in any human court of law. In God’s court, each of us is held accountable for the life that we lived, for the righteous conduct of our days, and to the decisions that we made in regards to our relationship with the judge, God Himself.

 

Frankly, no one passes the test of the high standard of righteousness that God sets for us. Every one of us fails as no one is worthy of being in the presence of the pure and holy being that is the Lord. However, this same pure, holy and righteous God does not want to be separated from us. He designed and created each person on this earth with the desire and intent of enjoying a relationship with us that would continue into the infinite. So, God came into our world in the person of Jesus. He brought to us an answer to our guilt as Jesus took upon His absolutely blameless and innocent self the punishment that we deserve. With our guilty verdict proclaimed upon Christ, God allowed our death sentence to be carried out upon Himself so that when we appear before the seat of judgement after our days in this world are completed, the verdict that we will hear is innocent, and we are set free to enjoy the eternal presence of the Lord as we dwell in His glorious realm.

 

Although living for eternity in God’s presence is an extraordinary outcome to the highly flawed and blameworthy lives that we all live, it is not all that Christ grants to us through His sacrificial acceptance of our verdict of shameful guilt. In Christ, we are set free from a form of slavery that oppresses the soul and so subjects the heart and mind to its bondage. Christ redeems us from that life-long captivity, from that pre-sentence incarceration, so that we can live out our days breathing the free air of God’s Kingdom on earth where our lives are given great purpose and meaning as we are called by Christ to serve His redemptive mission. It is Christ’s grace that makes us, sinful and disobedient as we may be, suitable for this service. He pours out His righteousness upon us, and so, we are found to be blameless, and God joyously pronounces us to be fit for service to Him.

The Lord reigns; He is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed; He has put on strength as His belt.

Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved.

Your throne is established from of old; You are from everlasting.

Psalm 93: 1-3

 

Life gets crazy; there is too much to get done and no time; too many obligations and no resources. The things that we think that we need the most at any given moment break or hide themselves from us. The frustrations of daily living can often be more than we can bear. So, we ask ourselves these questions, “Why can’t things just work like they are supposed to; why can’t people simply be reliable?” “Where is God in all of this chaos and brokenness?”

 

I think that perhaps God’s answer to these questions, His response to these frustrations is that we are not looking high enough; that we need to lift our eyes from the floor and look out at His creation. This world is flawed, these things that I have surrounded myself with are fallible, and we people are unreliable at best. So, perhaps the answer to these daily frustrations is found in the orientation of the eyes of my heart; for, instead of focusing on what is broken and flawed, I can be looking at the face of God. Rather than whining and complaining about how hard life is, my voice can be lifted up to express praise to my Creator. For the Lord is the same, has never changed, and will never fail me. He is King over all of his Creation, and He is the mighty King.

 

God’s kingdom has nothing to do with cars or houses or with our wealth. His kingdom is built in our hearts; we share in His majesty and we live continually in the presence of the King of Glory. As we open our eyes to see Him and allow His Spirit to orient our hearts to the Lord’s perspective, the great wealth that surrounds us becomes real and tangible, and everything else in life becomes functional. In God’s economy, living with peace and joy becomes possible, and the way we enter into relationship with everyone becomes important. Its all a matter of where the eyes are focused.

 

 

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