Joy


No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.

John 15: 15

 

Let me simply state where I am going in this. The life that I am called to live in following Christ is not one of compulsion; rather, it is a journey of faith in which God takes me into His presence and provides a form of counsel and guidance that I willingly surrender myself to follow. Now, in truth, the level, degree, and consistency of that following are highly variable. None of that inconsistency has anything to do with God’s involvement in my life or with His remaining true to His desire to see me be a willing follower. It is also not so much a result of some form of rebellion on my part as it is caused by my stubborn refusal to give up aspects of my life that are contrary to God’s righteousness and loving truth. Even when I am off course, the Lord tends to bring me back into my redeemed reality by way of gentle yet direct reminders and prompting.

 

It is through the presence of Christ in my life, the Spirit within me, that I gain deep and thorough knowledge of the nature and character of God and that I come to understand the underlying reason and rationale for how the Lord thinks and what He feels. This is a significant part of what distinguishes followers of Christ from the rest of the people in our world. We possess this knowledge and comprehension of God that allows us to apply His foundational truth to making all of the choices and decisions that we need to make throughout the day. Unlike most people in positions of authority, God takes us into His reason and reveals His heart to us. He has given His Word to us, and the Spirit brings that word to life and provides us with an unending narrative regarding intent, interpretation, and application.

 

So, Christ treats me and every other person who follows Him as true and enduring friends. He reveals His pain and His joy, and He entrusts us with doing the redemptive work in this world that is the Father’s greatest calling for Him and for us. In fact, we are taken out of a form of bondage that sin and the powers of evil in our world have surrounded and captivated us with from birth, and He brings us out of its darkness into the full-sun brightness of God’s love, grace, and renewal. Christ releases us from a form of slavery that leads to death, and He sets us free to live life in the fullest expression of the way that God designed and created us to live. In Christ there is joy to be known that has nothing to do with circumstances, and there is peace to be experienced that comes from the security and the certainty of the Father’s unceasing love for us. Jesus truly holds each of us who know Him as deep and intimate friends, and He desires to be able to call everyone friend as well.

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Godliness actually is a means of great gain, when accompanied by contentment.

1 Timothy 6: 6

When considering the state of my personal fortune, it seems important for me to check the right ledger for my true account balances. During my life, I have put a lot of energy into growing my income, building up my worth, and caring greatly about the things that I own. Unfortunately, most of this has had little lasting positive effect, and there have been a number of negative ones. Earning a living, even earning a good living is fine in God’s eyes. After all, He designed us with a drive to do so, and He is the provider of all of the aspects of our ability to work, our drive to succeed, and the need for gainful employment. It’s my attitude toward all of this that matters.

From the Lord’s perspective, the ledgers and the accounts that matter are covered with attitudes, spiritual growth, and healing. As Christ invested totally in people and in their relationships with God, so we are called to do the same. Gain in our world is an interestingly elusive thing. One day we can be substantially ahead of where we were; then, suddenly, it can all disappear. When our investments are in people, a really similar thing can happen, for some people just stop responding or they turn to follow a different voice. So, this is why contentment is vital in this form of investment. The contentment that God wants us to enjoy doesn’t come from what we accomplish or from how good we are at the task; rather, it comes from the growth in our personal relationships with God that comes through these efforts.

There is great gain to be had from following Christ, and some of it may even be financial. However, God promises us that we will receive a form of riches and wealth that is beyond the levels of our most aggressive investment plans if we do truly follow Him. The Lord asks us to trust Him with all that we have. That is all of our time, money, assets, ego, fears and concerns, inhibitions, lack of training, fear of rejection, and anything else that stops us from investing in making Christ more real in our world. When we commit and enter in fully to God’s investment plan, the Lord of the Universe promises that He will bring us gain beyond our ability to dream, and a form of contentment for our souls that defies all human logic and reason.

So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the LORD.

Joshua 9: 14

 

This is one of those strange moments in the story of the conquest of the land of Canaan by the Israelites under Joshua’s leadership. In fact, this is a point where the story seems to take a sort of left turn into the realm of Theater of the Absurd. The story tells us that this one group of people from within the land sent representatives to Joshua in order to act out a drama in which they convinced the Israelites that they were actually from far away. So, the Israelites entered into a covenant with these Gibeonites that they would not harm them. It was only after this that it was learned that the seemingly road weary, worn down and dusty travelers standing before them were actually skillful actors who were dressed in costumes and were using stage props in order to convince Joshua of their sincerity.

 

The true point in all of this is found in this simple statement. Although God had been consistently providing wisdom, guidance, and counsel for Joshua and for the people for a very long time by now, they chose to make this decision on their own. In the overall scheme of things, this was not a very big deal. These were a few people who could do little harm, and they told a very convincing story. Yet, history has demonstrated that small decisions and little events can have extraordinary and ever-lasting consequences. Consider what impact a few deceptive words from a serpent had on us all after Adam and Eve acted upon them. This bit of grand theater that was carried out by the representatives of Gibeon is very similar in tactic to the way that Satan deceived our ancestors in the garden. Also, in both instances, the answer to the problem at hand would have been easy to discern by simply taking a few moments to turn to God and seek out His counsel and wisdom.

 

There is universal truth to this human dilemma and failing. We want to take charge of our lives and to make our own decisions along the way. Yet, we also know that God is in life with us and that He provides us with multiple sources for His ageless and universally applicable wisdom. So, we determine which issues and under what circumstances we will go it on our own or seek out the Lord first. This is what Joshua and the Israelites did here, and for them this self-directed decision would haunt them for generations to come. There was a better way for them to proceed, and there is a better way for us to engage with life also. The Lord provides us with His Word of truth to guide our journeys through this world. His Spirit also speaks wisdom to us, and the body of faith surrounds us with people who are similarly informed. God intends for His people to turn to Him and to trust Him to lead us through all of life. His counsel is ours, and it brings life, peace, and righteousness to our days. So, why would we ever join Joshua in saying, “Never mind, Lord; I’ve got this one handled?”

For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.

John 5: 21

 

God is the creator of all. There is noting that exists in the universe that comes from outside of His touch. Now there are certainly aspects and elements of the world around us that have gone radically off track from the Creator’s design and intent, but the initial work and crafting were engaged in and completed by God. As He is both the force and the intent behind all that is in our visible world and in the unseen realm of the spiritual, all that was set into existence by God’s hands was good and perfect in its inherent state of being. When things have gone astray, it is because of the brokenness that our sinful departure from God’s will, law, and rule over our lives has caused. Our ancestors listened to the seductive voice of evil, it spoken by a created being that chose to depart from God’s way for one that seemed to offer personal glory. Then they likewise determined that their true fulfillment was to be found in a self-determined path.

 

As we know from the narrative of all that followed, this was a disastrous decision. A life that was lived out in the ongoing presence of God and that was situated in the perfection of a lovingly crafted world had been granted to them, but then, after their rebellion against the one who loved them perfectly, they were forced into a separation that placed distance between people and our God and that brought about death where life had ruled. We are all born into this new reality where life is tenuous and too short and wherein our years a filled with the hard labor that existence demands. There is no other option that we are given except to endure it all and to live out our days in the isolation from our Creator that this beginning of time decision demanded. Yet, God did not desire for it to remain so. Even from those first moments when humanity was estranged from Him and from His holy presence, the Father set out His plan for redemption.

 

First of all, God did reengage with His children. He sought us out and He determined to continue to do this for the rest of time. The Father is a loving pursuer of our souls, and He is relentless in doing this. He also sent His Son, Jesus, into our world to dwell with us and to provide a complete and a perfect answer to the separation that sin had formed in our relationships with God. As the Father is the creator of life and holds it as His unique and total possession, so He has also granted this authority and power to the Son. Thus Jesus, by virtue of His sacrifice on the cross and His overcoming of death in the resurrection, has become the way and the means for all people to know life again. As we come in faith to Christ, we are redeemed from the death that grips our souls and that leads to an unending separation from our Creator. Christ utilizes the authority over life that the Father granted to Him to impart a form of life that transcends the duration of our earthly bodies. He grants to us the touch of eternity in this life, and in Christ we are also given the gift of life that continues beyond our days here into an unending future that is enjoyed in the presence of the love and the glory of the Lord.

Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.

1 Timothy 4: 4, 5

 

There is much in this world that I take for granted. It is with us. It is a part of the background of life. These may be things that are relatively necessary such as food and water, and there may be the background of existence such as trees, earth, and sky. The point is that I don’t think much about them, for they just are. It comes as no surprise that God might want for me to hold all of this differently as interacting with and viewing these things is a rather frequent occurrence. God has an annoying way of showing me that my perspective is distorted and how His passion meets my indifference. I guess that this is another in the long list of reasons why He is God and I am blessed to serve Him as my King.

 

In this passage Paul is reminding us that God expressed a benedictory blessing upon all of His creation. In the creation account of Genesis we hear that God proclaimed that it was all good. I believe that He meant what He said. All of creation was good, and it was all intended to be of benefit to the people that God had fashioned in His image to dwell in the land and to hold dominion over it on behalf of and in honor to our Lord. That is how God intended for it to be. However, sin entered in, and all of it became broken and God’s perfect plan was distorted by Satan’s deception and by our acceptance of those half-truths and lies. We have created false rules to live by. We have turned away from God and to the worship of various aspects of creation. Humanity has become diminished from our God-ordained position of authority and responsibility by our fears and our arrogant and self-centered need to gain power and control.

 

God wants us to view our entire world with a thankful heart. Everything that we see, touch, and experience is here for a purpose. Even the smallest of organisms was crafted by the hand of the master craftsman. Whether we view this world through the lens of a microscope or we look out into the universe with a telescope what we see is the handiwork of the King. Yet, none of it, not even the most amazing and magnificent of the things that we see, is worthy of praise or worship. All of creation points to the loving and orderly heart of the Creator, God Almighty. Perspective on it all is gained as we express our thanks to Him for this incredible gift that He made for our benefit. The Lord provides understanding of our role and responsibility in its management and care as we search His heart and will in His Word and through prayer. In this way God reveals the magnificence of His generosity, and He directs His people to live in a manner that points others toward the Creator.

Get up! Consecrate the people and say, “Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow; for thus says the LORD, God of Israel, “There are devoted things in your midst, O Israel. You cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the devoted things from among you.””

Joshua 7: 13

 

The story has taken a very difficult turn. Defeat has come to the Israelite warriors, and this was not just a loss in battle. This was a turn and run, flee for your life after being overwhelmed sort of loss. Soldiers had been killed, and the victorious Amorites were beating their chests and taunting God’s people with all manner of derogatory words. To say the least, this was a very bad day, and there was nothing about tomorrow that looked any brighter. It seemed that maybe the long years of hard journey that had followed upon generations of hard life were just going to continue on without let up from this generation through to the future ones. Joshua was discouraged, and the people that he was leading were down hearted and defeated as well. This was that moment when God seemed far off and they felt quite alone in their struggles with life.

 

Yet, that was not true. God was more near than any of them realized. They were so caught up in the pain of defeat and in their fear for what sort of disaster was to come upon them soon that they forgot to stay worshipful and focused upon God’s faithful promise keeping history with them. The reason that God’s favor had left them was that they had turned from trusting Him. They had gone off on their own and done things as they pleased without the Lord’s guidance. They had also deviated from God’s word of truth and life so that their sinfulness had become a barrier between them and their Lord. This combination of entering into thoughts and behaviors that run contrary to God’s righteousness, this sinfulness, and turning away from a relationship in which we trust God fully is a common process in human endeavor.

 

We reject God’s truth because we would rather do things our own way. Then we take action upon our own desires and wishes so that our lives turn away from God’s path of righteous engagement with our world. Finally, we stop trusting God and placing our faith in Him as that form of closeness has become uncomfortable and our troubled hearts can’t handle that level of intimacy with God. However, God does not go far from us. He may allow the situations and the circumstances of life to become big and powerful. He may, as He did with the Israelites, allow us to experience defeat and very real loss. Yet, the Lord is there with us. He will step in to pick us up and set us back on His course through this world. God will point to our sinfulness, He will work within us to bring about repentance and restoration, and His Spirit will continue to guide us back into the joy of life that comes when we are fully devoted to the Lord and our lives are lived in close relationship with Him.

By awesome deeds you answer us in righteousness, O God of our salvation,

you who are the trust of all ends of the earth and of the farthest sea.

Psalm 65: 5

 

Everything about God is extraordinary and beyond the scope of my imagination; yet, everything that I need is completely and readily within the Lord’s command and grasp. The things that I view as impossible are routine for Him, and the issues that cause me worry, concern, and fear are things that He can handle in an instant. Additionally, the Lord knows when I actually need what sort of response from Him. He gives to us in the way that the best possible parents desire to give to their children; for, the Lord provides the sort of response that makes us stronger in our faith, that brings us closer to Him, and that shows His gracious love to the world.

 

The issue that gets in the way of my ability to fully appreciate and to enjoy the peace and live with the faith and courage that comes from this intimate trust relationship is my own combination of doubt and desire for self-control. I have this tendency to believe that my issues and concerns are really big deals, for they are from my perspective. Then I try to hold onto them and to solve them with my personal skills and wisdom. Unfortunately, when I do this, I am ignoring the source of all true wisdom and understanding in the universe, and I am operating my life at a self-determined distance from the most powerful resource for solving problems that will ever be available.

 

The same God that created this world and that holds it together is the Lord over all of my life. He simply wants me to trust Him with that role. He blesses my days with a continual stream of caring and responsive actions, and the Lord provides me with answers to challenges that I have not even identified. Living with this sort of total trust is simple to say but often much harder to do. Yet, all that God wants is for me to trust Him to the level that before I expend one ounce of energy on worry or take even an instant to work on solving my problems that I would turn to Him in prayer and humble submission to His will.

 

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