Rejoicing


I have said these things to you, that in Me you would have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world.

John 16: 33

These were hard times and painful hours for Jesus and for His followers. After the great shouts of greeting from the crowds in the streets that had been ringing out just a few short days before, the let down of these dark hours of the night of Passover must have seemed even more starkly sobering. Jesus had clearly stated for his people to hear that He was going to join the Father. They would be on their own. They didn’t understand. Like these first followers of Christ, we, too, can often feel alone. Life seems to be making demands upon us that are too big and hard for us to handle. Yet, the truth that Jesus proclaimed to His disciples on that night in Jerusalem is every bit as valid and real for us today as it was then.

One of God’s great strengths is His truthfulness. He lets us know what is on His mind, and He never holds back on the truth even when it might seem painful or hard. Also, He doesn’t try to make us think that life will be perfectly calm and safe after we commit to following Him. We live in a world that has been antagonistic to God for a very long time, and our modern environment has done nothing to change that hard reality. I know that when I honestly search my own heart and view the way that I think and act in the light of God’s righteousness that there can be a very large disconnect. The perfect obedience of Christ is what I desire to see reflected in my mirror, but it is the faithlessness and disobedience of Adam that I too often encounter there. The world with its pressures to conform and to join in has a great pull upon our hearts and minds; yet, Christ exerts an even greater attraction.

Jesus speaks to my troubled soul and He says that I can be at peace. In Him I do find the reassurance that even the very hardest of things that I will encounter in this world are things that He has experienced and has defeated. Christ takes my weakness and the brokenness of my life into His loving hands. He doesn’t just apply a dressing to my wounds or a splint to my broken bones; rather, He breaths healing and restoration into the core of my being. Even when the turmoil is swirling about me, Christ reassures me that He is here and thus, I can be dwelling in the center of His peace. There is no place and no event that is beyond His reach. Everything in this world is subject to His rule. So, in Christ we too can face the world with absolute confidence knowing that we too are victorious.

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The Lord will keep you from all evil; He will keep your life.

The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in

from this time forth and forevermore.

Psalm 121: 7, 8

So, it could be true that these verses are actually taken from a children’s fairy tale. Along this line of reason, they were written by someone who wanted to provide a rosy-tinted and false sense of security to some young people so that they would go to sleep and stop bothering their adult care givers. Well, no; that simply isn’t true. These lines are taken from one entry in that wonderful body of writing that is known as the Psalms of Ascents. These are traveler’s tales. The sorts of reminders that whole Jewish families would recite and sing together as they took the often dangerous and arduous journey from their homes to Jerusalem so that they could worship God together with their entire nation. Although they were intended to ease the journey and to make the miles go by faster, they had a much greater purpose than that.

These songs are intended to remind the singers of God. As the travelers recited the lines from them their hearts were being prepared to enter into deep and transformative worship. The author of these lines was not attempting to gloss over the hardships of life. Instead, he deals with them from the perspective of an extreme realist. In these verses we see the great challenge that confronts all of us as we go about our own travels. Evil is out there; it is everywhere. It crouches and lurks among the shadows of the street where we live. It comes at us from far away, and it even attempts to set its traps in our own homes. Evil tries to worm its way into our minds and whisper the lies of Satan to our hearts. Although it has been defeated by Christ, evil just hasn’t gotten that message; so, it is relentless in its attempts to disrupt the lives of people who do know God.

Since this was the nature of the world that these ancient travelers knew, they sang about the truth of God’s protection, preservation, and salvation. As this same often harsh reality is ours, we can do the same thing. There is an old popular image of a person who is walking along a dark and frightening lane; so, in order to get his courage up, he starts to whistle. This idea was expressed in The King and I as Anna sings, “Whenever I feel afraid, I hold my head erect and whistle a happy tune, so no one will suspect I’m afraid.” There is one very big difference between the experiences of these fictional characters and those of God’s people. Their courage was a façade; it didn’t penetrate to their hearts. However, we can trust that God is truly protecting us. He will take us along the road that we are traveling, and our souls will be safe. There is danger in the journey, but the outcome of it all is never in question. During every minute of each day, Christ holds us close and keeps us secure, and this is true for each of us today and forevermore.

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.   

Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.

John 2: 10

At this moment toward the end of that very short time that Jesus had to live in our midst, He does something that is so simple and yet is miraculous. They are all attending a party, a marriage celebration. These celebrations are very festive, and they are important for the entire community, too. For these people a marriage has symbolic and actual value. It is the actual coming together of two individual people who form a new family unit with all of its potential for productivity and fruitfulness. The marriage also symbolizes the continuation of God’s people as was promised by the Lord. So, I don’t think that it was  an act of coincidence that caused Jesus to perform this first of His numerous miraculous signs at this occasion.

It has long been my impression that this story is about Christ’s mastery over creation. I have considered the point to be specifically about how God’s love and compassion is brought to meet the needs of individual people. This still seems like a worthwhile concept to take from this event. Yet, I now think that there is something else here that is much greater in its significance. Jesus doesn’t use just any water. He uses water that was put into the jars that were designated for holding water for “the Jewish rites of purification”. This water was an integral part of their religious system, and it was essential for use in ritually cleansing the people who were participating in the feast and for doing the same for the utensils that they used. Jesus could have gathered water from other sources. He could have had it drawn straight from the well. But He directed that these jars be filled with water.

As we know, when the water is tasted by the presiding expert, the master of the feast, he proclaims that it is the good wine. Jesus has taken that which requires time and human labor in a process that can be challenging and filled with difficulties to produce, and He has accomplished it in an instant by the power of His word. Even more significantly, He has taken the water which was weak and temporary in its effectiveness to purify and to bring the people and the things of this world into a state of acceptance before the holiness of God, and Christ has changed it into the new wine that is perfect and imperishable. The old covenant of works and human endeavor has come face to face with the new one that is founded in the gracious love of God and that is made real in the sacrificial obedience of Christ. Here, at a humble wedding that was held in an outcast land, the reuniting of sinful humanity with its Creator is celebrated with a deep drink from the wine of salvation’s cup. 

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