Category Archives: Joy

No Can Do

This guy had it all.  He was extremely wealthy.  He had a position of great influence.  Like Donald Trump, except he still had his youth.  But it wasn’t enough; he was missing something.

And as he [Jesus] was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”   (Mark 10:17)

He knew he couldn’t buy his way into heaven and, like so many of us, he sensed that he needed to do something.  Some good deed, some act of penance or sacrifice.  Jesus began by telling him a sobering truth.

And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.  (Mark 10:18)

Translation?  Nobody could do enough to get to heaven except God.  If you want to get to heaven by doing, you’ll have to be perfect.  In order to help the guy understand, Jesus said:

You know the commandments: Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’”  And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.”  (Mark 10:19-20)

Really?  He somehow had accumulated great wealth and had never taken something that didn’t rightfully belong to him or told a lie?  Not likely.  Even the last thing he’d said to Jesus wasn’t true!

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21)

Now, take this one step at a time.  First pay careful attention to Jesus’ attitude toward the man.  Because He has the same attitude toward you.  Then, notice that Jesus took him all the way down the road to understanding he could never do enough.  He said, “Ok, you want to do something, go sell everything and give it all to the poor.”  Jesus knew, even if the man had done all that, he still would be in the same, empty, desperate condition.  Because, even doing such an extreme act of personal sacrifice would not earn you a spot in heaven.  What he really needed was to “come and follow” Jesus.

The man was already on his knees before Jesus and yet Jesus still told him to “come.”  “Come” meant stop relying on what he could do and instead, fully trust or surrender to Jesus.  And follow Him.  But even doing that would not be enough.  What is enough to qualify a person for eternal life is what Jesus  has already done and what He does for those who fully trust Him.  He gives them His eternal, Holy Spirit.  Jesus has done everything needed.  Our part is to come and follow.  And receive.

I don’t have words to explain why this is so.  But, I have discovered, to my own amazement and joy that it is.

Words of Beauty

You can’t explain beauty.  You just see it, hear it, smell it or think it.  Dream it, maybe.  Sometimes beauty lies in the way words are used.  Like this:

Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people.  (Genesis 25:8)

“Gathered to His people.”  Those words sing beauty.  Not lost, not buried, not laid to rest.  But gathered.  Wow!  I’ve been stopped in my tracks by those words, especially after the death of my wife.  I wonder how they came to be, who thought of them and what they meant to convey.  Certainly, the continuity of life after death and the reunion of special relationships.  But commentaries that seek to explain them obscure their beauty with academic huffing and puffing.  They don’t really know.  So, I will not add to that.   

Except to remind you that Jesus extended an invitation and promise to all who would trust Him. They would not perish, but enjoy everlasting life.  And be gathered.  To their people.

 

WD-40 for Life

Stubborn.  So set in their ways they can’t listen to reason. Know anybody like that?  Jesus did and they made Him angry.  Angry, but also sad they could not loosen up.  They were like seized pistons in what could have been the powerful engine of life.  Here’s what happened:

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.
You can’t get in step with Jesus when your heart is hard or stubborn.  You can’t fold your arms, stick out your chin and insist on your own way.  Responsiveness to His rhythms is the key.  Perhaps that heart adjustment seems risky at first.  Like your first time out on the dance floor.  But life is so much more exhilarating when we are not stuck.

The Invitation

“Come in!” you hear and, pushing on the door, quietly, expectantly, you tiptoe into the hospital room.  The new mother is propped up, holding her first baby.  As she looks up and smiles, suddenly you find yourself swept up in her joy.  You can’t help it.  It’s as though you have fallen into a deep pool of unrestrained celebration. 

If that’s how great joy feels for us, and how it pulls us in, imagine what it would be like to be caught up into and fully share the joy of Almighty God!  Try to understand how vast and powerfully explosive would be the deep, rumbling, cymbal-splashing joy of God.  What would it do to you to enter His room and participate in His greatest happiness?

You have heard the parable of the master who gives to each of his servants portions of gold (called talents) to use.  Perhaps that parable, told by Jesus, sounded severe to you, as though He was saying, “You better get busy, or else…”  If so, reflect on how He described the outcome for the ones who faithfully and productively used the gifts with which they had been entrusted.

His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’  (Matthew 25:21)  
Now, there is an invitation you don’t want to miss…

Junkyard Beauty

Next time you are at a craft fair, take a close and thoughtful look at the paintings done on old saw blades and other rusty pieces of junk.  The artist took something shabby and transformed it.  Reminds me of what Jesus did for the blind guy :

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.  (John 9:1-3)

God used the canvas of that man’s disability to display His power and grace. As Jesus healed him, in his transformation, he glorified God.  That word, glorified, sounds a bit churchy but simply means demonstrating or calling attention to how wonderful someone else is.  A spotlight operator, shining his light on the star of the show, draws our eyes to that person and glorifies them.  When someone comes to faith in Jesus, the changes produced are evidence of God’s glory.  God uses those changes to attract others to Himself.

He doesn’t limit Himself to people with physical disabilities.  The town drunk becomes known for a complete 180 and becomes known for his works of charity.  The greedy miser becomes generous.  Even your seemingly ordinary circumstances and generally good reputation are a suitable canvases upon which God can paint beautiful images of His grace.  A simple change that allows one to live with joy and hope in the midst of all the sniping and complaining – it shows.  People notice.  They see glimpses of God, reflected on you.  That’s why Peter encouraged his fellow believers to:

Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.  (1 Peter 2:12)

What God did for the man who was physically blind, He does in an more significant and powerful way for those who are spiritually blind.  Like John Newton, whose song you know:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind, but now I see.

Why This Friday is Good

“Move that bus!”  The impoverished family gapes to see a newly remodeled home, filled with improvements to make their lives better.  If you’ve seen “Extreme Makeover, Home Edition,” you remember the tears of amazement and joy.  But as the family tours the home, as excited as they may have been, for the breadwinner, in the back of their minds is the gathering fear, “What if I can’t keep this job and we miss a few payments?  I could easily lose this place…”  But occasionally, just before the show signed off, Ty Pennington would say, “Oh, there’s just one more thing…” and some charitable organization would present the family with a check, paying off their mortgage in full.

In a scenario like that, a family that had experienced life as a daily struggle, would then be able to move into their new home and find rest, secure in the realization their greatest obligation of debt had been paid off by someone else.  That is, if they trusted the check was real, accepted it and cashed it.

Today we remember that, on the Cross, Jesus Christ paid our full obligation of debt, with His own blood, forever.  As Isaiah foretold,

5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.  (Isaiah 53:5-6)

If we trust Him, and accept His payment on our behalf, we will be received into God’s family (John 1:12-13), enter into His rest (Hebrews 4:3), secure in the realization that our obligation has been fully paid.  Forever.

 God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. 6 So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son.* 7 He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins.  (Ephesians 1:5–7). New Living Translation

No, Really!

Remember the movie, Oh God?  John Denver played a grocery store clerk chosen to have a personal interview with God, who looked a lot like George Burns.  The frustrating part for him was trying to get anyone to believe he wasn’t crazy.  Starting with his wife.  Funny movie and I just put it back on my Netflix queue.  As fanciful as that plot was, a similar thing happened to Peter when he witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration and heard God speaking.  And every time he tried to tell others about that experience there was always somebody at the back of the room, making a skeptical face and shaking his head.  Which is why Peter wrote these words:

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.  For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.   (2 Peter 1:16-18)

Maybe you can understand how frustrated he must have been.  Maybe you’ve had your whole life changed by an encounter with Jesus and have then tried to explain it to others who make that funny face.  Or who back away, slowly, saying, “Oh that’s nice for you…”  Maybe you’ve discovered if you have to say, “No, really…” the argument is over.  But don’t be discouraged or give up; it’s happened to me, too.

And Peter.

And Jesus.

For some skeptics, the best Peter could do was to say:

…you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts…  (2 Peter 1:19)