Tag Archives: Joy


“We’re in a tight spot!”  The barn where they were hiding was on fire. Cops with machine guns were perforating the place and George Clooney, in his role in “O Brother Where Art Thou?”,  looked like he was having the time of his life, thrilled to be in a “tight spot.”   Appealing, that.  Like skiers who enjoy the black slopes, whooping with excitement, even when they wipe out.  They are doing better than those who agonize over every turn with grim anxiety.

I got thinking about the look in George Clooney’s eye when I read this simple verse from 1 Thessalonians:

Rejoice always…”  (1Thessalonians 5:16)

In our day, that reads like mental pablum, advice from a timid Sunday School teacher who can’t handle life.  But the guy that wrote that advice had been in more than a few tight spots.  He’d been beaten, starved, shipwrecked, imprisoned and pursued by mobs of vicious killers.  And, he was writing to people facing violent persecution.  Paul had a gleam in his eye on the black slopes.  He knew the power of enjoying the thrill of the hills and spills, no matter what.

But it’s not that he was a reckless adrenalin junkie.  Paul knew God had sent him into those tight spots because they were ripe with opportunity.  He knew God knew.  When tempted to complain and feel sorry for himself, he knew how much better it was to rejoice.

Next time you are in a tight spot, call to mind the look in George Clooney’s eye, and the powerful advice from Paul.  Rejoice.  Always.

What Joy Looks Like

Whenever I get a chance to spend time with Sam (not his real name), I come away filled with excitement and a kind of deep joy.  This morning was no exception.  He travels the world, visiting and encouraging small outposts of Jesus’ followers in some of the most unlikely places.  Like Lebanon, Syria, or Egypt.  He was bursting with enthusiasm and told me, “All over the world, people are coming to know Jesus in amazing numbers.  More than that, Christians of all different denominations and backgrounds, many of whom have been stuck in centuries of dead tradition, are waking up with renewed life and working together in creative ways to spread the good news.”  And then, with the same gleam in his eye, he said, “And everywhere this new life in Christ is cropping up, the opposition is really ramping up.  It is an exciting time!”

Sam is not exaggerating.  We are good friends and I know him well.  I’ve traveled with him on some pretty wild adventures.  When he says the new life of the kingdom of Jesus is popping out all over, you can take that to the bank. And, when he talks about opposition that naturally follows, he does so with the same credibility.  You might think the opposition, much of it extremely violent – churches being torched, Christians hauled off the bus and shot in the head because they cannot quote the Koran – would discourage him.  But he justs gets more excited.

Reminds me of Paul’s attitude when he wrote:

…I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.  (1 Corinthians 16:8b-9)

Sam understands something Paul knew: The greatest opportunities for introducing people to Jesus frequently lie in the midst of your greatest opposition.  He knows his enemies are not any of the people who attack him, but rather the spiritual forces in league with Satan who have them in their grip.  The more someone fights against him, the more he knows that person needs a Savior.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)

In the previous post, I wrote about Jesus giving us Real Joy.  If you met Sam, you would  see what that joy looks like.  It isn’t dependent upon how successful or tough his circumstances seem to be, but emanates from the thrill of walking and working with a powerful Savior.  And it is infectious!

The Day Will Come

My brother and I would blast out the bedroom door, take a quick left and a right, and then tumble down the stairs, barely touching them.  The long wait was over; Christmas morning had finally come!  How well I can remember the excruciating wait for Christmas.  The days dragged by.  It seemed Christmas would never arrive. And when it did, we couldn’t get out of bed and downstairs fast enough. 

These days I feel a similar sense of anticipation, not for the celebration of the birth of Jesus, but to get the party started celebrating His second coming. 
There were 400 years of darkness and confusion for God’s people, leading up to the birth of our Savior.  How they yearned for God to fulfill His promise. 
True, when He came, not everyone could see Jesus for Who He was.  But when they did (and when they still do!) their darkness was overcome by His great light, their despair was swallowed up by deep joy.

As we wait for Jesus’ return, once again there is darkness and confusion running loose on the planet.  I don’t need to list the examples; you watch the news, too.  Once again, we yearn for Christ to come.  It seems as though the day will never arrive.  But God is faithful and that day will surely come. 

For some, His coming will bring complete destruction as He sweeps away the wickedness and darkness. 

But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.”  (Malachi 4:1-2)

Just like my brother and me on Christmas morning…

Powered Up by Hope

Why is it that some people complain all the time, while others seem to boost the spirits of those around them?  Why are some folks suspicious and grumpy and others just seem happier on the inside?  One of the differences is an attitude of hope, a joyful, optimistic expectation of good things coming. 

But what is the best object of hope?  I’d say it’s heaven.  Paul once told some people he had heard about their “…faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel.  –  (Colossians 1:5)

Don’t misunderstand: these were no Pollyanna types with saccharin-sweet, vapid smiles, aimlessly drifting through life by pretending things would be better in heaven.  This was no “pie in the sky, by and by” crowd.  These were people bearing up under the harsh realities of vicious persecution.  But with hope from which their faith and love sprang forth!

So, how could they, or we, know that hope for heaven is anything more than wishful thinking?  Jesus tells us, in the strongest and simplest terms, that’s how..  Speaking of heaven, He said,

“…if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.”  –  (John 14:2b)

That is my favorite line in the Bible.  Jesus didn’t lie to people, fostering false hopes.  One of His trademark expressions was, “I tell you the truth!”  Following Jesus comes with real hope, hope for eternal life in heaven.  If it wasn’t so he would have told us.  And hope just makes everything else better.

Real Wealth

Do you want to be wealthy?  The secret  is feeling like you have enough.  Wealth is not measured by the numbers you see when you check your bank account.  It is measured by how contented you are.  It does no good to have lots of money, as so many do, if you feel poor and continually stress about not having enough.  Far better off are those who own comparatively few possessions and yet feel truly contented.

Here are the words of one such person, the apostle, Paul:

“… I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”  –  (Philippians 4:11b-12)

Paul lives with joy and confidence, the attitudes we assume go with having wealth.  It’s because he knows the secret to contentment.  If you learn that secret, you, too, will feel wealthy. And what is the secret?  It is trust, trust in God’s love and ability to provide.  Paul says:

“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” –  (Philippians 4:13)

That kind of trust doesn’t come from merely memorizing that verse and quoting it.  It comes from developing an ongoing awareness of God’s presence and His interactions in the details of our lives.  A good way to strengthen that awareness is to ask God to show Himself to us in tangible ways.  We can ask Him to make us more aware of His presence as we go through our day.

God loves to answer prayers like that.

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”  –  (Jeremiah 29:13)

And as He does, you will grow in trust, contentment, and the realization of how truly wealthy you are in Him.

Red Pencil

As it came time to bury Ann Maree’s ashes, I began looking through her Bible, to see what passages and verses meant the most to her.  Easy enough to tell; she had a red pencil and carefully underlined her favorites.  Your eye was automatically drawn to the places her heart hung out.  Especially The Psalms; some of those wound up looking like a grammar school theme after Mrs. Owens was done with it.

I was also taken by the lines she did not highlight, contrasting them to those she did.  For example, consider some lines from Psalm 31.  As Stage 4 bladder cancer continued its inexorable siege, you might think she would have underlined this:

“Turn your ear to me,
come quickly to my rescue;
be my rock of refuge,
a strong fortress to save me.” – (Psalm 31:2)

But she did not.  No frantic plea for healing.  No desperation.  Instead, she settled herself with this:

Since you are my rock and my fortress,
for the sake of your name lead and guide me.”  –  (Psalm 31:3) 

Through her red pencil, she said, “I know I can trust you, even in the midst of this final struggle, so please, God, show me what I should do.” 

I was gripped with awe.  Ann Maree never made a big public deal about how much she trusted God, but in her quietness and peace, the straps of her faith were cinched tight.

You can see it for yourself, in the rest of what she emphasized with that red pencil:

“But I trust in you, LORD;
I say, “You are my God.”
My times are in your hands…” –  (Psalm 31:14-15a)

“How great is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you.”  –  (Psalm 31:19a)

“Praise be to the Lord, for He showed His wonderful love to me…”  –  (Psalm 31:21a)

“Into your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, O LORD, the God of truth.” –  (Psalm 31:5)

Can You Hear Him Singing?

At just the right moment, when I really needed to hear these words, a good friend texted me with this:

The LORD your God is with you,
He is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
He will quiet you with his love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.”

Zephaniah 3:17 (NIV)

Did you ever sing over your kids? Quiet them with love? When my daughter was an infant I used to sing her to sleep with a song I gradually made up as I held her and danced around. “It’s time for little Muffin, to go to sleep again…” Years later, for my son, I sang an old Merle Haggard tune, “Honky Tonk Moon, shining on my baby and me…” When I sang over my kids, they’d settle down and nod off and I’d experience a peaceful kind of joy. God sings over His kids with joy, quieting them with His love. Wow!

Maybe you think God sings you an Eric Clapton line: “The next time I see you, boy you’d better beware…” But old Zeph says God rejoices over His kids with song; He takes delight in them. If that does not seem possible, consider what he said God has done for His kids:

The LORD has taken away your punishment [on the Cross],
he has turned back your enemy [Satan].
The LORD, the King of Israel, is with you; [through the Holy Spirit]
never again will you fear any harm.
[Eternal life]
Zephaniah 3:15 (NIV – with my additions in brackets)

So then, how do you get to be one of God’s kids? John tells us how. Speaking of how Jesus was not “received,” he says:

Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—
John 1:12 (NIV)

Receive Jesus, and God will be singing over you.

Beware the Crusty

Nobody told Marlene (not her real name) you’re not supposed to yell in church.  Even if she had been told I’m not sure it would have made any difference.  Right in the middle of a sermon, the pastor said something about how the Holy Spirit lives and grows in the souls of those who place their faith in Jesus.  And she couldn’t sit still.  Marlene jumped to her feet, with her arms waving wildly above her head, and yelled out, “Whoo Hoo!”  Needless to say, the rest of the congregation was a bit startled.  Some of them woke right up, blinking and bewildered.  No doubt, others were thinking, “That’s not the way we do it here…”

But I think Jesus loved it!  Whoo Hoo!  He knew that woman had come to faith and been reborn a few days earlier, that she just couldn’t contain her joy.  I’ll bet Jesus was wondering why nobody else was jumping and shouting.

A bunch of long-faced, crusty, religious types once asked Jesus why He and His disciples were not fasting, why they were not acting with appropriate religious sorrow.

Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast. “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:15-17)

New wine is alive.  It’s growing and bubbling inside.  So is new birth in the Spirit of God, when someone surrenders to Jesus.  It bubbles with joy and new life.  Paul called it “walking in the newness of life.” (Romans 6:4 NASB)  Old, crusty rituals cannot contain new life.  How can the guests fast while the “Bridegroom” is with them?  Jesus told believers that He would never leave them (Matthew 28:20), that He would come and make His home with them (John 14:23).  He said, “Because I live, you also will live” (John 14;19).  Whoo Hoo!

The chances are good that Marlene is more subdued in church these days.  She probably got the memo.  She’s more crusty.  But don’t you fall prey to that!  The wine is still new.  The Spirit of God is still growing and bubbling inside.  Let that joy loose!  Whoo Hoo!

Greeting Jesus

The monk hammers on the old wooden door, waking the abbot.  Blustering and stammering, he says, “There’s a man downstairs who says he is Jesus and has returned!  What should we do?”   “Look busy!”

Old joke, but it raises a good question.  If Jesus returned and came up to you, what would your reaction be?  If you knew that you were face to face with the Son of Almighty God, the Savior, what would you feel?  Fear?  Regret?  Shame?  Embarrassment?  Any of those strike a chord?  Quite probably so.  But what if you could be sure it was appropriate to run to meet Him with complete confidence and joy, without a trace of sheepishness or shame?  Turns out, that is what is intended for us, who have placed our trust in Jesus:

And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.  (1 John 2:28)

You have seen the videos: a child is in school, going through her daily activities, when suddenly Dad appears, home from his service in Afghanistan.  How does she respond?  She runs to him, embraces him with joyful tears.  That’s the idea for our response when Jesus returns!

But how?  How can that be possible?  I mean, … the Son of God…?  John shows us how.  First, our relationship to Jesus is that of a “dear child.”  By faith in Christ, we have been given the right to become a child of God.

Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God... (John 1:12)

[Jesus said,] “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”  (Mark 10:15)

As a child of God, when you see “Papa,” run to Him!  He will be so glad to see you coming.

Secondly, John says “continue in Him.”   The word translated “continue” is the same word previously translated “remain.”  It means to make your permanent home in Him.  Abide in Him.  There’s more on this word in “Stay Home.”  You make your home in Jesus and He will make His home in you.  When you see Him coming toward you, it will be like coming home!

Chew on that…   The more you do, the more you will taste of its deep truths.  You are meant to sing this song as your own: “Joy to the world! The Lord is come!”