Friday, April 20, 2018

Confident, Compassionate Joy

32 But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, 33 sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. 34 For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. 35 Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. (Hebrews 10)
Joy is not as readily evident in times of ease and plenty.  It is most apparent when the opposite is true - when suffering, affliction, problems and struggles line our path.  Joy is shown when despite all these things we can still be caught showing compassion to others, no matter what others are doing to us. Joy again joins with hope - that confident expectation that God has something good ahead for us, and with faith - this is the prelude passage to the great Hall of Faith in chapter 11. Don't "throw your confidence away", as the writer says here, or as we may say: "don't let anyone steal your joy." We have control over our joy - not because we are so strong on our own, but when we are willing to trust in Christ, and come confidently in faith to Him.  Whatever you are going through today, may you experience confident, and compassionate, joy. 

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Joy is... WHAT?

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
(James 1:2)
Joy - that beaming light that cannot be contained, that "delight" in pursuing God, His Word, and His Work.  Trials and Testing can seem like obstacles, speed bumps and roadblocks to joy, but they are not. They are bumpers on the bowling lane, those irritating reflectors dug deep in the roadway, to keep us on track.  God is forming our character, a big part of which is joy, not only despite all these "pains", but actually through all these things.  Have some joy today!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Our Greatest Source of Joy

Romans 5 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
We have been in this passage three times recently - first when talking about peace, then about hope, and now about joy.  They are different flowers in the bouquet of blessings we have through Christ.  There are more as well - grace and love, but today we are thinking about joy - what it is that lights up our lives, that keeps us going, even in the face of suffering and struggles. Christ brings us joy, because in Him we have together all the things that lead to real joy - God's presence, His power, and His persistent love to do what is best for us, even if it may hurt for awhile.  In Christ we see God really cares.  Feeling down or defeated today? Turn to Christ. See His love. Realize if anyone knows what suffering is all about, He does. Ask Him to see you through. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Joy Comes in the Morning (and sometimes morning comes early...)

I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up
    and have not let my foes rejoice over me.
Lord my God, I cried to you for help,
    and you have healed me.
Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol;
    you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit.
Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints,
    and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment,
    and his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may tarry for the night,
    but joy comes with the morning.
(Psalm 30)
Rising earlier than usual this morning, I found this verse on joy.  Some of us will recognize it as a catch phrase from a contemporary Christian song. It is from a Psalm I at times have used in funeral services. David is emphasizing the relatively brief length of time that God's anger wages against us as opposed to His mercy and blessing. He is disciplining us for our good, sending us to bed without supper, so we can learn the things we need to learn in this life He has set before us. So don't be grumpy this morning!  No matter how early it may be when you read this, if you are a child of God, give Him thanks for his loving hand of discipline, and eternity of blessing. May it be a joyful day, no matter how long it may be!

Monday, April 16, 2018

Lord, You Light My Life!

There are many who say, “Who will show us some good?
    Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!”
You have put more joy in my heart
    than they have when their grain and wine abound.

Psalm 4:6,7
The Psalmist gets it.  While everyone else is standing around skeptically asking when someone - God, anyone - is going to do something good (what we hope for), he is keeping his joyful spirit, thankfully recognizing God's provision in his life.  The term for "joy" here comes from the idea of "lightening or brightening of the face." We talk about people "lighting up" when they are happy. Where does that light come from? The light on the face of the Lord when He shines on us. True joy comes from the Lord - not some party, not getting that "thing" we have always wanted, not having everything go right. It comes from His presence in our lives brightening the day, lighting the way, helping us see what really matters. 

Sunday, April 15, 2018

A Hope to Live with...

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
(I Peter 1)
Impulsive Peter - always blurting things out without thinking ahead. But this is the new Peter - the one who experienced Christ risen from the dead. What he here blurts out is very well thought through - a praise to God for the new life and living hope we have in the risen Christ. He then piles up adjectives in Paul-like fashion to describe what we have to look for as our inheritance - it cannot be lost, stolen, destroyed or gambled away.  Living with such a hope leads to other attitudes and ways of living: joy, persistence, and love, so that our hope is not just future, but present as well.  Just as Paul says that if our hope is only in this life, it's a pretty miserable existence (I Corinthians 15), the other extreme is also true: if our hope is only for the future, we're missing out. We can live this life in hope because of our hope for the life to come. Live hopeful.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Good Hope

16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, 17 comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word. (II Thessalonians 2)
In its most basic form, "hope" involves a general "expectation and waiting," but in scripture it almost exclusively involves expecting something good - that God is going to do something Good.  Hope and grace go hand in hand, both related to the work and resurrection of Christ.  Hope also shows itself in our lives: we are comforted, not agitated by struggles in the present or uncertainties of the future, and we are motivated to good works and words while we wait.  Hope, as God sees it and shares it with us, is a good thing. Let's live it and share it today.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Hope: a Symptom of Authentic Faith

9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
Many of us claim to be followers of Christ. As we any claim, it is wise for us to stop from time to time and look at the evidence - how we think, act, and speak. This passage is one such evaluation sheet.  Love is much more than words; it is actions.  Purity is not just walking away from evil; it is running away from it.  Showing honor is not just a formality; it is how we speak to and about one another. Serving God is not mundane; it is vibrant worship.  Praying is more than saying we will do it.  Giving is not to be done "under restraint", but an act we seek out and show lavishly. And we are to have a joyful hope - anticipating that God will do the good things He has promised, which causes us to overflow in joy.  Does that describe your morning? Your day? Your life? May love, and all these others characteristics, be real in our lives today. 

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Not Hoping Alone...

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8)
As seen in Job, waiting alone can often seem hopeless. But our expectation, our Hope in Christ is not lonely. We are waiting for the Good, for things to be made as they should be, together with the rest of creation, and especially with other believers who wait with us.  Creation seems to have a better view than we do; it is watching on the wide screen, able to see us waiting.  When we remember and realize that we are not alone, when we encourage each other, it helps the waiting seem bearable; we can have more hope; we can actually be patient.  Stop looking through the keyhole. Step back, put your arms around other believers, and wait together.  

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Tossed Salad of Hope

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5)
Plain lettuce can be boring.   A good salad has several ingredients. So does life.  New life in Christ begins with grace - God giving us the privilege of becoming His children through by faith in Christ.  We then have peace mixed in, along with joy.  But we don't just dump in those ingredients, we mix them around, "tossing" them together. Sometimes the tossing seems almost violent, but it develops our endurance and character, and another ingredient appears: hope. I like meat on my salads, and the meat of this tossed salad is love. It is what gives us the energy. Then we pour on the dressing, mixing it throughout the salad. The Holy Spirit covers each and every part of this life salad.  Today you might be going thorough the "tossing process". Do not be discouraged or alarmed.  Think about the end product - the creation God is making in your life. It will be a well-presented masterpiece.  

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Have you Misplaced your Hope?

21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive.
(Luke 24)
These disciples of Jesus had all but given up their hope. Thinking Jesus must not have been the Christ after all, they were down and discouraged, yet wondering what all this talk of angels and appearances meant.  They needed someone to come along and give them a little perspective and a lot of encouragement.  We are the same.  It is easy for us to miss the big picture, get stuck in the details, and confused by conflicting reports. We lose hope. It's like when you lose your glasses: you need your glasses to find your glasses. You need someone to help you find that perspective to see hope again.  Jesus is good at that. No, He's great at that.  He will help point you to the truth (found in His Word) that applies to you. He will help you see that whatever it is, in Him there is hope. 

Monday, April 9, 2018

When Hope Is Hard to Come by...

“Oh that I might have my request,
    and that God would fulfill my hope,
that it would please God to crush me,
    that he would let loose his hand and cut me off!
This would be my comfort;
    I would even exult in pain unsparing,
    for I have not denied the words of the Holy One.
What is my strength, that I should wait?
    And what is my end, that I should be patient?
Is my strength the strength of stones, or is my flesh bronze?
Have I any help in me,
    when resource is driven from me?

(Job 6:8-13)
Looking up "hope" in a Bible concordance will get you a lot of listings, especially in the book of Job.  How ironic in a story where Job is searching for hope.  Here is a man who firmly believes in the sovereignty and goodness of God, yet struggling to find it in his own life at that point.  Sometimes the pain seems too great and our strength far too small.  The last phrase is the key: it is when we get to the end of our own resources; it is when only God can and will take over, that we will see hope resurface, light at the end of the tunnel, and have return that expectation that all will be well, turn out right, and make sense to us.  As the writer of Hebrews reminds us: hope isn't hope if we can see it - at least not with total clarity.  May we find our Hope in Him alone for today's struggles. 

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Peace In the Flesh

11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.
(Ephesians 2)
The Flesh - what a host of ideas are caught up in that term. We all have flesh and blood - bodies that are alive, but which due to sin are fragile and decaying.  As fallen beings our "flesh" is at war with the Spirit  working within us, trying to pull us from fellowship with God.  Differences in the appearance of our "flesh" can divide us, causing us to forget that there is only one race among men.   So what did Christ do? He came in the flesh, lived victoriously over the flesh, and made the way to unite all "kinds" of flesh. He "killed the hostility" between us and God, among selfish people of all shapes, sizes, social groups and skin tones, and within our own battlefield of heart and soul.  He is peace, bringing peace to our souls and our world.  Peace be to you today.