Hope for a Difficult Christmas Season

This is from Dayspring by Rachel Wojo.

Hope for a Difficult
Christmas Season

by Rachel Wojo

Christmas carols fill the air; smiles and laughter are everywhere. A stroll through town reveals glistening windows boasting of tasty holiday treats and shiny red ribbon. Twinkling lights dance in unexpected places and bounce off sparkling trees.  Whether you appreciate lots of gold and glitter or simple candles, the blessing of our Lord’s birth is celebrated with expression!

While Christmas is full of joy and celebration, the world is not exempt from sorrow during this season. For many of us, our hurting hearts experience intensified ache as memories flood our minds. Perhaps the memory is of a loved one now in heaven. Maybe the memory haunts as part of a painful past; something we wish could be changed or undone. Pain not only exists from the past, but in the daily present. Discouragement doesn’t stop lurking. Disease doesn’t stop waging its war. Death doesn’t pause for a few days.

When Jesus was born, His parents didn’t plan a gender reveal party. No one ordered a baby shower cake. Oh, Mary, yes, as the mother, she prepared for the arrival of her baby. But a business trip for tax purposes was probably the last thing on her agenda. Riding a donkey most likely would have been her last wish in her ninth month of pregnancy. The point is: Jesus wasn’t born into ideal circumstances. Despite the stable which most of us would deem unsuitable accommodations, the Light of the World made His grand entrance in the form of a little baby. Human flesh held the Son of God and the glory of the night could not be contained. Angels sang their glory to God and hope, true Hope for the world was born!

Read the rest here.

Abundant #Joy

This is an excellent post by Sarah Walton of Set Apart: Hope on the Road Less Traveled.

Abundant Joy is Found
in the Presence of Christ,
not in the Absence of Pain

“Oh Lord, for years I have prayed for answers, healing, and understanding in this suffering you have allowed. Yet they have seemed not to come. Many have prayed to you on our behalf, as we have sought wisdom from the doctors you provided, and have longed for redemption of what’s been lost. By your grace, we have persevered through trial after trial, trusting  that you would uphold us and bring forth good from all our pain.

Yet, many answers we have hoped for haven’t come in the ways we desire. The world’s solutions to our pain have left us discouraged, confused, and fighting hopelessness, while the trials, burdens, questions, and uncertainties remain the same. 

I have longed for, cried, and pleaded for you to bring us out from under the pain and heaviness of these trials into a place of abundance. I have asked you to lift these crushing burdens, and carry us through the pounding waves and the raging fire that threatens  to consume our hope, testimony, and lives. 

However, in my desire for answers, I have missed something wonderful. You have answered our prayers – though different than I expected. You have been near, intimately working deep within our hearts as we have laid down our hopes and desires of this world. While you have chosen not to remove the heartache and overwhelming circumstances from our lives, you have done something greater. You have brought us into a place of abundance. For while I have been waiting for this place of abundance to come in the form of relief, you have instead brought it in the midst of the very trials I desired to be freed from. 

This place of abundance has been found in the presence of Christ, not in the absence of pain. 

Read the rest here.

I’m Joy-Happy

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I’m Joy-Happy

By Joni Eareckson Tada

“But may the righteous be glad and REJOICE before God;
may they be HAPPY and JOYFUL.”

—Psalm 68:3

We’re often taught to be careful of the difference between joy and happiness.  Happiness, it is said, is an emotion that depends upon what ‘happens.’  Joy by contrast, is supposed to be enduring, stemming deep from within our soul and which is not affected by the circumstances surrounding us.

It’s an appropriate linguistic distinction, I suppose.  But I don’t think God had any such hair-splitting in mind.  Scripture uses the terms interchangeably along with words like delight, gladness, blessed.  There is no scale of relative spiritual values applied to any of these.  Happiness is not relegated to fleshly-minded sinners nor joy to heaven-bound saints.

The terms are synonymous in their effect and too difficult to distinguish when we experience either one.  Would you, for example, respond to the wedding of your daughter with joy or with happiness?  Are you happy that your friend came to know Christ or are you joyful?  Is the moment of euphoric delight in worship of Him on Sunday morning just a happenstance or just as much a part of Jesus’ promise regarding our redeemed souls?

To rob joy of its elated twin, happiness, is to deprive our soul of God’s feast.  Seek both as part and parcel in all circumstances.  When your soul is stirred by a deep contentment, be happy.  When a delightful moment strikes that is quite outside yourself, be joyful.   Don’t think about which one you are supposed to feel.  Accept them both as a gift from a God who is rich in all such emotions.

Lord, I seek the blessing of a joyful heart, the gladness of a happy countenance, and the delight of Your eternal pleasure today.

Blessings,

Joni and Friends

(Emphasis mine)


Copyright © 1998. More Precious Than Silver, Joni Eareckson Tada. Published in Print by Zondervan, Grand Rapids.

All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible: New International Version.

Experiencing Happiness in Christ, Even Through Depression and Sorrow

Experiencing Happiness in Christ,
Even Through Depression and Sorrow

By Randy Alcorn

The following is a recent interview I did on the topic of happiness. I appreciated being able to address how someone who is depressed can still move toward experiencing a deep happiness and joy in Christ, which is a question I’ve been asked about frequently since my book was released.

Question:  When you look at happiness, is there a distinction between joy and happiness?

Randy: Interestingly, this has been taught as if it were fact for many years, and there have been many sermons that say joy and happiness are two different things. But we get them both wrong, because people end up saying things like “Joy is not an emotion” and “Joy is not really based on anything; it‘s some transcendental, vague sort of thing. But don‘t seek happiness, because that‘s from the world, and involves sin.”

Well, a lot of people do seek happiness in sin, just like they seek joy in sin. But God is the true source of happiness, delight, and joy. In my study for Happiness, I went back to the Hebrew and Greek words and saw how there are many of them that are translated in various versions as “joy,” “gladness,” “merriment,” “happiness,” “delight,” “pleasure.” These words all have overlapping meanings. Ninety percent of a Hebrew word that‘s translated “joy” overlaps with one that‘s translated “gladness” or “happiness.” (I’m including here a diagram from Happiness, illustrating this.)

There’s been a false and negative distinction that‘s been made between joy and happiness. Unfortunately, the message we send to those both inside and outside the church is, “Seeking happiness is superficial and shallow. Go out and get it in the world, but you won’t find happiness in God.” But all people seek happiness, and because they do, we’re basically telling them, “Stop seeking what God Himself wired you to seek.” What we should be saying is, “Seek your happiness in the right place—in God Himself.”

Read the rest here.


Shared by permission of Randy Alcorn, Eternal Perspective Ministries, 39085 Pioneer Blvd., Suite 206, Sandy, OR 97055, 503-668-5200, www.epm.org

I will #REJOICE in the Lord

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Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will REJOICE in the LORD,
I will be JOYFUL in God my Savior.  

—Habakkuk 3:17-18

When Rick and I lived in the central valley of California, we lived in the midst of a farm belt that feeds the whole country. We lived near groves of almost every kind of fruit and nut trees. Cotton, strawberry and corn fields bordered farms and housing developments alike. I could therefore relate to the words of these verses as I gazed upon field after field of grape vines.

During the summer months, we could see certain fields of grapes drying in the sun to make raisins. And when we looked out into our backyard, there was our fig tree, several weeks past harvest but still in full leaf.

As I contemplated these verses, I wondered about Habakkuk’s strong faith. Here was a man who questioned his LORD’s motives and supposed inaction, yet he also learned to trust and REJOICE in Him, no matter what. His JOYFUL attitude makes his words sing.

What about me? Can I still “be JOYFUL in God my Savior” in spite of how I feel each day?

I have spent many years learning to live with chronic illness. In addition to several illnesses, my immune system doesn’t work that well after years of taking too many antibiotics. I seem to fall prey to all the little bugs that are going around, and it takes me more time than most people to recover. I have little energy to complete the smallest tasks in my home; even sweeping the floor seems a monumental project. But in spite of all this, I can still trust that God is taking care of me, that He is still in control, and that I can actually REJOICE in that fact.

This season of my life in which I’m struggling with different illnesses is a time when I can complain about the injustice of it, or I can instead be JOYFUL and thankful for God’s presence in my life, no matter what. I choose to be JOYFUL because God promises to be with us in every situation, good or bad.

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REJOICE in the Lord always.
I will say it again: REJOICE!
Let your gentleness be evident to all.
The Lord is near.
—Philippians 4:4

Heavenly Father: Thank you for the JOY You provide in every situation. Help me to be Your light, your JOY and your promise of hope for others, even during times of pain and frustration. Amen.

At Christ’s Table

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At Christ’s Table

Adapted from Till He Come by Charles Spurgeon

12 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you,
as though some strange thing happened to you;  

13 but REJOICE to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings,
that when His glory is revealed,
you may also be glad with exceeding JOY. 

14 If you are reproached for the name of Christ,
blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.
On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. 

15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer,
or as a busybody in other people’s matters. 

16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian,
let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter,

17 For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God;
and if it begins with us first,
what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? 

18 Now
“If the righteous one is scarcely saved,
Where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?”

19 Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God
commit their souls to Him in doing good,
as to a faithful Creator.

—1 Peter 4:12-19

At the Last Supper, Christ brought all His disciples as table-companions, a prophecy that applies to all of His people forever. In heaven, there cannot be less of a privilege than on earth. It cannot be that believers will be degraded from what they have been below. The disciples were companions at Christ’s table here below, and they will still be table-companions in heaven above. Blessed is he that will eat bread in the kingdom of God. “Many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven,” and the Lord Jesus will be at the head of the table (Matt. 8:11).

What will His table of JOY be like? What will be His celebration when His reward is seated around Him and His triumph is all achieved? Whatever it is, you will share in it. For you poor, working woman, what a change to sit among princes and near to your Lord Jesus, with all your hard work and poverty ended forever. And you, sad child of suffering, will not have pain there, and you will be forever with the Lord. The JOY of Christ will be your JOY forever and ever! In the anticipation of the JOY that will be yours, forget your current troubles. Rise above today’s difficulties, and if you cannot REJOICE because of the present, REJOICE for the future that will soon be yours.

Here is the way of salvation: believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved. To believe in Him is to trust Him; it is leaning on Him, resting on Him. Rest your whole weight on Christ in a spiritual sense. You have a load of sin; lean on Him, sin and all. You are unworthy, weak, and perhaps miserable. Cast on Him the weakness, the unworthiness, the misery and all. Take Him to be all in all to you, and when you have trusted Him, you will have become His follower. Go on by humility to be His disciple, by obedience to be His servant, by love to be His friend, and by communion to be His table-companion.

All emphasis is mine

#Complacent

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Complacent

By Patricia Knight

Each day I traveled to work, I encountered a stretch of residential build-up on a secondary road where the speed limit was reduced from 55 mph to 35 mph. Familiar with the road land marks, I decreased my vehicular speed in preparation for the new speed zone.

One morning a state police vehicle passed by me from the opposite direction. I perceived I was within the posted speed limit, so I ignored his presence, assuming he had business elsewhere. That is, until he negotiated a screeching U-turn! Suddenly I was engulfed with eye-popping blue lights and ear-piercing sirens. The policeman then had my undivided attention.

When the imposing officer appeared at my car window, he was straightforward. “Do you know you were traveling 52 mph in a 35 mph zone?”  He had the proof; I had no excuse. Still I felt obliged to offer a weak explanation: “I drive this route to work every day and I’m usually more compliant with my speed.”  To my surprise, the state policeman gently responded, “It’s easy to act complacent when repeating the same activity frequently.”  Fortunately the officer dismissed me with a warning. Little did he know the impression he made that day, affecting my driving alertness and compliance, as well as my reaction to life in general.

Complacency denotes self-satisfaction that results in false comfort, diminishing an awareness of danger.

Apathy is closely related, expressive of indifference, a lack of feelings, or inaction. The opposite of complacency is passion; zeal rather than indifference. Jesus taught that love knows no boundaries, tantamount to the greatest commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and love your neighbor as well as you do yourself” (Luke 10:27, The Msg.).

Jesus defined our neighbor with a parable: A man was attacked while traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho through rugged, crime-ridden terrain. He was stripped of his clothing, robbed of his possessions, beaten unmercifully, and left for dead. A Levite, a priest, and a Samaritan eventually passed the victim’s way. The first two ignored the assaulted man and intentionally crossed to the opposite side of the road.

Complacency reeks of self-importance and indifference. What could possibly have been so pressing in the lives of the Levite and the priest that neither could conjure up the minimal time and compassion to cover the naked, bleeding man with a garment? It is obvious that neither religious leader cared about his fellow man. The suffering victim’s pitiful condition didn’t tug on their heart-strings. For them it was easier  to turn away and ignore their neighbor with an indifferent attitude, though they would likely claim personal righteousness. Complacency is the greatest hypocrisy.

Historically, Samaritans and Jews exhibited open hostility toward one another. But, it was a Samaritan who ran to the aid of the beaten, robbed man lying beside the road. He bandaged his wounds, and lifted him onto his own donkey for transportation to a local inn. There the Samaritan cared for the assaulted man. The following day, the Samaritan gave sufficient funds to the inn keeper to provide for the man’s future care, assuring the inn keeper he would reimburse any extra expenses incurred when he returned (Luke 10:27-28).

The man who posed the question to Jesus, “ ‘Who is my neighbor’” (Luke 10:29), learned explicitly from Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus’ story highlights a neighbor as one we help when a need is displayed, to whom we may give of our time and treasure, and for whom we are willing to be inconvenienced.

One great danger of complacency is that it gradually overtakes the heart space reserved for kindness and decency. Apathy is so deviously replaced with nonchalance and mediocre responses that it is easy to ignore danger along life’s journey. Complacency bows to subtle changes. The process is so insidious that before we are aware of the changes, we’ve been converted to a curmudgeon who increasingly replaces a once tender, passionate heart with reluctance. What happened to fierce, dynamic faith? It cooled to tepid.

Jesus didn’t call us to follow Him when it is convenient. Our time on earth is brief; we are here on assignment. There is kingdom work to be done, people to help, and the gospel to proclaim. He wants 100% of each of us, with the adoration of our hearts, the zeal of our souls, and the days of our lives. Because Jesus died for us, no sacrifice can be too great for us to make for Him.

What is your response to Jesus when you recognize a paramount need in another person’s life? Do you avoid prayer, assuming Jesus is incapable of surpassing human limitations? “Jesus replied, ‘What is impossible with men is possible with God’” (Luke 18:27). Continual prayer is our most powerful deterrent to apathy, preventing us from slipping into smug self-dependence and self-satisfaction. Acknowledging that God is supreme and capable of the miraculous, dispels indifference. Apathy requires low energy output and provides no positive returns.

There are blue lights of warning surrounding many of our personal scenarios, reminding us to slow down to discern and evaluate. It is never too late to comply to the greatest commandment in which there is no provision for self-serving motives. Complacency and apathy provide only convenient excuses.

Jesus desires to fill our hearts with a deluge of joy. In addition, He clothes us with joy.

You removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy
that my heart may sing to you and not be silent.
O Lord, my God, I will give you thanks forever” (Psalm 30:11-12).

From the riches of heaven’s own wardrobe room, swishing robes of rejoicing define us externally, as Jesus, the source of our praise, engulfs our hearts. Joy is to be the constant dimension of a life of faith, a sovereign characteristic that flows freely from dwelling in God’s presence, a gift that interlocks with God’s everlasting nature. Following His example, let us love our neighbor, reaching out with enthusiasm and joy.

Thankfully, neither complacency nor apathy are permanent states, easily remedied with commitment to spiritual renewal as we discover anew the exhilaration of displaying our Lord’s characteristics. We are transformed by Christ; a holy reconstruction project uniting us with Him that motivates us to ask,

“What can I do to help my neighbor?”