Mud, Fun, and Worship

Mud, Fun, and Worship

By Patricia Knight

One drenching rainy day in the summertime our toddler son teased to play outside. Finally I relented and dressed him in his long rubber-coated pants, his rain jacket, hood, and boots, wondering if he could possibly move in such restrictive clothing.

Never underestimate the will of a toddler! Our son possessed the tenacious energy of most children his age. He grabbed his bicycle and rode it the length of our driveway, braking abruptly before reaching his boundary. In the narrow strip of land dividing adjoining house lots, a large, shallow mud puddle had formed. It was at that spot where he parked his bicycle with the training wheels straddling the murky circle.

He hopped onto the bicycle seat, then leaned his body forward into a horse jockey’s riding position, and peddled with all the muscle power his little legs could amass. His frantic peddling produced a cascading arc of thick mud, slathering slime all over his body like a spouting geyser. My little boy had been transformed into a chocolate Easter bunny replica, with only his white teeth exposed through a wide, satisfied grin. He was immersed in childhood ecstasy, and enjoyed sitting at the center of a mud blizzard, loving every minute of the onslaught.  

It is no surprise that Jesus instructed us to maintain child-like faith in Him. When His disciples assumed that little children encircling Jesus were usurping their Master’s limited time, He reminded them of the value of all children: “‘From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise’” (Matthew 21:16). Children naturally know how to laugh and play with unprecedented joy as they explore the wonders of their surroundings. Verbal squealing reveals their delirious delight, as they express bubbly glee with each new discovery. Almighty God, whose glory and authority remains on display throughout heaven and earth, gladly accepts the exalted praise of playful children.

Centuries ago, when a remnant of God’s people returned from a seventy-year exile in Babylon, their long separation from everything familiar left them with spiritual apathy reflected in disobedience, doubt, and disdain for the worship of their Lord. God assigned His prophet, Malachi, the task of confronting the Israelites with their sins and guiding them into a renewed enthusiastic, committed relationship with their heavenly Father.

And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall” (Malachi 4:2). Utilizing a vivid mental picture of frisky, frolicking animals released from the confinement of an enclosed pen, Malachi attempted to instill renewed passion, eagerness, and exhilaration into his countrymen’s lifestyle and worship.

2 Samuel 6:1-22 provides a graphic description of King David vivaciously dancing in the street. It was no ordinary occasion. Years earlier, the ark of God, the physical representation of God’s presence in Israelite worship, had been confiscated by their enemies, the Philistines. When King David located the ark, he immediately arranged for it to be reclaimed and transported to the temple. As the ark was ceremoniously carried through the streets of Jerusalem, David could no longer contain his excitement.  With grateful animation, “he danced before the Lord with all of his might while he and the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets” (2 Samuel  6:14-15).

King David jubilantly offered a spontaneous gesture of praise to his gracious Lord when he performed his solo dance. Because God knows the intent of our hearts, it is apparent He approved of the King’s unapologetic zeal in celebrating the return of the ark of the covenant, a constant reminder that God resided in their midst, encouraging a zealous expression of worship. David’s impetuous dance must have resembled the unpenned calves’ leap of joy in Malachi 4:2.

David’s wife, Michal, criticized what she considered an immoral act, calling her husband vulgar. David responded, “‘In God’s presence I’ll dance all I want! I’ll dance to God’s glory more recklessly even than this. And as far as I’m concerned, I’ll gladly look the fool…I’ll be honored to the end’” (2 Samuel 6:20-22, The Msg.) Michal was a sourpuss, and like her father, King Saul, a victim of jealousy and bitterness. She represented the opposite attitude of her husband, King David, who defended his courageous dance of ecstasy to honor the return of the ark of God.

Contrary to the world’s view of Christianity as a negative religion consisting primarily of “thou shalt not” regulations, there exists undeniable freedom in following Jesus. Christ himself said, “‘I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10, KJV). It is God’s plan that His children live an unsurpassed, fullness of life secured by Jesus at Calvary.

“Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad, let the sea abound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant and everything in them. Then all the trees of the forest will sing with joy” (Psalm 96:11-12). Is there any reason we should not join all of creation in praise to our Creator?

Perhaps a playful mud bath, kicking up your heels, or dancing in a street parade offend your worship preferences. If so, contemplate approaches to glorify Jesus with heartfelt jubilation. Or follow the example of my friend who surprised me by answering my recent phone call not with a typical “hello” greeting, but by belting out the Hallelujah chorus, an unequivocal reminder for both of us to praise God for an extravagant, abundant life.

May we join the Psalmist expressing exultation for God’s rich blessings!

I’m thanking you, God, from a full heart.
I’m writing the book on your wonders.
I’m whistling, laughing, and jumping for joy;
I’m singing your song, High God”
(Psalm 9:1-2,The Msg.).

Perilous Poison

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The warning, “leaves of three, let them be,” is good advice when approaching unfamiliar plants. Poison ivy is a vine that possesses three potentially dangerous leaves.

As a young girl walking to school each day, I detoured around a large elm tree growing adjacent to the sidewalk. I gave the tree a wide berth due to the prolific poison ivy vines winding around the trunk. I had heard horror stories of the reactions people contracted from touching poison ivy. I’d also heard it rumored that some individuals could be exposed to poison ivy without experiencing an adverse response. Each day when I walked past that mass of vines swirling around the tree, I wondered which poison ivy theory applied to me. The suspense was more than I could tolerate. One spring day I broke off several leaves, crushed them in my hands, and rubbed them on every exposed area of my skin.

Occasionally children are guilty of impetuous, irresponsible behavior, unfamiliar with the art of predicting consequences for their actions. Fortunately, I was unaffected by the poison ivy rub down, causing me to conclude that I would be one of the few who were immune to the toxic effects of poison ivy for life. Had I possessed the courage to admit my reckless experiment to an adult, I may have learned that the first reaction to poison ivy merely exposes the immune system to a new substance. If I were confronted with the tainted chemicals again in the future, the urushiol oil on the plant would cause an immediate response.

Later in life, I accidentally brushed against poison ivy leaves in the woods while clearing brush. It wasn’t long before an itchy, red rash developed. Poison ivy was the farthest diagnosis from my mind due to my neutral childhood experience. The second exposure triggered my immune system to recognize the chemical and it produced an allergic reaction. By the time I sought medical evaluation three weeks later, the rash was profusely covering my limbs. The itching was so intense, I couldn’t sleep at night, eventually requiring aggressive medical intervention to treat the tenacious rash.

Urushiol oil is the poisonous chemical of poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac plants. Brushing against the berries, flowers, roots, or stems of the poisonous plants leaves a smear of oil on skin, clothing, garden tools, or heavy equipment, remaining viable on those items for years, even surviving freezing temperatures.

There are many other poisons in our lives that carry the potential for causing greater harm than poison ivy, leaving permanent scars and sometimes irreversible damage. What instills more fear than poisonous snakes, the venom of which may cause nerve paralysis within minutes?

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No man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil,
full of deadly poison” (James 3:8).

Expressed alternately, “This is scary: You can tame a tiger, but you can’t tame a tongue—It’s never been done. The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer. With our tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women he made in his image” (James 3:8, The Msg.).

When a friend’s confidence is betrayed, poison has been emitted from the tongue. Some people feel they can justify “a little white lie.” However, the color of a lie has never been determined.

The Lord detests lying lips,
but he delights in men who are truthful” (Proverbs 12:22).

Our tongues can be  dangerous muscles, spouting harmful poison. Unlike poison ivy, the vitriol a tongue spews is not always reversible. Its poison multiplies in creative, unimaginable ways.

Poisonous plants should never be burned in an inside fireplace or an outside bonfire.  Urushiol oil attaches to smoke particles that can be breathed, causing swelling of the respiratory tract,  compromising breathing, or perhaps shutting down respiratory muscles. “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue is also a fire; a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire” (James 3:5-6).

An area of forest desecrated by a raging inferno is a chilling sight, killing every living thing in the vicinity. Fire annihilates, toppling giant trees, displacing wildlife, and destroying underground plant roots as it paints the surrounding environment black, the color of death. The ruinous effects of a consuming blaze cannot be reversed for decades, much the same as the destructive injury caused by sinister words. Damage remains both in the path of a fire or gossiping words, frequently lost to redesign forever. “Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down. As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife” (Proverbs 26:20).

“Rumors are the vehicles that turn life into a demolition derby, and gossip and slander are the tracks on which they travel. The tracks of gossip and slander are paved with careless, idle chatter as well as the malicious intentional sharing of bad reports…..Having a tongue is like having dynamite in our dentures—it must be reckoned with” (Tongue in Check by Joseph M. Stowell).

If I had known poison ivy was potentially dangerous, I would have learned to recognize and avoid the trifoliate plant. Our words function in much the same manner. If we monitor our negative emotions, admitting that anger, jealousy, and bitterness have the potential to inflict immeasurable heartache, we might be motivated to hone our ability to control hostile verbal outbursts. “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless” (James 1:26).

Have you ever wanted to retract a comment you made in haste, but instead of apologizing, you offer the feckless excuse, “ I was only thinking out loud?” Thinking is purely a mental function. Once uttered, our thoughts have been transformed into words. “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18). Soothing, comforting words serve as a balm to heal.

From the inside out—our heart to our tongue—our inner monologue is filtered.  Noble words are first purified mentally. Only God can assist with such an important mission, as we pray in humility and obedience:

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May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

Let the Heavens Rejoice!

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Let the Heavens Rejoice!

By Patricia Knight

It was near the first century A.D., in Bethlehem of Judea, when Jesus, the Son of God, was born on earth. An angel previously had assured His mother, Mary, that Jesus would be the long-awaited Messiah promised to the Israelite nation. Shepherds visited the infant; an angelic choir sang glorious refrains; Magi traveled from distant foreign countries to visit the newborn King.

The Jews were a conquered nation, ruled by Herod the Great of the Roman Empire. Herod was ruthless, a schemer who clawed his way to the top of the political scene, maintaining discipline with secret police. He couldn’t tolerate competition. Even an infant King was a political thread to him. Herod’s family members were victims of his violent tendencies. He killed two of his ten wives, two sons, and his in-laws, among others.

Magi from the east stopped at the palace in Jerusalem to inquire regarding the whereabouts of the newborn King of the Jews, whose supernatural star they had been following for months. King Herod instructed his chief priests and teachers of law to research the Old Testament. The Magi were then directed to Bethlehem with a secret command from King Herod to report back to him details about the newborn King.

While visiting Jesus, the Magi were warned by angels to return home via an alternative route, avoiding their planned stop at King Herod’s palace. When the Magi didn’t return to Jerusalem, Herod suspected he’d been tricked. He immediately gave an order that all boys age two and younger be slaughtered throughout Bethlehem and its vicinities, according to when the Magi indicated the first star appeared.

Imagine the horror and helplessness the families endured when their toddler sons were selectively slain for no reason other than the king decreed it. The soldiers stormed every house searching for victims, their orders non-negotiable. What an agonizing massacre, a mass killing simply to validate one man’s pride.

Were Herod’s oppressive, totalitarian tactics so unlike the style of anarchy we are witnessing in our modern world? In geographic pockets around the world, terrorism has become the rule of the land. Cities and entire countries have collapsed. Christians, particularly, are beheaded or tortured for their faith in God. Women and children are brutalized or annihilated. At the very least, families are separated or displaced.

We gasp in horror when atrocities are committed within our own borders. As in King Herod’s day, the heinous acts are rationalized to promote personal power and greed. There is little interest in discussing or compromising issues of mutual importance. Have our governments made progress in peace-keeping methods since ancient times?

The Israelites had grown weary of waiting for the promised Messiah over the previous centuries. As Roman tyranny grew more suffocating, the Jews were anticipating a political savior to release them from servitude to Rome.

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But, the angels announced a Savior who would accomplish so much more—deliver His people from sin and death, a miracle that compelled the angels to sing at Jesus’ birth: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests” (Luke 2:14).

We cannot ignore the nefarious worldwide brutality prevalent today. Neither can we allow a foreboding shadow of fear to invade our Christmas joy. However, we are capable of minimizing the negative effect on lives as we pray for peace and hope in an exploding world.

The cacophony of threatening chatter is heard from around the world, bombarding our minds with pessimistic messages. Discouragement develops easily if we allow our minds to get mired in the news of abominable current events. The good news is that God is the author and embodiment of all hope. “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).

Hope is confident expectation, a reliance on God’s blessings and provisions, not equated with unfounded optimism. We enjoy blessed assurance of our future destiny based on God’s love and power. As humans, we are incapable of conjuring up hope with personal efforts. Hope is a gift from God. “May the God of all hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13). Hope resides in God, revealed to us by the Holy Spirit, and demonstrated in the death of Jesus on the cross, further reinforced by His resurrection from the dead.

Unlike world forces of evil, God is creative, powerful, and authoritative. Jesus is the Prince of Peace, able to calm our fearful spirits with His peaceful, trustworthy assurances. He encourages us to come to Him for soothing peace of mind and a joy-filled heart. Let us worship Him with enthusiasm and gratitude, as the shepherds and Magi did following Jesus’ birth over two thousand years ago.

“Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
let the sea resound, and all that is in it.
Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them.
Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy” (Psalm 96:11-12). 

God created the earth and everything in it with an unfolding plan for the future that will lead to Jesus’ second coming to rule all nations in peace. God is in control. Let us praise our Lord for His magnificent plans that encourage hope. Vow to claim sovereign triumph in the midst of human chaos, as you give glory and gratitude to Jesus on His birthday this year.

A Lovely Rose

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I will sing of your strength, 
in the morning I will sing of your love; 

for you are my fortress, 

my refuge in times of trouble.
—Psalm 59:16

 A Lovely Rose

 By Patricia Knight

Autumn in Maine is brilliant with the leaves of deciduous trees turning all shades of red, yellow, orange, and brown. Those hues combined with the deep greens of the softwoods create a fabulous scenic panorama.

 I had just noticed the leaves beginning to turn their pretty shades last week, anticipating more lustrous color developing each day. However, in the interim, our area sustained high winds and pounding rains. Many of the leaves that potentially could have turned dazzling colors have now been pummeled to the ground.

After assessing the damage, I discovered most of the remaining flower stalks in our garden were snapped off or bent over onto the ground. Single leaves, pine needles, and whole branches of trees created a disparate carpet on the land. I was bemoaning the devastated landscape when my eyes spotted the soft shades of a single Peace rose amidst the visual commotion. It was gently swaying in the soft morning breeze. Throughout the storm, that unprotected, delicate rose had stood stalwart, yet flexible, against the prevailing winds.

How resilient are we amid the storms of life? When we are battered by disappointments and despair, do we turn to God for strength? When illness disarms us, exposing physical restrictions, and emotional adversity intimidates our otherwise strong faith, are we able to remain vigorous and unflinching?

God commands that we depend upon His mighty strength when weakness threatens to conquer us. Imagine! We can access the power of the mightiest force of the entire universe. “God is our refuge and strength,an ever present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).  With God as our stronghold, we emerge victorious. “I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble” (Psalm 59:16).

Elijah is one of the great heroes in God’s Word. He stood alone against hundreds of the prophets of the false god, Baal, while God displayed His mighty, awesome power.

Elijah alone was victorious for his Lord. But, then, just as fast as he rejoiced in the victory, Elijah was frightened and humiliated by the one most powerful, yet blatantly wicked woman of that era. Queen Jezebel had announced that Elijah would die. He ran for his life. When weakened, he slumped under a tree requesting that God take his life. He progressed from victory to defeat in a few short hours. Elijah could teach a basic course on sudden fright and ineffectual reactions to it.

How tenacious was Elijah’Ps55-22--AMPs faith when he was no longer in control? He was so subdued by a human threat that he forgot the Source of his power and strength. Elijah was admittedly exhausted and that is what God recognized. Rather than discipline him for his lack of faith, God ministered to him by sending an angel to feed him, allowing him some sound sleep, and introducing him to Elisha, a companion and future helper in his work.  God understands even when we falter. “Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous fall” (Psalm 55:22). What a promise!

Though Elijah could only focus on the threats to his life when he was fatigued, there came a time when he awakened to the sight of a lovely rose blooming in the desert. That flower was the Rose of Sharon, the Lord Himself. He spoke to Elijah personally and audibly, in a gentle whisper. Elijah was physically and emotionally restored as God empowered him to continue the important work He had assigned him.

Let us remain steadfast in our faith so that when threats assail us, we will recognize and call to the Source of our help.

“My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:2).

A Dead Branch

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A Dead Branch

By Patricia Knight

We are frequently treated to the hummingbirds’ antics as they sip nectar from the feeder suspended between two parallel birch trees. The leaves gently sway in contrast to the desultory movements of the diminutive hummingbirds. The hummingbirds rest on the only dead branch located in direct line with the feeder.

If the dead tree branch had been within my reach, it would have been lopped off by my pruning shears long ago. I ascribe to the theory that most plants flourish with regular pruning of dead or ineffectual branches. Little did I realize that I would have threatened the hummingbird’s favorite rest and look-out spot.  From the hummingbirds’ vantage point on the dead branch, attacks can be averted and their eating station protected, all from an unobstructed view of the world around them.

Joseph was the youngest of Jacob and Rachael’s twelve sons. “Now Israel {Jacob} loved Joseph more than any of his other sons because he had been born to him in old age; and he made a richly ornamented robe for him” (Genesis 37:3). Joseph’s jealous brothers gained opportunity for retribution when Joseph was sent by his father with instructions to check on their welfare in the area they were grazing the family flocks.

The familiarity of the account of the brothers stripping Joseph of his ornamental coat and throwing him into an empty cistern is nonetheless chilling. When the brothers realized they could exploit Joseph’s life for an attractive price, they pulled him out of the well and sold him as a slave to the Midianite traders. “The Midianite merchants sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard”(Genesis 37:36).

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Though his brothers intended only harm toward Joseph, God had a magnificent future in mind for him, orchestrating circumstances and people to accomplish His goal. “The Lord was with Joseph and he prospered … Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned” (Genesis 39:2&5).   

Joseph’s experiences in the household of government officials in Egypt were a pattern of victories and defeats. Though he was thrown into jail on a trumped-up charge and apparently forgotten by those in authority, God gave him the ability to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, his ticket out of jail and into another responsible position. Joseph prophesied through God’s intervention, warning that Egypt would experience seven years of abundance followed by an equal number of years of famine that would ravage the land.  Joseph explained to Pharaoh that God was responsible for interpreting his dream and its message.

Once again, God rewarded Joseph. Pharaoh proclaimed, in the presence of all of his officials: “‘Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you’”(Genesis 41:39-40).  At age thirty, Joseph was named second-in-command of the whole land of Egypt. He traveled extensively throughout Egypt, collecting from every harvest, storing the abundance for sale and distribution during the years of famine.

During the famine, the humanly unpredictable scenario developed in which Jacob sent ten of his sons to Egypt to buy food. Joseph, then governor of the land, met with all people requesting grain. He immediately recognized his brothers who had previously betrayed him, though they did not suspect it was Joseph interacting with them. After an involved process Joseph finally admitted to his brothers, “‘But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt’” (Genesis 45:7-8).

Are we so different from Joseph?  During our lifetimes we experience vacillating failures and victories. When we are in the throes of disappointment and defeat, where does our trust lie? Do we moan, groan, and complain about situations that may be less than ideal or beyond our control? Joseph was imprisoned in the king’s dungeon on false charges of making advances toward his master’s wife. Even though God granted Joseph favor in the prison, his environment remained a dark, dingy, odiferous dungeon.

Joseph didn’t know when imprisoned that God would eventually place him in a position of authority so that his family could survive the future widespread famine. What kept Joseph encouraged during his prison term? It is likely Joseph’s faith and trust in God supplied him with daily strength. Joseph’s life story is a marvelous illustration of personal patience and trust in a faithful God, whose perfect plan is always accomplished in His precise timing.

God has not changed His methods throughout the centuries. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow” (Hebrews 13:8). His promises are trustworthy. Like Joseph, even when we can’t see beyond our present circumstances, if we trust in God to develop His unique purposes for us, we shall eventually experience a victory. God created us and maintains a devoted love for each of us. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’”(Jeremiah 29:11) 

Even during those times in our lives when God is silent, He is continually intervening on our behalf. His plans and purposes for each of us are perfectly orchestrated, just as in Joseph’s life. “A righteous man may have troubles but the Lord delivers him from them all” (Psalm 34:19).

Perched at attention on the dead branch, the hummingbird remains constantly vulnerable.  Instinct positions the hummer on defense against attacking predators. Vigilance is the only stance the hummer knows. However, we are free to develop trust that God will protect us from harm as we rely upon His deliverance. When adversities assail us as they did Joseph, the energies that would normally be expended on fear are converted into prayer for God’s power and strength. God assured the apostle Paul, “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’”(2 Corinthians 12:9).

The victory is ours to claim!  

The Gift of Life

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For God so loved the world
that He gave His one and only Son,
that whosoever believes in Him
shall not perish but have eternal life.
—John 3:16

The Gift of Life

 By Patricia Knight

His weakness was overwhelming; his lack of stamina discouraging; his mental acuity often diminished.  He was advised by his physicians that his one previously functioning kidney was presently the size of a half dollar. For nearly two years, kidney dialysis has maintained his physical life, albeit not one of high quality.

Those of us with healthy kidneys have the benefit of constant filtration of toxins from our blood. The maximum filtration his body received was a grand total of twelve hours during three days of kidney dialysis each week. The dialysis saved his life; an imperfect system at best, though heretofore there had been no alternative.

Just as my brother began to wonder how much longer he could plod along, enduring the ravages of kidney dialysis, a distant relative offered his healthy, compatible organ. It would save my brother’s life. The donor confided his sole purpose for sacrificing his healthy kidney: “to make you happy.”

What a hero! His gift did not come without risks: months of compatibility testing, surgical pain and recovery, and his own unpredictable future health. How do you adequately thank an organ donor for the gift of life? I posed that question to my brother.  He admitted that he is incapable of expressing the gratitude he feels for every new day of life his donor has so unpretentiously and magnanimously provided. To willingly give up a part of one’s body so that another person can live is an incredible, incomparable gift.

Immediately upon awakening from anesthesia after the donor’s kidney was successfully transplanted by a team of surgeons, my brother related that he felt well for the first time in several years. His thought processes were instantly clear; mind and body seemed connected once again. He felt like a healed person even though he knew there would be a period of recovery necessary and a future of taking sophisticated drugs to prevent rejection of another person’s organ now residing in his body.

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).

Rom5-6-Heart-Crosses--AMPWe were lost in sin, wading in selfishness, powerless to help ourselves, when Jesus offered His one unblemished life to cleanse us from all sin and to empower us for life eternal. It wasn’t easy. Jesus was required to temporarily give up His life in glory to be incarnated a man on earth; to feel all our pain, rejection, and hatred. Though still God, He became man and gave up His heavenly life so that we can live abundantly on earth and victoriously forevermore.  “Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).  

Jesus Christ’s death on the cross wasn’t a capitulation to the Roman authorities, who forcefully dragged him from an evening of prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus asked, “‘Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me?’” Jesus was soon tried on a trumped-up charge, heckled, beaten, and abused. The ultimate cruelty occurred when he was hanged with common criminals to die a heinous death; His innocent flesh nailed to a crudely-hewn, wooden cross, itself a means of torture. He suffered willingly, and joyfully gave His life, fulfilling His purpose for coming to earth. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). Following His resurrection from the dead, Jesus ascended to rejoin His Father in His glorious heavenly home, sitting at His Lord’s right hand for eternity.

Jesus breathes new life into ours when He lives within our heart. No longer must we lead a fickle, feckless, fearful life. When we gain access to the heavenly Father, our weakness is converted to His strength; we have the capacity to experience peace and joy amidst life’s trials. “Just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:4).

We are transformed, enlivened, and empowered by the supreme life-giving, life-altering sacrifice of Jesus Christ, our Lord. My brother’s voluntary organ donor exemplifies a marvelous humanitarian giver. He expected nothing in return for his magnanimous act. His unselfish gift has enabled another to live. Jesus set the example nearly two thousand years ago when He sacrificed His perfect life for all the sinners of the world. “God presented Him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in His blood” (Romans 3:24).

What higher calling is known among men than to offer part or all of one’s own life for another? It is unparalleled generosity. “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friend” (John 15:13).

Christ’s love for us was not only manifested in His words, but also in His willingness to sacrificially die for us.  

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you” (John 15:9). 

It is the ultimate love gift of all time!

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A Feast of #Joy {Repost}

A FEAST OF JOY

by Patricia Knight

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“The cheerful heart has a continual feast” (Proverbs 15:15). Joy is a perpetual, delicious smorgasbord of delight, an avalanche of dazzling power that encompasses the heart and soul. Joy is exhilarating, lavishing our lives with zeal. Joy captivates behavior, illuminating a smile or a deep sustained laugh. Body language conveys our emotions with a sparkle in our eyes, spontaneous hand-clapping, or a little jumping up-and-down.

The exchange of wedding vows amplifies hearts with love, flooding them with joy. In such instances, joy owns the gamut of our emotions, rendering us incapable of passively managing surges of jubilation. Because the occasion is so anticipated and celebrated, our hearts stagger under the load, making us feel as if our epicenter of joy will actually implode. The Psalmist expresses it well: “My heart leaps for joy” (Psalm 28:7).

God’s Word is replete with examples of people whose joy knew no bounds even under the most profoundly challenging circumstances. Miriam, sister of Moses, unabashedly rallied the Israeli women to sing, using tambourines and dance to exuberantly express joy and gratitude to the Lord following His miraculous delivery of the Israelites from generations of slavery in Egypt. The women converted their sorrow and mourning into enthusiastic singing to God for His spectacular victory over the pharaoh and the Egyptian army.

David, King of Israel, was ecstatic that the ark of the covenant, the representation of God’s throne on earth, was returned to  Israeli’s possession after many decades of absence following its seizure by the Philistines, who considered it no more than a lucky talisman. Rallying the people in a Jerusalem street parade, “David danced before the Lord with all his might, while he and the entire house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sounds of trumpets” (2 Samuel 6:14-15). It was a time of tremendous rejoicing of national impact. David’s dance was one of true worship, explicitly demonstrating extraordinary love for his Lord.

Job, an Old Testament character, was “blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1). Job’s dilemma still raises the quintessential question of why the righteous suffer. Job was steadfast regarding his innocence, though his friends accused him of liability for his suffering, determined that Job had caused his own demise by sinning. Job’s wife was so repulsed and discouraged with Job’s all-encompassing body sores, she advised Job to curse God and die. Having little hope for a cure and grieving the loss of his ten children and all of his possessions in one day, Job knew his joy could be deferred as he anticipated eternal life in heaven. Thus he admitted, “Then I would still have this consolation—my joy in unrelenting pain” (Job 6:10). In light of heaven, Job could readily rejoice, knowing he had remained true to God throughout his long ordeal on earth.

Paul and Silas were captured by the Roman authorities, then stripped and beaten with a whip made of several strips of leather into which were embedded bone and lead at the end. Once severely flogged with the whip, they were thrown into an inner cell in the dark, dank, malodorous prison with their feet  fastened in stocks. “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God and the other prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25). Suddenly a violent earthquake shook the prison, opening the cell doors and loosening prisoners’ chains. The jailer, responsible for all prisoners, was startled from sleep and assumed the prisoners had escaped. Paul and Silas intervened before the jailer committed suicide with his sword,  and presented the Gospel to the jailer and his family. The jailer was then “filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole family” (Acts 16:34). What unusual events were set in motion by a God who was honored and worshipped in spite of life-threatening conditions!  When we trust in God, joy reigns supreme, regardless of adverse situations!Jesus-ColorfulCross--AMP

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the epitome of joy.  He who was sinless during his entire life on earth, acknowledged His ultimate goal was to glorify His Father by offering His life as a perfect sacrifice, to redeem sinners of this world. When the soldiers burst into Jesus’ reverie of quiet prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane to take Him by force, Jesus succumbed to the Roman authorities, willingly complying with their orders. “Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross, scorning its shame, and set down at the right hand of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:2-3). Jesus obediently chose to die; otherwise no one would have had the power to kill Him.

The peace Jesus exhibited during his brutal trial and agonizing crucifixion ordeal is beyond our finite understanding. Though Jesus was exhausted and hurting on all levels, He rejoiced spiritually because He was accomplishing the goal for which He had given up His glory in heaven for a season to live on earth—that of becoming the perfect sacrificial Lamb to atone for sin. Jesus’ joy was powerful and zealous; the bounds of Christ’s joy were immeasurable.

If the man, Jesus, could prompt any amount of joy while confronting a terrifying, heinous crucifixion, it was only because He spent quality time with His heavenly Father in prayer, who strengthened Jesus’ commitment to His life’s goal. Utter joy is only possible for us because through Jesus’ death and resurrection, He guarantees our inheritance, providing hope for a life of joy on earth and a glorious eternity in heaven.

When Jesus appeared to His followers after his resurrection, He revealed to them the crucifixion wounds in His hands and His side. The disciples were so ecstatic to actually see Jesus alive, their joy was contagious, extending throughout the centuries to our current generation: “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8). Indeed, we are commanded to rejoice. The Apostle Paul, himself frequently plagued with hostility and extreme suffering, taught: “‘Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!’” (Philippians 4:4). Christ was the source and secret of Paul’s joy.

Phil4-4-PinkPurpleAbstractFlower-smaller--AMPOne of our life’s objectives is irrefutable: we are to be defined by worshipful joy in which God’s entire creation participates. “Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy” (Psalm 96; 11-12).  Since all of nature responds to His authority, God accepts joyful worship from everything He creates. On that premise, let us assess the amount of joyous adoration our Redeemer receives from us. “Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy. How awesome is the Lord Most High, the great King over all the earth” (Psalm 47:1-2).

Joy is not passive, but animated, manifesting praise and thanksgiving. Miriam and David unapologetically sang and danced before God Almighty. Like them, we eagerly worship our Savior, passionately reflecting His character with effervescent expressions of joy. It is God’s desire that we live triumphant lives, for which joy is one of the important components. Jesus said, “‘I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly’” (John 10-10, KJV). Let our words and actions be saturated with bountiful joy!

 

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