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These Things Could Fill You With Joy

board-142741_1280What makes you joyful?

This being the third week of Advent, Joy Sunday, we were naturally talking about joy. It’s one of those things that the Apostle Paul talks about as “The Fruit of the Spirit.” That is to say, when the Spirit of God is in us one of the things that should be produced in us is joy.

So we tried something different on a Sunday morning and split into groups (2 men’s groups and 1 women’s group) to come up with the top 5 things we think would bring us joy (being a small church, breaking into groups wasn’t very difficult – I don’t think I would have tried this in a large church).

What about you? If you had to pick 5, what would you think the average person would say?

Here’s what our younger men came up with:

  1. a good job. The idea of having a job that both provides abundantly AND fills you with a sense of accomplishment/achievement was a big factor in people’s ideal of a joy-filled life.
  2. a new truck. I’m not sure which young man came up with this one, but I agree – a new truck would make me pretty happy, too!
  3. having the family together. Perhaps the Christmas season makes people long for family and community. Perhaps it’s being part of a military community where we are separated from family more than other communities. Either way, having our loved ones around is important.
  4. being able to play my instrument whenever I want. I think we had one young man who would rather be rocking out than attending class, but that’s not unusual. 😉
  5. success. I think this is really connected to #1, but it goes beyond a job and into an attitude that encompasses all of life.

Here’s what our older men came up with:

  1. the birth of Jesus – yes, I got Jesus-juked by the men in chapel (if you don’t know what a Jesus-juke is, read about it here).
  2. our kids’ laughter. I agree, nothing delights me quite like hearing my own kids laughing when they don’t know I can hear them.
  3. a healthy family. We live in a world with so much sickness and disease, sometimes it feels as though it will never end. A healthy family can be a real joy to those of us with sickos in the family. Wait…that didn’t come out right…
  4. a relationship with God – okay, another Jesus-juke, and they were trying to jump into my sermon notes.
  5. healthy mothers – I think this one was spawned from one dad who was at church with his sons and mom was home recovering. Being a single parent is always tough – add on the responsibility of being a care-giver for a spouse or adult parent and the burden multiplies.

And here’s what our women came up with:

  1. making others happy. I think the women are much more altruistic than we are (at least that’s how it is in my marriage!).
  2. being more involved in church. These ladies really know how to push all the right buttons for the pastor. I see some new ministries and leaders developing here! 😉
  3. good weather. If you’re the kind of person who is affected by weenjoy-the-little-things-906291_1920ather changes, this could be a BIG deal for your sense of joy.
  4. exercising. I’m not sure if exercise would give ME joy, but I sure do enjoy the benefits of it 🙂
  5. the little things in life. The ladies wouldn’t get specific about WHICH little things, but apparently it’s these little things that bring them joy.

Were these close to what you came up with?

The problem with most of these answers we come up with that our idea of joy is often connected to temporary things. None of them is permanent. Cold weather, bills, people, health, and good feelings all come and go. If we look to these things for our joy then we’re always going to be chasing.

That kind of joy is a pipe dream.

It’s not the kind of joy we see in the Bible when Peter writes:

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…. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while…you have been grieved by various trials. (1 Peter 1:3-6)

Finding joy in the middle of trials and tough time feels impossible, yet time and time again the Bible talks about joy in the midst of suffering. You see, from the Bible’s perspective, joy isn’t based on temporary things and events. Though such things might give us joy for a bit they will eventually fade. It is when we are able to shift focus and take our eyes off of this world and focus on what’s coming for us later that we can know joy no matter what we face in this life.

Real joy is rooted not in our circumstances but in GOD and his activity. He has worked in the past, he works in our lives now, and he has promised us a better tomorrow. We may not see that better tomorrow in this life, but the Christian faith realizes that there is more to life than this flesh and blood.

Joy is about holding on to our eternal circumstances over our temporary trials.

I might not know what you’re going through. It may be excruciating. But we know and believe that one day we will rest easy in the presence of Yahweh. All the wrongs will be made right. All the hurts will be healed. We will know a permanent and lasting joy unlike anything we have ever experienced.

Until that day, that hope anchors us here and now. May we learn to say with the Apostle Paul:

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. (Philippians 4:11)

Amen.

Related Posts:
Discover Your Key to Happiness

Finding Fearless Faith

quotes-1449691_1280We’ve arrived at the second week of Advent, the time of year we prepare our hearts for the coming of the Messiah at Christmas. This week we’re talking about hope. But what is hope? To many people, hope seems to be nothing more than a pipe dream – a wish.

“I hope that I get a raise.”

“I hope Uncle Frank doesn’t say anything offensive at Christmas dinner this year.”

“I hope….”

It’s nothing more than an expression of a wish or a desire. But that’s not the biblical understanding of hope. Hope is not a wish. It’s not human desire. Hope is intimately connected to faith. Hope is trusting and expecting something beneficial to come sometime in the future. It is a compelling positive view of things to come.

Romans 8:23-25 – Though we have already tasted the firstfruits of the Spirit, we are longing for the total redemption of our bodies that comes when our adoption as children of God is complete— 24 for we have been saved in this hope and for this future. But hope does not involve what we already have or see. For who goes around hoping for what he already has? 25 But if we wait expectantly for things we have never seen, then we hope with true perseverance and eager anticipation.

 “Where there is no vision, there is no hope.” ~ George Washington Carvergeorge-washington-carver-393757_1280

But it’s not about something we manufacture. It’s not under our control. Hope is the proper response to the promises of God.

Psalm 119:49 – Do not forget Your promise to Your servant; through it You have given me hope. 50 This brings me solace in the midst of my troubles: that Your word has revived me.

Hope lies in God’s activity, not our own. The foundation of hope is not our own desire but an understanding that God HAS been active in human history and our lives, God IS actively working in our lives, and God WILL continue to work in our lives. This three-fold understanding of God’s behavior is the bedrock on which all hope lies. No matter what happens, we know that God is present and active. That puts is in a practical place – hope has real effects on human behavior.

Psalm 31:24 – Love the Eternal, all of you, His faithful people! He protects those who are true to Him, but He pays back the proud in kind. Be strong, and live courageously, all of you who set your hope in the Eternal!

2 Corinthians 3:12 – In light of this hope that we have, we act with great confidence and speak with great courage.

Godly hope empowers us to live courageously. It’s not about taking away all of the negative possibilities in life. It’s not about avoiding all dangers and troubles. It’s about knowing who is in control. Faith in God’s tomorrow removes our fear today. If we know that, no matter what happens, God’s plan will still come to fruition, it frees us to act without fear. Our decisions are not going to derail God’s will. Other people cannot change God’s plan. We are emboldened to act knowing that God wins. Even through the difficult times, we can still hope.

Romans 5:3-5 – We also celebrate in seasons of suffering because we know that when we suffer we develop endurance, which shapes our characters. When our characters are refined, we learn what it means to hope and anticipate God’s goodness. And hope will never fail to satisfy our deepest need because the Holy Spirit that was given to us has flooded our hearts with God’s love.

Hope isn’t diminished in bad times, it’s built in them! This may seem counterintuitive at first, but people living the good life have no need for hope- they have everything they need now.

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Infinite hope. It removes our fear. It compels us to act. It sets us apart from the lost and hopeless people in the world. It’s not because of us – it’s all because of Him. This Advent season, as we prepare ourselves for his arrival, let God’s actions in the past, his behavior today, and his promises for tomorrow, be your source of hope. In a dismal and decaying world, we have this hope that builds within us fearless faith to face whatever may come.

 “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” ~ Desmond Tutu

This Cat Jesus Is a Bad Mother (shut yo’ mouth!)

Advent Season is here! I know that there a few churches that don’t follow the liturgical calendar, so people who are part of those churches don’t fully get Advent. Advent is simply an old word that means “coming.” Advent Season is the time leading up to Christmas when we prepare our hearts for the coming of the Messiah. Each week we focus on a different Advent theme. This week let’s talk about love.

My problem with love is that the world gets it completely wrong. Love is often seen as sappy. It’s touchy-feely. But what happens when the feelings fade? We can’t base any reality on feelings because they come and go like the tide. You can wake up one morning and not “feel” love towards your spouse (especially if you’ve had a fight the night before). But next week you can feel like the luckiest person alive to have your spouse in your life. I go through periods of liking and not liking my own kids (a lot of it depends on their behavior)! But those feelings are not an appropriate way to determine my behavior.
If feelings were the basis for our behavior, we would only be good when we feel positive things towards others. When the feelings fade then we would bail on the relationship.

That’s garbage.

shaft1Jesus gives us a different understanding of love. It’s not some sappy, touchy-feely emotion. I don’t think that was Jesus’s personality at all. He was a hard-workin’ man. The Greek word in the Bible for Jesus’s occupation is tekton, which is simply translated “builder.” Looking at construction in the Ancient Near East, it’s highly likely that Jesus did a lot of work with stone. He’s not a soft man at all. He’s hard, toughened, with rough hands. He’s the man. He’s like John Shaft – this cat Jesus is a bad mother (shut yo’ mouth!). I’m just talkin’ about Jesus (oh, I can dig it!). When Jesus talks about love it’s a very concrete, real thing that is about sacrifice – not about feelings.

He said:

I have loved you as the Father has loved Me. Abide in My love. Follow My example in obeying the Father’s commandments and receiving His love. If you obey My commandments, you will stay in My love. I want you to know the delight I experience, to find ultimate satisfaction, which is why I am telling you all of this. My commandment to you is this: love others as I have loved you. There is no greater way to love than to give your life for your friends. (John 15:9-13)

Love isn’t weak and soft – it’s tough as nails and enduring. The greatest expression of love is self-sacrifice. This is heroism at its finest, and we understand that. Our art is FILLED with examples of heroic sacrifice as a symbol of genuine love.

This kind of Love is what Jesus is talking about.

Real love says, “I got your back.”
Real love says, “You’re not fighting alone.”
Real love says, “I will jump on the grenade if it means you survive.”

THIS is how we kick off Advent – with this kind of raw, powerful, action-based discussion of love. Jesus came to give us this kind of love. This is EXACTLY what the Apostle Paul was trying to tell the church in Rome:

For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:7-8)

There was nothing we did to deserve God’s love. We didn’t earn it. But God shows the depth of His love by self-sacrifice even when we were broken and unworthy. Jesus was the kind of guy to jump on the grenade for us so that we could carry on in the fight.
But it doesn’t end there. The real question comes to our response. Now that we have received this kind of love, how will we take it to the world around us? As believers called by His name, we need to be examples of love in this world. Regardless of feelings, which are transitory, we need to be people of love – people who are known to be self-sacrificial for the behalf of those around us.

Love is not my feelings. Love is concrete behavior. Love is Spock sacrificing his own life while telling Kirk, “Live long and prosper.” This is how God treated us. Now let’s be those kind of people to the world.

A Light Up Ahead: An Advent Devotion on Hope

Advent - HOPE

Our world really misunderstands hope. Often people see it as a desire for something to happen. One of my favorite examples of this kind of hope is in Antiques Roadshow. You know the show – people bring in old stuff and “hope” that their old item actually has high value. What they are really looking for is the promise of new life – clearly the old isn’t amounting to much – it’s junk, or of little value. They want to reinvigorate the item with new life and value!

Can you imagine the excitement of taking something old and being given new value?! Are we any different? In our own search for hope that’s what we really want – new life and value. That is what hope does – it instills life, value, and purpose into a person.

Conversely, hopelessness is when a person has no desire for what the future holds – he sees no possibilities. In the classic movie Showboat one character sings the famous song “Ole Man River” in which we find the lines: “I get weary and sick of tryin’. I’m tired of livin’ but scared of dyin’.” This is the epitome of hopelessness – I don’t wanna be here and I’ve got nothing coming down the road.

More of us feel that way than we care to admit. We have that same fleeting thought: I’m tired of livin’ but scared of dyin’. But so long as man has a future he has hope. The Bible declares:

Proverbs 23:17b-18 ~ …fear the Lord. For then you will have a future, and your hope will never fade.

Proverbs 24:14 ~ Realize that wisdom is [sweet like honey] for you. If you find it, you will have a future, and your hope will never fade.

Even in the secular world, when people stop having anything to look forward to they lose hope and the vigor of life. What happens when the things we look forward to are things of this world? Eventually they come and go. Then what happens to hope? The only future that leads to perpetual hope is that future when Christ returns and we spend all eternity in the presence of God. In a classic hymn we sing these words, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.”

But hope is not a mere pipe dream. Hope is a human response to God’s activity

Romans 4:18-20 ~ Against hope, with hope he believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what had been spoken: So will your descendants be. He considered his own body to be already dead since he was about 100 years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb, without weakening in the faith. He did not waiver in unbelief at God’s promise, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God.

This, then, is the essence of hope. It is not mere desire for something to happen – hope is unshakable confidence, and expectation that God is actively present in my life and in this world and in the world to come! Because hope is about confidence and expectation of God’s activity, hope is strengthened, not weakened, in the face of adversity and difficulty. The world sees Christian hope as foolishness and something fleeting. In reality our hope, our understanding that God has a future and a plan, is the bedrock and foundation of our Christian confidence!

So what?

Hope is always a great place to start something new because hope is something that looks to the future with optimism. We have hope that one day Jesus will come back again and make everything right. We have hope that the way it is, is not how it is supposed to be. We have hope that no matter what life throws at us, we know the end result, we know who wins.

The holiday season is rough for many because the world throws out its version of hope. Warm fires, families that love each other, and stuff, stuff, stuff. The wonderful image of Christmas we see in ads fails to live up to reality. But no matter what our circumstances, no matter if it’s the holiday season or any other season, we can hold on to a hope that lasts. The Savior came once into the world and He’s coming again someday. No matter what we face now – God controls my destiny and my future. It is unshakable. No one can take it away.

Where human hope dies away – Godly hope perseveres to the end!

Peacefakers, Peacebreakers, and Peacemakers: An Advent Devotion

Advent - PEACEMAKER

The four Advent themes are Love, Joy, Peace, and Hope. This week we’re talking about peace, but I wanted to take a different approach to it. I want to talk about peace from the perspective of personal conflict. Sure, we could talk about the peace that we have in Jesus. We could sing “Silent Night” and fool ourselves into thinking that a manger with a newborn baby was calm, serene, and peaceful.

The fact of the matter is that the peace that God gives us is supposed to play out in our interactions with others. As we have received peace (Jesus said “My peace I give to you) we are called to be peace makers in this world.

When Christians learn to live out the gospel in the conflicts of daily life, people are more willing to admit their shortcomings and ask for help before a crisis occurs. Families are better equipped to handle disputes, which makes divorce less likely. Members are encouraged to go to each other to discuss problems instead of letting them fester. When peace rules our hearts and our lives, we refuse to let conflict win the day.

Here are some major sources of conflict in our lives – things that can destroy peace.

– misunderstanding or poor communication
– differences in values, goals, priorities, expectations, or opinions
– competition
– sinful attitudes or behavior: the Bible says, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (James 4:1)

Take an honest look at yourself. Have any (or all!) of these things stolen your peace this year? Perhaps it was someone else’s fault. Perhaps it was your own. But this kind of conflict isn’t supposed to dominate our lives.

NOT ALL CONFLICT IS BAD! Our response, though, can turn neutral or positive conflict into bad conflict.
Conflict is an opportunity to demonstrate the love and power of God in our lives. Here are some common ways we respond:

PEACE-FAKERS (What?! There’s no conflict!)

Denial. One way to escape from a conflict is to pretend that it does not exist. Or, if we cannot deny that the problem exists, we simply refuse to do what should be done to resolve a conflict properly. These responses bring only temporary relief and usually make matters worse (1 Samuel 2:22-25).

Flight. Another way to escape from a conflict is to run away. This may include leaving the house, ending a friendship, quitting a job, filing for divorce, or changing churches. In most cases, running away only postpones a proper solution to a problem, so flight is usually a harmful way to deal with conflict. Flight may also be a legitimate response in seriously threatening circumstances, such as cases of physical or sexual abuse. If a family is involved in such a situation, however, every reasonable effort should still be made to find trustworthy assistance and come back to seek a lasting solution to the problem.

Suicide. When people lose all hope of resolving a conflict, they may seek to escape the situation (or make a desperate cry for help) by attempting to take their own lives. Suicide is never the right way to deal with conflict.

PEACE-BREAKERS (I’d rather fight to remove conflict than to work it out)

Assault. Some people try to overcome an opponent by using various forms of force or intimidation, such as verbal attacks (including gossip and slander), physical violence, or efforts to damage a person financially or professionally. Such conduct always makes conflicts worse.

Litigation. Another way to force people to bend to our will is to take them to court. Lawsuits damage relationships and often fail to achieve complete justice. When Christians are involved on both sides, their witness can be severely damaged. This is why Christians are commanded to settle their differences within the church rather than in the civil courts (1 Cor. 6:1-8). Therefore, it is important to make every effort to settle a dispute out of court whenever possible (Matt. 5:25-26).

Murder. In extreme cases, people may be so desperate to win a dispute that they will try to kill those who oppose them.While most Christians would not actually kill someone, we should never forget that we stand guilty of murder in God’s eyes when we harbor anger or contempt in our hearts toward others (see 1 John 3:15; Matt. 5:21-22).

Neither the PEACEFAKER or the PEACEBREAKER is the biblical way to respond to conflict. So how would God have us do it?

PEACEMAKERS (the godly model)

Overlook an offense. Many disputes are so insignificant that they should be resolved by quietly and deliberately overlooking an offense. “A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense” (Prov. 19:11; see also 12:16; 17:14; Col. 3:13; 1 Peter 4:8). Overlooking an offense is a form of forgiveness and involves a deliberate decision not to talk about it, dwell on it, or let it grow into pent-up bitterness or anger.

Reconciliation. If an offense is too serious to overlook or has damaged the relationship, we need to resolve personal or relational issues through confession, loving correction, and forgiveness. “[If] your brother has something against you … go and be reconciled” (Matt. 5:23-24; see Prov. 28:13).

– Negotiation. Even if we successfully resolve relational issues, we may still need to work through material issues related to money, property, or other rights. This should be done through a cooperative bargaining process in which you and the other person seek to reach a settlement that satisfies the legitimate needs of each side.

Mediation. If two people cannot reach an agreement in private, they should ask one or more objective outside people to meet with them to help them communicate more effectively and explore possible solutions. “If he will not listen [to you], take one or two others along” (Matt. 18:16).

Accountability. If a person who professes to be a Christian refuses to be reconciled and do what is right, Jesus commands church leaders to formally intervene to hold him or her accountable to Scripture and to promote repentance, justice, and forgiveness: “If he refuses to listen [to others], tell it to the church” (Matt. 18:17). Direct church involvement is often viewed negatively among Christians today, but when it is done as Jesus instructs-lovingly, redemptively, and restoratively-it can be the key to saving relationships and bringing about justice and peace.

That’s all well and good, but how do we get to a place where we can be that kind of peacemaker? Ultimately it comes down to forgiveness. It is nearly impossible to truly forgive others in your own strength, especially when they have hurt you deeply or betrayed your trust. There is only one way to overcome these barriers; that is to admit that you cannot forgive in your own strength and that you desperately need God to come in and change your heart.

SorryForgiveness is not a feeling. It is an act of the will. Forgiveness involves a series of decisions, the first of which is to call on God to change our hearts. Second, forgiveness is not forgetting. Forgetting is a passive process in which a matter fades from memory merely with the passing of time. Forgiving is an active process; it involves a conscious choice and a deliberate course of action. To put it another way, when God says that he “remembers your sins no more” (Isa. 43:25), he is not saying that he cannot remember our sins. Rather, he is promising that he will not remember them. When he forgives us, he chooses not to mention, recount, or think about our sins ever again. Similarly, when we forgive, we must draw on God’s grace and consciously decide not to think or talk about what others have done to hurt us.

To forgive someone means to release him or her from liability to suffer punishment or penalty. In his book “The Peace Maker“, Ken Sande talks about forgiveness being described as a decision to make four promises:

1. “I will not dwell on this incident.”
2. “I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you.”
3. “I will not talk to others about this incident.”
4. “I will not let this incident stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.”

It’s not easy…

When we think about the forgiveness that the ultimate PEACEMAKER gave to us at Christmas, we should be motivated to extend forgiveness and peace towards others. This holiday season, be a peacemaker. Let forgiveness be an overwhelming theme of your life.

May you know the peace of God that surpasses understanding, and may you offer that peace to others.

Recovering Your Joy: An Advent Devotion

Joy!

Everybody WANTS to be happy. Everybody WANTS joy. It’s the number one reason the little book The Secret has sold more than 19 million copies worldwide and has been translated into 46 languages.

The Secret

In a nutshell the secret comes down to this – if you want good things to come to you then you have to put good things out into the universe. If you want happiness and joy you’ve got to put good vibes out there. But it’s bunk. It’s garbage. There is no universal return on good vibes.

But we want happiness SO badly!

So we play this “if only” game in which we tell ourselves, “If only I had ______ then that would make me happy….” Yet for all of our “unhappiness” we’ve really got a ton of stuff.

Did you ever wonder how we can be so blessed and so unhappy at the same time?

There are four lies we tell ourselves when it comes to our pursuit of happiness. See if you recognize any that you’ve told yourself.

1. God is withholding from me – this was Adam and Eve’s big problem; they thought that God was holding out something better – they compared the life they had with what they thought they could have if God wasn’t holding out…

2. God owes me – I put in my time, I’m in church, I tithe, I do my best to forgive people when they are rude to me…. I’ve done my bit – why doesn’t God reward me?

3. If I get it, I’ll be happy (this is that game we talked about a minute ago). But this is a flawed way of thinking. Prosperity and contentment don’t always go together. Rich people are unhappy, too. I’m reminded of an old joke:

They say money can’t buy happiness, but I’d rather cry in a mansion…

But many times when our circumstances change our discontent changes along with them! We are unhappy at one level and unhappy at the next level (and on and on it goes).

4. I know what is best for me – this is one of the biggest lies most of us use, even if we don’t realize it. We get into trouble when we try to plot our own course to happiness rather than following God’s course to contentment. But contentment isn’t about controlling ourselves. Self-denial doesn’t equal contentment – contentment is inward and cannot be touched by circumstances, can’t be stolen by sickness or poverty, cannot be ruined by the loss of a job, friends, or house. Though I HATE the cliché, this is one of those areas where we need to “let go and let God.”

So then where can we find true contentment?

In Philippians 4:4-13 the Apostle Paul writes:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your graciousness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things. Do what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that once again you renewed your care for me. You were, in fact, concerned about me but lacked the opportunity to show it. I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.

Paul isn’t crazy; he says it twice – rejoice! But notice this; what gives Paul joy is not things or circumstances. It’s Paul’s relationship with God gave him a sense of contentment that transcended his immediate circumstances. He was a man who knew what it was like to be in the pits. He “walked through the valley of the shadow of death.” Shipwrecked, imprisoned, beaten, and on and on – still he maintains contentedness because of his relationship with God.

The book of Isaiah tells us that we were made with a purpose – for God’s glory! Discontentment begins when we put ourselves at the center of the universe and remove God. It’s a big view of me and a very little view of God. Christian joy, on the other hand, is independent of all things on earth BECAUSE it has its source in the continual presence of Christ – not on temporary things or circumstances.

No matter what your circumstance this holiday season you can recover your joy – but we need a commitment to contentment. Contentment is a disposition of the heart that freely and joyfully submits to God’s will, whatever that will may be. It’s easy to submit when God’s will involves large amounts of cash, perfect health, exotic vacations, or unlimited vanilla chai lattes. But a commitment to contentment embraces both prosperity and pain as from the hand of God.

Finally, here are four practical tips you can start using right now to start recovering your joy:

1. Ignore the lies of pursuing happiness.
2. Live with a “Jesus is enough” mentality.
3. Count your blessings (really, write them down).
4. Focus on helping others who are even less fortunate than you.

How about you? I’d love to hear your stories about how God helped you recover your joy! Feel free to comment below. If you’re still struggling with the recovery and need prayer, let me know and I’ll start praying for you.

May you have a blessed holiday season.

What’s Love Got to Do With It? – An Advent Devotion

True Love?

Let’s face it, we live in a love-saturated culture. Everywhere you turn you see television shows, movies, magazines, books, and other products all designed to get us to buy/watch/read by appealing to our desire to tap into love. It’s especially bad in our music. While I don’t have the exact number, the great majority of songs on the radio have to do with some aspect of love. Can you identify these famous love songs from their lyrics

– Bittersweet memories that is all I’m taking with me So good-bye Please don’t cry We both know I’m not what you, you need….

Yup – you guessed it.

How about:

– There’s a calm surrender To the rush of day When the heat of the rolling world Can be turned away An enchanted moment And it sees me through It’s enough for this restless warrior Just to be with you…

Too easy, right?

One last one – and a personal favorite of mine!

– Shot through the heart and you’re to blame, darlin’…

Of course you know this one!

But when it comes to love, this world has the wrong perspective. Most of the “love” in this world comes down to “what you do for me” – it’s about how you make me feel. Because of this erroneous view, the emotional connections we have make it too easy to move on. When I don’t feel love for you I’m gonna walk away.

But real love doesn’t move on in difficult moments – it holds on and fights for the “other.”

If the world’s perspective is wrong, let’s take a look at the Bible’s perspective. One of the most famous chapters in the Bible is 1 Corinthians 13. It’s often called “The Love Chapter.” In this section Paul goes on…and on…and on…and, well, you get it – all about LOVE.

Here’s the kicker: he uses verbs, not adjectives, to talk about love. Love is something to be DONE, not something to be felt. Here it is broken down with a bit of explanation about what Paul is trying to get at.

– Love is patient – it performs the positive act of waiting
– Love is kind – it responds to others with a tender heart
– Love does not envy – there are no intense negative feelings over another’s success
– Love is not boastful – not a pompous windbag
– Love is not conceited – not puffed up. Puffing up the self puts others down
– Love does not act improperly – refers to shameful behavior
– Love is not selfish – doesn’t seek personal advantage over the “other”
– Love is not provoked – doesn’t get caught up or riled up, not irritable
– Love does not keep a record of wrongs – don’t get historical!
– Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth – treat each other fairly
– Love bears all things – protects and covers up what is displeasing in others
– Love believes all things, hopes all things – trusting in God’s care and protection
– Love endures all things – love doesn’t bail out when times get tough
– Love never ends – depite trouble, hardship, or affliction, love perseveres

Jesus’ take on love is even more extreme. It’s not just about action – it’s about selfless action.

– John 15:13 – this is the greatest act of love, putting others ahead of yourself to the extreme.
– John 15:17 – Jesus’ direct command: love each other.

As we start the advent season we often focus on the wrong type of love. Love in Advent isn’t about feeling that it’s the most wonderful time of the year. It’s recognizing that God loves us through His actions. He cares, so He acts accordingly. Christ coming to the world is the greatest act of love because it is putting our needs as His priority.

The flip-side to this Christmas miracle is that we are commanded to pick up and carry this definition of love! We have the opportunity to create God’s kingdom on earth, and it all starts with love – how we treat and prioritize others.

Not to be trite and cliché, but what the world needs now is love. Not a schmaltzy, Coca-Cola version but a godly, biblical version of love as concrete behavior that puts others first and puts ourselves second.

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