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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

It’s Not Hard to Make a Difference

In 2015 we took on an endeavor to help raise support for Jeff and Tammy, missionaries to Africa.

Thus far we have sent almost $3,200 to Africa, where they pastor a church in Zimbabwe.

But we can do more. We have such a great ability to give and we seldom realize it. Maybe you can go without your Venti Frappe once a week. A few dollars saved here and there really adds up.

Zimbabwe is in Southern Africa. It is one of the five poorest countries in the world, has one of the highest AIDS problems on the continent.Zimbabwe The average life expectancy is only 37 years and almost 10% of the population is orphaned. It is a country that desperately needs help.

Tammy says:

“One of my cousins said to me shortly before I left for Zimbabwe, ‘Tammy, I can only imagine all the prayers that went up to God by the dying parents asking Him to watch over their children and I think He is sending you there in answer to their prayers.’ That statement is what motivates me to do all that is in my power and ability by God’s AMAZING GRACE to help support these children any way I can.”

Tammy immediately began going to the orphanages in Bulawayo telling Bible Stories and doing Jana Alayra worship with them. As she began making relationships, two orphanages obtained property in September 2012 and they offered it to her, a 50+ California girl who never farmed a day in her life, to help them use the land to become self-sustainable.

Scorziell 3Thus was born “Fruitful Harvest,” a ministry with the mission of creating “Zimbabwean Products Helping Zimbabwean Children.”Scorziell 4

One of the Properties belongs to the Sandra Jones Centre. This is a home with over 70 sexually abused, abandoned, and orphaned children. Many of the young girls are between 11 and 17 years old. Most of them are victims of rape and incest and are pregnant. Many are also uneducated. Debbie Brennocks, the founder and director of the Centre, and Tammy took another leap of faith and applied for a grant that would help teach these girls a skill to help them support themselves and their baby (if they chose to keep them). It was approved and they now Sandra Jones Graduationteach the girls gardening skills and how to raise chickens.

There is no government support for these children. The orphanages feed, clothe, educate, pay medical bills, etc. for the children all by faith and the help from others God leads to them.

Please consider how you can help these children and this ministry.Scorziell 2 Whatever you donate through our GoFundMe campaign goes right to Fruitful Harvest Ministries and missionaries Jeff and Tammy Scorziell.

Click on the button to go to our fundraising campaign:

If you have any questions you can contact me or see the Fruitful Harvest Ministries website.

This holiday season, you can make a difference in the lives of children. Will you help?

God bless you all.

Chris Linzey

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Please share this post on Facebook, Twitter, and Email. Even if you can’t donate, you can help spread the word and be praying for the ministry to Zimbabwe!

That’s How You Picked Your Baby’s Name? Really?

baby-84552_1920Sometimes we just look at the culture around us and shake our heads. Like last week when I heard about the top trending baby names for 2015. While some old names like Noah and Eleanor are making a comeback, there is a disturbing trend. Not disturbing theologically – just in terms of stupidity. People are naming their babies after the names of Instagram filters.iphone-1055371_1920

For those of you who are not familiar with Instagram, it’s an app that allows you to edit photos and apply different effects (filters) to your pictures.

Yes, this is how people are naming their infants. Names like Lux, Valencia, Willow, and Ludwig. And those who aren’t using a picture editing app are using teen fiction. Um…wow.

Call me a stick in the mud, but I think that names are important; to important to leave up to something silly to name a baby (if you’re named after something silly, I mean no offense – you’re a wonderful person). I like my name and it’s meaning. My wife and I put thought into naming our children. Names are important. This is especially true in the Bible. From the beginning of creation, humanity was given the task of naming.

Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. ~ Genesis 2:19

Names are important.

A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold. ~ Proverbs 22:1

God himself has a thing with names. When God tells Moses to return to Egypt in order to free the enslaved Israelites, he has a naming discussion.

Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” ~ Exodus 3:13

The New Testament continues this understanding of the importance of names – especially the name of Jesus. Peter famously preaches:

And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” ~ Acts 4:12

xmas-1021208_1920As we’re now in the holiday season you’ll find a lot of Christians get bent out of shape when people remove the name of Christ from Christmas and replace it with an X. While there is no need to be upset (X is the Greek letter that has been used to abbreviate the name Christ since the beginning of the faith), it’s obvious that people CARE about names.

Names set us apart and give us identity. In a world that is constantly vying for our attention and is trying to assign us identities, it’s important that we choose our “names” carefully. Sometimes we get caught up in worldly names: Democrat, Republican, American, European, Male, Female…the list goes on and on.

But the only name that really matters is one that is given to us through faith: Christian.

How about you? What name do you want to be known by?

 

Starbucks Hates Jesus: When Conservatives Use Jesus to Push Their Own Ideologies

Ah, the holidays! I think my favorite part is our annual “War on Christmas” posts and news articles. war-on-christmasI’ve written about it before here in a post called “Liberals Are Killing Christ” when a previous persecution outbreak swept ‘Merica.

Christians love to feel persecuted when it comes to Christmas, even though there is no biblical mandate, “THOU SHALT CELEBRATE MY BIRTH AND DECRY ANYONE WHO DOESN’T CELEBRATE THE WAY YOU DO.” The latest entry in the persection complex – a video post from ultra-conservative Joshua Feuerstein. Take a look:

So let’s break down what Mr. Feuerstein is saying.

1. Starbucks wanted to take Christ and Christmas off of their cups.

Sure, that’s possible. Even likely. Starbucks is a secular organization. In their own words, they wanted cups that made the season welcoming to “all of our stories.” That sounds horribly reasonable. It’s not a war on Christmas. It’s about a non-Christian company doing things to welcome customers from all backgrounds.

2. Mr. Feuerstein “tricked” Starbucks into putting Merry Christmas on his cup.

Well, not really. It’s not a trick when, in essence, baristas ask, “What do you want me to write on your cup?” Clearly Mr. Feuerstein is upset. He’s even thought of boycotting the coffee chain. But instead of taking a stand by refusing to give Starbucks his money, he advocates people spending MORE money there and having baristas write Merry Christmas on cup at a time.

What a protest. -.-

Sounds like Mr. Feuerstein is the one who got tricked. Starbucks gets his money AND keeps their religious-neutral cups.

3. “Starbucks…guess what…just to offend you I made sure to wear my Jesus Christ shirt into your store….”

Yup. There it is. Because that’s the Christian way to behave. The gospel will be offensive because of what it proclaims. We shouldn’t be trying to be offensive. That’s rude and completely opposite of the kind of humility Christ calls us to embrace.

What happened to treating people the way we want them to treat us? What happened to doing good even when we suffer under harsh and unfair circumstances? Get this:

The REAL war on Christmas comes from these faux-Christians who are more concerned with their rights and with smacking dissenters with their Bible than they are with actually living out the principles Jesus taught.

Mr. Feuerstein, please take off the Jesus Christ shirt. Stop using my faith to push your political agenda and ideologies.

‘Cause I’m pretty sure that’s NOT WWJD.

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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