J-O-Y

Lighthouse

Joy. What is it? Who has it? Where can I get it?

The dictionary defines joy as “the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation” (see dictionary.reference.com). To say that someone or something is your joy is to say that the person or object is the source of pleasure or delight, or is greatly valued or appreciated. Therefore, it makes sense that people who have joy are often happy. Joy is often thought of as an emotion, but it is much more than just a feeling of happiness. Happiness is based upon momentary circumstances and emotions, whereas joy has a more enduring quality of sustained pleasure and delight. As Francis Chan puts it, “…true joy doesn’t depend on circumstances or environment; it is a gift that must be chosen and cultivated, a gift that ultimately comes from God” (Crazy Love, pg. 146).

Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” (Psalm 51:12 NIV)

Bring joy to your servant, Lord, for I put my trust in you.” (Psalm 86:4 NIV)

How can we develop genuine joy in our hearts?

We need to honestly ask God to fill our hearts with the joy of His salvation and let it overflow into every area of our lives. We need to first put our trust—all of our trust—in Jesus Christ before we can expect to experience true joy (see Psalm 86:4 above). He is the source of our fulfillment, pleasure, satisfaction, and delight. He is our source of contentment and peace.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:8-10 ESV)

What does joy look like in difficult times and circumstances? What about in good times?

It’s easy to say “I have joy in the Lord,” when life is going the way you expected or how you like it. But whenever the unexpected happens, when your worst nightmares become reality, the idea of joy often quickly fades into the background. When you feel displeasure, grief, or a general lack of happiness, you can easily lose your sense of joy. However, to have true joy in the Lord is to remember who God is during our best and our worst times in life. When life is good, joy looks like delighting in the Lord with attitudes of thankfulness, appreciation, contentment, and generosity. When life is not going so well, joy looks like trusting the Lord to see you through the hard times, cultivating and maintaining attitudes of thankfulness, appreciation, contentment, and generosity. It looks like counting your blessings whether you have a lot or a little, resting in the goodness and faithfulness of God either way.

Why joy?

True joy in the Lord is the key to all of life’s problems. I know that sounds like a pretty bold statement, because it is. When we have joy in the Lord, remembering his gift of salvation and our status as new creations in Jesus, our temporary troubles and circumstances can be viewed from a different, higher perspective. When we find joy, we also find peace, love, and rest as a result. We still experience pain, sorrow, and stress, but when we have joy we have the necessary tools and skills to handle the troubles of this life effectively and in a way that honors our Creator.

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:33&34 NIV; see also Matt. 6:25-32)

How do you cultivate and maintain joy in your life?

What does joy look like in your present circumstances?

Please share your comments on Facebook or in the comments below.

Are you obsessed with Jesus?

Are you a Christian? Do you believe in Jesus? Do you follow him? If so, are you fully devoted to him, are you obsessed with Jesus? Does your life look a little crazy to most people? In his book, Crazy Love (I know, I’ve already referenced it a bunch of times, but it’s just that awesome) Francis Chan asks honest questions like these and lays out a “profile of the obsessed” that the reader can use to evaluate his or her own faith. As I share some of these descriptions, my intention is not for them to bring about shame or guilt, but my hope is that they will both challenge and inspire you to live your life differently in light of your faith in Jesus.
 
“Obsessed people are more concerned with obeying God than doing what is expected or fulfilling the status quo. A person who is obsessed with Jesus will do things that don’t always make sense in terms of success or wealth on this earth. As Martin Luther put it, ‘There are two days on my calendar: this day and that day.'” (see Luke 14:25-35; Matt. 7:13-23, 8:18-22; Rev. 3:1-6) (pg 136)
“People who are obsessed with Jesus do not consider service a burden. Obsessed people take joy in loving God by loving His people.” (see Matt. 13:44; John 15:8) (pg 139)
“People who are obsessed with God are known as givers, not takers. [They] genuinely think that others matter as much as they do, and they are particularly aware of those who are poor around the world.” (see James 2:14-16) (pg. 140) *see also Philippians 3:18-21

A person who is obsessed thinks about heaven frequently. Obsessed people orient their lives around eternity; they are not fixed only on what is here in front of them.” (pg. 142)

A person who is obsessed is characterized by committed, settled, passionate love for God, above and before every other thing and every other being.” (pg. 143)

People who are obsessed with God have an intimate relationship with Him. They are nourished by God’s Word throughout the day because they know that forty minutes on Sunday is not enough to sustain them for a whole week, especially when they will encounter so many distractions and alternative messages.” (pg. 145)

A person who is obsessed with Jesus is more concerned with his or her character than comfort. Obsessed people know that true joy doesn’t depend on circumstances or environment; it is a gift that must be chosen and cultivated, a gift that ultimately comes from God.” (see James 1:2-4) (pg. 146)

A Person who is obsessed with Jesus knows that the best thing he can do is be faithful to his Savior in every aspect of his life, continually saying ‘Thank You!’ to God. An obsessed person knows there can never be intimacy if he is always trying to pay God back or work hard enough to be worthy. He revels in his role as child and friend of God.” (pgs. 147-148)

Here is a quick recap of the obsessed:

People who are obsessed with Jesus…

  • obey God
  • take joy in serving others
  • are known as givers, not takers
  • think about Heaven and orient their lives around eternity
  • are characterized by committed, settled, passionate love for God
  • have an intimate relationship with Him
  • are nourished by God’s Word throughout the day
  • are more concerned with character than comfort
  • know that true joy doesn’t depend on circumstances, but is a gift from God
  • know that they can never work hard enough to be worthy
  • find rest in their role as children and friends of God

Are you an obsessed follower of Jesus? Or are you just a fan?

Please share your thoughts in the COMMENTS section or on FACEBOOK.

See Crazy Love by Francis Chan to learn more about what it looks like to be obsessed with Jesus.

The servant grew up before God–a scrawny seedling, a scrubby plant in a parched field. There was nothing attractive about him, nothing to cause us to take a second look. He was looked down on and passed over, a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand. One look at him and people turned away. We looked down on him, thought he was scum. But the fact is, it was our pains he carried–our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us. We thought he brought it on himself, that God was punishing him for his own failures. But it was our sins that did that to him, that ripped and tore and crushed him– our sins! He took the punishment, and that made us whole. Through his bruises we get healed. We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost. We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way. And GOD has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong, on him, on him. (Isaiah 53:2-6 MSG)

"I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." --Jesus (John 14:6 ESV)

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”     –Jesus (John 14:6 ESV)

The suffering servant of Isaiah 53 is pretty clearly Jesus Christ. Isn’t it incredible to think that God–the God of the universe, Creator of all things, completely holy,glorious and majestic–came to earth as a man, humble in appearance, status, and circumstances? Not only did he take on the status of a lowly man, but he humbled himself to the point of death on a cross. He willingly gave himself over to suffering and death, though innocent and undeserving, so that we could be cleansed of our sins and inherit eternal life. He died so we could live. He suffered so that we could be saved. By his wounds we are healed. Jesus took the punishment that our sins earned and made a relationship between sinful humans and a Holy God possible. We are saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus–in his death and resurrection. We confess that we are sinners, repent (turn away) from our sins, relying on the gift of the Holy Spirit to do so. Today, whether you have put your hope in Jesus or not, I challenge you to consider the love of God and think deeply about this Jesus who took our punishment, and made us whole. Think about who Jesus really is and what that means for your life. If you aren’t convinced that He is the son of God or just aren’t sure, seek out the truth and don’t stop until you find it. You can either accept Him or reject Him, but you must decide. He is eagerly awaiting your response.

 

For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.                      (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 NIV) 

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope–the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. (Titus 2:11-14 NIV)

Although He was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him…” (Hebrews 5:8-9 ESV)

The Suffering Servant

What would you do for Him?

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. Matthew 25:41-45 (NIV)

These words of Jesus appear at the end of Matthew 25 following several parables. At first glance, it may be easy to assume this is another parable about a king speaking to his servants. However, Jesus leads up to this passage by saying, “when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne” (v. 31), then he describes separating the “sheep from the goats,” placing the sheep on his right and the goats on his left (see vv. 31&32). The verses above (41-45) are directed toward those on his left, the “goats” who apparently missed the essence of who Jesus was and how He wanted them to live. Jesus is pretty clear about their eternal destination as well (see v.45).

Referring to this passage from Matthew, Francis Chan writes, “Jesus is saying that we show tangible love for God in how we care for the poor and those who are suffering. He expects us to treat the poor and desperate as if they were Christ himself. Ask yourself this: If you actually saw Jesus starving, what would you do for Him?” (Crazy Love, pg 119). When I first read that question, my immediate thought was, “if I actually saw Jesus starving, I would give him food!” But then as I thought about it further, I realized that I would do a lot more than that. I might treat him to lunch and ask him approximately a thousand questions. I may give him all the money I had in my wallet (or stop by the ATM). But I hope I would do more. If I actually saw Jesus on the street and in need, I hope I would invite him over to my house and ask my wife to cook some of her best recipes for us to enjoy together. I would beg him to stay as long as he would like, to eat my food, to talk with me and my wife, and to play with my kids. I would invite friends and family and neighbors over to meet Jesus in person, to listen to his stories and his teaching, and to be healed. I would want to take him to hospitals to heal the sick, to care homes to bring joy to the lonely, and to the prisons to give hope to prisoners. I would share him with as many people as possible. If Jesus lived down the street or in the next state, I would quit my job, move my family, sell my stuff just to be close to him. I would rearrange my schedule and my entire life just to spend the most amount of time possible in the presence of Jesus. If he had a house, I would work on his roof, mow his grass, fix his toilet; I would use the skills and abilities I have to serve him and I would constantly seek to find new ways I could serve him.

But Jesus doesn’t live down the street, or does he? He is not going to be laying in a hospital bed, begging in the street, or locked in a prison, or is he? From Jesus’ own words, it seems painfully clear that he equates serving people in need with serving him. Whatever we do for and to the people in our sphere of influence who are in need, we do for and to Jesus himself. Like me, I am sure most people reading this have heard of this idea of loving others as if they were Jesus, but do we really believe it? And if we do believe it, is it evident in our lives? Personally, I do believe we are to care for others as if they were Jesus himself, but when I look at my life honestly, I just don’t see it. Sure, I see a few glimpses of generosity, but they have more to do with just being a good person than with serving Jesus. How many hungry people have I walked by and not even noticed? How many people right in my own community are in desperate need of simple things that I could provide? How many people are seeking love in the wrong places and need someone to share the love of Jesus with them in words and in actions? What do I have to give that would be valuable to people in need?

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.                  (1 John 3:16-18)

Francis Chan adds that, “another important element to giving is with our time…[but] instead of adding in another thing to our lives, perhaps God wants us to give Him all of our time and let Him direct it as He sees fit” (Crazy Love, pg.120). When it comes to giving and loving others, Chan points out that we often cling to more than our money and material possessions; “we hoard our resources, our gifts, our time, our families, our friends,” (pg 120) instead of sharing ourselves and our lives generously with others. As we constantly reflect on the incredible gift of salvation through the love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, our response should be to draw near to the heart of God and share this life-giving, sacrificial love with as many other people on this earth as possible.

Who in your life may be considered ‘the least of these’ and need you to serve them as you would serve Jesus?

What would you do if you actually saw Jesus in need? Have you been doing it?

I would love to hear your responses in the comments below or on Facebook.

For more from Francis Chan, see crazylovebook.com 

Strength in the Lord

Isaiah 40 says, “he gives power to the faint and to him who has no might he increases strength” (ESV). Just before Jesus ascended into Heaven after His resurrection, He told His disciples “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8, ESV). Judges 7 tells the story of Gideon who defeated the numerous Midianites with only 300 men so that Israel would attribute the victory to God, not their own strength (see verse 2). Again in Judges 16 we read about Samson, who was a judge over Israel known for his incredible, God-given strength and brute force. 1 Samuel 17 gives the well-known account of David, a young shepherd boy, who kills the Philistine giant Goliath and propels God’s people to victory over their enemies.

These are just a few pieces of the Bible that I read this morning. The interesting thing is, I didn’t plan to just read passages about people who had strength and power through the Lord. The first two (Isaiah 40 & Acts 1) came from a daily devotional reading about strengthening your marriage spiritually. The others were from a reading plan (The Story) that gives three chapters or so each day that highlight some of the most notable people and events throughout the entire Bible. However, I quickly saw the connections between theses passages when I read the questions at the end of the marriage devotional: Do you lean on the Holy Spirit to strengthen you and your marriage? What is a specific situation where you lacked ability, but were strengthened by the Holy Spirit? Obviously, Gideon, Samson, and David could answer those questions with several examples. Jesus tells His disciples before He leaves them that they will receive power in the form of the Holy Spirit and they will be His witnesses (see above). You see, God never asks people to do incredible things alone; He always offers us strength and courage to do things that seem too difficult or even impossible. God’s purposes for our lives are much bigger than we can imagine, but our God is also much bigger than we know. His thoughts are higher than our thoughts, His dreams are more grand than our dreams. When He calls us into relationship with Him, He calls us to turn our lives upside down. He asks us to live lives that look crazy to those who don’t know Him, to love and sacrifice more than we think we can, and to surrender our will to His. All of this change and breaking away from being self-centered takes tremendous courage and strength; God provides everything we need to follow Him faithfully through His Holy Spirit. A common thread that runs through many of the stories throughout the Bible is simple, average (or even pretty bad) people doing incredible things for the Lord by genuinely trusting and obeying Him. They were often under-qualified, outnumbered, too young, too old or just not good or smart enough, but they believed God and walked in obedience to Him.

Do you lean on the Holy Spirit to strengthen you and your marriage? What is a specific situation where you lacked ability, but were strengthened by the Holy Spirit? 

When I look back to three years ago when my son and first child was born, I am reminded of the strength and courage that God gave me during that time. Being our first child, my wife and me were both nervous before we even arrived at the hospital. But I kept reassuring her that things would be fine. Although it worked out well in the end, things were not “fine.” She was induced because her blood pressure was elevated, then she spent 42 hrs in labor followed by an emergency C-section. Afterward, both she and our new baby had infections, several issues with IVs not staying put, and sleep issues. We were in the hospital 10 days in all, followed by months of follow-up visits to the pediatrician and an orthopedic surgeon in the city due to some minor underdevelopment issues my son had with his hips. I know our experience pales in comparison to that of many other young parents who have lived much more serious, and even tragic stories. However, it was still the most nerve-wracking and exhausting experience of my life (not to mention my sweet wife). Through this experience, I wrestled with fear, doubt, anger, confusion, frustration, and an overall feeling of dread during some of the most difficult times. But in that hospital I had my parents and my wife’s parents to encourage me. We had friends visit us in the hospital and at home, and we had a lot of people praying for us. I don’t think I have ever prayed more seriously and earnestly in my life than I did in that hospital. The Lord brought me (and my wife and son) through that difficult and stressful experience, and gave me courage that I know I didn’t have before. I was able to encourage my wife, talk calmly with the doctor and nurses, and make difficult decisions without letting my fear paralyze me. This boost of courage continued after we went home from the hospital and has continued to influence the person that I am. While expecting another baby in just a few months, I have been praying for trust and obedience to God no matter what issues may arise. I have also asked to be given more courage and wisdom to raise my children faithfully in the ways of the Lord.

 

Do you lean on the Holy Spirit to strengthen you and your marriage? What is a specific situation where you lacked ability, but were strengthened by the Holy Spirit? 

I would love to hear your response to one or both of these questions. Please respond in the comments section or on Facebook.

Are you rich?

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But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. Matthew 6:20 (ESV)

On Sunday, the pastor at my church spoke about being “rich.” He asked several rhetorical questions to the congregation to prove that we were all rich compared to most of the world. Have you ever looked in your closet full of clothes and said, ‘I have nothing to wear’? Do you have a house just for your cars? Have you ever traded in a working car, plus a pile of money, to get a slightly newer working car? Of course, I answered yes to most of his questions (and so did he). He also pointed out that a small family could live in my walk-in closet. This was a passing comment, but it is still very true. Much of the world has living quarters only a fraction of the size and quality that most Americans enjoy. If we ever feel guilty about this, the solution is not to simply get poor and live in a storage shed. It is to become good at being rich (the pastor’s words, not mine). In his first letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul says:

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. (1 Timothy 6:17-18 NIV)

It is an epidemic in our culture; most people place their hope in their bank account, the stock market, and their ability to provide stuff for themselves and their own family. People easily become arrogant when they make a lot of money (a lot is a very subjective amount, by the way) and seem to forget that it can all disappear in the blink of an eye. Paul reminds us of this truth and wants us instead to “put [our] hope in God, who richly provides us everything…” Did you catch that? God provides for us richly and He provides us everything. Every good thing that we have comes from Him. We are responsible to work and labor for our paychecks, but it is God who provides the job, brings the rain and sunshine, who created and sustains the entire universe in which we live and work and play. If we gather buckets full of water to drink it is only because God’s fountain has overflowed and He has allowed us to drink.

In his book Crazy Love, Francis Chan gives a brief “profile of the lukewarm,” citing several characteristics of the half-hearted Christian. One of the questions they ask is “how much do I have to give?’ instead of ‘how much can I give?’ (pg 76). “Lukewarm people,” says Chan, “are continually concerned with playing it safe; they are slaves to the god of control. This focus on safe living keeps them from sacrificing and risking for God” (pg 77). When we think that we have everything under control, it is easy to trust in ourselves and the possessions and status that we have acquired. It is difficult, likely impossible, to trust in God when we do not recognize His sovereign control in our lives. We want to keep ourselves, our families, our money and our stuff safe, but we truly lack the positional authority to do so. (For more on this topic, see my previous post “Safety is our Top Priority” http://wp.me/p42Xa5-C). As Chan so clearly points out, this overemphasis we place on our safe living is often disastrous to our spiritual lives. We don’t sacrifice ourselves, our time, or our money. We don’t take risks for God’s sake. We may give some small percentage of our income to our local church, maybe even a few other non-profits, but do we really ever go above and beyond what we feel is “safe”? Recently, I’ve been giving consistently to my church even when money is tight. I have been developing a more generous heart and I’ve felt pretty good about it. However, when I realize that my “generous giving” only means that I cannot double up on my car payments every month, it seems pretty pathetic. I’m not missing any meals to make sure others don’t go hungry. I’m not giving until it hurts. Well, maybe it does hurt a little. But I think what God wants, and what the world needs, is for us to give generously with our money, well beyond what the average Christian gives (3-5% of income is what I’ve heard) and even more so to give of our time and talents. We can always get more money in this life, but we can never get more time. None of us even know how many days, hours, and minutes are in our “time account,” so we ought to spend today wisely. It’s good to give away money to keep in mind who is really in control, but I challenge you to also give your precious time to serving and loving others in your life. Serve your spouse, your kids, and your friends, but also go beyond the familiar and serve those who cannot likely serve you in return. Remember that God sees even what is done in secret and He truly knows the condition and motives of your heart.

How can you serve others and be generous in your daily life? What creative ways have you found to love others amid the busyness of life?

 

For more on the book “Crazy Love” by Francis Chan, see crazylovebook.com 

To hear what my pastor said straight from the source, see tricountychurch.net

I’m cold and tired, but I’m here…

Well today is day 10 of my first 10 Day Do Over Challenge. It is also the first day of this challenge that I didn’t write in the morning…I had to leave for work early and I put in 14 hours, much of which was spent in 10-degree weather. It is now 11:00pm and, understandably, I’m exhausted. I almost didn’t write a post today. I was going to give myself a pass because I had a long day and I was tired. But I made a commitment to myself on January 1st that I would post to this blog for 10 days. And now I’ve done it! Okay, so I know this post isn’t my best work, but I’m counting it anyway. Writing isn’t about showing others how fantastic I am, it’s about sharing ideas and encouraging people. It’s about learning and sharing individual creativity with others. I’m glad I’m doing it. I’m glad your reading.

Lately, I’ve been praying for patience and perseverance (among other things). I realize that sticking with something that I care about even for just 10 days is a huge step in the right direction. I am working on being patient with pursuing my dreams and developing my writing skills. For the next 30 days, I am challenging myself to continuing writing every day and updating this blog consistently. With the intent of improving my writing, I am planning to publish posts less often (3-5 times/week) and spend more time writing drafts, revising, researching, etc. I hope to produce posts that challenge and encourage the reader, while developing a more narrowly defined focus for the topics I choose to cover. However, don’t be surprised when I share what challenges I’m doing or goals I’m completing, as this will likely be too exciting for me to keep to myself!

How do you get motivated to continue chasing a goal or dream on the days when you are exhausted and want to give yourself a “pass”?

I would love to hear from you in the COMMENTS section below or on my Facebook post.