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Posts Tagged ‘Joy’

Great Joy

 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13

The theme for the third week of Advent is Joy. Happiness is often used synonymously with joy, but the two are significantly different. Happiness is a transitory state of mind, but joy is an underlying orientation to life. We can be happy one moment and sad the next, not unlike the ups and downs of an emotional roller-coaster. Joy, however, remains relatively constant regardless of the immediate circumstances. In Luke 2:10, the angel tells the shepherds, “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people” (emphasis added). The angel’s message clearly refers to something greater than momentary happiness. The incarnation of God on earth as Jesus was and is intended to be a life-altering, joy-inspiring occurrence.

In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul writes that God fills us with joy and peace in believing (15:13). In other words, it is our belief – our lived faith that God is real and present in our lives – that leads to joy. Like a self-perpetuating cycle, faith makes hope possible, hope brings joy, joy renews our faith, and so on. Those who lack the optimistic hope that life is defined not by its challenges but by its blessings cannot live with joy. The pessimist only sees life as one set of catastrophes after another and lives in constant fear and dread of the next disaster. A joyful person knows that great blessing lies just beneath every difficulty and waits expectantly for it. The difference is subtle, but powerful. One scriptural reason for hope is found earlier in Romans (8:28) where Paul writes, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God…”  Nowhere in scripture are we promised an end to the troubles and heartaches of this life. Rather, we are assured that God will work through our suffering and transform it into something good. Those of us who have lived long enough and awake enough have seen this proven true repeatedly. Indeed, this is the good news of the Gospel.

One can be happy without joy for a time, but only a joyful orientation to life will bring lasting happiness. The first step is to develop our faith, and this is a personal choice. No one, including God, can force us to believe. Becoming faithful requires a willingness to trust that which we cannot see or prove exists. As we surrender into a stronger faith, we cannot help but become more hopeful about life and the future. Our faith teaches us there is nothing that can possibly happen to us that will happen beyond God’s ability to mold it into a blessing. Once we know that even death cannot separate us from love, our fears dissipate. As we worry less about the future, we become capable of experiencing joy in the present moment. This is the great joy spoken of by the angel to the shepherds. This great joy is not about some future reality in a faraway land we may see when we die, nor is it about some obscure event that happened two thousand years ago. This great joy is here, it is now, and it is available to everyone. We must position ourselves to receive it, however.

So, when I wish you a joyful Christmas season, I am not hoping you will receive lots of nice presents (not that there is anything wrong with that). My wish for you is for a life transformed by the birth of the Christ child within you. That is the path to a true and sustained joy; and from that great joy, all good things will flow!

 

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Life Notes

Puppy Love

He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:2-3

puppyRecently, I spent part of an afternoon in the kingdom of heaven. Our friends have two, nine-week old Great Pyrenees puppies, and my family was invited to share their company. What do puppies have to do with the kingdom of heaven? Quite a lot, I believe. Although there are no references in the Bible to puppies, Jesus refers to children many times in the Gospels, and often in the context of how we need to become like children to enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, the parallel I am drawing is between puppies and children, in that both have simpler, more inclusive concepts of love that they express with greater enthusiasm than their adult counterparts do. To the extent I am correct, we may need to become like puppies to enter the kingdom of heaven. In the presence of these adorable little fur balls, I felt heaven had come to earth.

Never having seen (or smelled) us before, these puppies greeted us with their entire being. We were loved and accepted from the instant they saw us coming. Their enthusiasm and longing for our presence was palpable, as they jumped, licked, wagged, and pawed with everything they had. There was no inhibition on their part, just pure joy in their fellowship with us. They did not care about the color of our skin, how we were dressed, the sins of our past, our religious affiliation, or our sexual orientation. They were simply thrilled that we chose to spend time with them. And isn’t that what God wants from us? Pure, uninhibited longing to be in God’s presence? Why would God’s joy in such a reaction from us be any less than our joy in the reaction of these pups?

Donny Osmond recorded an earworm of a song in the 1970’s called, “Puppy Love.”

 And they called it puppy love, oh, I guess they’ll never know,

How a young heart really feels, and why I love (her) so.

How does a “young heart really feel”? Do we remember? Those of us hoping to enter the kingdom of heaven, whether during or after the present life, might want to spend time remembering. It is easy to forget the pure and innocent love and trust our hearts once had. According to Jesus, we should find our way back to that sort of love. How can we restore that uninhibited, unconditional, overly excitable puppy love? By stripping away the judgmental, biased, exclusive, and hard-hearted assessments we too quickly place upon others. Once gone, our hearts fill with the simple love and joy of children (and puppies).

Come home to church this Sunday. Woof, woof!

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Glorious Joy 

Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:8

The theme for the 3nd week of Advent is Joy. When I think of joy, I think of my grandma Hildenbrand. Grandma had the most challenging life of anyone I have known – and she was the most joyful. Her mother died when grandma was a teenager, leaving her as the mother figure to her 4 younger siblings. Two of her 5 children preceded her in death. She lived through the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and two world wars. She was a hard-working farm-wife and mother. Every challenge seemingly strengthened her faith, as I never knew it to waiver. She loved her family and made certain they had everything they needed, accompanied by a seemingly endless supply of love and encouragement.

With me, grandma always looked beyond my shortcomings. She never saw me as I was, but as the person I was capable of becoming. One of the strongest motivations in my life has been striving to become the person she gave me credit for being. Her joy in her first grandchild – me – took on extraordinary proportions, and I still feel her influence, 32 years after her passing. The ability for grandma to see and bring out the best in others was a manifestation of her joy in life. And her joy was the unshakable outcome of her faith.

It is easy to confuse joy with happiness. Certainly, being happy is a good and worthy feeling, but happiness is a cheap and transient imitation of joy. A joyful person possesses something deep inside that radiates delight, apart from the circumstances of the moment. A person who treats us poorly can leave us unhappy, but not without joy. Some people make others unhappy for the sake of perpetuating his or her own happiness, but a joyful person spreads his or her joy to others. There are circumstances where only so many people will be pleased with a decision or a situation. Joy, however, multiplies when shared because joy perpetuates in abundance. That is how grandma was able to see the best in me – she always saw the best in life. Her delight in me (and in her other grandchildren) was such a central part of her being that it could not be shaken by my occasional bad decision or unkind word.

The writer of the book of 1 Peter describes an “indescribable and glorious joy” that is the “outcome” of our faith. Indeed, if we have a strong faith in a loving, protecting, and faithful God who will never leave or forsake us, what could possibly steal our joy? Will we have difficult, unhappy days? Certainly so, but we need not lose our joy in life, nor our confidence that all things will work together for good in the end. Even in the hustle and bustle of the pre-Christmas season, joy lies in wait – just beneath the commotion.

Come home to church this Sunday. Develop a faith that produces joy.

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Christian Values: Happiness

For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than live in the tents of wickedness. For the Lord God is a sun and shield; he bestows favor and honor. No good thing does the Lord withhold from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, happy is everyone who trusts in you.   Psalms 84:10-12

In Ben MacConnell’s study of Christian values, happiness came in at number five. Of all the instructions contained in Scripture for living a righteous life, references to happiness occur more frequently than all but four other ideals. In his work, MacConnell researched the frequency of use of the 20 characteristics he identified for the study, as well as their related synonyms and antonyms. Important related terms for happiness likely included joy, pleasure, delight, and contentment.

Some may feel happiness, while pleasant to experience, is not an important ideal to strive for as a Christian. One might argue, correctly, that happiness is a fleeting emotion that can result from distinctly non-Christian acts, such as making fun of another. Others would say there are no guarantees Christians will have an easier life than non-Christians will, so how can happiness relate to following Christ? Personally, I believe one needs to consider the context in which happiness occurs in the Bible, along with its synonyms of joy and contentment, in order to understand Godly happiness. Certainly, earthly parents desire happiness for their children, so why would our heavenly Parent desire less for us?

Followers of Jesus find joy in his presence. The Psalmist says, “…a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.” Likewise, “No good thing does the Lord withhold from those who walk uprightly.” Christian happiness is not a fleeting emotion, but a perpetuating state of mind growing from a strong relationship with the Almighty. In that holy relationship, believers feel secure, loved, and valued. The love of God helps followers transcend the challenges of days, weeks, months, and even years of hardship. When one’s life-foundation is solid, deep, and immovable, the life built on that foundation is better able to withstand whatever storms and hardships come at it. Christian happiness sprouts from that type of a spiritual foundation, one that gives us reason to live with optimism and joy, finding pleasure in simply being a part of God’s creation regardless of the current circumstances. Everyone desires happiness, so being happy is an effective evangelizing tool when others seek the source of our joy.

Come home to church this Sunday. Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth…

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Life Notes—December 19, 2013 

  “He puzzled and puzzled till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. Maybe Christmas, he thought… doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps… means a little bit more! And what happened, then? Well, in Whoville they say – that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day. And then – the true meaning of Christmas came through, and the Grinch found the strength of ten Grinches, plus two!”  Excerpt from How the Grinch Stole Christmas

I need to buy gifts, but the stores are crowded. I need to write and send Christmas cards, but time is short. I need to send packages to loved ones far away, but have you seen the lines at the Post Office? Christmas is only days away. How can I possibly be ready in time? I imagine all the people I am about to disappoint, including myself. The expectations are simply too high. It is enough to make one’s heart shrink three sizes. It is enough to make a person Grinch-like.

In the Dr. Seuss book-made-movie, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the Grinch looks down with scorn on the people of Whoville as they prepare for Christmas. He sees the joy of family gatherings, and he scowls at the festive preparations. He hears the voices singing their traditional songs. He smells the wonderful foods being prepared for the feast. He senses the excitement building, with the presents and decorated trees and lights. However, the Grinch is on the outside, looking down on the celebration. There is no joy, no fellowship, and no love on the outside. The Grinch devises a plan to steal Christmas from the people of Whoville. He sneaks into town, takes all the presents, food, and decorations, and watches to see the misery he has created. Of course, there is no misery in Whoville, because Christmas is not about the presents, food, and decorations. Christmas comes without all the fluff, and the Grinch learns the true meaning of Christmas is in relationships, and in the birth of a Savior.

It is easy to focus on the wrong things in this season. When we do, we risk turning Christmas into Grinchmas. We find ourselves on the outside looking in, jealously, at those who successfully internalize the joy of the season. When we find ourselves in Grinchmas, we feel alone, stressed, and bitter. Jesus Christ, the reason for the season, wants to steal that from us; and he will, if we let him. However, we must first let go of the stress and latch on to the joy. Christ will do the rest.

Come home to church this Sunday. Get the Grinch out of your Christmas.

Greg Hildenbrand

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