Joy

The Resurrection: Grief to Joy

The resurrection defines Christianity. Without the resurrection, there is no Christianity. Christianity then becomes the biggest scam, lie and embarrassment in all of human history. Without the resurrection, there is no remedy to sin: Christianity becomes the weapon of sin. The resurrection can be believed not only through the accounts of the Gospel narratives but by looking at the transformations and changes that affected those involved.

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One of the most striking realities of the Christian faith is the fact that the foundation of said faith is such a tragic and devastating story. The founder of the faith was crucified as a criminal and died. The symbol that became synonymous with the faith is the very instrument that brought its leader to his last breath. At the heart of the Christian story is blood, pain, suffering and sadness. Without the resurrection, the story of Jesus Christ is not only tragic, but to place faith in the story without the resurrection makes no sense whatsoever. Without the resurrection the story of Christianity is just sad. There is no place for joy, no place for hope, and no place for faith. In fact, given the promises of Jesus and the claims he made concerning his own life, without the resurrection the story of Christianity is embarrassing.

One of the most courageous acts of the early apostles and early Church was their honesty in recounting and retelling the life, death and resurrection of their leader, Jesus Christ. The accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are all brutally honest when describing the early leaders of the church. These disciples are not portrayed as men of unshakable faith. They are honestly described as thickheaded cowards. The most shameful example of their weaknesses comes after the death of Jesus on the cross. Instead of clinging to the promises of Jesus that he was meant both to die and to rise again on the third day, they allowed the simultaneous death of their hopes in Jesus as the Messiah and Christ they had hoped he was. In an instant, they scattered before fear, their hopes shattered by intense grief. As Jesus breathed his last, the disciples who were to go on to be the early leaders and evangelists of the Christian Church were not only doubting everything they had heard from Jesus while he was alive, but were distancing themselves from Jesus entirely in the hopes that they might be spared punishment, torture and perhaps the cross as well. Considering the context, a person seriously questioning the reliability of the resurrection account must then ask several questions, among them “What happened? Why did they change? Why did they continue on with such unfailing passion for Jesus as God? How did their grief turn to joy?”

As we ponder these questions, the list of possible explanations comes down to one unavoidable conclusion. The reason their grief turned to joy was because their leader lived, died and ultimately conquered death and sin as he promised through his resurrection.

John 16:16-33

Jesus went on to say, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.”

At this, some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,’ and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?” They kept asking, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying.”

Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. “Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father. In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.” Then Jesus’ disciples said, “Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God.”

“Do you now believe?” Jesus replied. “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Without the resurrection there is no reasonable explanation of why these men would change their attitude, why they would include their cowardice in the Gospel narratives and why the Church after the death of Jesus not only survived, but began to grow at a furious pace in the face of mounting persecution.

Tithing: Joyful Giving

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The Christian character amounts to nothing without love, and tithing amounts to nothing without joy. It’s not difficult to understand why or how tithing and joy are rarely seen in each other’s company today. As we discussed, giving what we believe belongs to us is an act that our sinful nature automatically opposes. Giving what we have means that what was once ours is now gone; we have less while someone else has more. We often find joy in receiving and possessing an abundance of one thing, and giving destroys that passion of ours, “to get.” But God is absolutely clear that giving in His name must never be done without joy. To give under a shadow of obligation, resentment or bitterness is a gift that he warns us not to give in the first place.

 2 Corinthians 9:6-8

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.      

 Isaiah 1:11-15

“The multitude of your sacrifices—
   what are they to me?” says the LORD.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
   of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
   in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
When you come to appear before me,
   who has asked this of you,
   this trampling of my courts?
Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
   Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
   I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.
Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals
   I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me;
   I am weary of bearing them.
When you spread out your hands in prayer,
   I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
   I am not listening.  

 

Isaiah 43:22-24

“Yet you have not called on me, Jacob,
   you have not wearied yourselves for me, Israel.
You have not brought me sheep for burnt offerings,
  nor honored me with your sacrifices.
I have not burdened you with grain offerings
   nor wearied you with demands for incense.
You have not bought any fragrant calamus for me,
   or lavished on me the fat of your sacrifices.
But you have burdened me with your sins
   and wearied me with your offenses. 

Jeremiah 7:21-26

“‘This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Go ahead, add your burnt offerings to your other sacrifices and eat the meat yourselves! For when I brought your ancestors out of Egypt and spoke to them, I did not just give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices, but I gave them this command: Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in obedience to all I command you, that it may go well with you. But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts. They went backward and not forward. From the time your ancestors left Egypt until now, day after day, again and again I sent you my servants the prophets. But they did not listen to me or pay attention. They were stiff-necked and did more evil than their ancestors.’

 

Malachi 3:6-12

“I the LORD do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD Almighty.

“But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’

“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.

“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’

“In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the LORD Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the LORD Almighty.

Joy is among the fruits of the Spirit Paul identifies in Galatians, a characteristic of the Christian spirit. This joy is not a joy that one talks themselves into or practices. Likewise, it is not a joy void of the reality that suffering continues to persist in the broken world we live in. The joy of a Christian goes much deeper than that. The joy of a Christian stems from its foundation, which is forever and always Jesus Christ. To know Jesus Christ is to have been saved by him. To be saved by him is to know that without his saving grace we were destined to die. Joy in tithing stems from that very same foundation. The joy of tithing contradicts our typical impulses or desires. Born out of the spirit of God, this giving defies the logic and rationale of the sinful human mind. The Christian character thrives when worshipping God, and to tithe is to lift others up by giving of ourselves. Ultimately, to sacrifice out of love for another is the most powerful emulation of the Father and his son Jesus Christ and thus, the truest form of worship.

Tuesday Devotional: Leviticus 23

bibleRead Leviticus 23:33-44

As humans we love a reason to celebrate and we love a celebration. There is something in our spirit that desires to break though standard joy to pure elation, shared and multiplied by the presence of others. Festivals are times where people unite under a banner of celebration. However, typically overshadowed by the presence of overwhelming joy and excitement lies the reason or cause for celebration. Behind every festival exists a significant moment or event that produced the initial celebration. Where there is a celebration there is also a time where there was nothing to celebrate. There was a time where there was little hope and little joy. Then, there were both. Then, something happened. Then, there was all the reason in the world to explode in passionate praise for this most incredible change in fortune, change in direction, change in circumstance.

One of the most recognizable characteristics of a Christian is the presence of joy. An individual who has met the Lord, been forgiven by him and proceeds to walk with him cannot exist apart from joy. This is a stark impossibility. It cannot exist. A person that has met the Lord tends to test this world’s acceptability of joy in his or her joyous reactions to all things trivial, mundane or life changing. To a person exhibiting the spirit of Christ, there is no difference between trivial, mundane and life changing moments. All possess Christ. All are from Christ. All are pointing to Christ. Therefore, all of these moments prompt our utmost praise and worship. This continual joy and praise are an aspect of the flowing stream of living water that we not only feel consistently throughout each day, and an experience that we chase and would give anything for. This joy not only fulfills us when we have it but it drives us when we don’t have enough.

However, this celebration in the joy of Jesus Christ cannot exist apart from the acknowledgement of its source. The moment that we celebrate is not as much in the now as it is forever locked in the past. The moment we celebrate has everything to do with what he has already done and less of what he is doing now. Without the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, there is nothing to be overjoyed about. We are still overcome by sin and our life in this world is overshadowed by the inevitability of death. We have life to celebrate now because he gave his life for us completely then. Joy in the Lord today cannot be fully complete without the ongoing presence and reflection of what he did. The fruits of the spirit are recognizable to those around us, but each moment a fruit is recognized must always be a moment of reflection and redirection. That moment does not provide the opportunity to praise what God is doing through the person in that moment, but the platform to tell a story. This story is about a God that so desperately desired his children that he was willing to give of his only son to bring all sons and daughters home. This story is what breaks the walls of our prideful and stubborn hearts to reveal a spirit in all of us that desires to come home. This is the story that has the power to change each one of us, and in turn can change the world. The fruits of the spirit are the results of that story that we can dance and sing in pure unadulterated praise. That praise is non-existent without the recognition that at one time there was nothing about which to praise and now there is nothing but.

Tuesday Devotional: Hebrews 2

Read Hebrews 2:5-18bible

Man was not created to be alone.  There are far reaching implications of this truth, both for good and bad.  Even times of joy may be followed by emptiness when what is being enjoyed or experienced cannot be shared with someone else.  Similarly, in times of trouble make us desperate when what we suffer cannot be shared with another person who can understand or empathize.  God has not given us the luxury to look him in the face and tell him, “You don’t understand.  You don’t know!”  In times of suffering, our desire to be rescued from our pain is sometimes matched by our desire to be isolated in our suffering, to feel an odd sense of superiority in being the only one who can understand what is happening and what we are feeling.  When we indulge in our suffering, knowing that no one can understand our suffering allows us to avoid healing and rescue, leaving us self-obsessed in our pain, which belongs only to us, and self-satisfied in knowing that only we can understand ourselves.

But God has not allowed us the luxury of wallowing in our misery and claiming exclusive right to our suffering.  The beauty and glory of God being truly Emmanuel is that, despite his majesty and authority, in order to bridge the gap between his creation and himself, he lowered himself so that man would never have be able to claim a sense of advantage or authority over him.  It was in his submission to man’s authority, the authority of the life and death of man, that he sought to firmly establish his everlasting authority over it.  It was in his submission, in lowering himself physically to wash the feet of sinful man, that he ultimately brought all of his creation under his own feet.  Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ there is absolutely nothing that we can claim to possess that Christ has not already possessed.  There is nothing that we can claim to have experienced that he has not already experienced to a much higher degree than we have.  There remains nothing that can separate us from the life and love of Jesus Christ. 

This truth was not established to remove our excuses.  This truth was established so that in times of joy and in times of suffering we would always know that the God that presides and reigns over all of creation is a God who is with us, in everything. He gives us permanent and everlasting fellowship in both our joy and suffering.  He suffered, not so that we would never have to, but so that we could come to the realization that this world we live in has been overcome by his suffering and salvation, and we can live in this world being slowly transformed into a new creation, with hope in the life to come.  God does not demand that we come to him and exemplify his perfection.  God came to us.  He came to us taking the form of man, bearing man’s sin and imperfections, so that we could need nothing else except for the truth of himself and his Gospel.

Born Again: Trouble (Psalm 102)

Welcome to Week 2 of our reflection series “Born Again.” The born again life is focused on Christ’s power and nothing else. Through this reflection series, we’re looking at the things that try to take center stage in our lives. This week, we’re studying what Psalm 102 has to say about “Trouble.”

Read Psalm 102

When someone is suffering, a typical recommendation is to read the Psalms. While this is an excellent idea that I completely endorse, we first have to realize that most Psalms are separated into two parts.

The primary reason we tend to recommend the Psalms in times of trouble is the “hopeful” sections. It’s great to be able to read how others before us have also suffered and endured pain like our own. However, without the hopeful conclusion at the end of many Psalms, all we are left with are groups of people sharing pain together, which is not that encouraging.

As I read Psalm 102, I wish I knew more about the anonymous psalmist, the “afflicted person” who is struggling and in despair. Why? What happened? What brought this man down to such depths that he feared the absence of God more than anything else?

While this question captivates my attention, yet more astonishing is the eventual turnaround in his spirit. The final two-thirds of the Psalm are nothing but praise for God. Not only that, but this writer is so confident in his hope of a new world with people who will worship and commune with God in new and wonderful ways.

This man didn’t have the Psalms!  Nor did he have the encouraging words of the apostles, and even more, he didn’t have Jesus and the Gospels!  Yet, he believed with his entire being in “the Gospel,” the “the good news.”

Psalm 102 is the prayer of a person in trouble, without a solution or happy ending, without the rich fulfillment of prophecy that would come in the ensuing centuries. Yet we, with our plethora of Bibles and Bible resources, tend to so easily let ourselves be overcome with despair and trouble to the extent that the mere mention of hope in a better future gets our eyes rolling. Many hallmarks emerge from a born again spirit and, while all are important, none amount to much without joy and hope. How often are Bible studies, church services or prayers marked with somber silence and not joyful laughter? Do we run into the future that God has prepared for us with feet like the deer? Do we fly into the unknowable future with wings like eagles?

Whether we do or do not, this man apparently did. And he managed this without the foretaste of the Kingdom of God delivered in full by the Son himself.

As Paul writes in Romans 5:3-5, the process of discipleship starts with suffering, but always ends in hope. And hope never disappoints. Hope brought this man out of the darkness. A person born again by the Spirit has taken hold of the Son and his Gospel never to let go.  Troubles only have the ability to control our lives if we ignore the One who offers us a way out.  Living without the joy of salvation and the hope of heaven leaves us futilely wrestling with our troubles.  When we are born again, we know that trouble will come, but will never be a match for the hope we have found in Jesus.

Above All Else: Joy

(Find the rest of the series here, here and here.)pen-and-paper_400x295_39

Today, we seek joy…

Joy when we discover Him in the storm.

For most of my life as a Christian the word “joy” was a word I would rarely use to describe my Christian identity.  More appropriate words might have been words like “duty,” “routine,” “confusion,” “obligation.” Rarely anything in the vicinity of “joy.”

In my Christian life, there was little to take joy in.  God was a distant, silent God that I did not know personally. The experiences of Christian life were nice, but far from transforming.  I had a wonderful upbringing in a Christian household. My joy in being Christian had everything to do with my family and nothing to do with God and his son Jesus.

Lacking the joy of following God, I was surprised and confused to find, when reading the Bible for the first time, that God would prefer it that we stop following altogether than to follow joylessly.  I always thought that God desired obedience above all else and cared little whether we liked obeying Him or not.  It was shocking that God viewed my motivation to serve him and the way I enjoyed said service as the highest importance.  Why did he care?

As I continued reading I saw, over and over, that God viewed his relationship to us like a marriage.  The more I started to see how he viewed our relationship, the more I realized that I had been a quite unenthusiastic and uncommitted bride (Christian) to one particular bridegroom (God). The more I realized that God desired to have a relationship with me like that of a married couple, the more I realized that it would be more offensive to me if he didn’t care if I lacked joy in being with him.  To approach such a close relationship with passivity implies disinterest and indifference, ultimately worse than hate.  At least hate brings a passion to fight, defend and protest.  To approach God from such apathy is to express the perfect anti-love.  I began to realize that this “anti-love” fit me.

At the same time I began to understand those Christians who showed such joy in being “married” to him.  Their reactions to God’s presence were like they were embracing a loved one after long absence.  This sense of anxious, unbridled enthusiasm was not only common to all of these people, but also came naturally. Not forced, and not in response to a demand.

It’s so easy to lose this sense of joy in Christian life.  In the world we live in that continues to take more than we are able to offer, there comes a time that, in terms of a newly married couple, the honeymoon is over and real life begins.  We still define ourselves by our faith, but less and less so the way we did during the honeymoon.  Honeymooners are easy to pick out of a crowd because they cannot get enough of each other. But even after the honeymoon, people that love to be married are easy to spot because there is a sense of peace, joy and happiness in their togetherness.  To them, being together is far superior to being apart.  The question all Christians should continue to ask themselves is, “Can I get enough of God?”  Or, on the other hand, “Have I had enough?”

Remember Bartimaeus? Just days away from the cross, as Jesus journeyed to Jerusalem, he was confronted by a voice from the crowd.  The scream from the crowd was from a blind man named Bartimaeus, and his reason for screaming was that his faith in the healing power of Jesus was demanding a healing and a life-change on the spot.  Here is a man who would not let Jesus go without an encounter.  The jeers and judgmental thoughts of those along the roadside, including the disciples, did not intimidate or deter him.  He wanted Jesus and nothing would stop him.  And when he received his healing, he followed Jesus.

Bartimaeus needed Jesus. He cried out for Jesus. He was overjoyed when he found Him. Are you?

Above all else, in and out of storms, fires, humdrum days and nights, excitement and stillness, remember the joy of salvation. This God comes with us into life, makes Himself known there, and wants nothing more than joy in His presence.