Archive for Joy

Apr
08

He is Risen in Joy

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He is risen! Happy Easter to all, and may the joy of Easter spread through your week. My Easter morning was spent at my home church, Living Hope Christian Church in North Kingstown, RI. The sermon I heard got me thinking. I don’t think my pastor, Peter Atkin, will mind if I use it as a jumping off point.

We looked at the woman who anointed Jesus in Bethany just days before his crucifixion (Matthew 26:6-13). Jesus explains that she has anointed Him in preparation of His burial. I started to wonder about that. I am used to anointings that come in times of great joy, but we don’t think of burials as joyful. For instance, I thought of one of my favorite verses from Psalm 45, where a wedding is taking place:

You love righteousness and hate wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions
by anointing you with the oil of joy.(Psalm 45:7)

The writer of Hebrews says that Jesus saw the joy beyond the crucifixion:

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)

Jesus encouraged His disciples to see the joy beyond the coming days:

Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. (John 16:22)

Past the days of the horrible death and burial lay a reunion with the risen Christ and a joy no one could take away. More than that, He wanted for them a joy that was complete (John 16:24b) and that was the full measure of His joy as well (John 17:13b).

Then Paul ties together the reason for Christ’s suffering with a wedding, not the one literally described in Psalm 45, but the spiritual one that we all are part of:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy…. (Ephesians 5:25-26a)

So the anointing of Jesus’ burial could still be an anointing of the joy set before Him and the joy that lays ahead for us when we are with Him in perfect joy.

The Open Tomb

Aug
27

Anointing with the Oil of Joy

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My last blog was about my son Jon’s near death experience with heroin and other drugs. I’d been studying rejoicing, one of the fruits of the Spirit. Rejoice in all things, Paul said. Now that “all things” weren’t so hot, I challenged myself.

The first reason to rejoice: my son lived. He awoke at the hospital and was able to talk to us. Later, while he slept, I watched his breathing the way parents watch a newborn’s little breaths while he sleeps. It seemed no less a miracle to me now as it had then. Looking into his groggy blue eyes, I was so thankful I was even seeing them again.

I rejoiced in what Jon had to say when he awoke. I’m really sorry, he said. I know I need help. I want to get clean. I want to go to rehab. Of course his bravado returned in a couple of days, but in all these years of drug use he had never, ever acknowledged that he was at rock bottom and needed help. Unmasked in the seriousness of the situation, he admitted that he’d lost control of his drug use.

Another blessing in disguise: Jon had pneumonia and had to stay in the hospital for a few days. There he was able to see how many people cared about him as friends visited. He was not so alone in the world as he had imagined.

Something unusual happened when we found Jon in his bedroom at home. He had been saving a two-liter soda bottle filled with water. His friend, Jesse, had brought it over the last time he visited us and had forgotten it there. After Jesse died Jon kept the water bottle on the floor like a relic, and it was by his feet when we found him unconscious. I knew that was “holy water” as far as Jon was concerned, but one of his friends grabbed the bottle and threw the water on his face to try and revive him. When I told Jon what happened to the water, he said, “So he saved me. Jesse saved me.”

At the most I would entertain the idea that the hand of Jesus was guiding Jesse’s when he left that bottle there almost two years ago. But after that Jon didn’t ridicule God again. If I mentioned God, he never again told me that there was no God and my beliefs were on par with the Tooth Fairy. He saw in that forgotten water bottle a spiritual intervention to save his life, and he gave up his insistence that the world consisted only of what we can touch and see. It’s a start. I rejoice.

I wasn’t prepared to be tested and tempted to display my worst attitudes.
After nine hours of standing watch over my son, I left the hospital. Getting away will be a relief from the tension, right? Oh, no. The assault came immediately.

I sat down to eat at a restaurant with family members. All I wanted was a respite and a bowl of soup. They had an agenda. (Do not eat with people with agendas. It spoils the digestion.)

I tried three times to change the subject, but one family member was completely undeterred. She was going to ask every question about Jon’s situation then and there. She caught me when I was tired, scared, and hungry. It was not a good conversation.

As we left the restaurant, she berated me for not “making connections” and not “giving trust”. She said that as I’d called her early in the morning about Jon’s condition, she was entitled to details. I said nothing, but I left the parking lot furious. Couldn’t she see I’d had enough? Why didn’t she care about the condition I was in? What made her think I owed her anything? Couldn’t she let me eat in peace?

I knew I needed to forgive them, but the restless waves that often form our family relationships rose to a tsunami. This has really crossed the line, I fumed. There was no consideration for me. She didn’t want to know about Jon, she wanted information for her own gratification. They think if they’d been Jon’s mother they’d be doing a better job. They’d know the answers. They’d get him in rehab. They think I failed.

I was upset, too, that anger and unforgiveness were getting the better of me. I kept thinking of the lines of an old gospel song: “Joy, joy, joy/ Joy in the Holy Ghost/ Don’t let anybody rob your joy/ there’s joy in the Holy Ghost”. In the hospital I had tried so hard to rejoice in this disaster. Now this situation had robbed my precious joy and replaced it with a rock-hard heart, and I hadn’t stopped it. I’d even reveled in it. Weren’t their bad behaviors rooted in attitudes I had suspected all along? Didn’t they deserve my contempt?

My mind came back to Philippians 2:5 – 7:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
Did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
But made Himself nothing……

Equality with God is a big deal for Jesus to let slip from His grasp. It’s one of the many humbling things He did for us. I have what I think of as my own big deals. I mean, they’re big deals to me, but God’s not so impressed. What if that passage said:

Anne should not consider being respected as something to be grasped; or
Anne should not consider always being right as something to be grasped; or
Anne should not consider always having her way as something to be grasped.

I have a feeling there could be a hundred more of those uncomfortable little phrases informing me I have to let my grasp go.

In Psalm 45, the bridegroom is praised in this way:

You love righteousness and hate wickedness;
Therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions
By anointing you with the oil of joy.
Psalm 45:7

I pray that I would hate the wickedness that would have my heart,
And I would lift my hands to praise God,
And He would anoint them with the oil of joy
So my grasp would slip from the things that would rob me.

Aug
23

Joy in the Trial

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One thing I’m noticing about rejoicing: we are told to rejoice in the most unlikely circumstances. The apostle Paul is full of joy while he’s under house arrest, while out on the streets of Rome, mixed in with true evangelists, men with false motives are also preaching the gospel. The book of James launches right in: “Count it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds…” (James 1:2) As I’m looking at Paul’s example and James’ lesson, I just knew the moment was coming for me to test this out.

Boy, did it ever.

Last Tuesday morning at 3 a.m. I found myself in my son Jon’s room. Two of his friends and I had found him unconscious in a chair. The air was thick with pot. Jon was covered in vomit, ashen, and not breathing. Not breathing.

“Call 911,” I ordered one of his friends while I picked up Jon’s lolling head and supported his neck. I pulled him upright and found it caused him to gasp for air past the vomit in his airway. I kept doing it. “Keep breathing, Jon,” I told him, but he wasn’t breathing except for those gasps I forced his lungs to take. As I looked at my hand behind his neck I had a flashback to supporting his newborn head in the first moments I had ever held him. Nineteen years later, was I doing this for the last time?

Of course, we didn’t arrive at this wretched scene from out of the blue. At the beginning, Jon was a longed for and cherished baby, the first boy in 41 years on my side of the family. We loved and nurtured him intellectually, spiritually and physically. But even as a baby Jon was stubborn. Every limit had to be tested, every barrier needed a battering ram.

Around the seventh grade the first strands began to unravel. There were sliding grades, problems at school, and the beginnings of drug abuse. Yes, there were serious problems in our home, but Jon was going out and heaping problem upon problem. We tried to get him help, but Jon was like a tornado headed out on his own path, churning up more trouble than we could keep up with.

Where did we go wrong? Did we go wrong? We certainly got plenty of advice. Advice, however, is cheap. Solutions were nonexistent.

There had been two other episodes with drugs and two other polices visits to our home. Each time we hoped it would be the clarion call that would wake up Jon. Then, when he was 17, one of his closest friends died in an accident. Jon became fatalistic and started taking unreasonable risks. Worst of all, he refused to believe in God.

Where was the little boy who loved Bibleman and Captain Bible, who sat on my lap for hours while I read Little Pilgrim’s Progress and The Chronicles of Narnia? We were forced to watch Jon’s faith sink into fatalism just as we helplessly saw the drug abuser’s mindset overtake him.

Tonight was by far the worst. As we waited for the police to come, one of his friends, a Christian boy he’d known all his life, prayed over him frantically. Once the policeman was standing by me, I remember saying, “Thank God”. Isn’t that what we always think? That the police and rescue will come, and they will fix it?

The police found the needle, and the tracks on his arm, and another dose of heroin in his room. Later we would find out that on this night, he’d used a concoction of Xanax, pot, vodka, and three shots of heroin. When he got to the ambulance, his respiration rate was 6. People on their deathbeds have rates of 6.

No one was offering any assurances that they caught him in time. They put him in the ambulance; the doors swung shut. The ambulance didn’t leave for a while. Not good. I looked at those closed doors and wondered if I would ever see Jon again. Jon’s 16 year old sister and I stood on the lawn and bawled, not caring who in the neighborhood would hear us in the middle of the night.

Count it all joy. Somehow.

More to follow about Jon later this week.

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Jul
01

Joy in Serving Jesus – Song

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Today’s blog is a companion piece to “Where is the Joy Part 3,” which I wrote last week.

When I wrote my blog about the joy in serving, I had an old hymn in mind.  So old, in fact, that I went through four hymnals before finding it!  Evidently this one, written in the early 1930’s, has been passed by over time.

The lyricist, Oswald J. Smith, found the secret that finding what Jesus would have you do lifts your own burdens and brings great joy.  He writes about that secret in the fourth verse.  He knows, too, that the joy that Jesus gives never fades.  The last line of the chorus says, “There is joy, joy, joy that never shall depart.”

Mr. Smith had a real experience.  He was not writing about doctrine he’d picked up somewhere.  “Joy that throbs within my heart” doesn’t come from what he knows, it comes from what he’s lived.  That’s what I love about this hymn.  This heartfelt testimony about lasting joy is still true 80 years later, and we can still have that joy.

Joy in Serving Jesus

There is Joy in serving Jesus,

As I journey on my way,

Joy that fills the heart with praises,

Every hour and every day.

Chorus: There is joy, joy,

Joy in serving Jesus

Joy that throbs within my heart;

Every moment, every hour,

As I draw upon His power,

There is joy, joy,

Joy that never shall depart.

There is joy in serving Jesus,

Joy that triumphs over pain;

Fills my soul with heaven’s music,

Till I join the glad refrain.

There is joy in serving Jesus,

As I walk alone with God;

“Tis the joy of Christ, my Saviour,

Who the path of suffering trod.

There is joy in serving Jesus,

Joy amid the darkest night,

For I’ve learned the wondrous secret,

And I’m walking in the light.

Since I’ve come to realize this hymn is well known to me but probably not to others, I searched for a YouTube video so you can hear the song, composed by Bentley D. Ackley.  This is definitely a home grown church video, but you’ll be able to hear the music and these words together.

I hope you enjoy this song and that it will encourage you all the more to draw on Jesus’ power and find the “Joy that never shall depart.”

Jun
26

Where is the Joy? Part 3

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Where is the Joy – Part 3

Paul mentions that the Philippians’ help to him and their service in response to the gospel is a great comfort to him.

But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you.

–         Philippians 2:17

For even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need. – Philippians 4:16

I have long known that especially when I’m feeling down, giving help to others can be a great source of joy.

By service I am not talking about anything that you might have joined because you were urged to join a “ministry” and you were instructed that it was a necessary part of your Christian walk you needed to make sure you were doing.  I am not talking about working for your local body because “everyone should”, although you may find the place God draws you to is a role in the local church.  I hope, as you read this, you don’t find yourself in a situation doing work that does not bless you that you got into “because” of someone or some unspoken group pressure.  You may have already found that it gives you more of a sense of obligation than of joy.  The joy I’m thinking about, the joy that makes your heart light, is not that kind of service.

As you pray and look at Jesus as both your Savior and example, and as you come to love others while looking through His eyes, a change happens in your desire to reach out to other people’s needs.  You start to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit nudging you to get involved in some way.  You might meet someone who needs basics, like clothes or food.  You might meet someone who needs help in an area you have a talent for, like cooking or carpentry.  But you might meet someone who needs a friend, or just needs someone to be there with a hand to hold and a kind heart.  And as you give that kind of help, He gives you an indescribably beautiful joy.  It’s unforgettable.

Some believers pray that God gives them opportunities and expect He will ask them to be an outreach of Jesus’ love during the day.  But even if you didn’t pray, sometimes when you least expect it, you can just feel the Holy Spirit asking you to do more for the person in front of you.

My friend Christa recently had just such an experience.  She and her mom (Michelle, who writes the blog posts with me) were leaving the grocery store when an elderly woman asked them if they had a cell phone.  Her car wouldn’t start and she needed to call AAA.  Christa didn’t just hand her the phone.  She called AAA for her, navigating through all the prompts and questions that can be difficult for older people who didn’t grow up in an automated world.  Christa and her mom waited for the truck to arrive.  They brought the woman and her groceries home.  They learned that the woman lived alone and had no one.  They left their phone number and made a friend that day.

You may be wondering why I haven’t mentioned giving people the salvation message.  Many, many people emphasize that vital part of service, to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”(1 Peter 3:15b)  I am just speaking today of the joy we have doing the quiet promptings Jesus gives us as we go about our lives to do something for others.

Jesus says unbelievers will recognize us by the way we love each other.

By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one  another. – John 13:35

One way this love becomes evident is in our serving each other, meeting the needs that are in the body of believers.

Share with God’s people who are in need. – Romans 12:13a

Some churches march out the door to reach the lost without realizing they’ve left the needy and broken of their body behind them.  Those moments of salvation ministry will come, too, and the Holy Spirit is the one to direct us to them.  But are we listening to the Holy Spirit to direct us to the needs of our brothers and sisters?   Paul and others encourage us to see to the needs of believers.  As we come to know, love and rejoice more in each other, we will learn how we can serve our brothers and sisters in love.

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. – Romans 12:10b

When I was a little girl, I was taught to call the next-door neighbors Grandma and Grandpa.  Grandma had several life threatening illnesses in the last years of her life, but she didn’t give a second of time to self pity.  She spent her days making crafts for others.  When I was sixteen, my sister lost her husband and daughter and came to live with us for a while.  Grandma came to visit her every day, and never empty handed.  She just brought little gifts, flowers from her garden, a cup custard from her cooking.  I can just imagine her asking the Lord what she could do to bless my sister each day, and the joy she must have had in doing it.  One day she brought my sister a book to read.  Paula thought it was the last thing she wanted to do, but she started reading it.  The book had an engaging plot and she found Grandma was right – it did help take her mind off things.  Grandma was a shining example of doing what Jesus would do, and that humble service glows with joy 35 years later.

I don’t mean to disparage the kind of service where God leads you into a disciplined role.  I have served in that kind of service extensively.  One of my talents is music, and at times I have committed to being available week in and week out to a church because I knew God was encouraging me and blessing me in sharing both this talent and my faith in this way.  I was contacted a couple of weeks ago about playing next weekend.  I didn’t really want to, but I know that God has blessed me in this area.  I am good at going to a church I don’t know and filling in.  And these are God’s people asking me for help.  As I’ve been conversing with these people, I can tell they are so grateful that they found an organist for the holiday weekend that I can already sense the joy.  I am busy, and it will be a challenge to make the time to prepare for them, but I already sense that the coming Sunday will be great.

So while God may speak to you about a major role in Christian service, He will definitely speak to you about the little things you can do to ease someone’s way and show them His love.  Be looking forward to what He will say to you and me!

Jun
24

Where is the Joy? Part 2

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I’ve been examining Philippians searching for the source of Paul’s joy.  Joy doesn’t come easily to my personality.  I wanted to know where Paul found joy in the midst of his difficult travels.  In the first part, we looked at what Paul had found in Jesus that caused him to “rejoice in the Lord.”  Part 2 is a second source of joy that I discovered Paul had.

Rejoicing in Fellowship

Paul makes many references in his letter to the Philippians that they themselves cause him to rejoice.  Paul shares a special bond with these believers because they’ve accepted the gospel of Jesus that Paul himself taught them, and now they have their own faith in Jesus.  The opening of his letter is so heartwarming:

One of the greatest sources of joy is found in the relationships we have with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

One of the greatest sources of joy is found in the relationships we have with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

I thank my God every time I remember you.  In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now ….Philippians 1:3-4

But the Philippians are more than converts and partners; Paul considers them his friends and brothers in Christ:

Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends! Philippians 4:1

Paul cares for them and rejoices not just in their salvation but in every step of growth they make in unity.

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.Philippians 2:1-2

He is so concerned about disharmony that he even mentions a personal disagreement between two women:

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. Philippians 4:2

About their growth in Christ likeness, he gives many instructions of the joy, gentleness, peace, renewed thinking and many other qualities that should characterize their new lives in Christ.  An especially loved section of this letter is the teachings in Philippians 4:4-9.  Again, Paul encourages unity with God and among believers in striving toward a Christ-like lifestyle.

All of us who are mature should take such a view of things.  And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.  Only let us live up to what we have already attained.Philippians 3:15-16

Paul mentions how deeply we should care for others, and his joy when the Philippians show this concern, in these verses:

Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:4

I have no one else like [Paul’s co-worker, Timothy], who takes a genuine interest in your welfare.  For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. Philippians 2:20-21

I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me.Philippians 4:10a

That depth of caring comes from considering the attitude of Christ:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, and being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!Philippians 2:6-8

Paul is building on the “joy in the Lord” that we looked at in Part 1.  The sacrifice of Christ brings ever deeper joy the better we understand it.  Now that joy is teaching us to have love and concern for others as we do for ourselves – and experience even more joy in the process.

Paul encourages the Philippians in their giving and in the  help it has brought him. He also makes them aware of God’s response to their generosity.  This passage does not specifically have the word “joy” in it, but if you have ever been privileged to give to someone in need, you know the joy that comes with giving.

I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent.  They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.Philippians 4:18

Before looking into Philippians in these last weeks, I had never noticed how the Bible mentions the joy that God gives us in each other.  Many of my friends, I notice, have found this source of joy.  But I am thinking I could do more to take joy in all the brothers and sisters around me (not just my close friends), their faith, their prayers, their sharing of time and talents, and how they fill a role in the local church, whether they worship where I do or elsewhere.  The joy of appreciating my fellow Christians and encouraging them in their walk is out there for the taking.

Jun
22

Where is the Joy?

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Where is the Joy?

Originally I was going to write one Bible study about what the letter from Paul to the Philippians said about joy.  Then I got going, and each answer to where Paul found his joy was so rich, I didn’t want them lost in a long “three point sermon.”  So this is the first of three things I learned about joy.

Paul’s earthly circumstances were, to say the least, not good.  He was under arrest and in chains in Rome.  He implies rather strongly that this is a life or death matter.  Moreover, while he sat there, some people were out preaching the gospel in the hopes it would cause more trouble for Paul.  It wouldn’t give most people joy.

Rejoicing in the Lord

Paul repeats throughout the gospel that he is rejoicing “in the Lord.”  He has a different mindset.  I think “in the Lord” is something of a catchphrase that we say without totally understanding.  What is Paul rejoicing about?  How do I get it?

Paul has meditated upon, and come to have gratitude and joy for, these qualities of Jesus:  Jesus as our Messiah and Savior, what Jesus has done for us in His death and resurrection, what He is doing in our circumstances even if the present events are painful, and His promises that we will one day be with Him.  These verses contain Paul’s joy and hope very concisely:

I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.  – Philippians 3:10 & 11, italics mine

But our citizenship is in heaven.  And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body. Philippians 3:21, italics mine

Paul knew what it was to suffer, yet he counted it joy when he meditated on the gospel of Jesus Christ and remembered God's promises.

Paul knew what it was to suffer, yet he counted it joy when he meditated on the gospel of Jesus Christ and remembered God's promises.

For me, at least, this joy doesn’t come instantly.  My current problems tend to crowd joy out.  This is why I believe Paul meditated upon them.  When we meditate on a passage we think about it over and over, letting the meaning and significance sink in, leaving the impression of God’s viewpoint instead of our own.

Look what Paul was able to say about his detractors:

But what does it matter?  The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached.  And because of this I rejoice. – Phil.1:18

And Paul’s attitude in the face of death:

I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.  For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. – Phil 1:20 & 21

Or his opinion of suffering:

For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him – Phil 1:29

This joy turns human thinking on its head.  How did Paul do it?  By looking at Jesus until the truth sinks in.  Jesus saved us.  He restored our relationship to the Father.  He sent the Holy Spirit to comfort us.  No one could tell of all the things Jesus has done, and is doing right now.  This is the gospel, or good news, that Paul risked his life to tell others about.  It’s not a message to drop off and leave behind.  It is truth to be absorbed until our love and gratitude for Jesus grows, and it starts to change us.

When my daughter was very young she stepped off a drop off in a pond and sunk in over her head.  Neither my husband nor I saw the crucial split second.  A man named Ron did, and he immediately jumped in and rescued her.  Believe me, Ron has our undying gratitude.  No favor or request would be too big should Ron ever need something from us.  No passage of time dims how grateful I am that he saved my daughter.  If anything, now that she’s become a beautiful, accomplished young lady of 16, I value even more the precious gift he restored to us.

But in comparison, we can’t even comprehend the depth of what Jesus did for us and what it means for our lives.  When there is no joy in our hearts because of our problems, we need to keep looking, and looking, to the good news of Jesus.

O soul, are you weary and troubled?

No light in the darkness you see?

There’s light for a look at the Savior,

And life more abundant and free!

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,

Look full in His wonderful face,

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim

In the light of His glory and grace.

–         Helen H. Lemmel

Jun
17

His Joy Was Her Strength

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In my mother’s family there were two very committed Christians:  my great Uncle David and his wife Florence.  My grandmother and mother did not respect their fervor very much.  Grandma would pull up the story about how they put their money in a Christian retirement center (this is decades before the PTL Club scandal) but it was a scam and they lost their whole investment.  My mother would become annoyed at Aunt Florence’s letters from Florida.  Uncle David had a stroke in the 1950’s that left him unable to speak, and as years went on he lost other basic functions.  Aunt Florence’s life revolved around caring for him for a long time.  Her letters were punctuated, sometimes every other sentence, with “Praise the Lord” for this aspect or that where she felt God had been blessing her in her difficult situation.  “Why does everything have to be ‘Praise the Lord’ “? My mother would say with annoyance.

A few years after I became a Christian I had the privilege of spending an evening with Aunt Florence in Florida.  What sweet fellowship this elderly saint gave to a young girl!  She actually alluded to the investment scam; perhaps she knew my sharp tongued grandmother had surely told me the story.  Then she simply said, “But God took care of us.”  Clearly He had.  She was living in a beautiful retirement home such as I had never seen.  She told me things I had never heard about that happened before I was born.  I learned that Uncle David had been my mother’s favorite uncle.  It was an unforgettable evening.  I look forward to our reunion in glory.

I was thinking of Aunt Florence today and how she wrote, “Praise the Lord” all the time.  As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that she had an incredibly daunting task taking care of Uncle David and that praising God and rejoicing in all the little things He does to ease our burdens kept her together during those years.   Rejoicing in God was the secret power that made it possible for her to go on. Recently I have had some trying times, and as I write my friends to update them I find my writing has started to resemble Aunt Florence’s:  “I am so thankful for this…..”  “Thank God for our answered prayers for that….”

Paul records in Philippians that he rejoices in his many difficult circumstances.     He tells the Philippians, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…. I can do anything through Him who gives me strength.” (Phil.4:12b and 13)

About Paul’s unnamed secret of contentment with his lot, either good or bad: was it the joy he mentioned throughout the letter?  He had learned, as Nehemiah had said, that when he saw things from God’s perspective, the joy of the Lord became his strength.  He had actually been showing his readers the whole way through that the strength to endure came through His rejoicing in the Lord and what the Lord was bringing about in believers’ lives.

Paul learned that God’s joy gives strength, that it is strength.  Centuries later, God had taught it to my Aunt Florence, and now He is teaching it to me.  I hope I learn it as well as my Aunt Florence did.

Jun
15

O Tidings of Comfort and Joy

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I haven’t been able to post as much this week.  Life at my house has been, to put it mildly, in crisis mode.  It’s not the right time to share this yet, but a little later on this summer I look forward to telling you what God has done for us through some harrowing events.

All the upheaval didn’t keep me from continuing to think about joy.  As only God can do for us, I saw something new in one of my favorite passages, Psalm 94:17-19.

Unless the Lord had given me help,

I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death.

When I said, “My foot is slipping,”

Your love, O Lord, supported me.

When anxiety was great within me

Your consolation brought joy to my soul.

I had never thought of God’s consolation, or comfort, as bringing joy.  And yet we sing, “O tidings of comfort and joy,” every Christmas in the carol God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.  Being comforted by God brings joy?  Are the words of the Christmas carol in the Bible?  Sure enough,

I will turn their mourning into gladness;

I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.

Jeremiah 31:13b

Jeremiah was speaking of the time that the Jews that were in exile would return to Israel.  And when Christ was born and all men could return and be reconciled to God, that would again be a time of comfort and joy.

I’m not always open to being comforted by God or others.  This shows me that I have been missing not only God’s comfort but also the opportunity to see God’s perspective and have His joy.

What will this mean for you this week?

Jun
12

A Path to Joy

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Joy is next after love in the fruit of the Spirit Paul describes.  I tend to think of his list being in order of importance, so joy is something very important to God.  Despite that, somehow I can’t recall much about joy in sermons or Bible studies over the years.   There was an enthusiastic sermon some thirty years ago about “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10), but nothing comes to mind about how to have God’s joy so I could have that strength.

Joy doesn’t come easily to my personality.  In fact, some of my younger friends call me Eeyore, the stuffed donkey in the Winnie the Pooh stories.  A little rain cloud hangs over him as he suffers life’s vicissitudes with resignation.  I can be like that.  When problems strike, I tend to think it is enough to grimly soldier on.  But now I’m confronted: this is not what Scripture teaches.

As I started looking into the Bible, I was also looking within myself to find where the joy was.  Did I have nothing of God’s joy?  Well, when I’ve found something that I find unique or rare or just incredible, a sense of wonder wells up in me.  I usually babble about my find to anyone who will listen to me.  Wonder or awe about things on earth is not the Lord’s spiritual joy that I felt I lacked.  But I took it as a starting point.

One such moment came when I was thirteen, sitting in a music lesson.  My teacher’s “hourly” lessons were very flexible because he would have us try new music or he’d be telling us anecdotes about music.  At this lesson, he took out an etude that was a bit above my skills.  “Listen to this,” he said.  “This is so beautiful.”   He played it for me, and it was more than beautiful.  It made the sound of my instrument, the clarinet, go right to my heart.  It became clear to me in that moment that the beauty of the clarinet, combined with the beauty of the music, could say things no words could ever say.  I went back home afterwards not only in awe, but knowing what I wanted to do with my life.  I wanted to play the clarinet.

Another moment of awe and joy came a few years ago when I read an article about a Frenchman, Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville, who had been making sound etchings far earlier than the cylindrical wax recordings everyone thinks of as the first recorded sound.  His technique had to do with tracing the sound on paper with the smoke from an oil lamp.  It is hard to believe this really worked, but a museum in France still had these papers, and you could actually play them as recordings.   One that you can year on YouTube is a woman singing the French folk tune “Au clair de la lune”.  In 1860.

I listened, dumbfounded.  1860 was, to me, a silent year of the past.  No one’s voice had ever been literally heard from that year – their spoken thoughts and feelings had gone with them to the grave.  Anything you might like to have heard – President Lincoln’s oath of office and inaugural address, perhaps? – was left to our 21st century imaginations.  And yet here was this voice from 1860.  This woman had left for us her voice and her song, literally written in the dust.  I still can’t get over it!

But where were my spiritual joys, my “Joy in the Lord”?  The last few years had been difficult ones.  I had allowed moments of God’s joy to become too few and far between.  I needed to take the advice of Psalm 77:11 when Asaph was discouraged:  I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.

Then a spiritual joy came to mind.     After years of trying to be a witness to my father, he asked me how to be at peace with God a year before he died at age 86.  It was my privilege to lead my father to the Lord.  The joy of bringing him to know that Jesus loved and accepted him has never faded, still bringing tears to my eyes.  I do have a great joy inside me, I thought, relieved.

And there have been those times when God has especially let me see how much He loves me.  His love came with a complete, beautiful sense of joy at those times.   Those were not times of conviction or instruction.  He was giving me His deep love and joy.  It was unforgettable.

The joy from all these examples has never faded over the years.  I still feel the excitement I felt from the beginning.  Joy endures.

Now I had a spiritual starting point to understand joy.  In the book of Philippians, Paul rejoiced in truths that I believe God wants me to learn to rejoice in, too.  If joy is a fruit of the Spirit, you should see in me those enduring joys.  Now that I see that I have had joy in my life I’m ready to learn more.