Monday, December 21, 2009

Joy to the World!

Throughout the year, but especially at Christmas, we Christians talk a lot about Joy. We also sing about joy, read scriptures about joy and sign and send Christmas cards adorned with the word Joy. So, what’s the big deal about Joy?

It was a verse in Luke chapter 2 that caused me to dig deeper into the concept of Joy. I was reading the part of the nativity story where the Angel of the Lord announced to the shepherds the birth of Jesus, saying, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”

We hear it straight from the angel’s mouth…the birth of Jesus is a cause for great joy for everyone. We certainly can all agree that being released from the chains of sin in exchange for the gift of everlasting life in heaven is worthy of our joy. So, why then, as a Christian, am I not always joyful? Shouldn’t I be walking around with a silly grin all the time, in a sort of tickled-pink trance? Of course not. Life can be tough and lots of times instead of being on top of the world, we feel like we’re bearing the weight of it. What happens to joy then?

I think the Scottish minister and author, Oswald Chambers, answered that question well when he said, “The Bible talks plentifully about joy, but it nowhere talks about a "happy Christian." Happiness depends on what happens; joy does not. Remember, Jesus Christ had joy, and He prays "that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves."

According to Chambers, the distinction between joy and happiness means that we can have joy even at times of deep sadness. Here’s an example…a Christian diagnosed with terminal cancer is probably not happy about his condition. Yet, he remains joyful, knowing that he is still being held in the palm of God’s hand and that his soul is heading for an eternity of bliss.

In John 16, Jesus says to his disciples, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Our joy is rooted in the last part of that statement…He has overcome the world.

Joy to the world!

Friday, December 18, 2009

This Little Light of Mine

Each year at Christmas, Girl Scouts from across Greensboro present an event called Candlefest as a gift to the community. The girls and their leaders line the roads at area parks with thousands of luminaries, creating a simple yet stunning visual effect. While driving along the candle-lit roadways, one can only imagine the hours of girl power that must have gone into placing each one of these hand-made luminaries, each about a foot apart, in perfect lines. The display runs for one night only and lasts until the candles burn out, which takes about 3 hours.

What a great lesson this is for the scouts who participate in Candlefest! The girls learn the value of teamwork and are given the opportunity to see, first hand, the great things that can be accomplished when people work together.

While driving through one of these presentations, I saw a powerful spiritual lesson as well. I imagined that each luminary represented a Christian. Now, each one of these luminaries on its own is nothing special. Just a small candle in stuck in some sand in the bottom of a paper bag. No big deal. But, when thousands of them are placed side by side, "nothing special" becomes spectacular. Not only were the luminaries beautiful, they also served as a guide through the park’s dark pathways.

As Christians, we have power and light, given to us as gifts from God. We’re expected to use these gifts to glorify Him. In Matthew 5:10 we’re told, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Of course, these words are undeniably true. However, each of our lights have a limited radius. On our own, we’re just a single light flickering in the darkness. However, when we come together with other believers, standing side by side with a common purpose, our effect can be spectacular!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Whine, Cheese and Manna

I had weight loss surgery last year (the Lap-band), and as part of the recovery process I was limited to a full-liquid diet for 3 weeks. Basically, I was allowed to eat protein shakes, yogurt, chicken broth, pudding, and that’s it. It was right in the middle of this diet when the melt-down happened. My cravings for “real food” seemed too much to take, and the thought of protein shakes for another week and a half was just unbearable. I even sent a desperate email to my nutritionist to see if there was something, anything else I could eat.

However, in the midst of this meltdown, I was suddenly reminded of the Israelites. God had freed them from slavery and oppression, miraculously saved them from Pharoah’s army, and provided them with manna that fell from heaven and water that flowed from rocks. And, how did they show their appreciation to God? They complained about the manna. They gathered more than they needed. They grumbled about their circumstances.

And, you know what? That’s exactly what I was doing! In less than 2 weeks time I had gone from praising God for the opportunity to have this surgery…freeing me from my addiction to food and an unhealthy lifestyle…to griping about a short term diet designed to help me recover from surgery and have the best possible outcome. Just like the Israelites, I was complaining about the manna.

Unfortunately, it’s not the first time that I have quickly forgotten God’s blessings. How about you? Think of a time that God pulled you out of a painful situation, leaving you to jumping for joy. Are you still jumping? Maybe he provided you with a wonderful new job that now feels more like a daily grind. Perhaps it’s the spouse who God provided as an answer to your prayers. As the years have passed, are you still thanking God for him or her? How about your kids, do you spend more time complaining about them or praising God for the gift of a family?

I encourage you to take some time today look for the Manna in your life. If, you find that instead of thanking God for it, you’re complaining about it…ask Him for forgiveness. Pray that God will point out and renew your appreciation for each blessing that has fallen from heaven on your life.