Finding Joy

I come from a long line of negative women. I love my mom, but she tended to be very pessimistic. She came by it honestly because my grandmother was also. It’s not that any of us had a really bad lot in life, but that was just ingrained in us. Who knows how far back it went in our family. Fast forward several years ago, when a friend was diagnosed with breast cancer at a young age and as I prayed for her I said, “What a waste of a beautiful life it will be if she dies this young.” And the Lord replied: “No more a waste than if you live for 100 years with a bitter, miserable heart.”

That was like a glass of cold water in my face. I had to make a change, but I wasn’t sure I could do this. To be honest, being miserable became a comfortable, known place. But God started gently through my best friend who began to rain down “Joy” on me. She gave me coffee cups, kitchen towels, figurines, photos, whatever she could find with those three letters emblazoned on them. She said, “I’m going to make you Joyful whether you like it or not.”  Then the Spirit began to direct me to Joyful verses in His Word:

“You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with Joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:11).

“You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with Joy” (Psalm 30:11).

“The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of Joy” (Psalm 65:8).

“This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).

Then He pulled out the big guns and send a beautiful little girl into my life named Joy.  She calls me Nana and she lives up to her name. Not that my Joy is in her, but she is a constant reminder that “The Joy of the Lord is [my] strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).

I don’t know your life or what traits were passed on to you, but I know that in Christ, you can be a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). The Lord can set new patterns in your mind and heart and give you Joy, hope, and peace. If you’re tired of negativity and misery, today can be the start of a new attitude. Come, Beloved, find your Joy in the Lord.

A Life of Hope

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10

What does it mean to really live?  Is life just existence, just taking up space on planet earth – or is there something more to life than that?  What is the difference between “life” and “living?” On this fifth day of Advent we are going to look at a Life of Hope, tomorrow we will expand our focus to the Hope of Eternal Life.

God meant for our lives to have real meaning and purpose.  No one ever set a life goal to just exist. Our lives matter – and that was God’s intention.  So how, then, can we move into this purposeful and meaningful life?

First, we must come to the One who promises life.  We must come to Jesus Christ, the One who died to give us life.   You may be reading this and thinking, “My life has no great purpose,” or even “I have made such a mess of my life, there is nothing left for me.”  God says differently.  There is no life – no person – that God cannot touch and change.  Here is a wonderful word of hope for you and me: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation: the old has gone, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17, emphasis added)!  If you have received Jesus Christ, you have been given a new life.  And if you have not – there is no better time than now.  Pray this simple prayer to begin a new life in Christ: “Dear God, I know that I am a sinner, and I need Jesus Christ to save me and cleanse me.  I receive Jesus by faith, I receive this new life by faith.  I am Your child God, lead me in this new life.”  God promises new life to all who will come to Christ.

With that new life comes the abundant, or “full” life, as our key verse says.  Jesus was not talking about an abundance of things, but of purpose and meaning – namely an abundant, fruitful life.  Jesus declared it just prior to His arrest saying, “I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.  This is to my Father’s glory.” (John 15:16, 8).  Paul reminds us that  “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10).  Now, mind you, this is not to say that Christ saved us because of the good work we do, nor did He save us merely to do good work.  This good work is the calling of God on our lives, the purpose for which we are here on earth.  There is much hope in knowing that God has chosen and called you to serve Him by serving others, and that He receives your good works as a fruitful offering.

If you have received the new life Christ offers, you are a child of God.  And if you are a child of God you have a calling that will result in fruitfulness.  Because of this helpless little baby in the manger, we have hope for a new and meaningful life here on earth.  That is real hope for a real life indeed.

My God and Father, I pray that You will receive my “work produced by faith, labor prompted by love, and endurance inspired by hope in my Lord Jesus Christ, (1 Thess. 1:3)” as an offering to Your glory.  Amen

Old Photographs

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone the new has come!”  2 Corinthians 5:17

No long ago I ran across some old photos of myself when I was much younger.  I laid them out in the progression of ages from about 3 to my high school years, watching myself grow taller, with a variety of hair styles and some really strange fashion sense.  There’s the year I first began to wear glasses, and my “purple season,” and the year I grew so fast, my Mom had to sew trim onto the hem of my pants for added length.  I smiled at the parade of old friends, and grimaced at some of my old boyfriends (oh what was I thinking!).  I began to study my face through the years, chubby cheeks giving way to more defined features.  Then I focused on my eyes.  If the eyes are the window of the soul, then somewhere between 10 and 15, my soul became filled with confusion and pain and my eyes revealed a sadness that was reflected in my expression and my stance.   The girl in those later photos took on a darker, more withdrawn spirit.  Pictures gave way to memories of being hurt by others and by my own choices.  I was being drawn back into those old photographs.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t like reminders of my past – I tend to bristle at memories of being hurt and of my own rebellion and selfishness and sin.  Glancing up into the mirror on my dresser, I thought how much I physically looked like the girl in the pictures, but I no longer recognized those eyes. God spoke to my spirit, “That is because that’s not who you are anymore. Now you are mine.”

Paul wrote in his letters, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world. (Ephesians 2:1-2)  He gives a list of sinful and wicked behaviors in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, and says, “That is what you were. (1 Corinthians 6:11)” In Ephesians 5:8 Paul says, “You were once darkness…”  Paul is coloring in the darkness of his readers’ past in order to highlight the contrast when he says but now…you are light in the Lord.”  He is painting a before and after portrait.  “You were once…but now you are.”  Like God’s message to me, Paul is saying, “You were dead in sin and rebellion and selfishness. But that is not who you are anymore.  Now you are in Christ.”

One of Satan’s favorite ploys is to assault us with our past, to tell us that we will always be who we were and there is no point in trying to resist those old familiar sins.  “You know deep down, you still want it.  You haven’t changed. You are bound to your past.  You are bound to me.”  But if you belong to Jesus Christ, Satan has no authority over you. You are free from your past; you are free to choose not to give in to sin.  You are a child of light, purified from all your sins (1 John 1: 7).  Where you were once bound to your sin, you are now bound up in God’s love.

In Philippians 3:13, Paul gives us the secret to walking in our new identity when he says, “one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on…”  We can forget what is behind because “as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12)” If only we could understand that because Jesus Christ has completely removed all our transgressions; our old sinful desires have no authority over us any longer.  .

Look at yourself in the mirror.  You are a new creation in Christ.  You have light in your eyes, and God’s love shines on your face.  You are free to choose all the wonderful things God has planned for you.  You are no longer bound to a painful, sinful past. You are not who you once were.  Now you are His.

Holy Father, You have claimed me for Your own.  I am a new creation in Christ.  I am forgiven and free. I am Yours.  Amen.

Just Give Me the Truth

“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses; seat.  So you must obey them and do everything they tell you.  But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. Everything they do is done for men to see.”    Matthew 23:2-3, 5

I don’t like “fake.”  I have such distaste for pretense or anything contrived.  I especially dislike having someone play on my emotions or feign friendliness trying to get something from me. I know I am not alone in this.  Nobody likes to be lied to or deceived.

Jesus encountered many false people during His time here on earth.  He loved every person, because every man, woman and child is made by and in the image of God. Yet He saw through people as if they were transparent.  Matthew 9:4 says, “Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, ‘Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts?’”

The woman at the well in Samaria was trying to hide her true self from Him because she was living a sinful life.  Jesus gently exposed her deception.  When she acknowledged what they both knew, He offered her Living Water and she drank deeply.  Her life was changed by truth, as were the lives of her neighbors who came to know Jesus through her. Truth had set her free.  (John 4:1-42)

Jesus also dealt with many fake, yet very religious people.    Matthew 23 records some of Jesus’ harshest criticism spoken to the religious leaders of His day.  Seven times in this chapter, Jesus says, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!” (Matthew 23: 13, 15, 16, 23, 25, 27, 29)  He even called them “snakes” and “vipers”.  These were the religious folks!

What’s the difference between the Samaritan woman at the well and those religious leaders? She was living a lie and she knew it.  The Pharisees were living a lie, only they didn’t know it.  Jesus did.  It is impossible to deceive God.

In my prayer journal recently I wrote, “I don’t like fake in anyone – and I especially despise it in myself.  God, I don’t want to be the kind of person that is fake, manipulative, deceptive or pretentious.  I want to be genuine, real, and sincere.  I want truth God.”  Then the Jack Nicholson line from the movie: “A Few Good Men” popped into my head: “You can’t handle the truth!”

Do I really want to know the truth about myself?  Can I handle the raw, “natural” me?  Would I be shocked by my self-righteousness and judgmental nature?  Would my heart break at the lack of compassion and kindness in me?  Would I cringe to hear gossip and unkind words come from the same lips that teach the Word of God?  When I see my lack of faith, my tendency to anxiety, fear and doubt, would my tears flow?  Can I survive even a glimpse of my selfishness, sinful desires, impatience, laziness, and ingratitude?

Paul felt the same angst as he described his own struggle with sin in Romans 7.  Listen to verses 18 & 21: “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I find this law at work: when I want to do good, evil is right there with me.”  In verse 24 his self-condemnation hits a crescendo, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” Paul asks the same question I ask of myself.  Is there any hope for me?

The answer rings with God’s truth – “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!  There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!” (Romans 7:25, 8:1) Paul goes on to say, “God [sent} His own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.”  What wonderful news!  Rather than condemn me, He took all my sins with Him to the cross.  I know that I am a sinner, and I live a lie when I try to pretend that I am “good”.  Jesus shows me who I really am.  He bought my pardon on the cross.  He cleansed me, purified my heart, transformed my character and brought purpose to my life.   Ephesians 5: 8 says “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.”  I am not who I once was.  Jesus Christ has written a new truth for me.

The truth is I am in Christ and His righteousness is mine. (Philippians 3:9)

The truth is I am God’s child. (1 John 3:1)

The truth is I am a new creation in Christ Jesus. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

The truth is I am made holy by His blood. (1 Corinthians 1:2)

The truth is I have been set free. (Romans 6:18)

The truth is I am forgiven. (1 John 2:12)

The truth is I have the power of the Holy Spirit within me (Ephesians 1:19-20)

It is important for me to see both sides of myself.  I need to be aware of how “wretched” I am on my own, and I need to know the truth of who I am in Christ.  His truth keeps me humble and close by His side. I can hold my head up confident in my new identity.  I don’t have to live a lie any more, trying to appear good.  I only need to walk every day as the child of God that I am.

I pray that my life will always be filled with holiness, godliness, kindness, compassion, and faith in God.  I want to honor and glorify my Savior Jesus Christ as I write and teach. My heart’s highest desire is to stir in others a passion for God and for His Word. But like Paul, I am still encased in human flesh and prone to stumble.  I rejoice that I am in Christ. I no longer fear His wrath, nor need to hide my sin.   When I fall, my Father lifts me up and reminds me of the Truth of who I am, and most importantly whose I am.

“Lord Jesus, in love, You that took my sins to the cross and set me free.  In love, You gave me a new identity, a new future and a new hope.  When I look at myself through Your eyes, I see the beloved child I am.  Thank you.”      Amen.