Finding Joy

ADVENT WEEK 3: Joy

How have you been taking the time to prepare to truly and fully celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ this year and prepare yourself for his return? What does this look like in your day to day life?

Everything in our lives will not go as planned, and people will frustrate us and cause things to happen. Disasters are common in many places around the world. Disasters can and do cripple people physically, mentally, relationally, financially, and in so many ways. How can we live with such devastation, such grief in our world?

Let’s continue our journey through Luke this week by looking at Mary’s (Jesus’ birth mother) response to her situation after she travels about 80 miles to see her cousin Elizabeth. Remember, the angel told Mary she would have a son and give birth to the Messiah and then she went to see Elizabeth who is also pregnant and will give birth to John the Baptist.

Luke 1:39-56 (CEB)

“Mary got up and hurried to a city in the Judean highlands. She entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. With a loud voice she blurted out, “God has blessed you above all women, and he has blessed the child you carry. Why do I have this honor, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. Happy is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill the promises he made to her.”

Mary said, “With all my heart I glorify the Lord! In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior. He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant. Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored because the mighty one has done great things for me. Holy is his name. He shows mercy to everyone, from one generation to the next, who honors him as God. He has shown strength with his arm. He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations. He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed. He has come to the aid of his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, just as he promised to our ancestors, to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.” Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months, and then returned to her home.”

What stands out to you? Re-read the passage and this time try to see where you would be in this story. What character do you resonate more with? Or are you a bystander? What do you see, hear, feel (physically and emotionally)? This is one of those passages we can hear over and over, making it an ordinary passage of scripture.

Mary has just been told that she would give birth to a child, and she has not even been with a man. No one else in her community heard the angels proclamation to her, so they would have thought she committed adultry. This was a serious crime that was punishable by much more than just being sent out and told never to return. She faced the possibility of being stoned to death, and the child inside (our Savior, Jesus Christ) would have not survived.

How would you feel in this situation? We know what Mary did. Mary sang. She sang a song that gave praise and glory to God for how he has looked favorably upon her and how he will fulfill everything he has promised. I’m not sure about you, but when I hear bad news or know I’m about to walk into a bad situation, the last thing I want to do is sing. But this is what Mary did.

In everything she was facing with her family, her town, her husband, Mary still experienced joy. A joy beyond comprehension. She was more than just “happy” because happiness is an emotion that fades away based upon our circumstances. Mary experienced and proclaimed joy with what was happening to her. Joy is not an emotion, but a state we get to be in. God gives us this incredible joy so we can live in peace, even when everything else is going wrng or we do not think we can handle it. We keep the hope because we know God will keep his promises. We can live in love with those around us because God love us.

True joy is found in the person of Jesus Christ. Even when he was on the cross, I believe he still had the joy of God within him, even if he wasn’t happy about what was happening to him. If we allow God to work in our lives it is amazing what we are able to handle and what we see changed around us.

This advent season, with a week and a half left until Christmas, I invite you to take time out of your days and think about all God has done in the world, in your life. Think about what God is doing in the world and in your life. Thinking on this will help us remember all God has done and is doing so we can keep our hope and trust in him that he will continue to great and  mighty acts in our world and in your life.

Experience the joy that Christmas brings and allow it to transform your life so everyday is filled with incredible joy, joy from heaven.

Sing to the Lord

What are some of your favorite songs to sing this time of year? Mine are “Joy to the World” and “O Holy Night.” In fact, these are two songs I would like to be sung at my memorial service after I pass away. The reason is because, even in death, there still can be joy. We do not pass over the grieving period; but JOY has been brought into my life through Jesus Christ and is here in the world too.

“O Holy Night” is a song that I used to sing and listen to with my great grandmother when I was a child; so I have great memories with this song. Besides, it is a song that helps me focus my mind and heart focused on the beautiful night that Christ was born, bringing God to earth in human form.

There are lots of passages in Isaiah that talk about destruction and bringing the exalted low; but this is one of the many passages which bring hope and God’s grace and joy into the the picture.

Click here to read Isaiah 12:2-6.

Though this passage has several Psalms re-written, this is a great reminder that God is where we draw our strength from. Our salvation from. Our life from because He has done great things!

This Christmas, we are invited to keep our hearts calm and focused on the Christ child who lived, died, was resurrected, and will come again. Sing to the Lord. What song will you sing today?

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

Rejoice!

Christmastime is such a joyous time of year for so many people. This is the time we celebrate families with gift giving, parties, travel, and much more. We can see the good things in life, when we get together.

Unfortunately, many people do not have this same experience of this time of year. So many have felt loss and this time of year reminds them of this. There are also people who feel they are being punished in life by God.

The first two and a half chapters of the book of Zephaniah speak of pronouncing and impending judgement. His prophecies seem very similar to the prophet Jeremiah, the weeping prophet. But then, the tone completely shifts at the end with a message of hope and joy.

Click here to read Zephaniah 3:14-20.

When I read this short book in the Bible, I am reminded that we should not focus on the difficulties and disasters in our life.

“Rejoice and exult with all your heart…”

“The Lord has removed your judgement…”

“The Lord, the king of Israel, is in your midst;..”

“Don’t fear…”

Then God promises to “deliver,” “gather,” “change their shame into praise,” “bring all of you back,” “gather you,” “restore.”

God was speaking these to the Israelites; but this also speaks to us today. How? Jesus Christ.

We rejoice because God is in our midst through Jesus Christ. He has removed our sin and shame because of the cross and His resurrection. Jesus, our good shepherd, is gathering us in and leading us. We are filled with the Spirit of the Living God.

Christ coming in the world, changes everything. Will we allow Him in to change us once again?

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

Salvation & Hope

Are we really ready for Christmas? This is the question we should ask ourselves during the season of Advent. There is so much more than just a baby being born and angels in the skies and shepherds. This is the story of God coming down to be on of us and live the life we live. The birth of Jesus Christ in the world, changes everything!

Click here to read this week’s scripture passage.

This week, we have talked about John the Baptist, Proclaiming God’s Forgiveness, Wilderness and Crooked Paths, God’s Invading, and today we remember God’s ways lead to salvation and hope.

Salvation begins with God coming into our lives. God’s working though Jesus Christ gives us new life and hope for something greater, in the future, and in the here and now.

John pointed people to Jesus Christ. How do our lives point people to Christ?

The message of Christmas is to be shared.

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

God’s Invading

Last week, a New York newspaper ran a headline that said, “God is not fixing this,” in response to the shootings that happened in San Bernardino, CA. The article was saying that something has to be done and people can’t “hide” behind meaningless phrases – more specifically, “my thoughts and prayers with with…”

When we read the story of Christ’s birth, we also look at the ministry of John the Baptist. He showed the people, and us today, what God is up to.

Click here to read this week’s scripture passage.

“God is not fixing the problem; God is invading it!” I love this thought, this truth. As I was preparing to preach, I read an article from the pastor of a church that made that statement. There is a lot of truth, and hope in this concept.

I hear people all the time asking why God isn’t fixing the situation. Why didn’t God stop that terrible thing to happen? Why didn’t God intervene in the sickness? There are many other questions we ask.

An answer came almost 2,000 years ago. John the Baptist pointed to the answer when he was baptizing in the wilderness, calling people to repent. He was pointing people to the person of Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us.

The situation in John’s time was dangerous and people were waiting on God to fix the problem. This is not what God had planned. His plan was to come down in the form of a person (Jesus Christ) to walk around with His creations, show them the Kingdom of Heaven, then die and be resurrected so we could be forgiven and be reconciled to God and receive new life.

God’s answer was, and is, to “invade.” I believe this is His answer today as well. I believe that we can allow God into our lives so we can be changed from the inside out. This is where real change happens – from our heart. If we all Christ to change our hearts, our lives will change and we’ll have more compassion and more God-given direction to make a change in this world by bringing people to faith in Jesus Christ.

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

Proclaiming God’s Forgiviness

We have several topics of conversation during the Christmas holidays. We’ll talk of love, family, weather (good or rough), relationships, parties, gifts, etc. Our conversations are around the goodness of the season. Yet, this is one of the most stressful times of the year.

During this season, it seems we are more likely to be harsh with another person because they say the wrong thing. We see through the media doing anything they can to get the “perfect” gift. We are more likely to give this time of year; but we get frustrated with how many people are asking for donations.

This time of year, we say “Jesus is born” and “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Before Jesus preached his first sermon, John the Baptist was on the scene telling people to repent and receive God’s forgiveness.

Click here to read this week’s scripture passage.

Repent. God’s forgiveness. These are topics of conversation that we really only hear in the church. It is so easy to get caught up in the to-do’s and all the festivities that we can forget to proclaim the forgiveness and grace of God to people. This is the real gift that comes at Christ’s birth.

His life, His death AND His resurrection were all done so we can be reconciled to God. No longer to we have to live in fear. No longer do we have to live separate from God.

The question we all have to answer is “will you accept this gift?” Gifts that are held on to don’t really live out their full potential. It is when we share that the gift brings extra joy. This is how it is with Jesus Christ.

So, instead of simply saying “Merry Christmas,” how about taking time to give someone the gift (out of love for God and them) of Jesus Christ by telling how He changed your life and how their life might be different.

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

Really Ready for Christmas?

This week, we have asked some tough questions, hopefully preparing us and challenging us to embrace the real Christmas event so our lives reflect Christ in this world.

Once more, I invite you to read the scripture focus for this week. Take some time to ponder what we have talked about this week. Most importantly, see what God may be speaking to you through this passage. You can read the scripture for this week here.

The questions we asked this week are:

  • What are we preparing for?
  • Do we take Jesus Christ seriously enough?
  • How different do our lives look?
  • Are we ready to share our faith in urgency?

There are many more questions to ask, and we will ask, that help prepare us for the coming of the Christ child and the return of the Son of Man.

Our challenge is to make the birth of Jesus Christ more real for us, so He is born anew in our hearts this year. This event should deepen our faith and allow God to transform us into new creations.

Are we ready for Christmas?

Christ coming into the world changes everything!

A baby born and laying  in an animal feeding trough is to become King of kings. A Savior is born to live just to die so that we can truly live. His life is not what we would expect someone from the riches of heaven to look or be like. God, Himself, is here with us in human flesh to live the same life we live and experience everything we experience. The Creator of the universe becomes one of the creations. This changes everything!

Are you ready to continue this journey to the cradle which leads us to the cross?

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

Urgency

Today, we again look at the passage in Luke 21 of Jesus speaking about the end and the glorious return of the Son of Man. This time, I invite us to look at verses 34-36.

“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

You can read the entire scripture for this week here.

Jesus says to “be on guard,” “be alert at all times.” Other places in the Gospels, Jesus says that we will not know the time when all this will happen. This event is referred to come like a thief in the night. There is urgency to make sure we are ready for the return of Jesus Christ.

Many people become skeptical about the “end times” or the “end of the world,” thinking that this is too much for us to try and understand or it is still in the future. The truth of the matter is the end of the world comes for some people everyday.

Isn’t it heartbreaking when people live in fear and without hope. People around the world, especially in our communities and own homes, need to hear about the Gospel of Jesus Christ that brings good news to all people. We should not think we have plenty of time because we do not know when that person will pass on.

For me, these passages do not really cause me to be worried about the future; but they do help me realize how important it is to share our faith every opportunity we have (in actions and in words).

I invite you today to pray for someone who needs to hear about Jesus Christ and then trust that God is with you as you share your faith. If you find it challenging, there are people who can help: pastors, church, friends, Bible study groups, etc.

Are you ready to give the gift of Christ to another person this Christmas?

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

Do We Take Christ Seriously Enough?

This may seem like a strange question as we begin Advent, but I believe it is an important question we should ask ourselves. This is a questions I ponder most days. How we think about Christ changes our to do list and what we do day to day. What we believe about Christ changes our lives from the inside out.

You can read the scripture for this week here. I am inviting us to read the same passage each day this week (as will be the invitation for the other weeks in Advent). The reason for this is to see how the scripture speaks to us throughout the week.

So, the question for today is “do we take Christ seriously?” Jesus speaks of the end times and the Son of Man coming in glory and that we need to be on guard and be prepared for that time. We will not know when it is coming, for it will happening suddenly.

Many people like to skip these kind of passages because they find it scary or don’t think the end will happen like this. Even though these passages may seem kind of harsh, they do point to a Christ that is not all feel good and every thing will be just fine if we have enough faith. He shows us there is more to Jesus than just offering peace. He shows us more depth into who God is. If we take Christ serious, we’ll love all the messages He brings because they are God’s word to us. We should always take serious Christ and His word. This doesn’t mean we understand everything, but we trust that God knows what He is talking about.

I challenge each of us to think about how serious we take Christ and His word today and this week. I hope we are more serious about the faith we have in Him more and more each day.

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

Devotional Life

James 1:26-27 CEB “If those who claim devotion to God don’t control what they say, they mislead themselves. Their devotion is worthless. True devotion, the kind that is pure and faultless before God the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their difficulties and to keep the world from contaminating us.”

When I was preparing for the sermon last week, these verse really stuck with me. I felt like I needed to say so much in the sermon; but then I looked at the scripture again and felt the Spirit leading me to focus on these verses.

I’ll begin by asking the questions that I asked on Sunday in worship:

Who are the widows?

Who are the orphans?

A reason that I did not mention on Sunday these two groups of people are mentioned here is that they did not have any legal help. They were basically on their own. James is reminding his readers how important it is for Christians to stand up and help those who cannot help themselves.

Let’s add another layer to this. Who are the widows? A widow is a person who has lost a significant other in their life (i.e. spouse). So I would ask the question, “does a spouse have to die in order for someone to be a widow?” I don’t believe so. I believe there are also spiritual widows as well. Think of people who have lost a connection with their spouse. Think of spouses who have shut down and caused their wives (or husbands) to lose faith in them. Think of those who have been cut down or abused. These are also widows (in a spiritual, emotional sense) I believe we should look after as well.

Who are orphans? We know that orphans are children (or adults) who have lost their parents due to death. In some countries, children are considered orphans if their father has left them. Again, let’s add another layer to this. Does someone have to lose their parents physically to be considered and orphan? What about those who are spiritual orphans? There are many people who walk around who have both their parents but have lost a relationship with them for whatever reason. There are people who have lost “parents in the faith.” I believe there are many spiritual orphans out there as well.

James says that true devotion is taking care of the widows and orphans. We can also say that true devotion is caring for and about those God cares about (no matter life circumstances) and acting upon it. We constantly seek and work in opportunities to help people with physical needs so they can live; but also offer mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual help and guidance as well.

Our challenge as we continue in this journey is to all the Word of God to transform us. To be doers and not just hearers of the Word. To be the creations God is calling us to be.

I invite you to take time to read the entirety of chapter 1. Click here for the chapter in full context.

Lord, thank you for the chance to see the world through Your eyes. Break my heart for what breaks Yours and help me act and step out to live the life You have called me to live. I can do this with You. Amen.

NEXT WEEK we begin the journey in James 2:1-17 “What Matters Most?”