Cultivating Joy

Today I’m sharing an article by that was published recently on FaithGateway.

Cultivating Joy

When I was young, I thought that following God and being a Christian would lead to a life that was kind of easy, filled only with happiness and free from pain and sorrow. Silly me. I’m not even sure where I got that idea, except maybe from teachings spouted by TV evangelists who espoused a prosperity “name it and claim it” doctrine that was popular when I first chose to follow Jesus. It tickles the ears, doesn’t it? It’s so appealing, this thought that if you are a true believer you are spared suffering and gifted only with a positive existence.

It is also completely contrary to what the Scriptures teach.

If Jesus was perfected through His suffering, who are we to think we won’t be perfected through the same means? (Hebrews 2:10).

Now, don’t get me wrong, Jesus came that we might have life and life to the full (John 10:10), and it’s the joy of the Lord that is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). It’s just that this promised joy and life come to us in the midst of the easy and the hard, the triumphs and the travails.

The key, then, is to intentionally cultivate that joy in our hearts — to choose it — no matter what season we’re in, the easy or the hard.

And life is hard a lot of the time. This world we live in is not Eden. We are not in Heaven. Not yet. But, in the middle of this often difficult journey, God “has taken great measures to preserve our freedom of choice.”1 We have the freedom to choose to grow in joy or to retreat from it.

Said another way, life will inevitably be hard, and as maturing believers with our eyes set on Jesus, we will constantly be presented with opportunities to make choices that will either lead to a deeper joy or not. Here’s what I mean:

It’s hard to stand up against the group when they are going the wrong direction — spiritually or any other way. But it’s also hard on our consciences afterward if we don’t. That Jiminy Cricket won’t be quiet.

It’s hard to be kind to the mean, curmudgeonly neighbor. It’s hard as well to be convicted later of being unloving. It’s hard to not spend the money on the item we so desire.

It’s hard to save money. It’s also hard to be in debt.

It’s hard to have a loving but tough confrontational conversation with a friend. It’s also hard to not have one and then have offense and distance creep into that friendship.

Polka Spotted

Polka Spotted

By Pat Knight

Among our three grandsons visiting Christmas day, the 5-year old suffered a fully developed case of chicken pox. The disease had no regard for person, place, or time; no indication it was interrupting our celebration of the birthday of the King. The chicken pox boy endured long enough to unwrap his Christmas gifts before he collapsed on the couch for the remainder of the day. Occasionally a whimper erupted from his direction as he tried to resist the complete lethargy and generalized soreness that accompanied the disease.

Our grandsons coined the phrase ”polka spots” for the skin lesions populating his body, including his lips, throat, inside his nostrils, and on the soles of his feet. The generalized outbreak of chicken pox, if blended together, had the potential to change his skin color. As I performed a close inspection of the polka spots on his back, it occurred to me that God could devise a method of registering our transgressions; a pox assigned for each sin. Over our lifetime, I wonder if we would have enough room on our bodies to register all of the pox? Thankfully, God does not choose any means of broadcasting to the world the mistakes we make. Sin is a private matter between God and the believer. Never does He make our indiscretions known to others. He has promised, “‘For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more’” (Hebrews 8:12).

If we are wronged by another person, we remember the incident to prevent similar hurt again, applying what we’ve learned, but not for the purpose of retaliation. God assures us, “‘I am he who blots out your transgressions, for my sake, and remembers them no more’” (Isaiah 43:25). Our Lord is not interested in flaunting our sins to the world. Once we repent of our sins and he redeems us, he destroys sins’ memory, never to be retrieved. Our God is patient and long-suffering, identified by justice and loving kindness. “‘I have swept away your sins like a cloud. I have scattered your offenses like the morning mist’” (Isaiah 44:22, NLT).

The Son of God’s death on the cross paid all debts in full to redeem our sins. God is not interesting in brow-beating; His forgiveness is merciful and full of grace. Conversations and dealings with us are held in strictest confidence, never to be revealed. Our Lord is kind and compassionate. “O Lord, you are so good, so ready to forgive, so full of unfailing love for all who ask for your help” (Psalm 86:5, NLT).

In some societies slaves wear collars to identify their status and their owners. As Christians, our uniqueness is displayed by our love of God and our fellow traveler. No physical marks are necessary. We exhibit an outward manifestation of inner peace and joy, secured by hope in an unfailing God. Job, who suffered untold physical and mental anguish, said, “‘Though he slay me, yet will I hope in Him’” (Job 13:15).

 

“He was pierced for our transgressions.
He was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

Believers in Jesus Christ do not require a distinguishing physical mark. Rather than brand us as His followers, God expects us to minister for Him with our speech and actions. “Just as the body is dead, without breath, so also faith is dead without good works” (James 2:26, NLT). Our external actions reflect our heart’s allegiance.

If we yell from the rooftops our love for God, we would be summarily labeled as wacko. But, if in our daily lives we consistently display the love and peace of God, our positive actions and benevolent outreach will impact many lives, including our own.

People also listen to what we do not say. Non-verbal communication sometimes speaks louder than words. If we refuse to be controlled by anger, resentment, or bitterness, others take notice. Are we active listeners, conveying a sense of importance to others? “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:19).

Our goal is to be a conspicuous Christian, to imitate Jesus and His actions. The slogan so popular with Christian teens years ago, “What Would Jesus Do?” (W.W. J. D.), is still an appropriate question for us to consider prior to decision-making. We are commanded, “Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God” (Eph. 5:1-2, NLT).

Let us evaluate whether we exhibit joy and patience amidst the disappointments and losses in life. Are we able to cling to our faith in Jesus when all hope seems lost? Are we patient and long-suffering when awaiting answers from God? Others observe confidence, joy, and gentleness as correct responses to unpleasant situations, those features that cancel negative behavior in every scenario.

Unlike the Nazi practice of tattooing Jewish prisoners in concentration camps or the fanciful idea of a chicken pox for each sin, as followers of Jesus Christ, promises are the only brands we will ever receive from our Lord. His words are believable, His love magnificent, and His gifts generous beyond our imagination. Polka spots represent a hurtful, temporary disease. Give God your sins and He will exchange them for an abundant life on earth and a home in heaven forever and ever!


[Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons]

The Hope of the Empty Tomb

Christ’s Resurrection: Our Hope

by Franklin Graham

On the Saturday after Jesus was crucified, His followers must have felt utterly defeated. Meanwhile, the Pharisees felt they had silenced a critic, the Romans felt they had quashed a rebellion, and the governor had washed his hands of the whole affair.

Then Sunday morning dawned, the gravestone was rolled away, and history was turned inside out. The news—Jesus is alive!—was almost too good to be true. Yet it was undeniably true. So true that His disciples dedicated the rest of their lives to telling the whole world the Good News about Jesus Christ.

On the cross, He died for our sins.

In the tomb, He defeated death.

Nowhere else in this sin-sick world can we find such everlasting hope.

Modern medicine is wonderful—almost miraculous sometimes—but doctors will never defeat death. Now, some of us may live to be a hundred or more. … Every day we have on this earth is a gift from God, but ultimately everyone has to be prepared to face death and judgment. Through the triumph of the cross and resurrection, Jesus has already dealt with both of those.

“When you were dead in your sins… God made you alive with Christ” (Colossians 2:13).

Where is your HOPE?

Prayer: Lord, this week, we remember that because of Christ’s death and resurrection, we no longer have to fear death and the grave. Help us to clearly tell others how they, too, can come to You through Jesus’ sacrifice. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.


Scripture quotation is taken by permission from The Holy Bible, New International Version, copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission. From Franklin Graham: “Decision” magazine, April 2011, ©2011 BGEA.

[From “Decision” magazine e-devotional]

The Power of the Cross

Is53-5-Cross-Flames--AMP

But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
—Isaiah 53:5

Have you ever wondered why the day Jesus Christ died such a horrible death is called GOOD Friday? Doesn’t it seem as if it should be the blackest day in history? What can possibly be GOOD about it?

Beloved, Jesus willingly allowed Himself to undergo the horrendous, torturous beatings and then be put to death so that we might live with Him for eternity! This is why it is commemorated as a GOOD day. We are all born as sinners and there is no way we can get to heaven apart from the saving grace and mercy of Jesus Christ’s death on that cross at Calvary. That one death paid the price for us to have the opportunity to be in heaven with Him when we die.

Yes, we should mourn the death of Jesus Christ because He endured so much on our behalf. But even more, we should celebrate this day as the beginning of mankind’s chance to share in the intimate fellowship with Jesus forever!

Please enjoy “Mighty is the Power of the Cross” by  Chris Tomlin. Remember and be joyful that Jesus paid it all!

Mighty, awesome, wonderful
Is the holy cross
Where the Lamb laid down His life

To lift us from the fall
Mighty is the power of the cross

If for whatever reason you cannot view this video, you can read the complete lyrics here.

At Christ’s Table

matt8-11-amp

At Christ’s Table

Adapted from Till He Come by Charles Spurgeon

 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you,
as though some strange thing happened to you;

but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings,
that when His glory is revealed,
you may also be glad with exceeding joy.

If you are reproached for the name of Christ,
blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.
On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. 

But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer,
or as a busybody in other people’s matters. 

Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian,
let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter,

For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God;
and if it begins with us first,
what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? 

Now
“If the righteous one is scarcely saved,
Where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?”

Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God
commit their souls to Him in doing good,
as to a faithful Creator.

—1 Peter 4:12-19

At the Last Supper, Christ brought all His disciples as table-companions, a prophecy that applies to all of His people forever. In heaven, there cannot be less of a privilege than on earth. It cannot be that believers will be degraded from what they have been below. The disciples were companions at Christ’s table here below, and they will still be table-companions in heaven above. Blessed is he that will eat bread in the kingdom of God. “Many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven,” and the Lord Jesus will be at the head of the table (Matt. 8:11).

What will His table of joy be like? What will be His celebration when His reward is seated around Him and His triumph is all achieved? Whatever it is, you will share in it. For you poor, working woman, what a change to sit among princes and near to your Lord Jesus, with all your hard work and poverty ended forever. And you, sad child of suffering, will not have pain there, and you will be forever with the Lord. The joy of Christ will be your joy forever and ever! In the anticipation of the joy that will be yours, forget your current troubles. Rise above today’s difficulties, and if you cannot rejoice because of the present, rejoice for the future that will soon be yours.

Here is the way of salvation: believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved. To believe in Him is to trust Him; it is leaning on Him, resting on Him. Rest your whole weight on Christ in a spiritual sense. You have a load of sin; lean on Him, sin and all. You are unworthy, weak, and perhaps miserable. Cast on Him the weakness, the unworthiness, the misery and all. Take Him to be all in all to you, and when you have trusted Him, you will have become His follower. Go on by humility to be His disciple, by obedience to be His servant, by love to be His friend, and by communion to be His table-companion.

Why Did Jesus Want To Eat That Last Supper?

Sharing today from Bible Engager’s Blog

Why Did Jesus Want to Eat That Last Supper

April 15, 2019
By 
Suzy Silk

Almost every Sunday, churches across America remember Jesus’s “Last Supper” as they take communion together. Eating bread or wafers and drinking grape juice or wine, they recount Jesus’s words: “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me. … This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me” (1 Corinthians 11:24-25).

But would it surprise you to learn that this wasn’t an ordinary dinner Jesus was having with his disciples, and this wasn’t normal bread he broke? When I first learned that Jesus’s last meal took place during a Passover dinner, and that the bread he broke was unleavened bread (matzah), I was surprised and thrilled. Jesus’s words and actions on that night suddenly became so much clearer to me.

How Jesus used Passover

Passover was the first holiday ever given by God to the Jewish people. Several times, the Lord gave the Israelites specific instructions on how to commemorate their miraculous exodus from Egypt—by recounting the Exodus and Passover story over a shared meal of unleavened bread, wine, bitter herbs, and roasted lamb on the 14th day of the month of Aviv. This was to be a lasting ordinance for all future generations (see Exodus 12:1-18Deuteronomy 16:1-8).

As a righteous Jewish man, Jesus grew up celebrating Passover every year in Jerusalem (Luke 2:41); and so, as to be expected, in the days leading up to his arrest, Jesus again obediently celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples on the 14th day of Aviv (see Matthew 26:17-19; John 13:1). During that evening, Jesus used the various items on the Passover table as prophetic signs of what he was about to do in the following 24 hours, explaining his mission and purpose to his disciples.

The questions I asked when I first learned all of this were: Why this bread? Why that particular cup? Why during that particular ceremonial moment, when he dipped his bread into the bitter herbs? And although there are many other ways in which the Passover meal helps us understand Jesus’s many words that night, let’s begin with the four required items on the Passover table: unleavened bread, bitter herbs, wine, and a roasted lamb.

The Unleavened Bread (Matzah)

During Passover, God commanded the Israelites to eat only unleavened bread (i.e., bread without yeast) for seven days. The point was to have an annual reminder of how they left Egypt in a hurry. For this reason, later generations nicknamed matzah both “the bread of affliction,” as a reminder of their slavery, and “the bread of freedom,” as a reminder of their freedom after leaving Egypt in haste (see Deuteronomy 16:3). This bread was also sacred/holy bread, since yeast was often seen as a symbol of sin in the Old Testament and was therefore not in the bread regularly offered in the Temple. Because matzah has no yeast, it also doesn’t rise, and so must be pierced all over to prevent it from burning–though striped burn marks are often inevitable.

This pierced, striped, and holy bread was a perfect symbol for what would be done to Jesus. The prophet Isaiah foretells that the Messiah, though righteous and blameless (i.e., without sin), would be “pierced for our transgressions” and that “by his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). Jesus held up the pierced, striped, yeast-less bread on the Passover table—which symbolized affliction and freedom at the same time—and compared it to his body. Then, he broke it and divided it among his disciples. Soon, Jesus would be pierced, striped, and “broken.” He would give himself up to affliction, explaining to his disciples that his body was to be “given for [them]” (Luke 22:19)—in other words, for their freedom. 

Read the rest here.