Archive for the ‘joy’ Category

The joy of the Lord

The Joy of the Lord

If you’re a user of Facebook or YouTube, you’ve probably seen videos of military service members who have been on deployments reuniting with family members.  These are moments of pure joy and happiness.  They seem to say, “everything is going to be OK now.” This type of joy is a wonderful mountaintop experience, but it is fleeting.  It’s simply not possible to sustain such temporal joy, but there is another type of joy that’s eternal.  

Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.  Karl Barth

Did you ever meet somebody you just knew was a Christian without being told?  There are some people whose face and disposition simply can’t hide the joy of Christ that dwells inside them. Often, this kind of person will invite you to visit their church. Christians want to share their joy with others. They are thankful for the joy that dwells within.  In Galatians 5:22, the Apostle Paul calls joy a fruit of the Holy Spirit. In 2 Corinthians 2:3, Paul describes how he wants to share his joy with the people of the young church in Corinth.

Describing Christian joy to a non-believer can be difficult. When I was a young captain serving in the Army, I had a battalion commander who assigned me a special project.  I listened to his instructions, but they weren’t clear to me.  I asked specifically what sort of product he expected me to give him when I had completed the project. His surprising response was, “I’m not sure, but I’ll know it when I see it.” Christian joy is like that, you’ll never fully understand it until you’ve experienced it.

Joy may include happiness, but happiness is not a precondition for Christian joy.  The Apostle Peter describes joy as gladness not based on circumstances (1Peter 1:8-9). Paul says in 2 Corinthians 7:4, “In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy.”  Clearly, Christian joy does not depend on being happy.  It is founded in the assurance that:

  • Jesus has paid for all your sins, past, present, and future.
  • You have been freed from the power of sin and can choose to obey.
  • You live under God’s grace and mercy.
  • You are an adopted child of God.
  • You have eternal life.
  • God knows you by name and hears your prayers.
  • You are part of God’s church family and joined by the Holy Spirit to fellow Christians.

In Romans 15:13 Paul says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Joy and peace are yours for the taking if you will put your trust in God today.

Doxology: To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.  –Jude 1:24-25

Managing Change

Changes“There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” –C.S. Lewis

 

(Note: All Bible quotes are NIV.)

Most people naturally resist change. Some scientists have theorized this is caused by an innate survival response programmed into human beings at the genetic level. Businesses desiring to grow and remain competitive are often forced to change or face failure.   Change Management is a business discipline used to bring about organizational change while minimizing the impact on the affected individuals (employees, suppliers,  customers etc.).  Dr. Rosabeth Moss Kanter is a professor at the Harvard Business School.  She has written about the 10 common reasons people resist business change. They are:

  1. Loss of Control – Change interferes with autonomy and can make people feel that they’ve lost control over their territory.
  2. Excess Uncertainty – If change feels like walking off a cliff blindfolded, then people will reject it.
  3. Surprise, Surprise – Decisions imposed on people suddenly, with no time to get used to the idea or prepare for the consequences, are generally resisted.
  4. Everything Seems Different – Change is meant to bring something different, but how different? We are creatures of habit.
  5. Loss of Face (dignity) – By definition, change is a departure from the past.
  6. Concerns About Competence – Can I do it? Change is resisted when it makes people feel stupid.
  7. More Work – Here is a universal challenge. Change is indeed more work.
  8. Ripple Effects – Like tossing a pebble into a pond, change creates ripples, reaching distant spots in ever-widening circles.
  9. Past Resentment – The ghosts of the past are always lying in wait to haunt us. As long as everything is steady state, they remain out of sight.
  10. Real Threats – Now we get to true pain and politics. Change is resisted because it can hurt.

Fortunately, the business world has amassed a substantial body of knowledge describing effective methods for managing organizational change. Change Management consulting is a lucrative field of business and can be very effective in ushering in change.   

The seasons of our lives are full of changes as well. People resist life changes for many of the same reasons they resist business change. Human lives are in a constant state of flux. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 describes this quite poetically:

There is a time for everything,

and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend,

a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,

 a time for war and a time for peace.  

Life changes come in two overarching categories. The first encompasses personal lifestyle changes one might need to make, like losing weight, exercising more, eating healthier, quitting tobacco, eliminating or reducing alcohol consumption, getting more sleep, spending more time with family, reducing social media time and the like. These changes often never come about because they usually involve great individual effort, sacrifice and self-discipline. When one accomplishes such a change, it can be one of the most exhilarating experiences in their life.

The second category of life changes consists of unplanned/unexpected events that life seems to drop on one’s head. Each morning one awakes never knowing what the day might bring—a serious accident, grim medical diagnosis, stroke, heart attack or other life changing event might occur. This category also includes external influences such as political upheaval and societal changes. Unfortunately, the body of knowledge for managing this sort of change is very broad, continually evolving and is riddled with disagreements between the so-called “experts.”  Several fields of study offer solutions for managing the changes of life. These include psychology, psychiatry, sociology and their related disciplines.  

Fortunately, for believers there is a body of knowledge for managing life changes that is totally reliable, one-hundred percent accurate, and immutable. Of course, I’m referring to the Bible. Biblical truth never changes because God never changes. Jesus Christ is a solid rock, an unalterable holy alter upon which we may lay all our hopes and fears.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.  James 1:17

God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind.  Does he speak and then not act?  Does he promise and not fulfill?  Numbers 23:19

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  Hebrews 13:8

Believers have no reason to fear changes in their circumstances.  Scripture assures of this:

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.  Deuteronomy 31:8   

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.  Proverbs 3:5-6

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. Psalm 18:2

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

As children of God, believers have no reason be afraid of life changes. Oswald Chambers said it like this, “If your faith is in experiences, anything that happens is likely to upset that faith. But nothing can ever change God or the reality of redemption. Base your faith on that, and you are as eternally secure as God Himself. Once you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, you will never be moved again.” 

Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods.  Psalm 40:4

A son is given: Christmas 2019

Annunciation-to-the-Shepherds-Berchem-Nicolaes-Pietersz-oil-painting-2-768x533

Annunciation to the Shepherds by Berchem Nicolaes Pietersz

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them. Luke 2: 8-20 (KJV)

 

The Joy of the Holy Spirit

christmas-2017

This is the month, and this the happy morn, Wherein the Son of Heav’n’s eternal King, Of wedded Maid, and Virgin Mother born, Our great redemption from above did bring; For so the holy sages once did sing, That he our deadly forfeit should release, And with his Father work us a perpetual peace. —John Milton, from his poem ‘On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity’

The word Joy is a much-overused in secular communications around Christmas time.  One sees the word frequently on secular Christmas tree ornaments, gift wrapping paper, greeting cards and the like. Joy is an extremely important word for Christians; it appears frequently in the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments. Galatians 5:22 tells us that joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, along with love, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (NIV).

According to one Jesuit explanation of this, a fruit of the Holy Spirit is “an observable behavior in people who have allowed the grace of the Holy Spirit to be effective in them.”  With this interpretation, two things become clear.  First, the fruits of the Holy Spirit do not appear automatically once a person accepts Christ as his or her Savior.  To reap the fruits, we must surrender our right to ourselves and allow the Holy Spirit to work in us.  Secondly, Christian joy is not the same as happiness.  Christian joy can be experienced in the midst of pain and sadness. In fact, James 1:2-3 (NIV) tells us, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”

In Philippians 4:4, the Apostle Paul tells us to “rejoice in the Lord always.” He penned this epistle from prison.   Some people confuse joy with happiness.  They are not the same.  Christian joy comes from within, while happiness stems from external sources.  I’m happy when my wife bakes her famous apple pie.  I’m joyful in the knowledge that Christ is my Savior. I can savor Christian joy even in difficult times, just like Paul writing words of encouragement from prison.

I recently visited a friend who is quickly approaching death. He’s the godfather of my children and a friend of over 35 years. While it was sad knowing I probably won’t see him again in this life, it was also joyful to know that he is secure in his salvation through Jesus Christ and we will see each other again in God’s eternal kingdom.  

But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. —Luke 2: 10-11

My prayer for you is that you will allow the joy of the Holy Spirit to work in your life. May your heart be filled with the joy and peace of Jesus Christ during this Christmas Season and in the coming New Year!

What can I give Him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart. —Christina Rossetti from her poem ‘In the bleak midwinter’

 

 

Hurry up and slow down!

Slow Down

Be still, and know that I am God.  —Psalm 46:10a (ESV)

We live in a world of high-speed escape artists.  Everywhere one looks, people are rushing to and fro to get the next thing on their long list done. When they grow weary, many turn to adrenalin-pumping extremes to “relax.” There is extreme biking, extreme running (Parkour), building- and rock-climbing without safety equipment (free-climbing), half-pipe skiing and snowboarding, and base jumping, which is free fall parachuting from cliffs or high structures.

We watch extreme television entertainment, like American Ninja Warrior and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighting.  If sports is not your thing, there are extreme game shows with names like Wipeout, where contestants crash and burn on crazy obstacle courses, and Fear Factor where contestants, among other feats, eat large volumes of worms and bugs.

Many escape reality through physical addictions, turning to drugs, alcohol or sex to remove them from reality. Others simply unplug from their daily grind, spending long periods of the day disconnected from the world. Video games are one way of escaping reality. The most extreme “unplugging” involves new virtual reality technology.  With this technology, one can don a pair of goggles and be instantly transported to a new 3-D “world.”  Anything goes on these virtual playgrounds, including extreme sports, extreme violence and extreme sexual fantasies.

For some, cell phone addiction provides a different kind of virtual reality.  Have you spoken with someone who constantly looks down at their phone? It’s like they don’t have time for you. It’s annoying, not to mention downright rude.  Or perhaps you’ve observed a family seated in a restaurant waiting for their orders to arrive—everyone is heads down playing with their phone instead of interacting with other family members.  In 2014, Charit Taneja wrote in “The Psychology of Excessive Cellular Phone Use” that:

Cell phones enable behavioral problems and disorders, particularly in adolescents. This fact has become more and more evident in communications media, inspiring new pathologies, such as “Nomophobia” (No-Mobile-Phobia), “FOMO” (Fear Of Missing Out) – the fear of being without a cell phone, disconnected or off the Internet, “Textaphrenia” and “Ringxiety” – the false sensation of having received a text message or call that leads to constantly checking the device, and “Textiety” – the anxiety of receiving and responding immediately to text messages. 

Some people escape auditory reality. In the fitness center where I exercise, about half of the people wear headphones or ear buds while using an exercise bike, treadmill, elliptical machine, stair-stepper or other exercise device. I assume most listen to music, hoping it will carry away them to another, less painful place as they push their bodies to the physical limit.  While such auditory isolation might reduce the agony of a heavy workout, it hinders socializing with others and can even be dangerous. At certain times of the year here in South Dakota it’s a good idea to keep one’s ears peeled for the sound of a tornado warning siren.   

A frantic pace combined with isolation can lead to perilous situations. Anyone who lives in a big city has seen drivers who dangerously weave in and out of traffic, desperately trying to get ahead a couple of car lengths while putting their own and other people’s safety at risk. Many of these drivers have so much on their “to do” lists that feel a need to constantly rush. Others live in their own private worlds where it’s all about satisfying their own needs, with no regard for the needs and safety of those around them.

 Far too often, erratic driving results in road rage.  According to analysis by performed by Trace, an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to expanding coverage of guns in the United States, instances of road rage where someone in a car brandished a gun or fired a gun at another driver or passenger more than doubled over the a three-year period, increasing from 247 in 2014 to a high of 620 in 2016.

The high-speed, escape mentality is tearing away the very fabric of our society. We’re becoming a bunch of one-armed jugglers with our eyes and ears covered. It’s easy to get caught up in the race and lose sight of what really matters in life.  Christians aren’t immune to this.  It’s easy to become distracted and let the day slip by without a thought of God.  I think Islam gets it right on one point—stopping to pray five times per day.  Christians would do well to adopt a similar practice. 1 Thessalonians: 5 encourages us to “pray without ceasing.” (ESV)

Psalm 46:10a (ESV) says, “Be still and know that I am God.” God wants us to slow down and focus on him in the midst of our daily hustle.  It’s during times of stillness that we can, if just for a moment, look God in the face and begin to gain a deeper understanding of Him. In Mark 4:39, Jesus is with his disciples in a small boat when a great storm occurs.  The terrified disciples appeal to Jesus to do something to save them.  He utters the simple command, “Peace! Be still.” Immediately the weather becomes calm.

This beautiful story is about much more than Jesus calming the weather.  It is about Jesus giving up a sense of Peace in Him that helps us through the storms that occur in our daily lives. In 1 Kings: 19 (ESV), God speaks to Elijah in “a low whisper.” My advice to you—slow down, be still, unplug, hear God’s whisper, and discover His peace. 

 “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” —Philippians 4:4-7 (ESV)

 

 

 

As you continue to search, remember to always follow the light!

The Risen Lord [by Arnold Friberg]

“The Risen Lord” by Arnold Friberg

Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. –Psalm 61:1-2 (ESV)

Christmas day has passed, but many Christians around the world continue to celebrate the Christmas season through the day of Epiphany on January 6. The joy and hope of the Christ Child still shines brightly! Unfortunately, joy and hope will fade for many as the Christmas season passes and they return to their often mundane daily routines.

This can be a particularly difficult time for those who are already living with the fear, anxiety and depression that frequently accompany periods of unemployment. Fortunately, if we open our eyes and look we will see that God is present always in his Word, Holy Spirit and blessed sacraments.  

While you’re job hunting, networking, sending out resumes and filling out countless job applications, don’t forget to make some extra time to spend with God in prayer and studying the Word.

Spend time with other job seekers and pray with and for them. Take time to use your God given talents to help others in need. God knows your needs before you ask and He already has a plan for you. His plan will produce fruit in your life at the time He has appointed.

Meanwhile, don’t miss out on the joy today has to offer.  If you will only seek Him, God will give you joy with or without a job. Habakkuk 3:17-18 says, “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls,yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.”

It is impossible for one to know what God has in store for him or her, but rest assured that He only wants the best for us all. Christians may take comfort in the knowledge that God’s love does not depend upon our success in this world. He doesn’t look at our education, work history or awards. He loves us unconditionally. While we busy ourselves with the worries and toils of this life, He is preparing us for something bigger and more glorious than we can possibly imagine.

The Bible promises that those who make seeking the Kingdom of God their top priority in life will be blessed with everything they need in this world. While you struggle with the pain of unemployment and all of the other burdens you will bear during this life, remain close to Christ and let His light show you the pathway that He would have you follow.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. So we do not lose heart, though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. –2 Corinthians 4:6, 16-18 (ESV)

Prayer: The link below leads to a website not associated with this blog.

Prayer of the Unemployed

Don’t Worry be Happy

Madonna and Child“Joy to the world, the Lord is come.”

A few years ago singer-songwriter Bobby McFerrin composed a great little song titled “Don’t worry be happy.” His lyrics advise us:

In every life we have some trouble
When you worry you make it double
Don’t worry, be happy!

Sounds like some sound advice doesn’t it? However, McFerrin might have better named his tune “Don’t worry be joyful.” Joy and happiness are often used interchangeably, but there is quite a difference in their meanings—especially for Christians.

Happiness is an emotion that arises from external factors, either objects, circumstances or other people. Many people chase after happiness, often taking incredible risks to capture this elusive prey.  From the beginning of time man has sought happiness through a variety of means—romance, travel, adventure, possessions, work, wealth, fame, power, good looks, drugs, sex and countless others—but all fall short.  As King Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes, all these are “vanity.”

Chasing after happiness is like chasing a wave at the beach. You might get your hands around it for a moment, but it eventually slips through your fingers because happiness is fleeting.  Attaining lasting happiness is impossible in a fallen world, where decay, sickness and death visit everyone. Even Jesus is, as Isaiah tells us, a “man of sorrows.” Upon his shoulders God placed the burden of the sins of all mankind.

Joy, on the other hand, comes from within. One characteristic of Christian joy is a growing feeling of confidence in God’s promise that He will never forsake us. For mature Christians, finding joy is possible even during the unhappiest times because as our faith grows we come to understand that God will carry us through every time of tribulation. This is illustrated clearly by Paul and Silas, who we see praying and singing hymns to God in Acts 16, only a short time after they have been beaten and unjustly thrown in prison.

Along with Christian joy comes a sense of contentment. St. Paul describes this in Philippians 4:11-13:

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (ESV)

As Christians mature and learn to be content in the various situations they find themselves, their worries will begin to dissipate when they place them in God’s hands. The American poet and diplomat James Russell Lowell said, “Let us be of good cheer, remembering that the misfortunes hardest to bear are those which will never happen.”

Worry is a waste of time that would be more wisely spent devoted to prayer. The next time you find yourself worrying about something, get on your knees and lift those worries up in prayer. Don’t worry, be joyful!

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. —Romans 15-13 (ESV)

Click-to-Listen: “Don’t Worry be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin.

Simply Good News

Jesus on Cross

                                                            For I decided to know nothing among you,                                                                                                                  except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”                                                                                                                                        1 Corinthians 2:2 (ESV)

Life is becoming more and more complicated these days.  Wherever one turns he or she is met with new challenges.  Today’s new cars have more gadgets than did many airplanes just a few years ago. Simply watching television can require using several very different remote controls that must be used in a specific sequence to view the media one desires.  So-called smartphones often prove smarter than their users, leaving befuddled owners struggling to figure out how to use all of their phone’s capabilities.

Politics has also grown more complex. Many private interest groups today sponsor advertising in favor of one politician or another. It’s difficult to sort out the source and motivation behind each message and even harder to discern fact from fiction. Attack ads grow more vicious each year.

Even eating has become more challenging for those  concerned about health and fitness. Should you use butter or margarine?  Is coffee good for you or bad?  Is a little red wine really beneficial to your health? How much exercise does one really need?  Is it better to walk or jog? It’s hard to sort through it all.

Unfortunately, complexity has increased in religion as well.  Mainline Christian denominations are being divided by new doctrines and beliefs. Recently the National Cathedral, arguably the foremost Episcopal churches in the United States, hosted a Muslim prayer service.  And don’t even try to sort out what’s going on between Muslims, Jews and Christians in the Middle East! It’s enough to drive one mad.

Fortunately for Christians, St. Paul maintains a simple view of the Gospel. Listening to his words can help us cut through much of the confusion that exists today. In his first letter to the saints in Corinth he writes, “And I, when I came to you, brothers, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”  (1 Corinthians 2:1-2, ESV)

Christ’s crucifixion for our sins and His resurrection from the dead are at the center of the Christian faith.  A highly educated and intelligent man, St. Paul professed a belief in Christ built on faith, not reason. He understood that reason could never lead to a full knowledge of God, because God is too big and too awesome for a simple human mind to fully comprehend. As the psalmist tells us:

O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.  You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.  Even before a word is on my tongue, beholding, O Lord, you know it altogether.  You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.   —Psalm 39:1-6 (ESV)

Popular Christian pastor and author Ray Stedman wrote, “The main thing about being a Christian is to see that “the main thing remains the main thing.’ That is what Paul is saying (in 2 Corinthians 11:2). The ‘main thing’ is that at the heart and center of your life is the ‘simplicity that is in Christ,’ a simple thing. I have noticed over many years of observation that when religion becomes complicated, it is always a sign that it is drifting away from the realities and centralities of faith.”

The good news about Jesus that was preached by His apostles is quite simple: (all  citations taken from the ESV)

Jesus came to save all mankind.  1 Timothy 1:15 – The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners… —St. Paul

Jesus is mankind’s only pathway to God .  Acts 4: 11-12 – This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven or given among men by which we must be saved.” —St. Peter

All people are born in a condition of sin, separated from God.  Romans 3:23 – “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” —St. Paul

There is nothing anyone can do on his own to earn God’s salvation.  Romans 3:10-12 – “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”  —St. Paul

Christ came so save mankind from sin and death—separation from God. 1 Timothy 1:15 – “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”  —St. Paul

Salvation is a gift freely given to those who put their faith in Christ.  Romans 10:9-10 – “…because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. —St. Paul

One needn’t be a Bible scholar to understand the Gospel.  The message is quite simple.  The gift of God’s salvation is free to those who, with faith and repentance, ask to receive it.

“Only through repentance and faith in Christ can anyone be saved. No religious activity will be sufficient, only true faith in Jesus Christ alone.  —Ravi Zacharias                                                                               

 

 

 

In the Company of Others

Creation of Eve in Gen_02-22 by Michelangelo

  The Creation of  Eve by Michaelangelo

Several children’s lives remain in peril in the wake of a stabbing spree in a suburban Pittsburgh high school.  On April 9, a 16 year old male student, for reasons still unknown, randomly stabbed a school guard and 21 fellow students as he quickly moved through the school’s hallways wielding a steak knife in each hand. Miraculously, no one has died from his wounds.

The incident is yet another chapter in a string of senseless acts of  violence in American schools that includes mass killings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Co.; Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Va. (2007); and Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Ct. (2012).  Unfortunately, there are several others I have not listed here.  In almost every case there is a common thread—the perpetrator was a loner. Whether this was the case in the attacks in Pittsburgh has yet to be determined.

Medical studies abound indicating that loneliness and isolation are health risks.  Social interaction, on the other hand, can improve health.  It has been scientifically shown to decrease the likelihood of premature death, improve the immune system’s response to infection and decreases inflammation in the body.

Regardless of the task at hand, be it raking the lawn, preparing a meal, searching for a new job, or simply going to see a movie or museum, it is usually a better experience when done with another.

There is also plenty of Biblical evidence indicating isolation is not good.   In Genesis chapter 2, God declares, “It is not good for the man to be alone.”  He then creates Eve to be Adam’s mate, companion and friend.

In Exodus chapter 18, Moses is extremely weary because he tries to govern the Jewish people by himself.  His father-in-law Jethro advises Moses to appoint judges to help him with his tasks.  Moses wisely takes the advice, relieving him of the heavy burden of trying to go it alone.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (NIV), tells us, Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.  For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!  Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone?  And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”  There truly is strength in numbers.

Isolation is particularly risky for Christians.  Pastor Paul David Tripp discusses the perils of isolation for the clergy in his book titled, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry. According to Tripp’s research, many pastors feel lonely and isolated.  A study by the Schaffer Institute showed that over 1,700 pastors leave the ministry every month. Seventy percent of pastors constantly fight depression. Eighty percent of believe their pastoral work has negatively affected their families.  However, feelings of loneliness and isolation are not limited to members of the clergy.

Christians are all members of God’s church on Earth.  1 Corinthians:12 describes how individual Christians, each blessed with different gifts from God, are necessary for the proper functioning of the church. Each body part serves the others.  Christians were designed by God to function best when working with and in the presence of other Christians.

Acts 17:1-2 says it was Paul’s custom to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath day.  Luke 4:16 tells us it was Jesus’ custom to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath day.   When Paul won new converts to the faith, he gathered them into small churches, which usually met in private homes.

With so many examples before us, how can Christians do otherwise?  Yet many choose not to attend church, insisting they can worship God on their own. Many have turned sour towards the church because of some sort of hurt they experienced there.

On the night when he was betrayed by Judas, Jesus told his disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  (John 13:34-34, ESV)  Obeying this commandment requires reaching out to other people.  It cannot be done living in isolation.

Hebrews 10: 24-25 (ESV) tells us, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

If you’re a Christian, attending church isn’t simply that you need the church; the church needs you as well!  Fellow believers can be blessed by your participation in ways you’ll never know. Likewise, you will be blessed by just “hanging out” with your brothers and sisters in Christ.  A church is not a building; it is a collection of people who gather together to seek God.  Don’t try to go it alone.  It will lead to loneliness and isolation.  Choose to participate!

“Despite the slowness, the infidelity, the errors and sins it committed and might still commit against its members, the Church, trust me, has no other meaning and goal but to live and witness Jesus.”

                                                                                                                                                     —Pope Francis

A Christmas Alternative

Christmas Gifts

The cornucopia (or horn of plenty), a symbol from Greek mythology, is widely recognized as representing food and abundance.  Over the years, it has become associated with certain religious holidays in Christianity, Judaism and Islam—Christmas, Hanukkah and Eid al-Fitr respectively.

Most Americans enjoy a cornucopia of blessings every day.  The majority of us have enough to eat and adequate clothing and shelter to meet our basic needs. Some have far more than they need. Unfortunately, not everyone is so blessed.

Have you ever struggled with selecting a holiday gift for a relative or friend who has almost everything he or she needs?  Far too many people end up purchasing unneeded or unwanted gifts that eventually get stuffed in a drawer, tossed in the trash or simply set aside and forgotten. There’s a better way!

Alternative Gifts International (AGI) is a way to give meaningful presents to people who have virtually everything they need.  The AGI movement was begun in 1980 by Harriet Prichard, director of a Presbyterian children’s ministry in Pasadena, Calif. AGI started in a small market where shares of goods and livestock for needy people in Third World countries were sold.

The idea was to give gifts that could make a real difference to an individual, family or village. For instance, a present of a milk cow or a means to purify water can truly change lives for impoverished people living in remote areas of Africa.

Prichard’s idea was so popular that five Pasadena-area churches held markets the next year. By 2004, there were more than 325 Alternative Gifts markets in the United States. The movement has now spread to Britain, the Netherlands, Japan and Korea.  There are opportunities to give both domestically and in foreign countries.

Here is how Alternative Gifts works:  Instead of buying that symbolic gift that might soon be put away or discarded, consider making a donation to AGI on behalf of a friend or loved one. Instructions are located on the “give a gift” tab of AGI’s website at www.alternativegifts.org.

When you make a donation through the website you can write a short message to the individual you want to honor. AGI will send that person a card announcing your alternative gift.

Perhaps you would prefer helping people in your local community; the needs are great and the opportunities plentiful in whatever town you live in.  During this Advent season, when some of us tend to overeat, there are many who haven’t enough food.  You might consider supporting a local food pantry. Many of these are experiencing significant shortages.  Many local churches host food pantries that could use your support as well.  The Salvation Army also offers gifts of food, clothing, shelter and various other services to the needy in most areas.  Donations of time and treasure are all welcome.

Even if you’re short on money, you can still give a gift of time. Consider spending Christmas day volunteering at a local soup kitchen or homeless shelter.  I promise you will find it rewarding—a gift to yourself more than a gift to others.

For those who are able, I encourage you to share your blessings with others and consider giving alternative gifts this Christmas. Make a donation to AGI or one of the many worthy charities in your area. Better yet, consider alternative gifts throughout the year and make a real difference in someone’s life the next time you give.

Whatever you do, never forget the real meaning of Christmas as expressed in John 3:16:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (ASV)

May God bless us all in the coming year!