"What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!'"
December 21, 2016
My pastor (who happens to also be my sister!) preached a couple weeks ago on Sunday morning, then taught again during our mid-week service, about joy. Hearing those teachings has started me thinking about this subject. I'd like to share some of what Janie preached, as well as what has been been on my heart.
Joy is important to God! The words joy and rejoicing are found over 300 times in the Bible. It's something that God desires for each of us to experience, not only occasionally, but 24/7. Joy is often a choice that we have to make. Grief, fear, worry, sadness, and anger come naturally and with little or no effort, but joy is generally something we have to work at maintaining.
Having joy isn't based upon your feelings or situation, but can be found regardless of what is going on in your life. Why? Because joy is found in the Lord, not in your situation. Even during periods of grief or sorrow or worry, we can feel and know and express true, heart-felt joy.
The night of the birth of Jesus, there were a group of shepherds out in the fields nearby Bethlehem, keeping guard over their sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord's glory surrounded them. They were terrified!
Think about what it would be like, if you had been in their shoes: You're outside, in the dark, doing a job that you've done for many years. You're guarding your flock, making sure that no wild animals come to do the animals harm. You're keeping count, to make sure that none of your sheep wander away. Perhaps the shepherds had just checked on their sheep and walked around the perimeter of the field to make sure everything was quiet. They may have all been sitting in a group, chit-chatting and laughing and trying to stay awake; perhaps joking and teasing one another. Perhaps they were talking about their families. They may have been scattered out throughout the field, watching over their own flocks, or the flock belonging to their family. Whatever they were doing, it was a night like hundreds of others before. This was their job, this was how they made their living. It was probably somewhat mundane and boring, even may have been lonely.
Suddenly, an angel appeared and the a bright light shown down upon them. That would be quite startling!! I'm sure that we'd all be fearful and wonder what in the world was going on! What if something like that happened while you were at work doing your daily job, or were in bed asleep and this woke you up in the middle of the night?! It would be terrifying! If they men weren't already in a group, they may have all started running to a central point so that they could be together.
The angel of the Lord knew that his sudden appearance brought fear, so the angel said, "Don't be afraid! [Some versions of this scripture says, 'Fear not!'] I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior -- yes, the Messiah, the Lord -- has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!" The angel went on to tell them where they would find the baby, and that He would be lying in a manger.
Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others -- the armies of heaven -- praising God and saying, "Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased." (Luke 2:8-14 NLT)
The angel declared that the news of the birth of Jesus will bring joy to all people. That wasn't just for those who were alive during that time in history. Remembering the birth of Jesus and why He was sent to earth is still good news and will bring not only joy -- but great joy!
Not only was there joy when Jesus was born, but He found joy when it came time for Him to face persecution and the suffering of the cross. What?!? How as that even possible?
Hebrews 12:1-2 (NLT) says, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially that sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of joy awaiting Him, He endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now He is seated in the place of honor beside God's throne."
In Matthew 26:39, Jesus is in Gethsemane, praying one last time before His arrest and crucifixion. He bowed His face to the ground in prayer and said, "My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from Me. Yet I want Your will to be done, not mine." In verse 42, Jesus again prayers, "My Father! If this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done."
Jesus knew what was getting ready to happen. He knew that there was going to be great suffering. Yet He was willing to endure the cross, on our behalf. That's a lot of love!! Because of the joy that Jesus knew awaited Him, upon His resurrection, He endured the cross and disregarded its shame. He anticipated the great joy of once again being reunited with His Father; knowing that it would come to pass only after He endured the reason for Him coming to earth.
Using this example of Jesus, does that mean that we can also find joy in the midst of suffering, grief, hardships, disappointments, sorrow, or worry? Surprisingly, the answer is a resounding, "YES!"
Psalm 30:5, 11-12 says, "For His (the Lord's) anger lasts only a moment, but His favor lasts a lifetime! Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning. You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy, that I might sing praises to You and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give You thanks forever!"
Most times, we think of grief being the deep sorrow that is felt after the loss of a loved one. While we do experience grief during those times, we may also grieve other times as well. We may grieve the loss of a broken relationship or marriage; the loss of a close friendship; the loss of a career or being passed over for a big promotion..... we may also grieve over deplorable or shameful choices we made in our past; loss of a home and possessions after a catastrophe; financial loss; health issues that affect our lives -- whether it be our health or someone close to us; we grieve the loss of a person and who they used to be, when Alzheimer's strikes and steals their minds. There are many things that can cause grief in our our lives. I'm sure that we've all experienced grief in one way or another; perhaps in several ways. When it strikes, can we find joy? Do we allow grief to steal all joy, leaving us depressed and lonely and saddened and disheartened? God wants to turn our mourning into joy! It can only happen when we focus upon Him and look ahead to what our future in Him may be. Not what our present is with the loss of whatever it is that we grieve, but in the hope and future that God has in store for us. If Jesus can look ahead to the joy that awaited Him, when He knew that the cross was what was awaiting Him in the upcoming hours; surely, we can find joy in what awaits us.
Why does the Lord allow His favor to rest upon us, giving us joy after times of weeping and mourning? So that we might sing praises to Him and not be silent. So that we can give Him thanks forever. Even in life's toughest circumstances, we can find reasons to rejoice and praise God!
Two years ago, the deaf church that we attend, purchased our own property and buildings. We have faced one roadblock after another in trying to get city permits, in order that we can remodel and do the work that needs to be done on the buildings. The latest obstacle being that we hired an older architect, have paid him money, thought he was doing the needed work to get the needed permits -- even though it was moving very slowly. We found out that he possibly may have some dementia, and no longer has a valid architect license, so everything we've thought that he had done the past few months really hasn't been done. We meet in a house that's on the property, with plans to remodel the large metal building and make that our sanctuary. It's been frustrating, feeling as if we can't make any headway in going forward, like we would like. Last Thursday, during our midweek service, someone asked if anything of significance had really happened since we've moved there two years ago.... did people wish we had of stayed where we had been. We started thinking about all that had happened during the last couple of years: people who had started attending the church and became involved, a lady being healed, the families who have started fostering kids and even adopted, people who could come more often due to the location of the church being more convenient, people in the community that we've been able to help, etc. As we started reminiscing, the list kept growing and we realized just how much God had done for us. In the midst of all the frustrations, we could still be thankful and rejoice. We can find joy, even though things haven't been going like we would want.
Philippians 4:4 (NLT) says, "Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again -- rejoice!" The KJV says, "Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice."
This scripture doesn't mean to be full of God's joy and rejoice, only if we feel like it or if things are going well or as we would want. It says always.... as in 24/7.... rejoice in the Lord!! Joy cannot be found in people or in our situations, but can only be found in the Lord!!
In Nehemiah chapter eight, the wall had been rebuilt around Jerusalem and Ezra, the scribe, began to read the Book of the Law of God to the people; while the Levites explained what the meaning of what was being read, so that the people could understand. The people were weeping as they listen to the words of the Law. Nehemiah spoke up and told them, "Don't mourn or weep on such a day as this! For today is a sacred day before the Lord your God."
In Nehemiah 8:10, Nehemiah continues, "Go and celebrate with a feast...... share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared..... Don't be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!"
When you feel dejected and sad.... when you are grieving.... when you are worried about the future or about your children or about the economy or about finances.... when people are criticizing and judging you... when your situation seems too difficult.... when you feel like you've made one mistake after another.... when you've prayed and waited and prayed some more, yet nothing seems to happen... when your body is sick or pain is your constant companion.... when you're watching a loved one suffer or dealing with incurable health issues.... when you lose your job and you don't know how your bills are going to be paid.... when someone close to you turns their back on you and severs the relationship that you shared..... when you're lonely and feel like no one cares..... when depression seems to be a constant battle.... when you feel as if you're fighting the same battle or are trying to get out of the same rut over and over again.... when life seems unfair and is just stinky.... allow the joy of the Lord to be your strength!! Don't look to yourself or others or potentially detrimental habits.... don't try to find a quick fix......don't wallow in self-pity... don't remain in the constant rut of guilt or condemnation....; but focus on God. True joy can only come from Him!! A deep-seated joy that nothing or no one can rob or steal; but a joy that will last and endure, regardless of what life brings.
As you celebrate Christmas, allow your heart to once again hear the words that the angel spoke over 2,000 years ago: "Don't be afraid! Do not fear! I bring you good news that will bring you great joy!" That good news is still very real and relevant today! That great joy can be yours today; not only a one-time joyful experience, but an ongoing, joy that will never go away!
It may not come natural and may not be something that comes easily. But practice joy! Practice rejoicing! Practice being thankful! Make a conscious choice to not allow negative feelings to be your "go to", ongoing, normal reactions; but choose joy!
It's not a fake, made-up joy. Life is going to be tough sometimes. There are going to be times when what we go through is going to stink and not seem fair. Having joy doesn't mean that we laugh and pretend as if nothing is wrong; but it means that when we do go through difficult situations, we keep our focus on God and hold onto trust in Him. Maintaining joy when life is hard means that even when we may "feel" like giving up or want to stay in bed all day or wallow in self-pity; we have that promised peace that surpasses all understanding. It means that we have a calmness and exude peace and people can see the joy of God in how we handle each situation. They see Jesus in us! We can still have a thankful heart and find reasons to rejoice, even when life pulls the rug out from under us.
Make this Christmas and 2017 a year of becoming a rejoicing, joyful person! "Always be filled with joy in the Lord -- and again I say, Rejoice!!" Make that your mantra, your lifestyle, your mindset!!
Christmas is great, especially for kids or those that shop early. We can count on it, and count down the days. Some of us see dwindling days to finish our shopping, but we still know when the great day is coming, and can get excited, too.
We know Jesus is coming back, too. But since we don't know the day, we don't get to count down. So many of us quit getting excited about it. We know we will have a joy we can't even imagine in this life. We know it will be fantastic. But it didn't come last week, or yesterday, or today. So we tend to lose the hope and eagerness we might have felt before.
Do you remember a time when you were excited and hopeful that Jesus could come just any day? Try to hold onto that memory. It's still true now, even if you might not hold onto it as tightly.
Crockpot Peanut Clusters
1 (16 oz) can salted dry roasted peanuts
1 (16 oz) can unsalted dry roasted peanuts
1 (12 oz) package semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 (4 oz) package Baker's German chocolate
32 ounces white almond bark
Spray crockpot with cooking spray. Place peanuts in the bottom of the crockpot, mixing the salted and unsalted peanuts together. Add chocolate chips, German chocolate, and almond bark. Cover and cook on low setting for about 90 minutes. Stir so that contents are well combined. Cook an extra 15 minutes if the chocolate is not completely melted. Line baking sheets with wax paper. Place rounded spoonfuls onto wax paper and allow to cool. Store in an airtight container.
My 5-year old great-nephew, Ben, recently explained Christmas like this:
"Jesus still gets presents at His birthday; all the people who die and go to Heaven are His gifts. I mean, He doesn't always want to just be with His Father -- He likes to be with other people, too!"
All the Christmas presents in the world are worth nothing without the presence of Christ. - unknown
We love you!
Loretta & Jon