Take Your Joy

John the Baptist exemplified the attitude of joy toward the Lord that all people would do well to follow.  People followed John and trusted him.  In fact, we see in Scripture that those followers were considered his “disciples.” 

Knowing that, imagine the depth of humility he possessed that enabled him to resist pointing to himself and choosing rather to point toward the ultimate Teacher.  John pointed to Jesus.

How did he know to whom to point?  John the disciple, wrote in the first chapter of John that John the Baptist knew Jesus and His role because God the Father revealed that to him.   An encounter that John could only explain by beautiful analogy opened the eyes of those there to witness the baptism of Jesus.  Searching for language, the disciple, illustrated the experience by speaking of a dove, a symbol of peace, resting upon the man named Jesus.  The Holy Spirit glorified the Son as He came up out of the waters of Jordan.         

Then John said these words . . .
I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.

Followers of Christ are called to reflect upon the greatest of relationships – their relationship with God.  

Is yours healthy?  Do you still feel that rush of love as you enter into God’s presence?

As you build up, work on, or enhance your relationship with God, I invite you to look to the life of John.  Notice what he did.

John testified. 

The people who encountered John knew, without a doubt, that John daily encountered the Lord.  John did not stop at seeing, he continued on to the telling.  John could not contain his joy.  His joy overflowed because he was in love with his Lord.

John’s willingness to see and to testify produced spectacular results in the kingdom of God. His joy was contagious. 

John’s Joy spread to Andrew;
- Andrew’s Joy spread to Peter;
- Peter’s Joy spread to the Gentile Cornelius;
- Cornelius’s Joy spread to the Gentile population of Jerusalem;
- the Gentiles of Jerusalem's Joy spread through the Middle East;
- and the Joy just kept on spreading. 
Because of John’s selfless Joy' we have Joy; for that Joy that began in him continues in its contagious state today. 

People can take nearly everything away from you if they so choose; but, as a believer, they cannot take your Lord or your joy.

The words of an old spiritual still ring true:
This joy that I have, the world didn’t give it to me.  This joy that I have, the world didn’t give it to me.  The world didn’t give it and the world can’t take it away.
Don’t let our world take your joy away.  Instead, take your joy to the world. The world needs to hear it.


Just over a week ago, Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon died.  In 1972, as Cernan explored the lunar surface, certainly he peered upon the Montes Apenninus, the massive mountain range on earth's great nightlight.  Among the various peaks that rise in that range stands Mons Wolff.  Mons Wolff received its name from those who wished to honor Christian von Wolff.  Today marks the three hunded and thirty-eighth anniversary of Wolff's birthday.  Few people outside the fields of philosphy, mathematics, and science know his name.  Fewer still can speak of his accomplishments.  However, a peak on our moon bears his name.

As I reflect on that fact, I wonder how many monikers given to peaks, lands, and valleys or names ascribed to historical sites belonged to men and women now broadly forgotten.

  • Do you know what Cleisthenes introduced? 
  • How familiar are you with Mary Anning's story? 
  • If you paid attention in Sunday School or Old Testament class, you might be able to speak knowledgeably as to Huldah's contribution. 
  • Just two days ago I was surprised to learn that my wife does not know of a person who I thought "everyone" knew. 
  • Immediately following that conversation, a friend mentioned a well-known speaker.  Up to then, I had never heard his name. 

Similarly, only last week I learned of George Spalatin.  Spalatin rubbed shoulders with the likes of Martin Luther.  It is said of Spalatin that "there is scarcely any fact in the opening history of the Reformation which is not connected in some way with [his] name." (Wikipedia)

With the exception of Luther and Huldah, until recent days, I knew not one name mentioned in this post.  Nevertheless, those bearing those names accomplished such things as:
     - walking on the moon
     - speaking for democracy
     - impacting palaeontology
     - sparking a massive reformation of a religion

Google and a few people know their names.  Nevertheless, in their own Ordinary way, they impacted the world. 

Perhaps a mountain will bear your name over 300 years after your birth; a brown sign indicating a pullout on the highway may tell a story of your life.  Who knows?  But, most likely, other than your descendants who may Google you or look for you on ancestry.com, will anyone remember you?

Are you okay with that?

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.
Romans 12:1 (The Message)

The Mess

In his recently published book, John Hambrick challenges his readers to Move Toward The Mess.  He suggested this route as a remedy for boredom.  Move Toward The Mess is a worthy read that contains apt challenges to the reader to pursue purpose in service, particularly in regard to accepting opportunities to minister in which one might feel less than comfortable and/or qualified. 

As a fan of the Ordinary, I hope his readers are not drawn to make conclusions that they must move into extraordinary places or radical adventures in order to prove their faithfulness.  Each reader can Move Toward The Mess right where they are.  Surely, as Hambrick agrees, we need not look far to find messes – they are all around us – they are often self-made. 

Perhaps my favorite chapter from Hambrick’s book is the seventh. 

A spiritual cancer is ravaging the church in America. It twists the Christian life into a caricature of what God intends it to be.  It warps our understanding of our heavenly Father.  It robs the cross of is power.  It makes Christianity look unattractive to any marginally healthy unbeliever.  And it turns moving toward the mess into a graceless tangle of joyless religious legalism.  And you know what?  I bet it's something you or somebody you know struggles with.

The spiritual cancer I'm talking about is chronic guilt.  Of course there is such a thing as appropriate guilt - a periodic pang of guilt can discourage us from doing something destructive.  But that's not what we're talking about here.  We're talking about guilt that has become constant and malignant.  We start feeling guilty all the time about all sorts of things  That kind of guilt can kill your faith.  (81)

In his wise words, he challenges us to leave guilt behind, not the “appropriate guilt” mind you, but the guilt that eats away as a cancer.  I know so many followers of Christ who hinder their travel on the journey of living the Ordinary Life with regrets of what they wish they could do, what they wish they hadn’t done, and feelings of being ill-equipped and therefore unable to make a significant Kingdom impact. 

I think often of the words of the Apostle Paul.

22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?
Romans 7:22-24 (NIV)

Paul’s honesty here really impresses me.  I’m sure that was not his intent; nevertheless, it does.  He writes from his gut – a conflicted gut.  Indigestion, most like.  Yet, thankfully, he found and, therefore, points to the solution. 

Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Romans 7:25a (NIV)

In the chapter that follows his seventh, Paul writes those most encouraging of words . . .

38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  
Romans 8:38-39

“Nor anything else” certainly includes guilt. 

Please share your thoughts about this blog.  If you are the first to respond, I will send you a copy of Move Toward The Mess.

Hambrick, John. Move Toward The Mess. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2016.

An Interesting Word and the Universal Question

After our plane landed in Anchorage and we retrieved our luggage, we waved a taxi.  I engaged the driver in conversation.  I learned of his roots (Yugoslavia) and his nearly thirty-year ago move to Alaska.  He likes our relatively sparsely populated state and rarely visits his homeland.  He does, however, speak of his homeland and remembers the days of war that occurred in the 90s and discusses the struggles that remain.  We spoke of those struggles in Europe, of our own in America and Alaska, and taxes (It’s amazing how much one can learn in a brief $22 drive).  As we neared my neighborhood I, feeling led by my Lord to do so, spoke of hope and prayer.  He received the words well and agreed.  I smiled, paid the fee, shook his hand, and wished him a good evening.  Little did I know how fitting those words of hope and prayer would be for the following AM. 

I’ll explain. 

She spoke calmly as she informed the travelers in the terminal that their flight had been canceled.  They awaited more information.  Meanwhile, my family and I departed on our flight from the same terminal giving little thought to those left waiting.  The next morning as I removed the newspaper from the orange plastic wrap and read, I knew the reason for the cancellation – Esteban Santiago’s shooting spree.  Santiago took five lives, physically wounded six others, and caused emotional trauma to innumerable travelers and loved ones. 

I don’t know if the helpful airline agent knew the reason for the delay she announced.  If not, she was merely passing along needed information.  If she did, then she wisely withheld knowledge best not known by the soon-to-be air-bound passengers.  With wheels now on the ground, all know the reason.

Reason.  There’s an interesting word. 
Why?  There’s a universal question. 

When events like the one in Fort Lauderdale occur, reason and why? enter the conversation.  Investigators probe the case and psychologists analyze the shooter seeking answers; so, too, do we.  We seek answers from God. 

He is quite familiar with our questions.  They are as old as Genesis, perhaps even Eden. 

I do not attempt here to provide answers.  I join you in the asking. 

I do, however, point to hope. 

I point also to prayer. 

Recall the words of the Apostle Paul – (Philippians 4:4-9)

4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
That “rejoice” part is a bit difficult to swallow at times.  When it is, proceed to the “gentleness” and “do not be anxious” steps (they will help you with your ability to swallow when you return to the first step) and continue on to the suggested topics of thought – Truth, nobility, etc.  Those topics certainly cheer the hearts of those whose minds are consumed with reflections on death, taxes, and “reasons.”  We never should turn a blind eye to the troubles of this world or retain a callous heart toward those in pain.  At the same time, surrendering to constant reflection on the less than noble and quite unlovely fails to bring about even one thing excellent and praiseworthy.     

Think.  Live.  Love.  Hope.  Pray. 

And the God of peace will be with you. 

The Starting Line

With five words, the biblical author set the tone for all of Scripture and for all of life.  “In the beginning God created.”  Those words communicate the truth.  For as Professor John Sailhamer wrote, “. . . God alone is eternal and . . . all else owes its origin and existence to him” (Expositor's, p. 20).  These words point to the source, they point to what Walter Bowie calls “a divine conception” (Interpreter’s, p 465).

In this first post of 2017, I focus on new beginnings.  Every new year is a good time to return to the starting line of life.  While there, ask to view the “replay.”  As we hit the play button, look closely to see if you exploded out of the blocks with determined purpose or if you got a false start.  Do you run with purpose?  Do you run with the right purpose?

24-25 You’ve all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You’re after one that’s gold eternally.
26-27 I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me! I’m staying alert and in top condition. I’m not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself.    
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (MSG)

As you run, you do not want to run aimlessly.  Running aimlessly leads us into the all-too-common “rat race.”  You are not a rat; therefore, by definition, you do not belong in their race.

However, far too many men and women end up in the rat race, running in circles, because they got a false start.  A clean start is key to your race. 
Join me at the starting line.  On that line that you cannot cross until you hear the gun you see the words, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

Those words introduce us to the biblical record.  Page one of the Bible sets the pace.  H.I. Hester, in his book The Heart of Hebrew History, points out that within the chapter that these words begin, “the expression ‘and God’ is found thirty times” (p 69).  God is the focus.  Is that true for you?

Perhaps you got off to a clean start. 
You experienced the love, encouragement, witness, and teaching of parents, teachers, ministers, churches and friends.  You discovered early in life, thanks to their influence, the truth of God’s purpose for you and the truth of His Lordship over all. 

Or, perhaps, for you the starter’s pistol misfired.
  You experienced the rejection, discouragement, harsh words, and neglect of parents, teachers, ministers, churches, and friends.  You reasoned early in life – thanks, or rather no thanks, to their influence - the philosophy of the futility of life and the concept of your lordship over your life.

Our race, the human race, contains more penalties, trippings, lane violations. and over-all random acts of carelessness than any other race.

Well aware of human nature, which has not changed at all since Adam and Eve and the Fall, the Hebrew author set out to remind his readers of the foundation of their existence.

“In the beginning God” coupled with “and God” thirty times, were his key tools of communication.  Is his message clear?  In a nutshell here it is,
     -    God, the eternal, created.
     -    God drew the starting line.
     -    You are here because of and for God.

I want you to start well in all that you do and to run well as you keep the pace.  Acknowledge God’s sovereign rule and adore Him and you will run with strength, purpose, and energy. 

One of my all-time favorite movies and one of only two songs I can play on the piano is, “Chariots of Fire.”  The star runner in the movie is Eric Liddell.  He is fast and he is a Christian.  In fact Eric says, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast.  And when I run I feel His pleasure.”

Run and feel His pleasure. 

For further reading:
  • Bowie, Walter R. The Interpreter’s Bible. Ed. George Arthur Buttrick. Vol. 1. New York: Abingdon, 1952.
  • Hester, H. I. The Heart of Hebrew History. Liberty, MO: Quality Press, 1962.
  • Sailhamer, John H. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Gen. Ed. Frank E. Gaebelein. Vol. 2. Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1990.