Friday, December 18, 2009

Is JOY optional this Christmas?

This month's theme is JOY.  Joy is central to Christmas, yet can be one of the first things to disappear from our lives when difficult times come.  We're going to talk about how to give ourselves permission to have joy without fear of negating the losses we've experienced, and how to put on joy even when we don't feel joy.

1 Chronicles 16:27  Joy is in His dwelling place.  We are called to be in His place.  If we are in a joyless place, we can be sure we're not dwelling with God.

Joy and happiness are not synonyms.  They cannot accurately be used interchangeably.  True joy can only be experienced by Christians, as joy is a fruit of the Spirit and a gift from God.  Happiness is determined by the happenings in our lives, and can change at a moment's notice.  We can be unhappy, disappointed, etc, yet still have joy from God.

Galatians 5:22  Joy is a fruit of th Spirit. Just as we were given love, peace, patience...self control, we were given joy at the time of accepting Christ as our Lord and Savior.  We are promised to have joy.  But as with the other eight characteristics, we must choose to daily put on that joy, choose to exercise it.  For example, we've been given self control, but often choose to eat one more cookie, say the mean thing on the tip of our tongue, etc.  Self control must be exercised.  Joy also must be exercised.  It is a decision whether or not to practice having joy.  It's ok that it doesn't feel natural!  That's why it is a fruit of the SPIRIT and not a fruit of the flesh.

Ezra 6:22  The Lord filled the people with joy.  It reminds me of an example I used at a Bible study years ago.  Picture a huge bowl of popcorn, pretzels, nuts, raisins, m&ms, granola, butterscotch chips, etc.  If you were handed the bowl, you'd likely pick out your favorite pieces and eat them.  But if you were required to finish off the bowl, you'd probably not enjoy the last several handfuls.  Imagine that God has a similar bowl containing everything He has chosen and ordained for your life.  Each day He carefully and thoughtfully scoops one serving from your bowl and gives it to you.  If you could choose what would go in that scoop each day you'd avoid the hard situations, the losses, the disappointment.  But then the latter part of your life would be completely miserable and void of any good things!  We must trust that God gives us exactly the right mix each day.  One thing we can be certain is in our scoop each day is joy.  He fills us with joy each day.  Is your life reflecting that joy?  Is it simmering in your heart, permeating every area of your life?

Nehemiah 12:43  God gave the people great joy.  He gave it.  It is not a natural human response to have joy. It only comes from God.  The desires of our heart won't bring us joy.  It's normal to think that having a baby or another baby, or _____ will bring joy - and there would undoubtedly be joy within those experiences.  But true joy only comes from God - not from circumstances.

Esther 9:20-22  Mordecai encouraged the people to not forget what God had done (delivered them from Haman's evil plan), when their "sorrow was turned into joy and their mourning into a day of celebration."  Joy and pain go hand in hand.  They are two sides of the same coin.  Without pain, we won't recognize the joy that comes.  And when joy comes we only appreciate it by also remembering the pain.  The are inseparable.  God will flip the coin for you and show you the joy...but the pain side will always be right there.  That's not a depressing thought!  It goes along with October's theme of remembering.

Psalm 66  We are told to shout with joy, sing with praise.  Sometimes we become so short-sighted and can't see all God has done that is worthy of praise - and really, everything He has done is worthy of praise!  We must choose to shout for joy in spite of, and in the middle of our pain.  Some of the losses you've experienced are very big. They're life changing.  But in light of your entire life, in light of this century, in light of all time since Adam and Eve, and in light of eternity, right now is really short.

Psalm 71:20-24  Hard times have come, but God will bring blessings.  We must hang on to these promises and trust that He has a good future for us.  This psalmist is trusting God even before seeing the provision or the deliverance.  Even before he feels like praising, trusting, or living with joy.

Psalm 126  Those who sow in tears will reap joy.  Another promise to hang on to!  There are layers of joy.  First is the joy given us at salvation by the Holy Spirit.  Second is the joy God fills us with each day.  Third is the joy given to us in times of sorrow.

Proverbs 15:30  A cheerful look brings joy to the face.  Good news brings health to the bones.  Are we seeking good news or dwelling on bad news?  Are we giving cheerful looks and good news to others?  Even if the good news is small and seems insignificant - share it!  This too is a habit worth developing.  Focusing on the good things in life increase physical, emotional, and spiritual health.

John 15:9-11  " that your joy may be complete."  When we remain in Christ, it is His joy in us that we experience.  He makes our joy complete - wouldn't you love to have complete joy?  Our job is to obey His commands and to remain in Him.  This is a daily task.

Romans 12:12  "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer."  The commentary in my Bible said that "the certainty of the Christian's hope is a cause for joy."  We are certain of our eternal destination.  That alone brings hope, and joy.  If God did nothing for us besides save us from eternity apart from Him, we would have more than enough reason to have joy.  Yet we've been abundantly blessed.  This doesn't negate the losses you've experienced.  But it's important to hang onto a Godly perspective.

Romans 15:13  My job is to hope and trust.  God's job is to bring the joy.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18  "Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances.  For this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."  You want to know God's will?  Do these three things. Sure, we'd like it to be more clear, more descriptive of our actual life happenings.  But this is what God chooses to tell us.

Hebrews 12:1-3  Jesus...for the joy before Him...endured the Cross.  This really stood out to me.  Jesus found joy even in the terrible suffering of the cross because of joy - the joy of bringing eternal life to all of us.  His eternal perspective was so firmly intact that He chose to endure the pain.  His joy did not take away the pain, but made it worthwhile.  Surely if Jesus could do that for us, we can choose to have joy in the midst of our trials.

Christmas is often a time that many find it hard to express joy, especially when also suffering a loss.  It can be very difficult to rejoice with those who are sharing good things happening in their lives when you feel the good things have passed right over you.  But others are called to find joy just as we are, so we must not rain on their parade.  Yes, they are called to mourn with those who mourn.  But we're all called to joy.  And there is joy present in each situation for the Christian.  It is promised.  We can choose to practice it and reap its benefits.

Merry Christmas!  Each one of you are a cherished treasure.  While we would rather have met under different circumstances, we are so thankful and full of joy that you are in our lives!

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