Counting it Joy

We’re less than a week away from the new year and I’m ready.  2016 had lots of new starts for me and taught me lots of lessons. I’m looking forward to a 2017 that in many ways is better than 2016 and contains opportunities to implement what I learned in 2016.  As we finish out the month and the year this week I want to take one last spiritual look at our topic of the month: joy.  It’s a great month to talk about this topic because we’ve celebrated Christmas and are in the midst of celebrating Hanukkah as well if that’s your holiday.  We take this month to celebrate the year we’re putting behind us and the people in our lives, no matter how often we see them, or whether or not we tell them what they mean to us.

As we head towards the finish line of this year, let’s consider James 1:2-4: “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.  For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.  So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” 

If you’ve been tested this year I encourage you to not give up.  Faith isn’t a guarantee of a stress-and-problem-free life, it’s a guarantee that you’ve got Someone going with you through everything, and the promise of something great at the end for those who believe and are saved.  Second, look for the joy. Sometimes it’s obvious that there’s joy happening around you and there are things to celebrate.  Other times you have to look a little harder to find it or make the joy yourself.

If you’re looking for some joy, we do have the new year just a few days away with 365 new days to find joy, but in all honesty each and every day is a new opportunity for you to find, create and share some joy.  So if you’re facing trouble or you meet someone who is facing trouble, I encourage you to not get dragged down by the challenges but instead to look for or share joy.  Even just choosing to share joy with someone in need can help you through your challenge as well.

How Do you Talk with Strangers?

Would you consider yourself an angry person?  How about someone who has lots of friends (real friends, those you actually know personally)?  Would those who know you say that you’re a generous person?  These are important things to know because like it or not we all deal with other people every day.  Sometimes we interact with those we know and other times we interact with strangers.  But whether the person is a stranger or a friend shouldn’t impact how you generally act towards them; for example, just because they’re a stranger doesn’t mean you should disrespect or ignore them. No, you may not give them a hug when you meet them like you might a friend, but you’ll still be civil to them.

But there are those who are overly suspicious of everything and everyone else, those who see the world as a half-empty glass, and those who believe that there aren’t many good people in the world.  We all have our bad days and misunderstandings or miscommunications, but that’s no reason to assume that the rest of the world is all bad and treat them as such.

You may not fall into the category of those who believe most of the world is bad, but you may have fallen into the habit of being snarky or treating friends in a certain (less than polite) way and it spills over to how you interact with everyone else you meet.  You may not even realize you’re doing it.

But James 1:19b reminds us to: “…be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.”  I’m going to pay more attention to how I interact with others this week.  You know why? Because it’s not just about those we personally and currently know, it’s about those we meet and the role they may play in our lives in our future too.  You don’t know what role a stranger you meet today may have in your life several weeks or months down the road, but if it’s a negative interaction they have with you now that may ruin the opportunities you could have with them in the future.  How do you treat others?

Gentle Yet Strong

Being gentle, like many other things, starts with a conscious choice.  Maybe it comes naturally to you now, after years of caring for your kids or family, or pets, but for many people being gentle is a rather foreign concept.  Which can be understandable.  We’ve all been hurt before and it can be much easier to be standoffish, distant, cold or harsh rather than feeling vulnerable if we put ourselves out there being kind and caring.  But this month I’ve been learning that gentle doesn’t mean being a pushover or not able to take care of yourself.

If we think about the example of parents of a newborn baby, you know that they are very careful with the new and precious life while still making sure that despite all protests that little life is cared for, fed, bathed and protected.  Parents who truly love their baby don’t leave it alone, don’t ignore needs and don’t get rough around the baby.

Another example is God.  It may not have always seemed that way to you, but God manages to be caring, strong, decisive and loving all when necessary. Throughout the Bible there are lots of examples of God standing up for His chosen people during various battles, loving and caring for people in the most amazing ways (crossing the Red SeaNebuchadnezzar and the fiery furnace), and forgiving countless people when He could have washed His hands of us or chosen to be an absentee God.

So don’t be deceived when it comes to gentleness. As much as it’s about light touches and love, those things are only there because we care.

“But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere.” James 3:17

Spring Starts

“Consider the farmers who patiently wait for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They eagerly look for the valuable harvest to ripen.  You, too, must be patient.” James 5:7b-8a

Spring is one of my favorite seasons!  I love the excitement, the feeling of fresh starts and all of the new life that appears.  Spring in nature is much like seasons of spring in our lives.  With spring we don’t immediately see the results of the showers, the clearing of snow and warming of temperatures.  We have to wait for the cherry blossoms, long sunny days and baby animals.

For farmers and other growers they go through this change of seasons and waiting every year with more anticipation than most of us.  For them if the season doesn’t go well they have a poor harvest that year.  You’ve probably seen the effects of the crazy weather we’ve had at your local grocery store.

The thing about spring that we haven’t learned yet is that its better to be patient and wait for the seasons to develop themselves than to force things to happen.  When we try to rush through things or rush people or plants, we can get in the way of the natural order of things.  I like being able to pick freshly grown vegetables and fruits at the store rather than waiting for mine to grow, but all of the modifications and chemicals we use to make things grow bigger and faster aren’t the best for our bodies.

We’ve tried to rush our lives and learning too.  But what I’m learning is that some things can’t be rushed.  Sometimes we have to try things out and wait for things to develop.  While we’re waiting we’re not supposed to do nothing however.  Like farmers who weed while the plants grow, we’re supposed to keep learning and working and making step-by-step progress.

What is God trying to teach you in this spring season of your life?  Are you open to the lessons He’s trying to show you or pushing as hard as you can to get through?

Joy and Trials

“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.” James 1:2-3

This verse catches many people off guard.  Who can be joyful when trials are going on?  Who actually enjoys going through life’s difficulties?  I know life is much more pleasant when you’re not struggling to make ends meet, work with a tough coworker, go through a divorce or death, or deal with a difficult kid.  Yet our lives are full of experiences just like these.  Most of us have a trial of some kind, big or small, every day (sometimes more).

I don’t think any trial is really meant to evoke feelings of joy when we’re dealt them.  I don’t think God’s up there smiling that we have a trial to go through, and I don’t think He really expects us to jump with excitement when we’re faced with trials.  But the joy James is referring to in this verse has much more to do with something we talk about quite a bit, your attitude.

If you’ve been hanging out on this blog for a while, you know that I believe that attitude is one of the most important things for each of us to work on.  Our attitude can make our break our careers, relationships and health even.  When we have a positive, upbeat attitude we can, like James suggests, view our troubles with joy (or at least with peace that we will get through with God’s help).  I’m not talking about the positive-all-the-time, drive-you-crazy positivity where nothing can go wrong and nothing can ever get you down.

People with positive attitudes like James mentions aren’t deluded into thinking nothing can hurt them.  Instead, they accept the reality of the situation and pray and seek counsil as to what to do about the situation.  And above all else, they don’t get permanently beaten down by the trial, they have the strength, one day, to get up and go on with life.

What about you?  Would a change in attitude help the situations in your life?  Maybe seeing things through different eyes would give you the solution you’ve been seeking.

Complete Faith

“You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete.”  James 2:22

What I’ve really learned over the last year of my life and through this month’s study on faith is that faith and hope are important, but they’re only completed through action.  I can have all the hope in the world that my business will work, but if I don’t take some actions, it will definitely fail.  I can have hope that my car will start each day, but unless I put the key in, I won’t know.  I can have faith that I’ve got the right friendships but unless I’m making an effort in those relationships I won’t have them for very long.

It’s not that I don’t have faith that things can happen all by themselves, it’s that I’ve learned that faith is supported and made complete by my actions.  In some cases hope or faith is realized because I took action.

It’s not enough for us to have hope or faith that the economy or climate will improve, it’s up to us to start taking actions that will help things change.

What actions have you been neglecting waiting for your hope or faith to work?  What could you do today to put action behind your faith?

Change and God

This month we’re talking about change.  In a bit of a reversal, I want to talk about what, or rather who, doesn’t change: God.

Genesis 31:5 says “But the God of my father hasn’t changed; he’s still with me.”

Numbers 23:19 says “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?”

Psalm 55:19 says “God, who is enthroned from of old, who does not change— he will hear them and humble them, because they have no fear of God.”

Hebrews 6:17-18a says “God also bound himself with an oath, so that those who received the promise could be perfectly sure that he would never change his mind.  So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie.”

James 1:17 “Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.”

You’re going to face a lot of changes, and your relationship and how you interact with God may change, but God himself does not change.  To me, this means that when I’m going through a new chapter in my life, I can rely on God being God, being that strong tower, that patient Father, giving friend, and wise and trustworthy soul.  I’ll never run out of His guidance or advice, He’ll always be there for me to lean on or learn from.  And He’ll always send me joyful reminders that He’s with me.

What does it mean to you that God doesn’t change?  Share your thoughts and reflections below.