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.

Christmas Carol Classics: Joy to the World

“Joy to the World, the Lord has come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the World, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.”

On this eve of Christmas I want to take a moment to pause and consider the words and story of this famous Christmas carol.  While you listen to the carol, let’s take a look at the story behind it.

Joy to the World was written by Isaac Watts based on the second half of Psalm 98 in the Bible.  It was first published in 1719.  Watts wrote it thinking about not the first Christmas but the second coming when Jesus returns one day.  The song is still one of praise rather than contemplation because God remains faithful to us as we wait through the (long) wait for Jesus’ return.  It’s also one of the most published Christmas hymns in North America and has been recorded by countless well-known artists.

As we await the arrival of Christmas Day just a little over an hour away where I am, Joy to the World is such a great reminder to celebrate this day.  We got such a gift from the birth of Jesus, one that hasn’t been matched since, but each year we give gifts to each other in a way of remembering and commemorating that gift that He gave.  So as you wrap a few last gifts and maybe try to calm the excitement in your hours and hope you get a few hours of sleep before the kids wake you up for gifts, take time to count your blessings and then celebrate them.  Just like on Thanksgiving we make time to give thanks, Christmas is a great time to celebrate all those things we are thankful for and the ways we’ve been blessed in our lives.  What are you celebrating today?

Looking Ahead This Christmas

We’re fully involved in the Christmas season now, there are lights everywhere, trees going up, songs being sung, plays being done, presents being hid and cheer being shared.  I love this season because it’s a time for us all to come together and celebrate life, and for people of faith the reason for hope.  In the church this period of time before Christmas is known as Advent. It’s when we’re supposed to prepare our hearts and lives for the day of Christmas.

So much of our lives are about preparing.  We go through school to prepare for our careers, we read books and take courses about kids to prepare for our kids, and we learn about health issues when we or loved ones have them to prepare for treatment options and negative possibilities.  We’re always looking ahead and thinking about what’s coming up, which is really a good thing.  Yes, we do spend time looking back and considering what we’ve done in the past (especially if we’re feeling guilty or working on improvements), and some of us do get stuck there.  And sometimes it seems like we spend so much time getting ready for stuff or thinking about the past that when we do actually get to a milestone it can feel anticlimactic, especially if we’ve got lots stuff yet to come that we’re still preparing for.

But the Christmas season is a reminder that while the journey never ends and there’s always a next step to prepare for, it’s super important to take time to stop and celebrate.  The angels stopped what they were doing to sing, the shepherds went to visit even though it was late and they were tired, the wise men stopped whatever they usually did and took a huge journey, and Mary and Joseph put their plans on hold to have Jesus.  I have no doubts though that if you asked any of them if they were glad that they took the time to stop in their regular lives and activities to make time to celebrate this important birth they would all tell you that it was one of the best moments of their life.

This upcoming Christmas may not be your best.  It may be one of your less-than-happy ones. And there certainly were moments in that first Christmas that were less than awesome.  But I’m confident that just like they found reason to celebrate some 2000 years ago, you’ll be able to find time and reason to do so as well.  Don’t let the season and the year end without taking time to stop and celebrate what you’ve accomplished and the difference that Jesus has made in your life and the ways that He’s preparing you for what’s next. What will you celebrate this Christmas?

Getting Involved with Christmas

We’re another week closer to Christmas, a week closer to the celebration of Jesus’ birth.  It amazes me every year as we get around this time that we have the blessing of celebrating Christmas another year.  It’s truly a gift, a joy, that not everyone can celebrate in the way that we do in the USA, with freedom to share our excitement and gather together.

There are a lot of emotions that we associate with the original Christmas story as well as our Christmases today, from joy and tenderness to pain and fear, but it’s joy that is most remembered with this  celebration.  As I was reading my devotions this week I was reminded that not only are we to count it all joy, but that we are to be full of joy in the Lord.  Joy isn’t something we can attain as humans, it needs God’s involvement, which is exactly what God did that first Christmas: He got involved.

Christmas is a time for us to celebrate with our families, but it’s also a time that we can use to help out in the community.  As a church, as a family, as a town we can help support the soldiers, donate food and time to help the homeless and be a little kinder to those we interact with.  How will you get involved this Christmas season?

“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.  How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!” Luke 1:46-47a

I Choose Joy

We’ve reached the last month of the year, can you believe it?!  I’m super excited to be in this month of holidays.  This month we’ll be changing things up a bit for the holiday season and each week I’ll be sending out the usual spiritual and monthly theme post, but rather than a “reality reflection” post we’ll be taking a look at some Christmas songs and carols (yes all the way up to the new year).  This month our theme will be joy!  Yes, I know we talked about enjoying life in October, but I don’t think that ‘enjoying’ something comes with the passion, heart or freedom that ‘joy’ does.

To start I want to talk about one of those differences between enjoying things and life, and joy: that of choice.  Like many things I believe that joy is a choice.  Yes, you will have moments in life that something good surprises you and you feel happiness. I believe that we have the choice to accept those moments and find joy in them, or you can stay focused on the hurt you’re feeling, the challenges you’re dealing with, the problems going on or just how miserable and awful your life is.  To think about the classic story of Scrooge, until he got a reality check of exactly what his unhappiness was doing to him and others and the way his life would go if things didn’t change, his choice wasn’t joy.  But once he got that reality check he chose to live his life with joy and consideration of others.

With the holidays season just beginning we’ve got a lot more days of crowded stores, busy streets, pestering for presents and “fun” family/work parties to attend.  Of course, you could choose to find the good in those moments and choose to share joy wherever you go this season, even if everyone else around you is grumpy.  I encourage you to make this your most joy-filled holiday season ever.  Don’t let what the news stations say about the state of the world deter you from spreading Christmas cheer.  Where will you start?

“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.”  Henri J.M. Nouwen

Aloha and Enjoy

We’ve got less than 10 days left in this month, a month we talk about two sometimes opposing topics: Halloween and enjoying life, with next week mostly devoted to talk of Halloween, today I want to talk about enjoying life again.  This week I heard a definition or translation of a word that we hear enough that most of us would recognize it, even if it’s not a word we use in our daily language. The word is aloha and the definition used was “to consciously manifest life joyously in the present.”  It’s a bit of a mouthful, but super powerful if you take the time to really get what it’s saying.

But this understanding of Aloha is exactly what we’ve been talking about this month on the blog: learning how to enjoy life each day.  Some days that enjoyment takes a bit more effort and consciousness to manifest, while other days it seems effortless.  Neither is wrong, especially when you’re getting started learning how to enjoy life, and even the wisest or most zen individuals have admitted to having a challenging day.  That’s all part of our life experience and how we’re supposed to live our lives.  It wouldn’t be much of a journey if it got handed to us on a silver platter.

I do believe though, that when you’re focused on the good, when you’re creating solutions and giving support to others, working towards better understanding of what goes on in our world, open to new experiences and perspectives, and generally moving with life rather than fighting, hating, rejecting or being apathetic towards it, life is typically easier, better and more enjoyable.

As you and your kids and/or friends pick out Halloween costumes or make last minute party plans I encourage you to think about the difference you would experience in your life if you were manifesting results beyond your wildest dreams as a regular part of your life.  What would change for you?  What would you do differently?

Enjoying Our Differences

This month we’ve been talking about enjoying life, enjoying each other, enjoying our world and enjoying God.  I know that what I enjoy in life may not be what you enjoy in life, and that’s OK.  That’s one of the reasons why the world we live in is so diverse.  If it wasn’t so diverse neither would we be, in fact we’d all look, sound and act a lot the same, and I can’t believe that our world would be anywhere as awesome as it is if we were so similar.

But as different as we are we also have to have similarities or we wouldn’t be able to live in relative harmony and partnership with each other.  Sure, there are wars and disagreements and the like, sometimes because we heard things wrong or don’t know how to communicate effectively using words, sometimes words aren’t effective when it comes to defending yourself, and sometimes people prefer to hate and hurt.  But back to our similarities, we all have feelings, have families (in whatever form they may come in), have dreams and goals and gifts and talents.

This week I read a passage that reminded me about the importance of respecting other people and their preferences.  It reminded me that just because I enjoy simple things and you may enjoy much more complex and complicated things, neither of our enjoyment should be less joyful than the other, nor should we reject or not be willing to try what other people enjoy simply because it’s different from what we enjoy.

I encourage you this week to be open to the joy of others and trying new things.

“Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them.  Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!”  Romans 12:14-16