Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Getting Unstuck





All of us have had the experience of getting stuck. Recently we experienced that in simply assembling a puzzle.  It started off just fine putting together the borders and then we separated some of the colors. We were excited when we found that there were a specific colors and designs that quickly fit together. But then we got stuck. 
Some are up to a challenge of a 5,000-piece puzzle but for others, it’s just too much of a challenge and we find ourselves stuck, We start wondering if we should continue or just put it all back in the box.
Sometimes getting stuck is a bigger issue. Perhaps it’s financial….We lose a job and the next thing we know we are about to lose our car or our home. We go to the doctor for a checkup and he says, “oh oh”….What do you mean oh-oh? Those are words we don’t want our physicians to say.
Perhaps some find themselves in a bad marriage, a bad job, or a bad neighborhood.  God wants us to have peace in these situations and can give us that peace.  Regardless of our situation, the scriptures remind us that we can be content for God has said, "I will never leave you, nor forsake you." (Hebrews 13:5)
But sometimes being stuck ends up becoming a true crisis.  How are we to find peace in the midst of a crisis? The Apostle Paul tells us that first of all, we need to focus on God instead of the situation. That's easier said than done, but that's what Paul means when he says, "Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I will say rejoice" (Philippians 4:4). Paul's not saying that we're happy about what we're going through; he's not even saying to rejoice in our difficulties. He's saying rejoice in the Lord, and that's something altogether different.
It’s possible to have joy in our lives not only when we are stuck but even in the midst of a crisis. True joy is the knowledge that God is in control of our circumstances and allows only that which He permits into our lives.  That's why the Apostle and brother of the Lord, James says to consider it joy when a trial comes our way. (James 1:2) 
It's not that the trial brings joy. Instead, it is what God is doing for us and in us through the trial. He is involved in our lives and is working through these situations. When we truly believe that God is involved, we will consider the trial joy and can find peace and rest in the Lord. In truth, our joy is in the Lord and is completely independent of our circumstances. That is why even in the midst of the worst situations we still worship God. That's what Job did when he lost his possessions and his family; he said, "Blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:21)

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Joyful in the midst of struggles

“Joyful Joyful” is a hymn written by Henry van Dyke, a US born, Presbyterian minister from Pennsylvania.  Van Dyke was born in 1852 and during his lifetime he was considered by many to be one of the leading Presbyterian preachers and religious leaders in the country.  
In addition to achieving fame as a preacher, he was a professor of literature at Princeton University, became a Navy chaplain during World War 1, and represented his country as an ambassador to Holland and Luxembourg under an appointment by President Wilson. He was a prolific writer of devotional material with many of his books being best sellers.
The hymn, “Joyful Joyful,” written by van Dyke was written to Ludwig van Beethoven’s, Ninth Symphony for the song called “Ode to Joy.” It was Beethoven's last symphony, took him six years to complete and is generally considered to be his greatest.
Many know that Beethoven by thirty years of age, had become completely deaf. It’s amazing to think that this Ninth Symphony and many others were written without his access to hearing what he composed.  A story is told that when the audience erupted with applause at the conclusion of the initial performance of the Ninth Symphony in Vienna, Austria, the singers on the stage had to turn Beethoven around so that he could see the audience standing and applauding.
Joyful Joyful is the best-known of van Dyke's hymns. The Hymn is based on Psalm 71.  The key verse is Psalm 71:23 which reads:

My lips will shout for joy
when I sing praise to You
because You have redeemed me. (HCSB)
I like to look at the context of the verse before I begin to teach.  In Psalm 71, the psalmist (David) is looking for deliverance.  While he is waiting for God to answer him, he reflects on the wonder of God and then shouts for Joy.
I wonder if this song was being written today it could be called  “Happy, happy, we adore thee?”
Today, people will want you to believe the words “joy” and “happy” are interchangeable, when in fact, they are not.
We may not always be happy, which is subject to my emotions and external stimuli; but, as believers, if we have faith in God, we can always be joyful in the Lord.
Here are some distinct differences:

  1. Happiness is a feeling, but joy is not.
  2. Happiness is fleeting, but joy is everlasting.
  3. Happiness depends on circumstances or other people, but joy is a gift from God.
  4. ‘Happiness’ comes from the root word that we get ‘happening’, as from the circumstances.  Joy is from the Greek GAIO meaning to ‘rejoice.’
  5. Joy is internal. Happiness is external. You may have a happy time at Disneyworld however when you leave you may lose that happiness.

The Bible answers the question of how we may have joy despite what is going on in our lives.
The Apostle Paul faced some very unhappy circumstances. However, in the midst of his struggles he wrote (Phil. 1:18b)“…I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice.”
Paul wrote this to the believers in Philippi while Paul was locked up in prison and facing an uncertain future.   The previous four years of Paul’s life were miserable. He spent two years in prison in Caesarea, and then he was put on a ship to go to Rome to appear before Nero (aka, the Caesar known for his cruelty against Christians).
On the way to Rome Paul is shipwrecked, stranded on an island, bitten by a poisonous snake, survived the winter there, continued on to Rome and spent another two years in prison awaiting trial to be executed.
Yet in spite of all of these situations, Paul says in Phil. 1:18b “…I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice.”
What was Paul's secret? How did Paul remain so positive in prison, riding above his troubles, and being joyful in spite of the fact that everything has not turned out the way he planned it?
The secret I believe was that Paul knew not only knew who he was but more importantly he knew whose he was …..He was loved by God, called to be an Apostle, a messenger, an Ambassador of God.
Do you know whose you are?   You are called to be a child of God.  Because of God, because of whose we are, the Bible says that we are to consider even our trials to be joyful.
James, the brother of the Lord, wrote in James 1:2-4 Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.
As we persevere through trials, with God’s help, our faith strengthens and matures. By God’s grace we can be happy despite our circumstances.

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