Category Archives: The Joy of the Lord

Fools Gold

Hope Remains, latest novel by the author

Fools Gold – a brassy yellow mineral, especially pyrite, that can be mistaken for gold

“There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only  by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus Christ.” Blaise Pascal French Mathematician 1623-1662

Wasn’t it the Rolling Stones who could get no satisfaction after trying and trying and trying?

King Solomon tried all manner of worldly delights to satisfy his emptiness.[1] Denying himself nothing he saw around him, he concluded that it was all “vanity and striving after the wind.”  Ecclesiastes 2:11b (NASB)

Trying everything, but failing to find joy, Solomon was left hopeless and despondent. “I hated life, for the work which has been done under the sun was grievous to me, because everything is futility and striving after wind.”  Ecclesiastes 2:17 (NASB)

He would later conclude, that God has set eternity in the hearts of men.[2] Solomon had the means to attempt to fill his deep need for satisfaction and joy with all the world has  to offer. None of it worked. At the end of his search, he hated life because he recognized the utter futility of trying to fill the eternal hole in his hearts with anything around him.

God designed our hearts for joy. We were intended to be fulfilled by God  Himself, the fullness of all joy.[3]

Until we realize that true joy and fulfillment comes from God himself, our lives will be endless pursuits of fleeting, temporal, pleasure which only lead to idols and addictions.

If temporal pursuits could fulfill us, wouldn’t those in society who have gained all the success, money and fame possible be the happiest among us? Are they?

Challenging Questions to Ponder: Is there something you’re looking forward to, or hoping for, which you believe will finally bring you fulfillment and happiness? Moving out on you own? Completing college? Getting married? Buying your own house? Getting out of debt? Getting promoted at work? Having children? Starting your own business? Publishing a book? Having good health? Having grandchildren? Retiring? Winning the lottery?

These can be good things, but will they provide lasting fulfillment?

What is the overall goal of your life? Happiness or a growing relationship with the Creator of the Universe?  Desiring happiness is not a bad thing, but true joy is a by product of our relationship with God through Jesus the Christ. It’s how He made us.

Prayer:  Lord, help us not to fall into Solomon’s trap. The glitter of riches, fame, success and pleasure can keep us in a boundless pursuit of fool’s gold. If we could carry this quest to the ends that Solomon did, we too would find it a vain pursuit, a chasing after the wind. Lord, may we seek you, the pearl of great value, worthy of our all.[4] 

 What is the chief end of man?  Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.   (From The Westminster Shorter Catechism,completed in 1647 by the Westminster Assembly)

[1] Ecclesiastes 2:1-10

[2] Ecclesiastes 3:11

[3] Psalm 16:11b

[4] Matthew 13:46

Life’s a Grind Without the Oil of Gladness

To grant those who mourn in Zion,
Giving them a garland instead of ashes,
The oil of gladness instead of mourning,
The mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting.
So they will be called oaks of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified. Isaiah 61:3 

Trying to live the Christian life without relying on the Indwelling Spirit of Christ is like running an engine without oil.

On a couple of occasions I’ve neglected the vital upkeep of adding motor oil to various vehicles. One resulted in the demise of the Wheel Horse tractor I inherited from my grandfather. And if it wasn’t for the durability of Toyota truck engines, the other would have left my brother and I stranded on the side of the highway between Columbia, SC and Athens, GA. Good thing he noticed the red light on the dash board. It was almost three quarts low.

Sometimes I’m a slow learner, but I got it now; Engine oil is critical for lubrication, minimizing friction and cooling the pistons. It’s the very lifeblood of an engine.

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Only with Jesus can we Live the Christian Life

I’m learning the same thing about the Holy Spirit in my spiritual life.[1] For years I thought my job as a Christian was to model my life after the Jesus I read about in the Bible; trying really hard to have peace, patience, kindness, self-control and joy. If you’ve tried this yourself, you know the futility of this kind of effort. Sooner or later we all discover that there’s only one person who can live the Christian life and it’s not us; it’s Jesus in us.

Coming to the End of Ourselves

Often it takes a crisis for us to realize we can’t live without Christ. We come face to face encounter with our failures and inabilities. Not fun, but necessary. More often than not these failures are revealed in our relationships with those we love. When this happens, we find ourselves at a crossroad in life.

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At the Crossroad

In the midst of emotional turmoil we often choose to numb our pain with our coping mechanism of choice, but this delays the inevitable. Pain is an alarm to be heeded. Pain screams, “Take your hand off the stove!” Denying the pain only deepens it’s affect until  it takes over our lives completely.

Another choice is to realize our desperate need for Jesus.  Humbly turning to Him, we admit  our inabilities to love without Him. There may be dark nights of the soul, huddled only with our Lord, but full surrender leads to life changes.  “Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5b

Summary of the Christian Life

Out of Paul’s sufferings He wrote:

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Spiritually, we have died.  Christ, by His Holy Spirit, has taken up residence in our lives. We no longer have to try harder, but must depend upon Him to be our patience, our goodness, our peace, our self control, our joy.

Ours is to rest in the fact that He is at work in us.

Ours is to yield to His Spirit, realizing that apart from our vital connection to Him, we can do nothing of true value.[2]

Trying to live without dependence upon the Holy Spirit is like an engine without oil, a ‘grinding it out’ in a swirl of activity; movement without lubrication, joyless friction.

Burnout or Joy

Recipe for a life of burnout: Live in the swirl of activities with no awareness or dependence upon the Holy Spiri; going through the motions in your own energy and strength. Just do it. It’s all up to you.

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Recipe for a life full of joy:  Realizing we were designed to run on the oil of gladness. [3]  choose a life of overflow as you yield to the Spirit of Jesus in you to love whoever God puts in your path.

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Challenge: Is there an area of your life in which you’re just going through the motions, an area in which you feel burned-out in? If so, come to Jesus.  Realize that you were not designed to operate without His Spirit, the Oil of Gladness. Recognize your inability to live even one moment without full dependence upon Christ,  allow His Spirit to refresh your life giving you His Joy.

“He must increase and I must decrease.” John 3:30

Prayer:  Dear Lord Jesus, thank you so much for dying for me and securing a place in our Father’s presence. Thank you for sealing us with the promised Holy Spirit, a pledge of our inheritance and the power and lifeblood of our lives. Keep me ever yielded to you that I might love others as you have loved me.

[1] The Holy Spirit is widely symbolized by anointing oil. See Luke 4:18

[2] John 15:5

[3] John 7:37-39

 

What is Abundant Life?

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. John 10:10

It’s Saturday morning in South Carolina. Though it’s before 10 am, it’s already hot and I have a fan whirling. I sip my coffee and watch the birds visit the three bird feeders we’ve placed beyond the reach (at least for now) of relentless squirrel visits.

I love Saturday mornings. Unless I’ve packed my schedule too tightly, there’s time to sit and relish God’s nearness.

This morning I read John 10:10. I pause at the promise of abundant life.

Abundant Life. What does it really mean?

Through our country’s eyes, abundance has a lot to do with possessions. Yet we know this kind of abundance doesn’t produce abundant life.

Statistic show that half the world’s wealth is in the hands of 1% of the population. Can these 1% say their possessions have given them abundant life? History is dotted with sad stories that say no. Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe, Howard Hughes and Earnest Hemingway are just a few who lived in abundance of possessions, yet their lives ended sadly, not reflecting the abundant life Jesus is referring to.

In fact, it can be argued that abundant possessions inhibit abundant life. Stuff can drain much time and energy, leaving little margin for true abundance.

By implication, abundance can also be associated with success, good health and overall good circumstanced. There is certainly nothing wrong with desiring all these things,  but we know that circumstantial happiness does not translate directly to abundant life either.

The abundant life Jesus refers is not tied to possessions or circumstances. In fact His abundant life is exponentially more satisfying and stable than either.

Years ago, during a two week missions trip to Lima Peru, I was deeply saddened by the living conditions I saw.  Poverty forced mothers to do the unthinkable, releasing their young sons to fend for themselves on the streets.

Our group served at Casa Hogar, an orphanage designed to feed and educated these children. But many of the abandoned children were already steeped in a life of glue sniffing, stealing and prostitution. Chained to this life, they  refused the long term help of the orphanage. Some were adopted, however, and shown the love of Jesus.

In spite of all the poverty and sadness in Lima, there was a quality of love we saw in the believers which I had not experienced in the United States. The folks who worked at Casa Hogar seemed to be refreshingly free from the pursuit of possessions and smooth circumstances.

We all experienced such a depth of the love of Jesus during our two weeks in Peru that many of us dreaded to return to the  “rat race” of the American culture.

We had the audacity to think we were traveling to South America to “minster” the love of Jesus to folks in dire straights. But we were the ones who were deeply touched by the love of Jesus flowing through the Peruvians, even the children.

As I take another sip of coffee, and notice a squirrel repelling down a wire to once again help itself to our bird seed, I write the following words:

Abundant life is not abundant possessions or smooth circumstances. Abundant life is Abundant love.

The Bible is saturated with remarkable language about God’s love,  but there is no better demonstration of abundant love than what Jesus did for each one of us on the cross.

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.[1]

 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)[2]

As I watch the squirrel wrapped around the feeder, spilling seed everywhere, I conclude that  the kind of abundant life Jesus promises us has everything to do with His love.

But how does God’s abundant love translate into an abundant life for us on a day by day basis? In other words, what is our part in God’s story of abundant love?

I believe the answer is in John 15.

In verse 9, we get a such an astounding definition of abundant love that only the Spirit of God can fully reveal it to our hearts. Jesus tells us “Just as the Father has loved Me, I also have loved you;”

Pause a moment. Jesus loves us as much as God the Father loves Him. This is stunning!

Allow this truth full access to your heart, penetrating every hardened sinew  of protection and blowing away every argument of self hatred.

Jesus loves us beyond our comprehension and He demonstrated it by dying in our place on the cross

The second part of  John 15:9 is a command:

“Remain in my love.”

Remain where God has placed us, in the love of Jesus.  We did nothing to earn this love, ours is to not move from where we have been placed.

Verses 10 and 12 tell us how.

If you keep My commandments, you will remain in My love. (10)

This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. (12)

We remain in Jesus love, by loving like Him; by being willing in every situation to love sacrificially. This is what we experienced in Peru; folks being freed up from chasing possessions and smooth circumstances to love like Jesus in spite of their poverty and difficulties.

Imagine for a moment what it would be like to not have the burden of the “rat race” facing us every day; to rather ask God each day, by the Indwelling Spirit of Christ, to love the people He brings our way; to yield to the Spirit in us to allow Him to love as us.

This is abundant life. Allowing the abundant love of Jesus to flow through us.  ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” John 7:38

If you don’t see already that abundant life is abundant love, allow me to seal the deal.

Couched in between verses 10 and 12 in John 15 is the following verse:

These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. John 15:11

Abundant life is abundant love.

 

[1] Romans 5:8

[2] Ephesians 2:4-5