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Saturday, September 14, 2013

Oh for Joy!

"Yet he was such a fighter for joy that he never ceased to win his battles and make his sacrifices as he reached the highest realms of all happiness-a spiritual contentment in Christ." -Jonathan Aitken

This quote is about William Wilberforce, the great man who fought for over 40 years with zeal and passion to see the slave trade abolished in Great Brittain. He was not only a man of courage and conviction, but a man of abiding and contagious joy. If we claim to love Christ, are we not also called to live out our love with incredible joy and mirth, in continual worship to Him? Justice and joy are two sides to the same coin, my friends. You see, we serve a God of profound glory and holiness, who deserves our highest praise. We cannot enter His presence but by becoming righteous at the cost if His son, Christ, our Savior.  His presence and law are so holy that justice is absolute and imperative for His Kingdom. We who are His heirs and servants and friends must live to carry out His justice on this earth where sin and brokenness far too often destroy the very foundations of life and His created order. However, justice alone will not save the world. Justice without joy is like an old schoolmaster with a whip in hand, ready to chastise the child, but never freeing the little one into the realms of gladness and joy for which the blessed person was created!
What good is it for one to practice right living without a heart that is glad in doing so? May I dare say, it might be more worth our time to live the life of a happy heathen than to live “righteously” and dutifully while lacking the very joy that ought to be the bedrock of that righteous life? What good is it if the exterior picture of our lives is clean and kempt, yet the inner life is filled with gloom and godlessness (anger, malice, envy, bitterness…) For, our beloved Jesus said in Matthew 23:26, “Blind Pharisees! First wash the inside of the cup, and then the outside will become clean, too.”  I pray that as believers, we would let God do the deep soul cleansing, the surgery of our hearts, to wash us in the suds of joy and scrub us with the power of His love, so that we would not go out and try to do justice in this world without first having the secret strength of hearts free and overflowing with glad faith. 

We find that very secret weapon of warfare for the spiritual realm and guide for everyday living in Nehemiah 8:10- it is as clear as the cloudless is our force, our fighting chance at the abundant life. The prophet Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”  Only the joy found in Christ can carry us through trial, tragedy, and temptation to eternal triumph.

How do we assume we can overcome evil in this lifetime if we are fighting with a hardened, callous heart for that which is noble and true and right? Does not Scripture command us to overcome evil with good? What is good if not rooted first in a joy-filled heart? Our enemies of affliction, abuse, anger, and all the sums of evil this world has to offer will never be defeated without the single, matchless ingredient of joy. Joy is like the ticker of the clock that keeps the constant and persevering rhythm of time, so it never loses its pulse. Joy is like the small breeze that is unseen and unheard, but rustles everything in its path, moving trees and stones and even reshaping mountains as it picks up pace and force…steadily, over time, transforming the face of the land.  Joy is this unseen, unheard, uncanny power to change the course of history for good, for justice, for virtue and freedom.  Without joy, I believe it is hard to stay long on the road of faith, hope, or love.  These three remain, but is it not joy that weaves its way like a strong threaded needle, binding them together, making them able to withstand the tempests and gales of life that would try to tear apart the very seems of faith, buttons of hope, and knots of love?  I ask Jesus today for that mighty joy! To weave a tapestry of joy and dress me in His abiding strength!

As we reflect on one of the greatest heroes history has ever known- the man responsible for abolishing the horrors of the British slave trade- we find the quintessential recipe for conquering the evils of our day and rising above in passion and purpose. “Here is a great key to his perseverance and effectiveness. His presence was ‘fatal to dullness…[and] immorality.’ In other words, his indomitable joy moved other to be happy and good. [Wilberforce] remarked in his book A Practical View of Christianity, ‘The path of virtue is that also of real interest and of solid enjoyment.’ In other words, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’ (Acts 20:35). He sustained himself and swayed others by his joy.  If a man can rob you of your joy, he can rob you of your usefulness. Wilberforce’s joy was indomitable and therefore he was a compelling Christian and politician all his life.  This was the strong root of his endurance…The joy of the Lord became his strength. And in this strength he pressed on in the cause of abolishing the slave trade until he had the victory.  Therefore, in all our zeal today for racial harmony, or the sanctity of human life, or the building of a moral culture, let us not forget these lessons: Never minimize the central place of God-centered, Christ-exalting doctrine; labor to be indomitably joyful in all that God is for us in Christ by trusting his great finished work; and never be idle in doing good-that men may see our good deeds and give glory to our Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:16).” –John Piper

“Oh Lord, purify my soul from all its stains. Warm my heart with the love of Thee, animate my sluggish nature and fix my inconstancy, and volatility, that I may not be weary in well doing…Lord, thou knowest that no strength, no wisdom or contrivance of human power can signify, or relieve me. It is in Thy power alone to deliver me. I fly to thee for succor and support, O Lord let it come speedily; give me full proof of thy Almighty power; I am in great troubles, insurmountable by me; but to Thee slight and inconsiderable; look upon me O Lord with compassion and mercy, and restore me to rest, quietness, and comfort, in the world, or in another by removing me hence into a state of peace and happiness. Amen.” – William Wilberforce
Here, my friends, is a little reminder as you face whatever comes this day:
“Joy is like honey: it’s hard to spread it around without getting some on yourself.”

Friday, September 6, 2013

Salvation's Sunrise

Some weeks ago, my family and I were sharing stories of faith. How our hearts have each grown to receive love from God and to give love back to Him. It's amazing how you can grow up with one another, yet sharing soul stories never gets old...I love hearing how these individuals, whom I cherish so, have each one been on their own journey with Jesus, their own discovery process, their own moments of grace and encounters with glory.

My oldest brother, Doug, made an enlightening comment that I haven't been able to shake...he talked about salvation in the metaphor of a sunrise.  The slow, steady light creeping up from the horizon, minute by minute, split second by split second, growing into vast expanse over the entire sky until the earth is lit with all it's orange goodness and glow. This fiery flame set ablaze to light our world each one can quite say when it "happens".  First it's just a hint, a thin line of luminosity rising...but then it's larger and brighter and it's beaming rays begin to hurt the eyes if one stares too long. Pretty soon, a person can hardly recall it's beginning entrance, for it has totally immersed itself with cloud and blue, and it rises and rises in magnificent glory.

When was the exact "moment" the light came?  When did sky surrender and give way to the sun? When did night fall and light enter in?  No one can precisely pinpoint that moment, because it is this entire delightful drama unfolding before our eyes, flowing with grace and ease.  Just as a novel reads, streaming seamlessly from one page to the next, no one can attest to "when" the story happened, because it was happening all along! And so it seems, sometimes salvation is like that for our weary souls, travelers treading on this earth. When did it begin?  When did saving grace fully take sway over our hearts and spirits? The momentous work of salvation ringing like a sweet song with note after note, miracle after miracle, blending mysteriously and lighting our lives as it tells the powerful tune of a giving, victorious God.

The one thing we absolutely know is that the sunrise's light is a pure gift to the earth, to the eyes.  It is the power of the sun which bursts forth and causes this whole unfolding brilliance...neither the power of earth nor viewer nor clouds nor anything else caused it- these are only recipients of the gift. And thus, it is the power of the Son of Man behind the drama of our salvation, that epic hope which emerges in our hearts, founded in His love, His gift, His sacrifice.  It cannot be purchased or earned, for it, too, is a pure gift.  Yet, sometimes, it is not the sudden spark of a flame nor a single moment in time we can recall, but the One Flame has been burning the entire time, through all eternity, and it just took the journey of a sunrise for it's rays to make way into our heart.

Last night at the local rescue mission where I lead worship once or twice a month, I witnessed a few men step forward, surrendering their lives to Jesus, kneeling and receiving the blessed gift of Salvation during the ending altar call.  Pastor Jack knelt and prayed with them, hands upon their stooped backs, encouraging them in this moment of decision.  Was this a one moment, instant surrender, a lightning-rod piercing the human heart with transcendent love and singular meeting with the Savior?  Or was this one point on the course of hope's trajectory- one second in the middle of an eternal flame, during the rising sun of these men's souls?  A part of the fire's journey skyward in the morning dawn's continual story?  I do not know, for I didn't get the chance to speak with these men. All I know, is my story was more like a sunrise...but the sweet thing about salvation is this- once the sun has risen, it never sets. It lights the soul day and night, night and day, for here and ever-after, flaming our course through mortal life and ushering us into eternity.

“...stooping very low, He engraves with care
His Name, indelible, upon our dust;
And from the ashes of our self-despair,
Kindles a flame of hope and humble trust.
He seeks no second site on which to build,
But on the old foundation, stone by stone,
Cementing sad experience with grace,
Fashions a stronger temple of His own.”
 - Patricia St. John