Our Only Hope for Peace and Joy

Hope

Death and destruction seem to be everywhere recently. Chaos, darkness, and despair have brought many to experience hopelessness and fear. For centuries, our world has been shaken by violence, wars, plagues and disasters. This has been the same in every nation past and present and to every people group. It’s nothing new; it’s just new to each generation.

The recent earthquakes in Nepal, the destruction of churches and Christian homes by IS militants, and the violent riots in the U.S. have destroyed not just buildings but lives, thousands of lives. Can things get worse?  Maybe. Is there any hope? Always. In a world that seems hopeless there is an answer. There has always been an answer yet throughout history most have rejected the only true Hope that brings real peace and joy. But others continue to accept and even give up their lives for this Hope; their hope is knowing the Creator God and His eternal love.

Most recently, a group of Islamic State (IS) militants captured and beheaded 21 men in Libya who were Christians. However, one of the men, Matthew, was actually not a Christian. He was asked moments before being beheaded if he would turn to Islam. He turned down the offer. Voice of the Martyrs at persecution.com wrote about Matthew: “After reportedly witnessing the ‘immense faith’ of the Egyptian believers, he decided to become a follower of Christ. On camera, one of the terrorists asked Matthew, ‘Do you reject Christ?’ [his response] ‘Their God is my God,’ he responded, and he became one of the 21 men laying down their lives for their faith in Christ.”

Matthew’s hope, even when faced with death, was the God of the Christian believers. Their hope is eternal not earthly. King David placed his hope alone in God. He wrote:

“…for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.” Psalm 25:5

“Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him.” Psalm 62:5

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” Psalm 42:11

“You answer us with awesome deeds of righteousness, O God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas,” Psalm 65:5

For those who have come to know God’s love through Jesus Christ, they are the ones who hope in Him alone. No bank accounts, houses, possessions, accomplishments, social programs, or positions can bring the real hope for peace and joy in this world. Paul knew this hope and encouraged the believers in Jesus:

“Be joyful in hope…” (Romans 12:12),“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”  (Romans 15:13)

Do you know this hope? The hope of eternal life with God through His Son, Jesus Christ? If you do, then, you have the answer for the world, to those around you who are hopeless and shaken by these recent events. Peter told the Christians who were living in desperate times of persecution for their faith to be ready at any time to share this Hope with others. Like the Egyptian men in Libya, would someone see my “immense faith” in Jesus and say, “her God is my God”? I hope so. How about you?

“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” 1 Peter 3:15

Fullness of Joy

“Wishing you a future filled with happiness”. “You are special, hope you find the perfect plan for your life.” While looking for graduation cards in the store, these were some of the greetings. After all the hard work of finishing high school and especially college, do I really just want to wish someone happiness? How about “Hope you find joy in whatever the future holds for you.” As graduates look to the future and dream of things to come, there is an excitement about life. The future path is full of twists and turns, a thrilling adventure.

At every age life is a journey. Sometimes the way is slow and full of waiting and other times it is running to keep up. For some it is a short journey but for others it can last for over eight decades. Sometimes the days are long and other times the years fly by so fast. Dreams come and go, some are realized, some are not. Plans are rewritten and some come to be. It’s not where the journey takes you but who walks the journey with you.

At the end of his life, Jesus was preparing his disciples and followers for the journey ahead without him. They were graduating, in a way, from the personal schooling of Jesus on earth. He had spoken many things to them. And his desire was for them to experience His joy.

“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” John 15:11

Jesus’s words, his teachings, were meant to bring joy to those who follow him and obey His words. Walking with Him on the journey brings joy to those who know Him intimately and share their life with him. No matter where the journey takes us as followers of Jesus, abiding in him daily brings fullness of joy.

King David experienced this joy as he walked with God and trusted in God for his journey.

“You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.” Psalm 4:7

“You make him glad with the joy of your presence.” Psalm 21:6

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy.” Psalm 16:11

There is a joy in the journey for those who know Jesus as their Lord, the One who has come to provide Life. And the Journey never ends with Him, for we will be with Him forever. An everlasting Joy in His presence. I hope you experience joy in your journey in life through Jesus.

 

Full of Joy

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  My fiance, Lowe and I were sitting in a dimly lit room somewhere in Beijing, China.  Riding buses, taxis and walking without saying a word, our Chinese friends led us all over the city to this apartment so we couldn’t retrace our steps.  Other Chinese quietly entered the room of the small house church one by one. We sat in chairs along the wall to hear his testimony.  The elderly man who was originally from the city where we lived in northeast China wanted to meet us.  He stood and began speaking in Chinese.  Listening intently, we heard him begin to tell of his trust in Jesus, how after coming to Christ he actually died of a fatal sickness.  How three days later, Jesus appeared and brought him back to life. How so many people came to Christ from his testimony.  How Jesus appeared to him one morning preparing him to be thrown in prison for his faith.  Decades of surviving in a dark prison telling others about God.  And then being set free from prison but continuing his ministry under watchful eyes.  I felt like I was reliving the book of Acts.

And what was the most unbelievable? The stories, his faith, his strength, the hundreds who came to Christ?  No. His JOY!  Unexplainable joy spilling over every word and sentence.  The smile on his face.  Saying “Praise God!” after almost every sentence.  How could this man be so full of joy after all he had been through in his life – the suffering and persecution for being a Christian and sharing his faith?

This is the joy that only comes through Jesus.  The fruit He produces in the life of a believer who clings to Him. The result of walking with Him so closely that no circumstances, fear, persecution or trial can take it away.

The psalmist says it clearly– “In your presence is fullness of joy.” Psalm 16:11.

He begins by asking God to preserve him (Psalm 16:1-2), “… for in you I take refuge…you are my Lord; I have no good apart from you”. He is in desperate need of God’s closeness.  When we are facing pain, trials, hardship, persecution and fear we need security.  God is our security. He loves us, forgives us, comforts us, cares for us, and knows all about us.  Through knowing Him I experience that unexplainable joy that the world and it’s goods can’t give and don’t understand.  Nothing can take that away.  No circumstance, person or even prison.

Happiness depends on what happens to me.  Joy depends on what happens within me.  Or really who lives in me – Jesus.

I look back on that time in China and think of that dear brother who joyfully suffered so much. His testimony reminds me that no matter what comes my way, God is big enough to handle it as I walk with him.  His closeness is my joy.   “…He is the source of strength and joy.”  1 Chronicles 16:27

Are you facing trials, fears, disappointments, loneliness, persecution, or hardship? Go to the One who can take it all and give you joy in return.   “…the joy of the Lord is your strength.”  Nehemiah 8:10

Wrapping the gift of love

Recently I researched how many songs about love have been written in the history of man.  I couldn’t find an answer, but I would think every culture throughout history has written more songs about love than any other subject. Love is important to everyone.  Maybe because we don’t see it enough or know how to show it to others.

Love is one of the most important fruits in my life that I can show to others and yet, also the most difficult to produce. Why?…because love means dying to myself and my own desires. Ouch!  Love is what motivated God to send his son Jesus to earth for the sole purpose to die – for us.  Love for people who couldn’t care less if there was a God who loved them.

Love gives to others even, and especially when, they don’t care about the gift.  How many of us would turn down a Christmas gift even if it was a simple homemade card?  How rude and unthinkable.  Yet, people still turn down the greatest Christmas present of all – Jesus.  It is love that continues to motivate God in seeking after people who will come to Him.  He is “not willing for anyone to perish” (2 Peter 3:9).

There is no way I can produce the fruit of love without clinging to the vine and asking Jesus to produce it through me.  Romans 5:5 reminds me – “…God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us”.  The fruit of the Holy Spirit working in our lives as believers is love. Is there someone I am having a hard time loving this Christmas?  Someone who needs God’s love? I can ask Jesus to give me His love for that person.  Then act by giving that love.  Writing a card, sharing a gift, giving financially, taking time to listen and maybe just forgive someone who needs forgiveness.  Isn’t that why God’s love sent Jesus?  To forgive us when we didn’t even ask for it.  Wow!  What love!

I’m asking Jesus to pour his love in my heart for others who are hard to love. Is there someone who needs your love – God’s love – this Christmas?

An Orchard full of Fruit

When our family lived in Deerfield, Illinois we would go every year to Wauconda Apple Orchard to pick apples.  We were always excited to see the trees filled with apples of various colors and flavors.  The smell of the fresh fruit hanging in bunches on the trees to be picked and eaten brought such enjoyment.  A fresh apple off a tree is so much juicier and sweeter!

Just like fresh apples are a visual of a healthy apple tree rooted and grounded in good soil, so is my life a visual to others of being rooted and grounded in Jesus.  When I became a Christian, I experienced so much joy in my life and a deep love and mercy for others at school.  It was visible to those around me, especially my parents. It was nothing I did myself but Jesus living in my life made a difference.  It was fresh fruit – just like the fresh young fruit from the tree.

In Galatians 5:22 Paul listed some spiritual fruits that are evidence of a relationship with Jesus -“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control…”  These nine fruits are a basic list of some things that we can expect to see in our lives as we allow Jesus to live through our lives.  There are other fruits He produces in our lives as well.  An important one to me which He produced in my life as a new believer was the fruit of being a verbal witness of Jesus to others. I call this the tenth fruit.  Jesus told his followers as he was leaving this earth, “You will be my witnesses” in all the world- Acts 1:8.  

These are ten fruits that I desire for Christ to continually produce in my life. I can’t produce these fruits on my own. Jesus wants to produce fruit in our lives through every circumstance and relationship, fruit that is fragrant and appealing to others around us.  I pray Jesus will produce a fragrant aroma of fresh fruit like juicy apples hanging from a tree in my life.  Today I’ll ask for more kindness towards those in my life.

What fruit are you asking him to produce in your life?

My brethren, let me say, be like Christ at all times. Imitate him in “public.” Most of us live in some sort of public capacity—many of us are called to work before our fellow-men every day. We are watched; our words are caught; our lives are examined—taken to pieces. The eagle-eyed, argus-eyed world observes everything we do, and sharp critics are upon us. Let us live the life of Christ in public. Let us take care that we exhibit our Master, and not ourselves—so that we can say, “It is no longer I that live, but Christ that lives in me.” —Charles Spurgeon