Joy in the Midst

Today is December 17th. 10 years ago, my church-family had just eaten a Christmas dinner. I came back home, but that light-and-fluffy Christmas feeling was the last thing on my mind. I was thinking about Christmas 2004 – a special one because my uncle and his family came for lunch. 6 months later, after a battle with cancer, my uncle was gone. 17 December was exactly 6 months after he died, and I sat there wondering what comfort I could offer his family. That was the day I wrote this song:
Last thing at night, Christmas Eve;
Excited children unable to sleep,
But she is rememb’ring Christmas last year,
Spent with an uncle no longer here:
She’s filled with love and compassion,
As she thinks of a card with a missing name –
A boy fatherless, a new widow,
And what can she find to give them?
The words of her pastor ring in her ears, spoken in these last weeks,
About joy in the midst of unhappiness; that’s what she wants them to know:
A joy that comes from peace with God, and peace with God only because
In the small town of Bethlehem, a Saviour was born to us.

Peace on earth, peace on earth!
Goodwill to men, on whom His favour rests:
Peace on earth, peace on earth!
Hope to the weary, bereaved, and distressed
.

You may be sat, listening,
Wond’ring why someone would write such a song,
But someday you may be in the same place,
Pond’ring a loved one you cannot embrace:
I hope – with love and compassion –
That even though things can’t be the same,
The truth of Christmas – the baby in the manger –
Will take on a sweeter meaning:
The words of the Bible will ring in your ears; tell you afresh of God’s love,
Healer of hearts and the Bread of Life; that’s who I want you to know:
The One who brings us peace with God, and peace with God only because
In the small town of Bethlehem, a Saviour was born to us.

Peace on earth, peace on earth!
Goodwill to men, on whom His favour rests:
Peace on earth, peace on earth!
Hope to the weary, bereaved, and distressed
.

Jesus is the Saviour,
And I would encourage you – while you have time –
To meet Him, love Him, cling to Him;
Don’t be robbed of your joy.

* * *

Bonnie’s OneWordAdvent focus for this week is joy, and that’s what I want to pass on to you: That you can be going through the most awful of circumstances, you can be in the most unhappy place, but you can still have the joy of knowing you’re right with God – of knowing that this Jesus, whose birth we celebrate on Christmas Day, came into the world to bridge the gap between you and a holy God, so that you could know Him personally. That’s something to be joyful about (whether it’s a loud celebratory kind of joy or a quieter, more reflective one), so I wish you a joyful, Christ-filled Christmas.

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The God of Hope

If ever anyone needed hope, surely it’s …  Well, sometimes I could say, surely it’s me.  Perhaps you could too, but the great news is that Christians serve a God of hope, who can fill us with joy and peace when we trust Him (Romans 15:13).

 

About fifteen months before Jesus was born, a man (one of the priests) was on-duty as usual.  In fact, the whole of life was pretty much going on as usual.  His wife was past childbearing age, and he had long accepted that the joy of bringing up children wouldn’t be theirs.  They both loved and served God wholeheartedly.  He could well remember the fervent prayers they had uttered time and again, but with the advancing years came a heaviness that settled on his heart.  As he saw new parents bring in their baby sons for the purification ritual, he would realise afresh that his and Elizabeth’s cries had been to no avail.

 

But God saw those baby sons too, as well as the pain of Zechariah’s loss, and He sent an angel to turn it on its head.  “Your prayer has been heard.  Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son,” the angel said.

 

His season of pain was over.  The silence, the gnawing ache that had been there so long, and Zechariah couldn’t quite get it.  Imagine him saying through gritted teeth those words he must have repeated to himself every time that old, familiar desire clawed at his heart.  “I am an old man and my wife is well on in years.”  Be reasonable.  These are the facts.  Get over it, but getting over it wasn’t in God’s plan for Zechariah.  His patience had paid off.  His prayer had been heard!  Their cries hadn’t been to no avail.  The God of hope had come into their world; flipped it over; given their lives a whole new and unexpected twist.

 

Nine months later, they and many others celebrated the birth of their baby son, later known as John the Baptist.  Zechariah must have remembered the angel’s words about him and marvelled as he watched them come true.  People did indeed rejoice because of his birth, and he would indeed go on to point people to Jesus and His future ministry.  Holding baby John in his arms and praising God, Zechariah was able to acknowledge:  “The rising sun will come to us from heaven … to guide our feet into the path of peace” (Luke 1:78-79).

 

The God of hope filled Zechariah and Elizabeth with joy and peace as they trusted Him.  He wants to do the same for us today.

* * *

My thanks to Bonnie Gray for her OneWordAdvent. If you decide to participate in the linkup like I did, please tell me here in the comments.  I’d love to read your post.

31 Jesus-Benefits: Celebrating the Good

“Always be joyful. … Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16, 18).

Day 5 of Write31Days and here’s an unexpected truth:

Believing in God has made me more thankful.

What I’ve found is that even in the bleakest of circumstances, there’s always something to be joyful about – the roof over my head, the chair I’m sitting on, the food on my table, the water in the taps …

And why is joy important? Because “The joy of the LORD is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). In contrast, “A crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22). A crushed spirit will only make you weak, but celebrating the good in your life makes you stronger.

The Truth About Self

This week’s Tuesday at Ten prompt is truth – that thing that’s so vital in processing what we hear, so we can live our lives well. Jesus said: “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life”, which is why it’s so important to find out what He thinks about us and our lives.

Lately, I’ve been reading and hearing a lot about self. As an example, here’s a quote from a friend’s update on Facebook:
“Apparently happiness has replaced goodness. We all strive for what will make us happy, to fulfil our desires, to satisfy our needs & dying are the thoughts for doing good. Its all about us. Praying that I’ll change my selfish ways to wanting to make a good choice, to please God with my actions instead of pleasing myself. Happiness only lasts for a time but doing good lasts forever.”

At first glance, this might give the impression that all God wants is for us to do good, paying no attention to our feelings and having no thought for ourselves or our happiness. I admire people like my friend, who’ve given up some of their own comforts to accomplish something greater for God, but I also love my friends dearly and don’t want to see them working themselves into the ground whilst forfeiting their happiness. I’d rather see them work less and smile more, but does Jesus agree?

Just today, I listened to a radio-programme about self-obsession, and the presenter said: “The whole point of following Jesus is that it’s nothing about yourself at all” – again, same impression. If I took just these two quotes on their own, I might be left wondering if God really cared about me.

“I am the Way and the Truth and the Life,” says Jesus, so let’s look for the truth in God’s Word. “God cares for you, so turn all your worries over to Him” (1 Peter 5:7), and one of my favourite verses: “The LORD be exalted, who delights in the wellbeing of His servant” (Psalm 35:27). God delights in our wellbeing – mine and yours. If I had to make a judgment about God, I’d say He’d rather see us work less and smile more too.

Of course doing good is important. “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17). “Let us not become weary in doing good” (Galatians 6:9). Doing good is essential to the outworking of our Christian faith, but not at the expense of our joy. I was just thinking about the phrase: ‘Find your joy in the LORD’. Where do you think it’s used in the Bible; in connection with working for Him?

Actually, it’s used in connection with Sabbath – with God’s day of rest. “If you call the Sabbath a delight and the LORD’s holy day honourable, and if you honour it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the LORD” (Isaiah 58:13-14).

There were two sisters who were friends of Jesus while He lived on earth: Martha and Mary. Basically Martha beetled about trying to get everything done, while Mary sat at Jesus’ feet listening to Him. Jesus said Mary had made the better choice (Luke 10:42). Perhaps, rather than striving to do good or striving for happiness, our life’s goal should be intimacy with Jesus. Out of that will come everything else we need to live our lives for Him.

August Compassion-Joys and When I Couldn’t Sponsor any More

Every month, Jill over at Compassion Family lists her Compassion-joys and asks us to join in. So, at the beginning of August, there were letters from Junior (Haiti) and Cindy (Philippines). I also had an updated photo of Cindy wearing a pink dress and jacket. At the end of the month (just a couple of days ago), I saw a new member had been added to my Compassion-family. Excited? Yes – very.

I didn’t feel I could commit to another financial sponsorship, but knew I loved writing and wanted to get more letters. On Compassion International’s site, they have an arrangement where if the financial sponsor doesn’t write, someone else can. Those people are called correspondent-sponsors and I E-mailed ciinfo (at) us (dot) ci (dot) org to ask about becoming one. Do you remember my Ugandan Compassion goal? Well, that’s now been achieved because my correspondent-child is Maureen from Uganda – a 12-year-old Ugandan girl to love and get to know! I look forward to when her first letter and photo arrive in the post.

Are you a sponsor? Would you like to share your joys from this month? Why not write a post like I have, then go over to Jill’s blog and put it in the linkup?

For Your Diary This Week

I’ve just come back from hearing Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh speak.  If you’ve read their book “Captive in Iran”, you’ll know those names.  They’re 2 Iranian women who were recently put in prison for living out their Christian faith.  I’m full of admiration for them, especially when I think that one had her 28th birthday in prison.  They’ve been through so much in less than 30 years of life.

 

If you haven’t read the book, I’d thoroughly recommend this tour, and even having read it, it was lovely to hear them in person.  Some of the stories may have been repeated, but it seemed to reemphasise to me the way God used this situation to reach out even to their enemies.  At the end, I felt like I was offering applause to God for the courage He’d given them; the love for their people; the joy at such a trying time.

 

That’s why I’m writing this – to give you the opportunity to hear them for yourselves.  Their UK-tour’s only a week long, so if you’re near Upton Vale Baptist Church, Torquay (tonight at 7:30), Rora House, Halford, Newton Abbot (Saturday 12th, 10 am to 4:30 pm, tickets £15 for the day), Emmanuel Centre, Westminster (Tuesday lunchtime), or St Mary’s Church, Loughton (Wednesday 16th at 7:30), try to contact them and see if you can get there.  I don’t think you’ll regret it.

Born to be With You

In answer to today’s Daily Post, yes I have a best friend. He has so many good qualities. Let’s start with creativity: The day I was born, my friend saw the commotion. He heard the clatter of trolley wheels down hospital corridors. As people peeped through the window at us and dreamed of the future, my friend knew only one of us would make it, and looked for a way to communicate with me. He knows everything – every twist and turn in life, every struggle inside my fickle heart. Do I really love my friend … or only me, and will I always put my friend first above myself?

 

As I grow and learn, as I cry over big and small things, I know my friend suffered more than my biggest let-down – felt more vulnerable than me at my most afraid. And as I laugh with the friends I’ve been given, as I marvel at things I’ve done that I thought I could never do, I know it’s nothing compared to the joy where my friend is.

 

His name is Jesus, and He’s in heaven, where He’s gone to fix up a place for you and me. He saw and heard the day you were born, too. When you hurt, you can think of Him: People tried to stone Him; His family thought He was off His trolley; before He went to the cross He was blindfolded, slapped in the face and asked who hit Him – vulnerability, and we can’t imagine His pain on the cross as His shoulders were yanked backwards, and hands nailed behind Him so He was almost on all-fours. He went through all that to identify with you in your suffering, and any contentment you’ve felt in this world is just a taste of what’s to come in eternity.

 

I know lots of people have heard about Jesus, but if reading this does something in your heart – if there’s a connection you haven’t felt before, I’d really encourage you to talk to God about it. There’s so much more to Him than stories on a page. Jesus rose from the dead; He’s alive in heaven, and He wants to be your best friend.

Message of the Month

What would my ‘Message of the month’ be to my readers?  I think the words of Jesus in John 10:10:  The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy.  Jesus came that we might have life, and have it to the full.  Jesus didn’t have to go to the cross to die for our freedom.

 

So, to Zoe who’s always inspired me, and to Helene who (without knowing it) has taught me lately to make the most of my life and live it as fully as I can, thank you.

 

We have a glorious future, prepared and planned out for us in heaven.  If you’re still breathing, it’s because God loves you enough to have kept you alive to enjoy it, starting today.

5-Minute Friday: Song

I’m linking up with Lisa-Jo today for one of her 5-minute Friday posts.  Fancy joining in?  She just gives you a prompt and you write for 5 minutes.  Simple.  Then you can link your post up to her blog and read others.

 

Well, this week’s prompt is ‘Song’.

* * *

“We don’t know what to do, but our eyes are fixed on You.”  Somebody talked about that just the other day as I sat watching from my lounge, and this morning it came back into my head.  Because when we don’t know what to do, that’s the best thing we can do is turn up the music and let songs of praise flood the house.  Fix our eyes on Jesus.

 

“Don’t tell God about your problem; tell your problem about your God” – another quote I heard the other day, and isn’t that true – that the more we focus on our problems the more unattractive we become?

 

So I’m asking for joy.  Asking for songs of joy, from the One who rejoices over me with singing.