Monday, December 28, 2015

A Sacrificial Gift

           Christmas is a time of giving of gifts. The first gift started with God giving Himself through His son Jesus to the world. It was, and still is, the ultimate gift. And it was sacrificial.

            Since we’re still on the topic of gifts, it's fresh in our minds, and many of us are still basking in Christmas gift-giving afterglow, I thought this story was appropriate to share with you: the sacrificial gift a mother makes starting immediately after the tragic loss of her infant. I wish I’d thought of it, or had someone suggest it to me when we suffered our loss. I think it would have made the loss of our daughter a little more manageable, and my life more purposeful.

Until next Monday, have a safe and joyful New Year’s celebration. And may your next year be filled with wonderful surprises, more joy, and abundant prosperity—in all things!

Thanks for joining me!



photo credit: <a href="">jch</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">(license)</a>

Monday, December 14, 2015

Lighting Your Joy Candle

           This month’s issue of Guideposts magazine has a story written by California pastor Dave Beckwith about what happened to him three weeks before Christmas one year.
            Their Christmas decorations consisted of three big words illuminated on the eave of their house: Love. Joy. Peace. They’d been erecting these three words on their house since 1982. People snapped pictures of them; others left thank you notes.
            Then one morning, Pastor Beckwith opened the door and found a gaping space where his Joy should have been. Someone had clipped the connecting wires and spirited his “joy” away. He couldn’t believe someone would steal it! His wife quipped that someone must have been depressed and needed it.
            Ever felt like that? Depressed and in need of joy?
            Many people experience that void this time of year and don’t know why or how to find it. They think they’ll find it in the office party after a night of revelry. Or they think they’ll find it in a gift they’ve put on their wish list, if only someone will buy them the gift. Or they might purchase the gift for themselves. Unfortunately, both methods of receiving often result in a brief, transient joy, and then we feel the void all over again. This is supposed to be a supremely joyful time of year. If that’s true, why do so many people alone and depressed?
            Maybe it’s because we’re looking for the wrong people and things to give us joy. Maybe we don’t really know what the source of it is.
            Advent is a time where we look forward with hope, in remembrance of God’s promises to humanity that He will come again. We also prepare our hearts to receive God, both now, in this life, and when He does return. We celebrate joy with the remembrance of the angels’ announcement of Jesus’ birth, which I wrote about last week. And we celebrate love—the unfathomable, unconditional love of a God who sent His only son to Earth to redeem mankind.
            In reality, Christmas doesn’t just last one day, it is a “season.” A season that should keep on going—at least in your heart—throughout the year. We use this season to remember, to look forward, to prepare our hearts for the upcoming year.
            Pastor Beckwith eventually got his Joy replaced, made by a carpenter who fashioned a Joy sign with his gifted hands, and also learned the source of true joy in the process. 

            Yesterday, Christians around the world specifically focused on “joy” and lit the “joy” candle on the Advent wreath in their churches and in their homes. Did you light your candle? Did you celebrate? Is your internal, and eternal, candle lit brightly? Are you carrying it around with you in your heart, to warm your soul and illuminate your life?
            My challenge to you this week is this:
            If you possess true joy, look for ways to spread it around this week. There are a lot of people looking for it. Pray for God to open your eyes and ears to the joy-deprived. Sometimes all you need to do is look in their eyes to know if they know joy or not. Shine your candlelight of joy in someone’s life, and use your light to spark a flame in someone else.

            If you don’t know the source of true joy, or are looking for it, ask someone who seems to possess it—someone who is illuminating their joy light—how and where they got it. 
            And let me know what happens!

Until next week,

Thanks for joining me!

Blessings (and prayers for your hearts to be full to overflowing with joy!),


photo credit: <a href="">Adventkranz</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">(license)</a>

Monday, December 7, 2015

Did Someone Steal Your Joy?

            Has anyone ever stolen your joy? This past week in the United States—more specifically Southern California—a couple of people tried to steal and obliterate the collective joy of a city, of a state, of a nation, and maybe, of the world. They also tried to steal the personal joy of wives, husbands, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, fiancées, lovers, friends and co-workers. Were they successful? If one survivor’s words are a measure of their success, then I think they failed miserably.
            The daughter of one of the victims held a sign that was photographed and witnessed on news services across the nation. It read: Do not let the actions of others rob you of your joy.
            Standing next to her father, the young woman spoke eloquently about the positive life her mother led, her servant’s heart and joyful attitude, and how she, herself—to honor her mother—planned to continue living that kind of life. The story became even more poignant when we learned that her mother had come to the United States in order to escape religious extremism in her native Iran. While I am sure her daughter is grieving deeply, she seems determined to not allow this unconscionable act of violence that has invaded and violated her heart and home from stealing her joy. The joy that must surely reside deeply within her soul.
            The widow of another victim—a Messianic Jew who evidently loved lively discussions and debates about all things religious—said she would also be sustained by his memory and the way he lived life.
            Clearly, these two grievers are not grieving without hope.
            When events like this occur, they force us to honestly examine our internal worldview. How we observe, process and analyze the world’s events. What we believe about people in general and believe about ourselves in specifics. Most importantly, what we believe about God.
            Do these events completely surprise you or rock your world and worldview? Or do they serve to bolster your faith and resolve to stand firm to not let evil invade your heart and steal your joy, even though it may bring you to your knees?
            My pastor, Dr. Mark Lansberry had something to say about this last week, in reference to Advent, and before the tragic events in San Bernardino.
            “There is greater reality than our shadows. [Jesus] lives within us in the form and power of the Holy Spirit. Our reality is Christ, and Him coming again. The Son of Man has come, is coming, and will come again.
            “Take note of the gathering shadows. He is right at the door. Christ comes to dispel shadows. Our hope is in Christ, and Christ doesn’t disappoint.”
            “Advent is about God who comes to us in our shadows. Look out the windows of life for Christ to come. We are to be alert, keep on watch. Stay awake!”
            Pastor Mark compared it to the attitude of joy a child has when watching through the windows and waiting for his mom or dad to return home. He’s watching and waiting, waiting and watching. Expectantly; with hope and a joyful heart that his expectant heart will soon be satisfied.
            In these last days, we live in a multitude of shadows. Our own shadows dog us, and we watch hideous, frightful shadows materialize all around the world.
            Through it all, we who possess Hope, Truth and Life watch and wait, wait and watch, with an attitude of joy that—if we stand firm—cannot and will not be stolen from us, even though another person attempts to rip it from our hearts and souls.
            This Advent we celebrate both the original birth of Joy, the existence of Joy in our own hearts, and the future return of Joy to Earth.
            Joy has come, is coming, and will come again!
            Jesus—Joy itself—had something to say about tribulation. “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
            Or as it reads so bluntly in The Message: “I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.”
            This Advent season, make yourself a vessel of joy, and let that joy spill out onto others. Search for joy; latch onto it when you find it. Claim it as your own. Nurture and cherish it. Display it in the face of evil. And watch and wait for it to come again.


Next week we’ll return to a more light-hearted look at joy.

Until next week,

Thanks for joining me!



photo credit: <a href="">(j)oy to the world</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">(license)</a>

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Advent of Joy


            How do you define advent? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines advent (with a little “a”) as “a coming into being or use.” Advent with a capital “A” means “the period beginning four Sundays before Christmas and observed by some Christians as a season of prayer and fasting.” And it also means “the coming of Christ at the Incarnation.”
            Combining those definitions, we can write our own for this special event: “Advent is a special month-long celebration, beginning four Sundays before Christmas, that commemorates and celebrates the coming into being of Christ, when God took on flesh and came to Earth.”
            In a nutshell, we have entered into a season where joy has come into being.
            The first Christmas was the birth of real joy!
            Two weeks ago we looked at how the Wise Men rejoiced with exceeding joy when they located the young Christ. They were so overcome with joy that they fell down and worshipped Him. Not just kneeled down, genuflected, or lowered themselves into a position of reverence. They fell down.
            How do you picture them in your mind? Collapsing in a heap? Tripping, stumbling or falling onto their knees? I imagine them being so overcome that their weakened knees collapsed, and they fell on their faces and lay prostrate before Him. Their joy translated to awe, and they did the most natural thing in the world in front of the world’s Savior: they worshipped. Their hearts wouldn’t allow them to do anything else.
            Have you ever been so joyful or delighted that you became weak-kneed and fell down? Maybe when your beloved made a marriage proposal to you? I’ve seen that happen, most often on YouTube or America’s Funniest Home Videos.
            I thought my husband, Chris, was going to collapse from joy when his first-born son was placed in his arms and tears poured down his cheeks. And he nearly collapsed from joy (and fear) when the doctor told us he was going to discharge our younger son from the hospital after ten days in the neonatal intensive care unit, even though he’d originally told us not to expect much and warned us it would be some time (like a minimum of six weeks) before we’d be able to take him home. Come to think of it, Chris was also overcome with joy when the nurse called him to tell him he’d become a father when our younger son was born. He was so overwhelmed that he told her she must have the wrong father, because his baby wasn’t supposed to be born until later that day.
            I’ve seen soldier’s wives and kids collapse in joy when their homecoming fathers, who have sometimes been deployed for years, step off the airplane and run into their waiting arms. I’ve seen homecoming mothers who have also been deployed collapse in joy when they see their waiting children and husbands and grasp them in a loving embrace.

            Christmas is the time of year—the “season”— in which we probably think most about joy. The delighted squeal of a child when he opens a present he’s dreamed of receiving. The excitement on a child’s face when they decorate a Christmas tree and watch the Christmas lights switched on for the first time. My 20-year-old son’s face still lights up in wonder and his mouth rounds into an “O” when he first sees those lights illuminate the tree or our house. We experience joy when we find just the right gift for that special someone in our lives, watch him open the gift and witness the thrilled expression on his delighted face.
            Yesterday, November 29, officially marked the first day in this 2015 Advent Season. This time in the year when we look back 2015 years (give or take several years), and proclaim the joy brought to the world when the Prince of Peace came to Earth—God’s gift to mankind who showed up in an animal stall. A lowly, smelly, (but, I’m sure, comfortably warm), barn. God Himself manifested in fleshly form. He didn’t exactly arrive and announce His appearance in the way most imagined He would, but then that’s so like God to have His own way—not ours—and “do things out of the box” as we like to say.

            Yet before the Wise Men experienced their joy, there were those lowly shepherds hanging out in the fields, doing what shepherds do: keeping their eyes on their sheep. I can imagine that for them, it started out like any other night.
            “Isaac, you get the fire going and I’ll heat up the pomegranate cider and olive flat bread. I think you’ll like the cider. Bought it in Jerusalem last year during Passover. Been saving it for a special occasion. It should be nicely fermented by now.”
            “Caleb, you make sure you keep an eye on that little lamb over there. He’s been wandering off lately.”
            “Jason, take a look at that pregnant ewe’s right front hoof. Looks like she’s been favoring it, and it may have a stone wedged in it.”
            They gather the sheep in close to them, unfurl their bedrolls, pass the cider and bread and sit down to an evening chat session, what those of us from Hawaii call “talk story.” They were probably laughing and carrying on about the events at home, stories they read in the Bethlehem Times and overheard in the synagogue scuttlebutt, when they suddenly get the kind of unexpected visitor that probably caused some of them to wonder what old Jacob put in the cider.
            The angel of God on duty that night plunks himself down right in front of them, and the glory of God envelops all of them. Lights them up like a Hollywood special effects scene. And scares them almost to death. (I can imagine one of them even tried reaching for his slingshot.) They’re so frightened that the angel has to calm them down by telling them not to be afraid because he’s bringing “good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.” Read that verse again: Good tidings of great joy, which will be to all people. (Emphasis mine.) And what were the good tidings of great joy? “The birth of a Savior, who is Christ the Lord,” the angel says. And guess what? He’s a swaddled-up baby lying in a manger in Bethlehem. That’s the shepherd’s sign: that they need to be on the lookout for a brand new baby lying unceremoniously in an animal food trough in a barn.
            Then to punctuate the message, a multitude of God’s angelic army shows up to add to the shock and awe, sing praises to God and wish peace to Earth’s men of goodwill. If the shepherds weren’t convinced before, that probably sealed the deal for them. Because as soon as the angels teleport back to heaven, the shepherds discuss it among themselves and agree that they need to scurry to Bethlehem as soon as possible. So they take off—I’m going to guess they sprinted since the Bible says they “came with haste”—and (after maybe splitting up and hunting around a while) they found Jesus, just as the angels said he would be, lying in the food trough.
            And what did they do after they saw him? They ran around telling everyone they could about what they had seen and heard while they had been in the fields, how they’d been directed to find the Savior, found Him and actually saw him with their own eyes.
            Like the Wise Men who couldn’t help falling down to worship Jesus, these shepherds—then considered the lowliest of anyone on the workforce pecking order—couldn’t help telling their story. They probably spewed out the news to everyone they saw. The Bible also says people marveled at what the shepherds had to say. (Actually, it may be just as much of a miracle that anyone believed them, because shepherds were considered so lowly and untrustworthy that they weren’t even considered to be reliable witnesses and weren’t allowed to testify in court.)
            It was the birth of joy.
            And that’s what Christians around the world celebrate anew this month and on Christmas day. The birth of joy. Good tidings of great joy born and delivered to men of goodwill. The most miraculous and important gift ever given to the world.
            And the event deserves to be commemorated and celebrated. He deserves to be celebrated.
            We don’t just put up “holiday trees.” We put up Christmas trees and top them with stars to remind us of the star that led the Wise Men to Him, or we perch angels on them to remind us of the triumphant announcement proclaimed to the lowly shepherds and the world. We have a month-long birthday party to celebrate the birth of Good News.
            This will be my 58th Christmas celebration, and I know my heart is in danger of becoming jaded to it, of taking it for granted. Of looking at the season as more drudgery or headache than its worth.
            Are you like me? Are you looking for a new, fresh way to celebrate Advent and Christmas this year?
            If so, then I invite you to really concentrate on “joy” and what it means to you. What He means to you. Pray that the Spirit will fill your heart anew with the kind of joy that drove the shepherds to obey the angel, and abruptly leave their sheep unattended in the field so they could peer down in awe at Jesus, and then shake up the town (and world) with the Good News they’d heard and seen with their own eyes.
            Pray and fast for the kind of joy that caused the Wise Men to drop to the ground in worship.
            Pray for the kind of joy that doesn’t just ebb and flow based on your circumstances but that permeates your life. That changes how you see the world, and how others see you, and Christ.

            Or maybe you have never even experienced that joy, and you want to know how to have it.
            Pray for it. Pray for it to be given to you. Accept the angel’s announcement as truth and go searching for it like the shepherds and Wise Men. Ask Jesus to reveal Himself to you like He did for them.
            He’ll show up for you, even if you—like a lowly shepherd hanging out in a dark field—don’t consider yourself worthy. And He’ll say to you, “Do not be afraid, I bring you good tidings of great joy (delight)! For I, the Christ, have come into being. Rejoice! For I have come. To you!”

            If you have an idea for a new way to celebrate joy this Christmas season, or you celebrate Christmas in a unique way, please share it with our readers. Just add a comment to give us ideas on how we might truly make this blessed season special!

So until next week (and more joy!),

Thanks for joining me,



Artwork Credit: Parker Prescott Owan; 1997 award winning colored pencil drawing
Photo Credit: 2015 Andrea Arthur Owan