True JOY

While the song says “‘Tis the season to be jolly,” it sure seems to be the season for a lot more these days.  Networks and media outlets ever putting out more content, so products of the season seems to grow and evolve all the time.  But one of the continuities that seems stable as ever—and unfortunately, even more stable than the role of Jesus in the holiday named for Him—is JOY.

The cynical side of me says “JOY” has this staying power largely because it’s such a short word that can easily be shaped into countless products to be sold over and over again; maybe that, too is part of how God works in mysterious ways!  JOY is certainly a word deeply embedded in our Bible, so it is very much a God word—remember how “the JOY of the Lord is my strength,” and of course this month’s memory verse: “Always be joyful because you belong to the Lord. I will say it again. Be joyful!” (Philippians 4:4 [NIrV])

Perhaps JOY, then, can be our secret witnessing tool this season.  With it being such a powerful word both for the season and for our faith, it can easily become a part of any conversation.  It’s a powerful word, yet one that can also seem to be very elusive, especially for people who have lost, or who may have never had any real sense of rootedness, or purpose for anything other than an endless search for “happiness.” 

Ages ago, St. Augustine—who started out his life as a rich boy chasing happiness with plenty money to buy it. Eventually he realized and put the words into prayer, “our hearts are restless until they find our rest in You, Lord.”  Likewise, centuries later, a brilliant Enlightenment era mathematician named Pascal put it a bit differently to say “inside each of us is a God-shaped hole” that is never satisfied until we fill that hole with our relationship with God. So, that emptiness that many feel, often heightened in this season, is an integral part of the human experience.   It is a part of how God made us in His plan to bring us all to Him.

The nugget of wisdom my mom sent me off with when I left home for the Navy, was a short tool for how to remember the source of JOY—put Jesus first, Others second, and Yourself last. That’s how you find JOY!  I don’t know how to wrap it up and put on a nice little bow, but consider this little nugget your Christmas present this year, and one you can freely share as much as you would like, without ever having to pay shipping!

Merry Christmas- Rev. Jim

Family Matters- The Bible and Wrestling

Family Matters— The Bible and Wrestling

              It’s always early in the school year when the memories of junior high wrestling flood back to me.  I was the littlest guy in the class, not very athletic—NOT a good thing in PE wrestling class.  Actually, I was the second littlest—I remember praying through every weigh-in that there would be at least ONE guy smaller than me—and there was, but only by a pound. 

He, however, was the wiry athlete.

I knew him well enough to know he had been trying to prove himself for years in a rough neighborhood, so even though I beat him by a pound, my heart still sank.  Sure enough, the first time we got on the mat together, he humiliated me, hoisting me over his shoulders and spinning me all around in an act worthy of a WWE Smackdown match.

                That single experience is forever seared in my memory. Decades later, it’s something to laugh about, but certainly not at the time. My young soul facing the dark years of humiliation ahead, through middle school and high school!  I was part of the church youth group at the time, but what hadn’t really clicked yet was the part about “Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Do not depend on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5)

Had I been able to trust God in understanding who I was at the time, perhaps I could have used that experience as an opportunity to connect with some guys I wouldn’t otherwise have had anything in common with.  After all, another good scripture that works great in a Kid Survival Kit reminds those of us fitting the Wimpy Kid syndrome: “I take pleasure in my weaknesses… for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12: 10)

Another of my most memorable experiences was much more recently, at a funeral for a young Soldier killed in action, doing the service in a packed high school surrounded by those who knew him best.  One story at the service was of when he took his own money and bought a pair of those expensive basketball shoes—not for himself– but for a friend who couldn’t afford it, powerfully living out in a high school way, Jesus’ call to love your neighbor.

I remember that wrestling incident as one of the worst experiences of my school career.  How different it could have turned out both then and now, had I used those Bible Survival Tools to turn that experience into a relationship catalyst?  Turns out this stuff in the Bible isn’t just good for Sundays, but when it gets into our hearts, can provide powerful survival tools to help kids bless others, and for the rough times in the school yard (or the office or shop…) as well. 

Helping all generations learn and live the scriptures—Rev. Jim