Greetings in the name of Jesus! This is a continuing effort on my part to make available to family, friends, and any other poor unfortunate souls that run across this, some of the thoughts that run through my mind regarding sermon preparation, newsletter articles, random thoughts (of which there are many), and generally how God is working in my life. I hope to post at least once a week but I'm not promising that.

So welcome to it.

Post Script:
A couple of people have asked me about the address. When I was putting this together I was preparing for sermons from the 6th chapter of John where Jesus refers to himself as "The Bread of Life" and these are passages that I strongly identify with. So artos is bread and zoe is life (roughly) and to quote Forrest, "That's all I have to say about that."

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Good Bye to From My Perspective

Recently my conscience got the better of me and I finally inquired into getting "official" permission to base my monthly church newsletter on Gary Larson's "The Far Side®." Here was the response:

Dear Rev. Davis,

Thank you for your request to reprint Gary Larson's Far Side cartoon(s) in your monthly newsletter.

Regretfully, we must decline permission, as Mr. Larson has a blanket policy against allowing his work to be reprinted in newsletters or any publication that are of a religious or political nature. Mr. Larson strongly believes in showing no preference to any particular religious or political organization, unless he is personally familiar and in agreement with the organization and their viewpoints.

Again, thank your for your interest in The Far Side® and we hope you continue to be a fan of Mr. Larson's work. 

While I do not agree that using Mr. Larson's cartoons as fertile ground for expressing my own faith perspective (hence the title From My Perspective) in any way implies that he agrees or shows preference... I intend to honor Mr. Larson's request and in doing so have removed all of the past posts of From My Perspective.

And if you're wondering... I still remain a fan of  The Far Side®.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

3/7/2010 Sermon Notes

got forgiveness?
Isaiah 55:1-9
55Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. 3Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. 4See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. 5See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.

6Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; 7let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. 8For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. 9For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Luke 13:1-9
13At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” 6Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ 8He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’” 

Isaiah v. 1-3 with references to wine and milk and honey (eschatological terms… the establishment of the new Kingdom of God’s reign on earth or the final coming of the Son of Man); one way we can understand this passage is that we do not have the means to effect or bring about our own restored relationship (salvation) with God… we thirst and hunger (for righteousness) but we have nothing in ourselves to quench the thirst or hunger… Yet God calls us to himself and provides the very thing we need… God calls us to listen and to respond… to feast upon him… his word to us… that is the true source of life (eternal life) that includes but goes beyond our physical life.

v3. inclusion into the covenant of David? By extension the covenant the God made with Abraham and the call that included being a light to all people to reveal to them the extent of God’s love for all creation… for all people to know and praise God?

v6-7. the covenant requirement… God calls all people to repent or turn away from our sinful actions and words (the wicked and unrighteous) and turn back to God… God’s desire is to be merciful and compassionate to all who deny Him… to all who curse him… (the source of Jesus’ lament from last week)…

v8. This goes against the logic and understanding of the world… it is contrary to the way we as sinful human beings reason.

Bottom line: God wants to forgive… but first we must be sincere in our desire for forgiveness and honest in our repentance….

That moment, or those moments, come when Jesus speaks a word to us (through a scripture, an individual, a situation) that hurts us. And the hurt is caused by our understanding that we desire Jesus more than we do anything else… and it becomes clear to us that we need to turn away from those actions

Lent can be a process that helps us to begin to listen more fully, more carefully so that we are willing to deal with the pain that separates us from God. God’s word to us in Jesus is not the source of our pain… it is the cure for our pain

Jesus is the expiation of our sin. The rooting or cutting out of our sin… that process has already occurred through the cross for the original sin of humanity… the sin is no more because Jesus has dealt with it already … but our specific sin(s) still needs attended to…

Jesus deals with that on a far more personal level as he speaks his Word to us… and the pain we experience it is not due to the Word but the reaction of our sin to the Word…

The image of having a splinter comes to mind… it’s not until we become aware of it that it starts to hurt and then the process of removing it can bring about even more pain… so our natural reaction (as a child) is to deal with the pain of the splinter rather than the pain of removing it. It isn’t until the pain of having the splinter in us is greater than the pain in removing it do we feel compelled to endure having it removed.

It is when we experience the pain of true repentance that the forgiveness given to us by Jesus on the cross becomes effective for us… in other words the splinter comes out and true healing begins.

Luke. In the verses prior to this (most of if not all of chapter 12) Jesus is speaking to the crowds about the coming judgment (12:57-59 the debtor pleading for reconciliation for example).

The examples that follow in our text relay a really simple message: repent now for the time is short.
This can and should be understood that our life is short and disaster can strike any of us without notice (recent events to remind us of this… the flooding of 2008, earthquakes in Haiti and Chile’, the recent death of the 14 year old girl from Williamsburg on I-80).

None of these events happened as a result of God’s anger or judgment of these person’s or city’s or state’s or country’s sinfulness. They are all part of life.

However, what it does do is show us the depth of God’s desire to forgive us… to restore us… his longing to have us close to Him in the life to come and even more importantly in this life.

God longs for our repentance because God longs for us to accept or make effective the forgiveness that he has given us in the Person of Christ Jesus the Son on the cross.

That’s where I see the link between this passage from Luke and the one from Isaiah. God longs for us to come to realize how we are separated from Him… God knows that on our own we will never be able to overcome that separation… that ultimately God, in the Person of the Son (Christ Jesus), will have to provide both the means and the ability (through faith) for us to be able to respond… to hear the word of God that allows us finally to long more for God than for the things that separate us from God… to hear the word that brings us to repentance… Then and only then will we know true forgiveness... and it is in that same moment that we experience what love and forgiveness feels like… it is then that we are made new…

On this side of glory we’re never perfect… but we know that we are forgiven…

And that forgiveness empowers us to live our lives in the Promise

Thursday, January 21, 2010

1.17.2010 Sermon Notes

Living the Promise -

Can You Spare Some Change?

Living the Promise: 1. accepting the gift of faith in Jesus (entering into a personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus) 2. living our daily lives like we say we believe. It is growing to be more like Jesus in thought, word and action.

The words above imply something. In a sense it’s kind of like saying, “I’m going to accept that free lifetime pass at the gym and get this body back into shape!”

What’s implied? Change. But also something more. What else is implied? There is something that needs changing.

Why don’t we like change? I just gave part of the answer… the idea that someone thinks I need to change something about myself… but there’s more to it than that. We get comfortable with they way we are, what we do, the way we live… whether it’s the way our house looks or our body looks; what we eat or what we say; where we go and what we do when we get there… even if we know that sometimes what we do, eat, or watch along with what we don’t do, eat, or watch isn’t good for us.

It’s true for our physical life and it’s also true for our spiritual lives [“The brussel sprout story” One of my seminary professors talking about the pervasiveness of sin in our lives gave an analogy about brussel sprouts and hot fudge Sundays. Even though we know that brussel sprouts are good for us we often refuse to eat them. Hot fudge Sundays on the other hand are not good for us and we’ll eat them readily without prompting—in his words we’ll eat them all the way to hell] 

That’s one of the reasons that I can identify so strongly with the apostle Paul’s cry … who can save me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord… there is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus… for if anyone is in Christ they are a new creation… (Romans and 2 Cor)

Paul was talking about how difficult it is for us to change… the reality that some attitudes and actions become so deeply ingrained in us that it becomes impossible for us to do it on our own. That even though we know what is right and good and healthy… what God desires for us because God knows that it’s healthier for us and can bring us closer to God… and deep down inside us we may long for it too… when push comes to shove we have a hard time following through and so… we go back to what’s familiar… what’s comfortable even though we may realize what’s going on.

Then to make ourselves feel better we start telling ourselves things to make us feel better for doing what we know isn’t healthy for us, which only tends to reinforce the need for the change.

We need a savior… someone who can do for us what we can’t do by ourselves

That’s what we have to have in mind when we read this account of Jesus changing the water into wine. We can’t understand it right away because of our American culture and the day and age in which we live; we see what’s happening and think of it in terms of what these details mean for us instead of what they meant for first century Jews… what it pointed to. Because it pointed to God keeping God’s Promise.

Symbolism of the wine-abundance of wine a sign of the inbreaking of God’s Kingdom and God’s salvation

Breaking down the miracle. Things to note:

The number of jars and their capacity (120 to 180 gallons of wine). Linking it to the the overabundance of wine at the inauguration of the Kingdom of God.

The purpose of the jars. For the rights of Jewish ritual purification. Symbolic for the practice of practice of faith of the Jewish people.

The jars were empty. Symbolic for the generalized view that many (including the religious leadership) had allowed the content of the faith to become more focused on the practices of faith (observance of the law) than who the practice brings us close to-God.

In filling the jars and transforming the water into wine Jesus created something new in the midst of Judaism—but it is not a rejection nor a replacement of the old. “I tell you the truth, I did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.”

So can this all mean for us?

For us to be able to live the promise of God not only do we need to accept his gift of faith… we need to submit to the transformation to the change Jesus can bring in our lives…

We are not water… water has no mind; water has no will… human beings do.

The miracle of changing water into wine shows us the possibility of what God can do in our lives through our sharing in the life of Christ and what it can mean. Changing and transforming us into the character and nature of God… so that we can be more like Jesus in thought, word, and action.

Can you spare some change?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Sunday 1/10/2010 Sermon Notes

Living the PromiseGod’s Seal of Approval

Acts 8:14-17

14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. 15The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit 16(for as yet the Spirit had not come* upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). 17Then Peter and John* laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah,* 16John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with* the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing-fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’ The Baptism of Jesus

21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved;* with you I am well pleased.’*


Living the Promise: 1. accepting the gift of faith in Jesus (entering into a personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus) 2. living our daily lives like we say we believe. It is growing to be more like Jesus in thought, word and action.

Both of these texts speak about baptism and the role of the Holy Spirit in baptism… and the role of the Person of the Holy Spirit is emphasized more

Before the accounting of Jesus’ baptism; people were filled with expectation; questioning in their hearts if John was the Messiah; John testified that he was not

What happened in Jesus’ baptism?  He submitted to baptism; He was praying;  Heaven opened and the Person of the Holy Spirit descended upon him;  At the same moment God spoke, “You are my Son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.”

What does Jesus’ baptism mean? I think it clearly gives testimony to John’s statement that he is not the Messiah and that Jesus is; I also think it clearly is God’s seal of approval on a) who Jesus is and b) Jesus’ attitudes and actions leading up to this point

~ As such we can understand Jesus’ baptism as an anointing as Messiah or Christ (that is after all the meaning of those words… anointed one) in the same manner that David was anointed by Samuel… he was the chosen shepherd of God’s people… a man after God’s own heart… but he had not yet ascended to his throne.

But in the words of the old song by Peggy Lee… “is that all there is?” I don’t think so.

~ When I think of what this might mean for us as human beings, it leads me to the questions, “What is the role of the Messiah? What is it about him that matters to me and my life today? Why is it important that he received God’s Seal of Approval? What is it about Jesus’ baptism (his anointing as Messiah) that is important for us” and finally, “How can it help me Live the Promise?”

The answer, for us, I believe lies in how God has revealed Himself in the Person of Jesus as God the Son… in other words “who” Jesus is and the role of the Holy Spirit in connecting us to God through faith in Jesus. The Connecting piece for us, in my mind, is Jesus’ baptism, how it relates to ours and how we should understand them.

Interesting reading regarding Peter and John’s baptizing in the Spirit. One commentary I read, while not able to explain why the people of Samaria were not baptized in the name of the Holy Spirit, connects Peter and John’s going to Samaria and baptizing in the name of the Holy Spirit to the first part of the book of Acts. There they initiated the practice of sharing all things equally and participating fully in the community of faith. This passage seems to indicate that this includes the missionary vocation.

There are a couple of things to note here: 1) There is a continuity between the Baptist’s words that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit (and with fire), Jesus’ promise to baptize with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5 “…John baptized with water but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit…”), and the fact that John and Peter went to baptize in the name of the Holy Spirit. That continuity… that connection is the Person of the Holy Spirit.

Let’s talk about baptism for a moment. What does our baptism do effectively for us?  Baptism is a symbol or sign of our faith or the faith we profess for our children. Baptism is a symbol of our remorse and regret for our sins and have turned away from sin and toward God. Baptism symbolizes our participation in God’s saving act, by faith, through the incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Baptism symbolizes God’s acceptance of us as a part of God’s family the church.

The act of baptism in no way washes away our sins… Jesus’ sacrificial death did that. The act of baptism does not get us into heaven.

Baptism is a sacrament; a sign or symbol of what God has done; is doing; or will do in our lives to bring us to a life saving relationship with Jesus.

If baptism is a sign God’s power and grace at work in our lives (and it is); then for us baptism is a sign of our obedience and trust in God—our submission to God. And the means by which this is accomplished is the Person of the Holy Spirit.

Now I want to go back to the importance of Jesus’ baptism for us in this being able to take place.

We can’t look at and understand Jesus’ baptism in quite the same way we do our own. First of all Jesus was without sin. So his baptism should not be associated with any admission of sin and the repentance that John was calling for. So why submit to baptism? It is because of his unique nature as the incarnate Person of God the Son.

The witness of the early church, related to us in a hymn quoted by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians (2:5-8, explains it):

5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.

Because in Jesus God became human… he identified himself completely with us… Jesus came to do completely and perfectly what we could not… turn away from sin and back toward God… not as God… but as a human being… In the act of submitting to baptism he did for us what we cannot do completely and perfectly… he humbled himself and submitted his will as God the Son… his being… to God the Father…

God responded to this act with his seal of approval… the anointing of the Holy Spirit and the proclamation that this is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.

And it is the Person of the Holy Spirit the indwelt him in his human life that empowered him and enabled him to remain obedient because he was continually submitting to the will of God the Father. Jesus’ life was lived in and through the Person of the Holy Spirit. His preaching, his teaching, his acts of mercy, his miracles, his final act of obedience on the cross was enabled because of his intimate relationship with his heavenly Father mediated by the Person of the Holy Spirit. We have a fancy theological name for that—perichoresis (pear-i-core-ee-sis)—literally it means mutual interpenetration. It describes how the 3 persons of the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) are able to maintain their individuality while sharing completely and perfectly in the lives of the other two.

All of this is a detailed way to say that even when Jesus set aside his Godhood in the incarnation he still shared in the life of God by the power of the Holy Spirit.

So Jesus’ baptism is important for us because it, as a part of the Christ event—the incarnation, birth, life, sacrificial death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus—it makes it possible for us to submit ourselves to God and share in the life of God, however imperfectly, through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit by the gift of faith.

So, that’s how God helps us to Live the Promise… through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in us.

Need to notice a something… the purpose or goal of the Holy Spirit isn’t just to bring us closer to God… but so that we can participate as fully as possible in the life of God.

So what is the life of God focused on… in part, to reconcile the world to himself…

By our sharing in the baptism of Jesus through faith we also share in his life… his ministry… his mission.

He was able to do it as he submitted to the leading of God the Father through the guidance of the Holy Spirit… just the same way that the early church did after Pentecost… which is why Peter and John went to baptize with the Holy Spirit…

That means that we are called to do the same… and our effectiveness is determined by how well we seek out and submit to the leading of the Spirit…

How do we do that? Again we find our answer in Scripture…

Luke 3:21-22 …when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22and the Holy Spirit descended upon him…

He prayed. And it wasn’t the act of praying that was the most important, but the attitude in prayer… humble submission and willingness to obey…

So being able to Live the Promise is made possible by

Humbling ourselves before God and submitting/trusting ourselves to his leading

Stay in touch with God through prayer (listening as well as speaking)

When we’re able to do that we will someday hear God say This is my child, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased… and receive God’s seal of approval.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Thinking Along the Same Lines

I heard a radio broadcast this past week from Dr. David Jeremiah that caught my attention. I think it's another good way for us to think about what "Living the Promise" might mean; or at least enable us to come at it from another angle. He's doing a series called "Preparing for a High Definition Life." The gist of the message I heard assures us that as people who live in a relationship with Jesus experience life with more clarity and color. In my words it's more real and has greater impact than what the world without that relationship with God experiences. I'll be chewing on his analogy for a while and hope you will too.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Sermon Notes 1.03.2010 – Epiphany Sunday

Living The Promise

Living the Promise: 1. accepting the gift of faith in Jesus (entering into a personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus) 2. living our daily lives like we say we believe. It is growing to be more like Jesus in thought, word and action.


From Isaiah: These verses are part of God’s promise fulfilled in and through Jesus who is the light of the world (John 1)

The word is given to God’s people as an insight into the reestablishing of Jerusalem and the Kingdom of David and as such is a Messianic prophecy… not only is it a word of hope but it is a reminder that God’s light shines through God’s people…

Arise. Shine. For your light has come. We reflect and shine the glory and the love of God.

Because the world is still in darkness… lack of understanding about who God is and God’s desire for us as human beings to live in relationship with God and what that relationship should look like

Darkness shall cover the earth and thick darkness the peoples (nations)

The passage identifies first the Hebrew nation; we understand it to be speaking about Jesus who is the perfection and completion of the Israel; we should also apply it to ourselves as Christians or the Body of Christ…

Today v3. is the result of our response to the coming of God’s glory in Jesus… it is a continuation of what we read in Matthew with the Magi… their recognizing and responding to the revelation of God in and through Jesus… for we are the Body of Christ as we receive the promise… the promise continues to be given through us and fulfilled in and through us as we live the promise.

From Matthew: some months after the birth of Jesus.

In Luke the emphasis on the revelation of the incarnation and birth is to the people of Israel—the children of the promise—emphasis is on role of savior (as well as King since born in Bethlehem—the house of David)

In Matthew emphasis is placed on 1. role of Jesus as King (where is the child who has been born King of the Jews?) and equally important 2. Revelation came to non-Jews so the light that Isaiah proclaims is linked to a) the same star foreseen by Balaam b) the light and glory that is Jesus.

Responses: even though they found Jesus in a barn/stable instead of the palace they accepted the truth of what was revealed to them rather than the logic of the world (in darkness… impaired understanding)… Response was focused on what they could offer—not what could be gained.

Compare to that of Herod… responded with fear… trying to hold onto what he had… thinking of what he might lose… missing the significance that what was revealed to him was worth more than anything else this world could ever hope to offer.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

December 20 – Fourth Sunday of Advent

The Promise is  Joy

Isaiah 7:13-14

13Then Isaiah* said: ‘Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? 14Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman* is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel (God with us).

This is one of God’s Promises to be with us… a promise of hope. But what is one of the possible human responses to the Promise of hope; one that God wishes to inspire in us?

Luke 1:39-44

39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy.

John the Baptist even while in his mother’s womb recognizes the Promise of God and responds as a person should when encountering the presence of God… with unrestrained joy.

True joy comes from our acknowledging and responding to God’s Promise… Jesus… Immanuel; God with us… and God wants us to live lives of joy… to acknowledge and respond positively to God through faith in Jesus.

Nehemiah 8:10

…do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.

Just as God is love, God is also joy; where love and joy abound there can be no room for fear for “perfect love casts out fear” 1 John 8:18

Joy 1 a : the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires b : the expression or exhibition of such emotion 3 : a source or cause of delight

Joy is spoken of often in the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments (joy in one form or another—including rejoice—is found almost exactly 400 times. Compare this with love-586; glory-468; mercy-310; and faith-275) and in different ways depending upon the situation the writer found themselves in (this includes happiness from married life and family to particularly harvest. Overwhelmingly though, these examples are related to God—some attribute or action of God in relationship with God’s people and our response of joy.

In the Old Testament, difficult times (times of war, famine, poverty, oppression etc.) the experience of joy became the anticipation of God’s deliverance from whatever it was they were being subject to either because of their faith or their lack of faith and so joy became a central theme in their eschatological hope—their hope in God’s promises of salvation in the coming of God’s anointed or Christ and again in the coming Son of Man.

As Christians, we understand and believe that Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise and hope and so the source and object of joy.

This is a key theme in Luke’s gospel beginning with the angel’s announcement to Zechariah in the temple, that he and his wife would have a son and they would have “joy” at his birth because of who he was and what he would do in relation to the coming of Jesus; again in the passage for this morning; the pronouncement of the angel to the shepherds; throughout his ministry and his resurrection. As seen in John’s gospel, our relationship with Jesus is a source of our joy as believers.

The Apostle Paul argues that our joy in Christ can be experienced even during trials and troubles in life as an expression of our faith. He understands them to be temporary (agreed a subjective term but from God’s perspective all of existence is temporary) and as such should not dampen the joy we experience in life. In addition he believes that these difficult times suggest that the pending completion or consummation of God’s promise and our hope and so should heighten our joy. In circumstances where our hardship can be understood as being experienced because of our faith, Paul argues it is an extension or reflection of Jesus’ own suffering and so cause for more rejoicing.

God wants us to experience joy… Jesus tells us that he wants his joy to be in us so that our joy may be complete. Paul reminds us of this when talking about the character traits of Jesus that we receive when given the gift of the Person of the Holy Spirit—the Spirit of Christ—and the fruit of the Spirit, one of which is joy!

I think we also need to stop and think for a moment about the character and nature of God… God’s attributes. Scripture tells us that God is love, God is peace and so also God is joy. God not only evokes these responses in us but God is the source of them for God “is” these things. We experience them in different ways as human beings but in God they could be considered interchangeable but most certainly they are so intimately inter-related as to be indistinguishable… much like the Triune nature of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

These ideas are important because they help us think about how we can understand and experience joy in our own lives.

Think about people’s situation and response from the passage from Isaiah and in the early part of the gospel when God breaks into their lives.

Ahaz—king of Judah is going to be besieged and is in fear for the future; Zechariah—aging, he and his wife Elizabeth past child bearing years and childless, without hope; Mary—a young girl engaged to be married and with bright prospects for the future only to hear that that future all of a sudden doesn’t look to bright; Joseph—Mary’s betrothed… he has just found out his fiancĂ©e is pregnant and faces disgrace

God comes to each and says do not fear… the promise is that God is or will be with them and will see them through whatever is going to take place. And what does God say to each of them… do not be afraid…

Their response? Ahaz refused to accept God’s word out of fear. Zechariah questioned and doubted. Mary and Joseph accepted God’s word and acted upon it. But nowhere in these passages is the word joy mentioned, so why bring them up? The passage from Nehemiah is my clue.

Ezra instructs the people not to grieve; which here literally means “not to worry.” That the joy of the Lord will give them strength… will give them courage to do what they need to do.

Think back to the situations that we listed before. Ahaz worried and did not act on God’s word. Zechariah while he certainly wasn’t the example of faith of Mary and Joseph did not doubt any longer. Mary and Joseph, accepted God’s word to them and acted. In a sense you could say that they acknowledged God’s joy in choosing them and that joy provided them the courage to act in faith.

Think back to God and God’s attribute of love casting out all fear… all worry and read that with the passage from Nehemiah in mind and the responses of the folks.

This can help us to understand how Paul talked about he experienced joy during all of the trials and hardships of his ministry for Jesus… the joy of the Lord was his strength.

Does this mean that when we have feelings of happiness when things are going right we should not call it joy? To quote the Apostle Paul… “By No Means!” Of course we can experience joy and celebrate the blessings in life that involve success and good fortune! The Bible is full of examples of those. But we should not limit our understanding of joy and God’s desire for us to experience it to only that understanding.

The reason, I believe, that we sometimes don’t understand that joy can be experienced during difficult times in our lives is that we misplace the source of our joy as well as the object of our joy. The Bible is clear that God is both. And as Christians we experience that in the Person of Jesus Christ… the incarnation of God… Immanuel… God with us… that is God’s Promise to us.

The question we may ponder, especially in light of everything that’s going on in the world around us… political unrest, international conflict, questionable economy, unemployment, the reality of death in our own families and communities… the question we many ponder is, “how do I respond?” Do I refuse to believe God’s Word to me? Do I doubt and question? Or do I take courage in God’s Promise… do I take courage in the abiding presence of Jesus… and live in faith… with joy? For myself, for my family, for those near and for those far away. For the Promise is for all that the Lord our God calls.