Pastor’s Ponderings

This column is a place where Scott will share his thoughts from time to time on what he has been learning, studying, and pondering.

December 13, 2010 – The Gift of JOY

December 13, 2010

Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength. – Nehemiah 8:10 (NET)

It is a sad fact that the season between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day has the highest percentage of suicides of any time of the year. People sink into depression, discouragement, and despondence, and, having no hope, no peace, and no joy, they decide they prefer to end their lives than to keep on living in this joyless world.

Of course, we who are in Christ know that what awaits these poor souls on the other side is far worse than what they faced in this world. Further, we are well aware that if we have Christ “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” – Psalm 30:5 (ESV) And that is just it, isn’t it—we who are IN CHRIST know this. Without Him, we would be just as lost, just as discouraged, just as hopeless and just as joyless as those who have given up on life. But because we have Christ, we have the joy of the LORD, and the joy of the LORD is our STRENGTH! There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and a reward that far surpasses any trial. We have the promise of our Lord Jesus Christ and He encourages us, “In the world you will have suffering. But take heart! I have conquered the world.” – John 16:33 (REB)

Though from our very finite human perspective life may sometimes (even often) appear to be without joy, we have great reason for rejoicing!  The fifth chapter of Romans explains:

“Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of God’s glory. Not only this, but we also rejoice in sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance, character, and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Not only this, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received this reconciliation.” – Romans 5:1-6, 11 (NET)

No matter how bad life gets, no matter what this old world may throw at us, we can have joy, because we have been reconciled to God through Christ. The gift of Jesus is the gift of the joy of the Lord, and the joy of the LORD is our strength! May God grant that we would ever share the attitude of:

  • Mary, who declared, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. – Luke 1:46-48 (NRSV)
  • The shepherds who were told of the birth of Christ: “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard, just as they had been told. Luke 2:20 (HCSB)
  • The three wise men who sought Jesus: “When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.” – Matthew 2:10 (KJV)

We can, should, and DO have joy—the joy of the LORD—because it has been given to us in the person of Jesus Christ, born as a helpless baby in a dirty stable in an insignificant town over two millennia ago. I encourage you to focus on the Giver of THE GIFT this Christmas season. As we remember our hope, as we set aside time to soak in His peace, let us also set aside time to PARTY! To CELEBRATE! GOD IS WITH US! Because of this, I exhort you, brothers and sisters, as Paul exhorted the Philippian Christians: “Keep on rejoicing in the Lord at all times. I will say it again: Keep on rejoicing!” – Philippians 4:4 (ISV)

Loving God create in us a fountain of joy, stir in us a spirit ready to dance, kindle in us the fire of gladness, set loose in us songs of praise, for You are the One who comes with healing and blessing. It is You, King Jesus, who reconciles us to God. You are our offering, our priest, and our God, the source and the object of our joy. Grant that we would rejoice in You, during the Christmas season and throughout our lives! Amen.

December 6, 2010 – The Gift of Peace

December 7, 2010

(This is the first installment of what will be a semi-regular series. There is no “curriculum”; this is meant simply to encourage you and to share with you the things I’m studying, learning, and pondering.)

We are in the second week of Advent. Advent is the four weeks leading up to Christmas, where we observe and consider the expectation and anticipation of the coming promised Messiah. The theme of the first week of Advent is “hope”. As I’ve mentioned before in my sermons, Biblical hope is not mere wishful thinking, as the world defines hope, but the confident assurance and eager anticipation that God’s promises will be fulfilled.

The theme for this, the second week of Advent, is “Peace”. As we look forward to celebrating Christmas, the fulfillment of God’s promises regarding the Messiah, it is important that we remember that Jesus is both the object and the source of our hope and our peace.

It is sadly ironic that for most of us life it at its most hectic and frenetic state during this season that is meant to celebrate our peace with God. We rush around, frantically trying to find time to prepare for all of our holiday events and get all our shopping done. We fight traffic on the streets and in the stores. Our blood pressure rises, tempers flare, stress gives us headaches and stomach aches, all in the name of celebrating Christmas. But if we would just take a step back from ourselves and observe our behavior, it would become apparent immediately that what we are doing has nothing to do with the hope and peace that are the true essence of this wonderful season. We cannot control the decisions of warring nations, or of unreasonable neighbors, or of coworkers who simply have no desire to be pleasant or get along with anyone, or of aggressive drivers or rude shoppers. But then, it is not our responsibility to control any of that. Romans 12:18 very clearly spells out our responsibility: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all people.” A song that my high school choir sang put it nicely: “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

I encourage you to protect at least a little time each day this week —maybe a half hour— to sit down, take a few deep breaths, and reflect on the profound gift of PEACE bestowed on us through the precious gift of Jesus. Turn off the TV, turn off the computer, turn off the phone, put down your book, and just REST in that peace as you reflect on it…

For a child has been born to us, a Son has been given to us.
He bears the symbol of dominion on His shoulder, and is called:
Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God,
Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace.
(Isaiah 9:6)

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among people with whom He is pleased! (Luke 2:14)

Peace I leave with you. I am giving you My own peace, such as the world cannot give. Set your troubled hearts at rest, and banish your fears. (John 14:27)

Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with Godthrough our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of God’s glory. (Romans 5:1-2)

And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 4:7)

Gracious God, we place our trust in You. Thank You for giving us peace with You through Jesus. Grant that we may rest in that peace as we prepare to celebrate our Lord’s birth. May any divisions among us and among our families be peacefully resolved. May Your peace reign in our cities and in the countries of our world. Help us to see the paths of peace in our lives, and then give to us courage to follow them. Lord, let us remember that you only are the giver of lasting peace and that you are always with us and will never leave us nor forsake us. In the Name of Jesus, who is our peace, Amen.

May God bless you and keep you and give you peace!


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