Joy is something that we often mistake for happiness. Joy and happiness are actually two different things. While we can be joyful while we are happy, we can also be joyful when we are not.
I know I talk about this a lot, but hey, it's 2020, so It is what is is. But 2020 is a hard year to be happy, and it is even a harder year to be joyful. This year, we have dealt with separation, we have dealt with disease, we have dealt heavily with the brokenness of our governmental institutions and our elections, and it just seems like the hits keep coming. But in all that craziness, life is still happening...both the good parts and the bad parts.
While it is hard to fathom that we could find happiness and joy this year, there is a consistent theme that keeps popping back up for me.
Often, when we come to situation where we dislike something, (some may even go so far as to say "hate"), or maybe even someone, if we are Christian, we know that God calls us to, "not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God."
Often times though, when we come to God in prayer, we think that the best way to pray is for God to fix our situation, or perhaps for God to change the other person. But I have begun to believe in, and see the results of, asking God to change my own heart instead.
The Psalmist writes:
"Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me."
There have been times in my life, and even in ministry where I have allowed someone else, or a set of circumstances to "steal my joy." Where I know that I am exactly where God has put me, and I allow another person to have control over my emotions. Instead of asking God to create in me a clean heart, I allow my anger to fester, and I block myself from experiencing the joy that God has for me.
I once heard, and have used this quote in a few sermons, that holding anger against someone is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. It just doesn't work that way.
In this season, one thing that I feel like I want to experience the most is joy. Even though this is still 2020 for another 15 days, I don't want to allow Satan to steal my joy. So, I hope you will pray with me that God create in us clean hearts that we may experience true joy this Advent Season!
Let us pray,
O God, you are always ready to hear our prayers, and for that we are thankful. Father, today, we pray especially for our hearts; not in some selfish way, but in a way that we can experience true joy this Holiday Season. We know there are many external things that cause us grief, but Lord, we hope you will create in us a clean heart that even in the midst of all the brokenness of the world, we may experience TRUE joy.
Thank you for this season of preparation as we wait in anticipation of the birth of the Messiah and as we also wait for his return!
In the STRONG name of Jesus we pray,
There is a pretty popular Christian song on playing on the radio called "The Blessing" by Kari Jobe & Cody Carnes. The song is very simple in its lyrics and yet there is something that speaks to almost anyone and everyone who hears it.
The song is based on The Priestly Blessing that comes to us from Numbers 6: 22-26.
The Lord said to Moses, Tell Aaron and his sons this is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them,
I will never forget the first time I heard these words and what they have come to mean to me over the last few years of the ministry that God has called me to.
Many of you know that my dad is also an Ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church. One of the churches he served in during my adolescence was at Asbury Church in Corpus Christi; it was at the beginning of my 7th Grade year when we moved there.
At the time, the now Rev. Trudy Paul was our youth pastor, and it just so happened that my first meeting of the youth program was in the summer at a pool party at her house.
After our time of hanging out in the pool and meeting new friends, we took some time to share. We sat down in a circle, lit a candle, and passed it around. When it was your turn to hold the candle, you would have a chance to share where you saw God this week, or to lift up a prayer request. After that time was over, we would place the candle in the center of the room, and these words would be spoken:
"We place the candle in the center of the room, symbolizing that Christ is the center of our lives. We remember that what was said here, stays here, and what is learned here is taken out into the world. Cross your right hand over your left and grab the hand of the person next to you, symbolizing that when we say Amen, we answer the call to go out into the world."
It was at this moment when we would say the Priestly Blessing, as if we were praying it over each other.
May the Lord Bless you and Keep you
May the Lord make his face to shine upon you
and Be gracious unto you
May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you
and give you peace. Amen.
Then, of course, we would all try to turn around in the circle as fast as we could so we could be the first one to blow the candle out. (That wasn't part of the time, merely a consequence of a lighted candle around a bunch of teenagers).
The second week in Advent comes with some controversy. Depending on where you go, the second and 4th weeks get mixed up. It can either be Peace or Love. Traditionally, I have always celebrated Peace on the 2nd week, but the reality is, it doesn't really matter. After all, I think we all could use a little peace right now.
Something we don't often think about during this season. Sure, we hear the words, but do we really think about it; meditate on it? Do we take time to really experience the peace of God? The "Peace that passes all understanding?" (Down in my heart?)
I've often wondered why Jesus came when he did. Why did he come to First Century Judea? Why didn't he come to 21st Century America? Well, I guess there are a few reasons I can think of, but one of them would be, Maybe there would be NO ONE who would believe what they saw? Who knows, but God?
Anyway, I believe that Jesus came when he did because it was the perfect time. It was the right time for the Prince of Peace to enter into the chaos and change everything.
I hope during this chaotic season, with the Virus, with the news of Vaccines, with the news of continuous lock-downs for parts of the country, even with the hustle and bustle of the Christmas Holidays and High School Football playoffs (Go Jackets!), that you take a moment to receive the Peace that Christ brings into every situation.
Peace, Be Still.
Let us pray,
Lord, I am so thankful that we are in the season of advent. I thank you, Father, for the recognition that even in 2020, in the midst of all the chaos, you have come to bring us peace. Help us to focus on you, help us to focus on the peace you want to bring to us.
In Jesus Name.
One of my all-time favorite movie franchises is Star Wars.
Yes...I'm a nerd.
No...I'm not sorry.
In the series there is a side story known as Rogue One. If you know anything about the original Star Wars Movies that came out in the 70's and 80's, this story takes place right before Episode 4 entitled "Star Wars: A New Hope."
Rogue One is probably my favorite movie of all the Star Wars movies. It is a small departure from the rest of the story, but ends right where A New Hope picks up.
At any rate, without boring you with too many details, the Star Wars Saga is all about fighting against Tyranny, and the one thing that consistently comes up over and over again is this idea of Hope. You've probably even heard the line, "Help me, Obi Wan Kenobi, You're our only Hope."
As we enter into the Season of Advent, we are reminded of our greatest and only Hope: Jesus.
In the Scripture, as I talked about this past Sunday, we can see how darkness entered into the world, and how light is used to combat that darkness.
Read these words from John 1: 1-5
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the live was the light of all the people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it."
While I could spend hours talking about these first few verses of John, what I want to focus on this week is the implied thought that without Jesus, there is no hope.
In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the first thing he did was create the light. Just like when Jesus entered into the world as a child, the light shined in the darkness, and every single day, every time someone comes to know Jesus as their savior, every time another disciples is made, that light shines even more brighter.
What Jesus did was start a chain reaction that brought us to where we are today, but he has called us to share that Hope with others.
Many people don't know that George Lucas, the creator of the Star Wars Saga was raised in a devout Methodist family. While I cannot speak to his faith, there is one thing that I believe he took from his Methodist upbringing.
In the movies, one of the ways Characters say goodby is by saying, "May the Force Be With You." As an aside, you can always tell the Methodists in the room because they will say, "And also with you!"
But in all seriousness, while I believe the force exists only in the Star Wars Universe, I do believe hope exists in ours. So, with that I say: For this Advent Season, "May the HOPE be with you."
Let us pray,
God of us all, we come to you acknowledging our brokenness. We also come recognizing we have often allowed ourselves to give in to the darkness around us. Help us to focus entirely on the light that you have brought into the world, and help us to remember that the light has come into the world, and the darkness did not overcome it.
In the name of Jesus we pray,
Growing up in the United Methodist Church, I have always had a passion for ministry. Now, I have been called to serve the people of Llano at an awesome place called Lutie Watkins Memorial!