David C. Hughes, Writer

“For the LORD your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your JOY will be complete." –Deuteronomy 16:15

Archive for the month “October, 2013”

The Epiphany of Joy, Chapter 2: Joy in God’s Word [1 of 3]

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

                        –John 1:1 (NIV)

 

Productive thinking disrupts unproductive thinking.  You overcome evil with good.  And when you preoccupy your mind with God’s Word, you go a long way toward shutting out temptation.

              —Tommy Newberry, The 4:8 Principle,

              page 94

 

 

Hannah’s a great kid.  Yes, I’m a teensy bit biased, but she really is awesome.  She’s got a great memory, unshakable persistence, and a command of the English language like her dad.  She’s got a spunky attitude, confident fearlessness, and a natural wisdom like her mom.  And she sings better than either of us (especially Mary).  She’s strong, she’s persistent, she’s got a giving heart, and she’s an amazing prayer warrior.  All around, she’s **sigh** perfect . . . . well, there is one character trait that drives both Mary and I to the wine fridge occasionally, and if you have children you’ll agree it’s a chronic symptom of childhood.  What am I talking about?  Disobedience.  Yep, good old-fashioned not listening when told to do something.  Thank you Adam and Eve.

“Why are you so mean to me?” Hannah gripes when we get onto her case for disobeying.

“Because you don’t do what you’re told!” we reply, teeth gritted, voices one notch above annoyance and a hair below outright anger.  “If you’d only listen to us, we’d never have to spank your butt or yell at you or put you in time out!”

I can just imagine God smiling and nodding His head knowingly, a twinkle in His all-seeing eye.  Yep, pot calling the kettle black and all that.  As the apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “. . . all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God . . . .” (Romans 3:23)  And disobedience is at the heart of our sinful nature.  How often do you go to church and listen to the sermon, or tune in iTunes or the radio or television to hear the message, or click on and read a Spirit-guided blog, then walk out the door, turn off the radio, or close out Internet Explorer without giving it a second thought, or worse, remembering the message but not putting it into practice?  Don’t raise your hands all at once.  Those of us who have reached the golden age of reason can be just as obstinate about obeying God’s edicts as a child is about obeying her parents’ commands.  No wonder joy seems elusive sometimes.

Throughout the Old Testament, God constantly reminded the Hebrews of the benefits of obeying His precepts, and the consequences of disobeying them.  Leviticus 26:1-13 clearly spells out these benefits in plain Hebrew: “’If you live in accordance with my precepts and are careful to observe my commandments, I will give you rain in due season, so that the land will bear its crops, and the trees their fruit. . . .’” (Leviticus 26:3-4 NAB).  In verses 5 through 13, God promises abundant food to eat, strength to defeat their enemies, and to hang out with them.

In verses 14 through 39, God just as clearly spells out the consequences of disobedience: “’But if you do not heed me and do not keep all these commandments, if you reject my precepts and spurn my decrees, refusing to obey all my commandments and breaking my covenant, then I, in turn, will give you your deserts.  I will punish you with terrible woes . . . .” (Leviticus 26:14-16 NAB).  Like the Lorrie Morgan lyric, “What part of no don’t you understand?”  When the Hebrews didn’t listen, they got sent to timeout–a lot.  And they got spanked a time or two.

In the New Testament, Jesus tells His disciples before going to the cross “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.  My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”  (John 15:10-12).  Yes, Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament Law, but He still expects us to obey the commands He gave us out of love, for our own good and the good of all His people.  We seem to constantly tell Hannah “All you have to do is obey and you won’t get into trouble.”  Likewise, listening to God’s word, believing it, and obeying it will keep trouble at arm’s length, with the subsequent benefit of remaining in joy.  All we gotta do is love!

In my experience growing up Catholic, my only exposure to Scripture was during mass, when the lector read the weekly first and second readings and the priest read the Gospel then preached on it during his homily.  I was well-versed in my Catechism, I could recite Catholic prayers by heart, and I regularly received the Sacraments, but I don’t remember reading Scripture, I never memorized it, and as a consequence I didn’t enter adulthood with a strong appreciation for God’s Word and its power and capacity to instill joy.

In his second letter to Timothy, the apostle Paul encouraged Timothy to not only remember Scripture, but to use it as a tool for becoming wise and for doing good:  “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:14-17 NIV).

 

Copyright ©2013 by David C. Hughes

 

The Epiphany of Joy, Chapter 1: The Search for Joy [3 of 3]

One Easter Saturday morning, Mary and I attended a briefing with other church nursery workers on the procedures for checking in, tending to, and checking out the dozens of children expected to arrive the next morning as their parents participated in Easter services.  Before the orientation started, Catherine Talbot, a fellow New River member and a woman who lives joyfully despite circumstances, hustled by and took a seat.  You gotta love her: she glows with joy and doesn’t even know it!  Mary and I got up, ran over to her, and hugged her.  “You’re one of the people I want to interview for my joy book,” I told her.

“Me?!” she gasped.  “Do you really see it?”

“Lady,” Mary said, “You wear it!”

I then asked her what she thought joy was.  “It’s a knowing,” she said.  “Knowing God is in control.”  Not an emotion, a knowing.  Another piece of the puzzle clicked into place.

“Joy is a place where I exist,” described Heath Jackson, former business owner and ordained Apple Store Genius.  “Whether you choose to live there or not.”  Not an emotion, a place.  Click!

His wife, Mary, agreed. “Happiness is a response to circumstance, and joy is there despite circumstance.  We were created for God’s pleasure which brings Him joy, so it’s rooted in pleasing God, in God’s pleasure.”

Heath nodded: “Joy is a place where God has called us to be when we’re walking in His presence.  I call it the cycle of joy: His greatest pleasure is seeing us getting His glory, and our greatest pleasure is when we’re in His presence obeying Him and hearing Him and walking in His grace.  Jesus did nothing except through the Father.  That’s the only reason we humans don’t walk as close to God as Jesus did.  Joy is knowing you’re walking in His will.”  Not an emotion . . . a knowing.  Like Catherine Talbot said.

During my interview with Kathryn Marie, she suggested I go right to the source and interview my daughter Hannah, who was five at the time.  After all, Jesus Himself declared “unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3).  More than once Hannah had said things which convinced me that, like a cat, she still has one foot in heaven and the other planted on earth.  So one day after finishing lunch with her, I looked her in the eye and asked “What’s joy?”

She hesitated, then answered quietly: “I don’t know.  Nice, happy?”  Sounds like my answer, I thought.

“Why don’t you ask your guardian angel?” I suggested.

“Okay,” she beamed.  She held up her blue plastic Fisher Price telephone.  “I’ll ask Faith.  She knows a lot about joy.”  She proceeded to punch the fake plastic buttons on the fake plastic phone.  “Do you know what her number is, Daddy?”  I shook my head.  “It’s 1-5-4-2.”  She then put the phone to her ear and walked into the living room.  “Hello?  Faith?”  She chit-chatted with her angel for a moment, then asked her “What’s joy?”  Silence.  “Happiness.  Okay, thanks.”  She hung up and walked back into the dining room where I still sat, watching.  “Joy is happiness, Dad,” she said.

Joy is happiness, yet so much more.  Joy is a state of mind, a state of being, a continuity with God; when we are in God’s presence, we are unshakably joy-filled.  Joy is a fruit of the Spirit, as the apostle Paul wrote in his epistle to the Galatians (see Galatians 5:22).  And “since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25).

Joy is a choice.  Joy is a knowing.  Joy is a place.  Joy is a command.  To the church in Philippi, the apostle Paul, while in prison, wrote “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4).  To the church in Thessalonica, Paul exhorted “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).  And to the Christian church in Rome, Paul charged “be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” (Romans 12:12).  Rejoicing and being joyful is God’s will!  Joy is not passive; it is fulfilled in the expression.  Joy, though a noun, is brought to life, is made active, by expressing it.  Rejoice!  It’s so much more fulfilling–and fun–than grumbling, complaining, and wallowing around in the muck of selfishness and bad attitude.  As believers, Jesus called us to be a light for the world.  What better way is there to shine that light than to live every moment, every opportunity, and every sacrifice immersed in joy?

One day I had to run to Target to return a pair of flip-flops Hannah couldn’t wear.  After I parked, I rounded the car and opened Hannah’s door.  As is our habit, she automatically reached up and grabbed my hand.  “Dad,” she said as we walked across the parking lot.  “Holding your hand is joy.”  I can’t think of a better definition of joy than that, can you?

 

Copyright ©2013 by David C. Hughes

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