Choose Joy

This summer hasn’t been quite what I had hoped. There are plans that didn’t come through, books that haven’t been read, and things that haven’t been done. The average week this summer has found me serving customers copious amounts of junk food and taking people’s money for 40 or so hours. Six of those weeks were spent simultaneously taking an upper division math class… online. There are people I haven’t spent nearly enough time with and projects that got delayed. In the midst of all this, it has been easy for me to lose my joy at times. There have been many days at work where I’ve had to put a smile on to cover up a bitter attitude. While I was taking that class, I occasionally wondered if I would ever stop procrastinating (I didn’t) or even pass the class (I did). Now here I am with the end of summer looming very close on the horizon and I’m just not quite where I want to be.

Of course, there are countless people who have FAR harder stuff going on in their lives. All things considered, I have to say I’ve got it really good right now. I’m surrounded by people I love and who love me. I’ve spent lots of time with those people and gone on a few fantastic trips over the past few months. I never have to wonder where my next meal is coming from. Every morning I’m given the gift of another day, another breath, another heartbeat… mercy and grace, flowing into my life from the one true God who loves me and made me His own when I hated Him, by purchasing the pardon for my sin on the cross and guaranteeing my eternal, resurrected life by rising from the dead. Wow!

As I said, though, in the midst of all that’s been going on this summer, I have often let go of my joy. But I have learned over these past few months that joy is not determined by our circumstances or by influences beyond our control. Joy is a choice. Why else would the book of Philippians be full of commands to rejoice? (Phil. 2:18, 29; 3:1; 4:4). And why else would Paul, who wrote the letter from prison because he was arrested for preaching the gospel, be so full of joy? (Phil. 1:4, 18; 4:10).

Where did Paul find this unshakable joy? He took joy in remembering and praying for the church (1:3-4). He knew that the Lord would finish the work He started in them, and in himself as well (1:5). He rejoiced that the gospel continued to go forth despite his imprisonment (1:18). He understood that to live is Christ and to die is gain… and at the same time, to live is gain and to die is Christ (1:21-26). He rejoiced at the unity he desired to see in the church as it modeled itself after the love and humility of Christ (2:1-11). He saw Christ for the ultimate treasure that He is, counting all else as utter garbage by comparison (3:4-8). He clung to the righteousness he had in Christ by faith (3:9) and the hope of his future resurrection with Christ (3:10-11). He remembered that this world was not his home, but rather that His citizenship was in Heaven, where he would one day be made like Christ by the power of Christ (3:20-21). He took joy in the love and care he received from the church (4:10, 14-18).

Do you think Paul had reason to rejoice? All of this stacks up to give Paul the ability to say, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:11-13). Verse 13 is often taken out of this context and misused to say that we can do anything we set our minds to. But Paul is not saying here that he can just do anything he wants to do- he is saying that he can go through anything that comes his way, and endure it with joy. So even in prison, Paul had so many reasons to rejoice!

And so do we… so do I. My circumstances are about a million miles away from the hardship Paul was going through, but there are always things going on in my life that I would rather change if I had the choice. I think just about anyone else would say the same. But we often don’t have a choice, and we must trust that the Lord is in all of it for His glory and our good. No matter what’s going on, we can choose joy- we must choose joy. If we don’t then we reveal a discontented heart that thinks it knows what’s best for us, when in fact our Father in Heaven has His hand in everything and all the while constantly showers us with blessings we often don’t even notice.

If you need help fueling your joy, just camp on one of these verses for a minute:

“We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebrews 6:19-20)

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17)

“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.'” (Lamentations 3:21-24)

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Romans 8:28-30)

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” (1 John 3:1-3)

There’s always plenty of reason for joy. Let’s make the choice, every day, to embrace the joy that the Lord holds right in front of us.

The Warden and the Wolf King

A little over a year ago I started reading Andrew Peterson’s fantasy series called The Wingfeather Saga, and from pretty early on I was completely enthralled. I’ve written a bit on the first book in the past, but never got around to sharing my thoughts on books two and three (both of which were excellent, and far superior to book one, which was very good already!). Today, the fourth and final installment of the series, The Warden and the Wolf King (WATWK), has been released to the masses. I had the privilege of backing Andrew’s massively successful Kickstarter campaign to get the book published and as such my copy of the book arrived on my doorstep a couple months ago to much (audible) excitement and it was read with much enjoyment and through more tears than I’ve ever cried over a book like this. Today, this brilliant book has been released to the masses, so it’s about time I did a writeup about it. Hopefully I can convince you to give it a read!

The Wingfeather Saga has everything you could hope for in a fantasy. There’s a world bursting with delightful creativity (beware the Toothy Cows!), a unique and compelling plot, relatable and strongly developed characters, and deep, thought-provoking themes. The first three books were all fantastic, and I admit until I got my hands on a preview of WATWK I had a hard time seeing how the finale could tie everything up in a satisfying manner, or even be as good as books two and three (they were just THAT good. Seriously). It didn’t take more than a few chapters, though, for me to see that I had not taken into account a proper estimation of Andrew’s abilities as a writer.

I mean… wow. I reached the end of this book with the most satisfying feeling I’ve ever had from a story of this genre. I laughed, I felt what these characters felt, I was in a whole lot of suspense, and yes, I cried. We’re not talking about choking back tears here- when I reached the end of the book, I just couldn’t keep it in (needless to say, I’m glad no one else was home at the time!). The main reason for this is that WATWK captures many elements of the Gospel in a powerful way. Andrew did an amazing job of tying the rich world, story, and characters he had built up to the great true Story of God’s redemption of humanity in a way that in no way felt forced or cheesy, but thoughtful and meaningful at every level.

WATWK also brings resolution to other great themes that weaved their way through the first three books; the theme of identity in particular comes to mind. Much like the believer must let their identity as a child of God compel them to become more of who they already are, Janner and Kalmar gradually allow their identities as the Throne Warden and the King of the Shining Isle of Anniera drive them to be who they were meant to be, and that in turn causes them to do what they know they need to do even at great personal risk. Meanwhile, the dirty, thieving Strander child Maraly finds redemption and the hope of change when she identifies herself with a father who embraces her with unconditional, undeserved love rather than one who abuses her and drags her down further into evil ways. Even the villain, Gnag the Nameless, plays into this theme in a surprising and profound way (which I will refrain from spoiling for you… just know that there is, in fact, a reason for the moniker of “nameless”).

I know it might sound like I’m just gushing with praise here and paying no attention to potential flaws in the book, but in all seriousness, even two months away from my initial reaction, I can definitely say this is one of the best books I have ever read. I could go on a lot longer about how much I love this book, but hopefully I’ve already told you enough to convince you to give The Wingfeather Saga a chance. Although WATWK is easily the best of the four books, I would not advise reading it before the other three books as it won’t be nearly as satisfying if you’ve missed the entire buildup of the overarching story. All of them are excellent anyway!

And please, don’t be so “adult” as to turn the books down because they aim at a younger audience- this is indeed children’s literature, but as I’ve already explained, these books are so deep and fun that I’m convinced anybody with an open mind and heart can not only enjoy them, but be very much enriched by them. As C.S. Lewis said, “When I  became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

If you’ve been sufficiently convinced to check out The Wingfeather Saga, the books can be purchased at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or the Rabbit Room store.

Memories

A couple weeks ago I found myself cleaning out my room and getting rid of a bagload of old stuff I’ve accumulated over the course of the past 21.5 years. I found all kinds of old toys and junk I used to care about, and now a rather large garbage bag full of that stuff is probably rotting away in a pile of trash somewhere. Encountering that old stuff had a way of taking me back to the past, to various times in my childhood when Star Wars toys, Pokémon cards, and Nintendo games meant so much to me. In fact, I have a rather large binder full of Pokémon cards- 731 of them, to be exact, and that’s excluding duplicates! (I did not throw those away- I’m still hoping they’ll be worth something again 20 years from now!) I also still have several video games I’ve logged 100+ hours of play time on, although I’ve sold most of the games I used to play for countless hours, day after fleeting day. I look back now and think about all the time and money I wasted on stuff that no longer even matters to me, and think of Christ’s words about earthly treasure:

Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. [ Luke 12:32-34 ]

As these memories swept through my mind, I was inspired to write this bit of verse, or whatever you want to call it (that may or may not become a song one day). It tells a fair bit of my story of how the Lord has changed my heart to love Him rather than these meaningless things, and how He showed me that only He can change my heart and save me from meaningless passions and worthless pursuits. I’m not sure that it’s really any good, but regardless, I hope you enjoy it and that it encourages you to seek the one true Treasure, which is Jesus Christ Himself, the only One that will last forever and who alone is worthy of our greatest love.

Memories

Memories of a day lost in time
Melodies that I sung to feel fine
But I was empty
And emptiness, it plagued my heart
All my fleeting pleasures
Were false treasures now long gone

I remember a time when I just didn’t care
All kinds of obsessions, oh I never should have dared
To waste my life away
So far, far away from grace

Figurines were not on altars in my house
Game machines and monster cards were idolatry enough
But it was vanity
And vanity, it took my heart
All these fleeting pleasures
Were false treasures now long gone

I remember a time when I thought I knew the way
With fresh determination every Sunday after Sunday
Then one day I knew
I’ll never make it anywhere without You

I remember a time when You opened up my eyes
The Son broke through the night and my old loves took to flight
And I saw You
And You were so much better

Memories of today will be lost to time
Time keeps marching on and I will cross the finish line
I’ll be holy
And with holiness You’ll clean my heart
All my fleeting pleasures-
Forgotten treasures forever gone

You will be forever
And You forever have my heart

God’s Answer To Everything That Went Wrong

The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. [1 John 3:8]

I shared this verse in a blog post this past Christmas, and now as we sit between Good Friday and Resurrection Day, it’s come to mind once again. After all, what are the works of the devil? I think it’s safe to say that the works of Satan are sin and death. Sin is the offense, the rebellion against God, while death is sin’s just result. We’ve been sinning almost since the beginning of time, and God had every right to scrap His fallen creations that could no longer do what He created them to do. So what was God’s answer to sin and death? God promised that the serpent who had deceived our ancestors would one day be destroyed.

As time went on, God’s answer became clearer through promise and prophecy. He promised Abraham descendants more numerous than the stars, and that all people would be blessed through Him. He promised David that one of his descendants would reign forever. He prophesied through Isaiah that one would come who would suffer for our sins so that we might be made righteous. Now here we are and we get to look back at the beginning of the fulfillment of all of this, and how exactly God has taken care of sin and death.

We see God’s answer to sin in Christ’s crucifixion. At the cross, Christ bore our punishment in our place- the punishment we had earned for ourselves because of our sin. God unloaded all the wrath our sins deserved on His own Son so we would no longer be separated from Him, but rather be brought into His family as beloved children.

We see God’s answer to death in Christ’s resurrection. By rising from the grave, Christ proclaimed victory over death. It no longer has a hold on His people- the devil’s work has been decisively undone. Because Christ has risen from the grave, we too can now live in hope that we will one day be raised with Him.

So this weekend, recall how incredible it is that through these two greatest events in human history, Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, God has declared His answer to everything that went wrong. He has overcome the works of the devil, and one day He will get rid of them forever. God wins, and this weekend we celebrate that one weekend almost 2,000 years ago where we began to see God fulfill the promises He made so many years ago. He is so good and merciful that He would save us, and so faithful to His promises.

Praise the Lord, all nations! Extol him, all peoples! For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord! [Psalm 117]

“Father Abraham could not have dreamed of this
Could never understand the end of all those promises
How all the pieces fit, every star and grain of sand
Is safely hid in Jesus’ hand” – Andrew Peterson (“Risen Indeed”)

Turning Off Autopilot

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise, but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:15-16)

It’s so easy to live life on “autopilot,” just going about the days without really giving much thought to how I can love God and people in every situation. This command from Ephesians 5 has been a convicting one for me lately. Am I really looking carefully at the way I live day in and day out? As the verse says, it’s unwise to just go through life without giving careful consideration to how you can make good use of the time. The days are evil- we only get so many of them, so we need to make them count. How do we do that? I think verses 1 & 2 give some good direction in that regard:

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1-2)

When we look to Christ who gave Himself up for us, our response should be to walk in this same kind of love that looks to others’ interests before our own. We are to be imitators of God; just as He loved us, we must walk in love. This doesn’t come naturally- this is walking as the “wise” from verse 15, the one who carefully considers their ways. So let’s learn to live intentionally, maximizing our days to walk in self-sacrificial love and so imitate our holy, loving Father.

Love Alone Is Worth the Fight

In the hustle and bustle of busy day-to-day life, it’s sometimes easy to forget what I’m living for. It seems so natural sometimes to take my eyes off Jesus and to focus on myself instead. That’s when fear and doubt creep in, and I see that I’m failing to love like I want to… but at the end of the day, I know that God has not left me in the dust, that He is working in my life, and that in all things, He truly is worth living for. He is everything, and He has said that I am to love Him and love people, simple as that. This love, this loyalty to God and to others, is what ought to keep us going- it ought to be what drives us to do all that we do. This is what will ultimately satisfy us, make us the best we can be for the people around us, and give honor and glory to our Creator.

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. (Ecclesiastes 12:13)

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. (John 13:34)

Switchfoot’s song “Love Alone Is Worth the Fight” brought all this to mind for me again this weekend (click here to listen to it on YouTube). I love how songwriters like Jon Foreman can write a song that I can listen to a hundred times and still dive deeper into as I live more of life and see that the words ring true and express what’s going on in my heart. So it’s a quick post today, I hope you enjoy the song, and more importantly that we can all live this week with love as our theme.

“Time to take my own advice: love alone is worth the fight.”

Devotion’s Motivation

If you’ve been reading my posts lately, you may remember that I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be wholly and unreservedly devoted to Christ and the implications of that; today I have another related thought for you. Lately my pastor has been preaching through Ephesians 2 (and doing a great job of it!), which has made me reflect a lot on the grace of God and how we are to respond to it. In my own reading I recently went back to the beginning of the book and was floored again and again by God’s grace; this piece of chapter one in particular caught my attention:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Eph 1:3-8)

Notice how in that whole passage, all the significant action verbs are not about our actions, but God’s. Phrases like “in Christ” and “through Jesus Christ” are all over it. It fits the picture of Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” God has lavished his grace on us. He set His love upon us before the dawn of time, made a way for us to be redeemed, and now He has given us every spiritual blessing in Christ, and we didn’t do anything to earn it. In fact, left to our own devices, we hate God. This truly is amazing grace!

See the connection? When we understand that we have received such unfathomable grace, what else can our response be but that of Isaiah: “Here am I! Send me!” As ones who have been given more grace than we can possibly imagine, how can we not completely give our lives to the Giver of this grace in return? So when Christ says that His disciple must renounce all that he has (Luke 14:33), it should only make sense because all we have on our own amounts to absolutely nothing, while He gives us abundant grace; He gives us Himself. So we find that while Christ’s call to come and die is hard, it’s far from a drudgery, and it actually frees us to love God and the people around us. It’s a joy.

Grace is the motivation of devotion. If you are saved, you have been treated infinitely better than you deserve, so offer your life to Him without reservation. It only makes sense, and it’s the only way to true love and joy.

We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

Theme song for this post: “Grace Alone” by Dustin Kensrue

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