Discovering Spiritual Truths & Celebrating God's Grace in the Every Day Happenings of Life.
Where do you experience joy? In the dictionary, joy is defined as “the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation.”
Recently, with visiting family, we were able to take them down to Pt. Pleasant to give them a Jersey shore experience. The sun was out and the air was hot so jumping into the ocean waters was refreshing indeed. As I watched my children and nieces jumping over the surf and getting occasionally rocked by a big wave, you could see the untainted joy on their faces. Their faces could not help but smile. Their happy shrieks were music to the ears and their laughter was contagious. The bigger the waves, the bigger the smile. No matter how much sand landed in unfortunate places or how much saltwater filled their mouths, they couldn’t help but just giggle and go back for more. A few yards down the beach from us were members of a nearby group home. For all their mental and physical limitations and handicaps, these young adults were loving life as they too were sitting in the sand while the whitecaps rolled over them. Many of them could not articulate meaningful words, but they didn’t need to. The smiles on their faces were a true display of the fun they were experiencing. The animated, indistinct noises they made were clearly speech of pleasure.
They were having a blast. They were filled with joy.
Unfortunately, moments like that seem rare today. For many of us, caught up in the hustle and bustle rat race of life, we are far too busy or stressed out. There are many forces at work in this world to rob us of our joy, to take away our smiles. Evil abounds and terror exists; anyone who has ever watched the news cannot deny this fact. But there are more personal ways in which our joy is put in jeopardy. We lose a job. A loved one is diagnosed. Plans are cancelled. Work is burdensome. Relationships are strained. Basements get flooded. Cars break down. A spouse lets us down or our children overwhelm us with frustration.
As I stood on the sandy shores watching my family, I thought of these words of Jesus, “…I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) First, let me state clearly that Jesus is talking about eternal life. He is not promising us a problem-free, happy-go-lucky, get-whatever-we-want earthly life. He is not suggesting that if we follow Him everything will be exceptionally good or satisfying. Sadly, the opposite is true. In this broken and fallen world we will have plenty of troubles. Yet in the context of this passage, Jesus is emphatically comparing Himself against the devil and all the devil’s evil minions. While they try to destroy us, Jesus is working to do everything He can to bring us out from this world and into eternal life. Jesus is the one who watches over us, provides for and protects us, and He alone is the one who loves us enough to put His own life on the line for us.
As much as this verse is not about being happy by worldly measures, I think it is also OK for us to believe that God doesn’t want us to have a life void of moments of pure joy and happiness. In a world filled with so much bad news and things that try to bring us down, I believe God wants us to find more moments of pure joy in this creation that He has provided for us. So make the most of this final week of summer. Head to the shore. Get together with your family. Jump in some puddles. Read a book. Go for a hike. Call a friend. Enjoy an ice-cream treat. Do whatever it is you need to do to experience joy and put a big smile on your face. Then take in the moment and thank the God from whom all blessings—earthly and eternal—flow. “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens.” (James 1:17 NLT)
“Sometimes in life, we become so focused on the finish line that we fail to find joy in the journey.” (D.F. Uchtdorf)
One week ago today, I said goodbye to a dear friend. It was inevitable. No such relationships last forever. I knew the day would come, but I tried not to think about it. We could see her fading quite a bit over the past year especially. We saw her health decline and she did not move around with quite the same perk that she once had. Her color had faded. Her list of minor ailments continued to accumulate. You could see the toll of time all over her body. Make no mistake, we did everything we could to help prolong her life. But in the end, there was nothing more we could do. We were foolishly pushing off that which we could not avoid. None of us can. The tears no longer flow, but I do still think about her from time-to-time. This friend had been with my wife and me so closely over the past 16 years. She was there for all the important moments in our lives—courtship, wedding, seminary, birth of our children, road trips, moves to Wisconsin and then to New Jersey. This friend was as steadfast and reliable as they come. Sure, there were moments of frustration along the way, but this friend was resiliently dependable. The history we had and the way she cared for my family and me is something I’m very much grateful for. That is why saying goodbye to her was so hard and bittersweet. Yes indeed, my friends, last Wednesday I finally bid farewell to my beloved 2005 Toyota Corolla. She’s gone. Sniff… Sniff
Pastor Steve Vera