Our Happy Host

In the previous post, we found out that joy suspends sorrow and finds a reason for celebration. In Nehemiah 8, Nehemiah calls an end to mourning and commands the people to observe a festival. Why? Because “the joy of the Lord is your strength (Neh. 8:10).” Joy is like a surprise party in the midst of sorrow. A great party needs a happy host.

God, Our Happy Host

I have never been to a good party where the host is angry. That would be awkward. It is hard to enjoy a party if you get a sense that the host doesn’t want you to be there. That’s extremely awkward. A great party host is someone who is happy for the gathering. 

Notice that Nehemiah says that it is “the joy of the Lord” that is your strength. That statement reveals one of the most profound truths of Scripture. If you grab onto this simple statement about God, it will revolutionize your faith. Are you ready for it? Here it is.

God is happy.

It is His joy that strengthens us. It is His joy that we run into quickly as a safe refuge from our sorrow. He is happy to invite us to enjoy Him, especially during difficulty. It is God’s joy that creates the surprise party in the midst of our sorrow.

But God Seems Angry

Despite the Bible’s revelation that we have a happy God, many people feel that God is temperamental and angry. This may be true for two reasons.

1) We misunderstand God’s anger.

Yes, there are indeed passages in the Bible where God pours out His wrath. In Genesis 19, God destroys Sodom and Gomorrah by sending down fire and sulfur from heaven. Someone who would send down fiery sulfur bombs from heaven certainly doesn’t sound like a happy host. But even God’s wrath is motivated by his joy.

If you are a parent, then you know what it is like to love a child. You also know what it is to be angry. A parent can have moments in which they could not be more proud of their child. There are also moments in which the parent could not be more angry with the child. But at the center of both places, both in pride and anger, the motive is joy.

A parent is proud of their child as they witness their growth and maturity. Each incremental accomplishment, the first step, the first word, the first win; each one brings joy. That dress she wears, his kindness to others, an award at graduation; the beauty of maturity also brings joy. 

And nothing brings more joy to a parent than when a child obeys righteous instruction. A parent who has a sense of stewardship from God over his or her child’s life seeks to impart godly wisdom both from experience and from God’s Word. The parent has roughly a 20-30 year head start on the child and can see where decisions lead. So it brings great joy when the child responds positively to that instruction. Obedience brings joy.

But there are times when the child strays. When the child is very young, it may be their curiosity of a hot stove, but then later, the stakes grow higher. Perhaps it is a person, a place, or a path the child wants to explore, but the parent knows that it is a path that could be as harmful and painful to the child as him or her touching the hot stove.

When the child is young, if his mother turns around to see the chid’s hand reaching upwards toward a hot skillet full of steaming grease, she screams, “No!” “Don’t touch that!” And if the child insists and tries to reach up again, what does she do? She may go so far as to strike the hand. Sure it inflicts pain, but that pain pales in comparison to what could have happened had the child pulled down upon themselves hot grease from the stove. 

And then the child is older. Insistent on going with those people to that place to do those things. And the father argues his case. He uses the deterrent of punishment to try to curb his child’s choices. Why? Because in both cases, the father knows not only the pain of poor choices but the joy of good ones. A parent fears the consequence of a scalding burn just as much as that of following unscrupulous friends. She’s seen it. Perhaps she’s lived it. But she knows it. But she also knows the joy of health and of success. A good parent is ever motivated by a happy vision for their child.

Even in Punishment, There is Joy

Even in punishment, the parent is motivated, not by anger, but by joy. It is joy that explains the passion. Joy, not anger, makes the parent scream across the room, lunge for the hand, and strike it if need be, “Don’t touch that!” It would be inaccurate to say that all the parent is, is angry. Ultimately, a parent is not moved by anger, but motivated by joy. That is a father or a mother who desires the fruits of obedience to become abundant in their child.

And the Lord speaks to this in Hebrews 12.

“Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:9-11

Sure, God gets angry. But He is not bitter. God is happy. The joy of the Lord explains His passion for His people, even in punishment. He knows the harm of sin and the paths of righteousness perfectly. He will strike out righteously to eradicate sin, not because He is always angry, but because He is ever joyful.

2) You were raised by an abusive parent.

We are prone to bring our experience with our parents into our vision of God. I think this is natural since it is the trust of God that a parent would raise a child in the fear and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). The Lord’s desire is that a parent would take who He is and convey that vision of righteous love and protection into the child’s life (Deut. 6:4-9).

But sadly, as sinners, many parents do not share that same vision. Some parents may be absent or even abusive. Abuse may include anything from physical to sexual, to emotion, even religious abuse. A parent can warp a child sexually as well as religiously. He can abuse a child physically because he or she has superior strength. A parent can harm a child religiously through harsh and unrealistic legalism. 

Whatever the abuse, it leaves an imprint. Unfortunately, that broken trust between God and a parent becomes an imprint in the child that they bring into their vision of God. Perhaps your parents did not know the Lord. Maybe they were not in the least bit interested in the Lord. Does this mean that you can never know the Lord as He is? Absolutely not.

Is there healing?

If I could encourage anything in your healing, it would be for you to deeply meditate on the truth that we have a happy God. You already have the statement on the joy of the Lord as our strength from Nehemiah 8. But I also want to introduce two other statements that point us to God’s happiness. Both of these were spoken by Jesus.

“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” – John 15:11

“But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” – John 17:13

I would encourage you to meditate on these verses as well as any verse in the Bible (and it is full of them) that speak of the Lord’s delights and joy. Think deeply about these revelations of His happiness and it will begin to transform your vision of Him and your relationship with Him. 

We Have a Happy Host Who Wants You At His Party

If you are going to have a great party, you must have a happy host. The Bible states repeatedly that we have a happy God. But notice, especially John 15:11 and John 17:13. Not only do we have a happy host, but He issues an open invitation. God wants you to experience His joy. He is generous with His joy. He is an excellent host.

God’s desire is that His joy would become our joy. I will share more about this In my next post, but joy is a surprise party in the midst of your sorrow. And our happy host extends an open invitation to you.

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Bible Study

Read John 15:1-11

  • Write the commands that are to be obeyed.
  • Write the promises that are to be believed.
  • Write the principles that are to be applied.

Challenge

Take some time today to find verses and meditate on the joy of God. Where have you gotten it wrong? How do these verses change your relationship with God?

The Guarantee of a Good Day

What if you could guarantee yourself a good day? Imagine starting the day without dread. What would it be like to go through a day successfully handling situations rather than trying to deal with stress? Think about how much would change if you could guarantee that today would be a good day.

Apparently, we are NOT dealing very well with our day!

Livescience.com reports that two sociologists from Cornell University analyzed 509 million tweets from 2.4 million users in 84 countries and found that our moods fluctuate throughout the day. They found that the happiest tweets of the day occur between 6 AM and 9 AM. After 9 AM our mood begins to decline steadily, and the most unhappy tweets of the day occur from 3 PM to 4 PM.

On a side note, the happiest time of the week to tweet is Saturday morning. The most unhappy time of the week for Twitter users is Thursday night. The happiest Twiter state? Hawaii!

From the data, it would appear that life is ruining our day! If not for work and school (unless you live in Hawaii), today would have been a very good day. But you live where you live. You’ve got to do what you do. You can’t do without it, but it’s hard waking up every day dreading it!

Would you like a guarantee for a good day? Sign me up!

I have discovered five guarantees that will make every day a good day. Now, none of these are guarantees that nothing bad will happen. But I have found these Biblical principles to be so freeing that even when bad things happen, it’s still a good day. Today will be a good day IF:

I don’t have to rely on others to make me happy.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

The first way to guarantee a good day is to answer the question, who is going to make me happy? When we go through the day depending on others to make us happy, we are placing on them an expectation they cannot possibly meet. That kind of unrealistic expectation is a source of anxiety. People aren’t perfect. People can bring a lot of meaning and purpose into our lives, but truth is, God didn’t put them on earth for the sole purpose of making you happy.

When I put God at the top of my list as my ultimate source of happiness, joy is always available (5 Places Joy is Always Available) and He never fails. God invites us, in fact, he commands us, to place the expectation of our joy and happiness in Him. Start your day with Him. If people add pleasure to your day count it a blessing. If they try to ruin your day, you don’t have to let them. You can pray for them. You can let your requests be made known to God. Let Him deal with them! Disobey anxiety and express thanksgiving. Today is going to be a good day!

I don’t need anything other than what I already have to make me happy.

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.

Philippians 4:11-13

How much is enough? Only you can answer that question. Truth is, you probably already have “enough” the problem is that you just want more. If we rely on “stuff” to make us happy, that is an approach that is not affordable, sustainable, or practical.

Contentment is a hard lesson to learn, but it is a secret to success that pays dividends. When you begin your day with satisfaction, anything else that may come your way falls into the category of blessing. If you don’t have to have it, you don’t need to keep it. You suddenly discover the joy of generosity. If you lose it, you can praise the Lord because your happiness didn’t depend on it. Be thankful that you had it for the time that you did. You’re going to lose things, but a loss doesn’t have to ruin your day. Learn to be content. Today is going to be a good day!

I don’t have to be perfect to be happy.

Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.

Ecclesiastes 7:20

So you’re not perfect. Yeah, we know!

I’m a driven person. I like for things to go well. Unfortunately, I am a big part of that equation and I do a lot of dumb things. I can be having a great day and in 15 seconds mess up the whole thing. When I get frustrated, I carry that frustration into everything else. I am the biggest threat to having a good day.

Forgive yourself. At some point, you and I have to realize that everyone else’s happiness does not depend on us. You and I aren’t God. You and I aren’t everyone else’s Holy Spirit. Last time I checked, God was doing just fine at being perfect. I think I would be way better off allowing God to be God and not behaving as if the whole world depends on me.

Be a perfectionist, but yourself a little grace. There’s nothing wrong with wanting it done right the first time, but having to “try it again” doesn’t have to ruin your day. Forgive yourself. Today is going to be a good day!

I don’t have to understand everything to make me happy.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28

Life isn’t fair and you probably don’t have it all figured out. Guess what. That’s OK. Truth is, we sometimes get what we don’t deserve. Sometimes you can’t fix it. There will be things that happen that you can’t change. Even still, that doesn’t have to be the end of a good day.

Notice that the verse doesn’t say everything is good. Bad things happen. The verse says that God works things together for good. How does He do it? I have no idea. And guess what, He doesn’t have to answer all of our questions or tell us why. If you read the Book of Job you will read the story of a guy who deserved an answer to “why?” But God didn’t answer Job. He only asked Job more questions.

God is God and I am not. He knows. I don’t have to understand it all. All I have to know is that He is good and He is working it for good. When I trust Him there is an overriding sense of joy that undergirds even the most difficult moments of our day. If I trust God, bad things can happen and it still be a good day.

Your good day doesn’t depend on others. You don’t need more to have a good day. Your good day doesn’t even depend on you (nor does anyone else’s good day). You don’t have to have it all figured out to have a good day. Embrace these four Biblical principles and I guarantee that today is going to be a good day.

I don’t have to sin to be happy.

choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.

Hebrews 11:25

The Bible acknowledges the pleasure of sin. It is alluring, enticing, tempting. There is something in sin that makes us believe that God is holding out on pleasure.

Sin seems to offer us a very good day, but what sin does not show us is consequence. Before you indulge think of the guilt. Instead of giving in think of the pain your choice may bring to yourself or to others. Sin feels like a good day, but as the Bible teaches, the pleasure is fleeting.

The Bible seems to speak of a paradox as it compares the choice of suffering with God’s people than enjoying the fleeting pleasures of sin. Suffering is better? Of course. Self-denial is not easy, self-indulgence feels good, but picking up the pieces of brokenness leads only to getting sliced continuously on the shards of mistrust, deep hurt, lost time, and severed relationships.

Not having a guilty conscience is a much better day! Seeking the greater pleasure that God offers is a much better day! Sin looks great, but its pleasures are fleeting. If you sin, it may feel good, but you won’t be happy – at least not for long! Stay close and clean to the Lord. Today is going to be a good day!

Other Articles of Interest

5 Places Joy is Always Available

What if I were to tell you that joy is always available? Are you interested in knowing more? I am. If you are reading this post, that must mean that you are as well.

I am starving for joy. I’ll admit that I have not been very happy. I walked through quite a streak of stresses and difficult circumstances over the past 3-4 years and it got the best of me. I’ve been waiting on the next bad thing to happen rather than shaping something good. So I started searching for joy. I found it. In Psalm 16 David shares 5 places where joy is always available.

Joy is always available in God

Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you.”

Psalm 16:1-2

Joy is a reaction. Joy is a response. There always has to be a reason for joy. You can’t fake it.

Joy is not like love in that we can love someone who is not easily lovable. Jesus commands us to love our enemies. But when it comes to joy, you can’t take joy in something that isn’t joyful. Taking joy in something that isn’t joyful is sinful. The Bible uses words like envy, jealousy, covetousness, and drunkenness to describe the misguided notion that a person can find satisfying joy in joyless things.

Joy is Not an Option

What’s even more interesting is that joy is not an option. The Bible speaks of joy about 430 times. The Bible uses the word “rejoice” about 230 times. Did you know that the Bible commands us to rejoice and be glad more than it commands any other thing? That means that just as it is a sin to take a human life, it is a sin not to be happy! That’s a problem if I can’t find joy.

So what makes you happy? Family. Food. Friends. Money. Sports. We all have a shortlist of things that make us happy. But there’s another problem. Those things are not always available or affordable. Then what?

You’re fine with your shortlist as long as there is someone at the top of the list that is always available to give you joy. So David secures his joy. He declares that the Lord is his Lord and that he will find no good apart from God.

Joy is not an option, it is a command. Seeing that the Bible so often mentions joy, we can conclude that God is concerned for our joy.

David does not share his circumstances, but if you know anything of his life you know that he is a man who seemed to surf the highs and lows of difficult situations. Declaring that he seeks refuge in God indicates that there is no joy in his current circumstances and so he turns to the faithful reservoir of joy. God. And that is wise. Since God commands joy He is always available for joy. Seeing that the Bible so often mentions joy, we can take conclude that God is concerned for our joy.

And David is not disappointed. In verse 16 he shares what he has found. “In your (God) presence there is fullness of joy.” That word full means satisfied, saturated. It means that the supply has not been exhausted but that you simply don’t have the capacity for more.

For those who name the name of the Lord, there can be no one else on the top of our list of things that make us happy than God. God commands us to take joy in Him. “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice.” If He commands it, He is available for it. Being the most excellent being in existence He will never fail to give us a reason for joy.

Joy is Always Available in God’s People (vv. 3-4)

As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones,
in whom is all my delight.
The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply;
their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
or take their names on my lips.

Psalm 16:3-4

It is no surprise to hear that God is the source of infinite joy. But as a human, I need more than words on paper. I want to see Him, feel Him, and hear Him. I want to experience God.

One of the great doctrines of the Bible is that the church is the Body of Christ. God has chosen to minister His graces to His people through His church. Basically Jesus died for our sins. Rose from the grave. Ascended into Heaven. Gave us His Spirit and essentially said, now you be me on earth. No pressure!

Some of the meanest people I’ve ever met have been in church.

And David has found this to be true. Not only does he have an excellent God, but David has found some of God’s excellent people. The excellent ones are the people who have been affected and infected by God’s joy so much so that David not only finds pleasure in God, but he delights in God’s excellent ones.

Immediately we raise an objection. Some of the meanest people I have ever met have been in church.

The Bible has something to say about this as well.

The Ugly Side of Church

  1. Not all people who claim to be God’s people are God’s people. Unfortunately within the church, there are false teachers (2 Peter 2:1) and fake Christians (Matthew 7:15-23). These people are definite joy killers. They bear no spiritual fruit (Gal. 5:22-24). They exhibit no evidence they are indwelt by God’s spirit. They share no witness of Jesus. The Bible says they are there. Identify them, but don’t make decisions based on them. The fact that you can draw no joy from them and that they seek to distract you and destroy your joy should be no surprise to you. These are not God’s excellent ones.
  2. Not everything that is claimed to be of God is from God. Another unfortunate reality of church is that even sincerely saved, spiritually indwelt, regenerate people can exhibit spiritual immaturity. This is true of all of us from time to time. If we are not careful, we get caught up in gossip, accusation, deception, unfaithfulness, and anger. In response to this, we should renounce it and approve what is excellent (Titus 3:8-11). In short, we should seek to quickly end expressions of immaturity and approve joy (1 Peter 2:1-3). It’s especially true that when you are seeking joy in a turbulent time that it is wise to adopt David’s approach to ungodly people and ungodly things in 16:4. I smell blood, and I’m not going to go there! It’s false. It is not of God and it only ends in sorrow. And who needs more of that? Not me!

While it is true that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, don’t fail to look around and find God’s excellent ones. These are most often the people who are not vocal. Often they are not noticeable, but they are excellent. They will pray for you, encourage you, and impart godly wisdom. Since God is an ever-present source of joy, you can take comfort in knowing that there will always be people who have been affected and infected by His joy who will be a delight to you.

Joy is Always Available in God’s Ways (vv. 5-6)

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

Psalm 16:5-6

Have you ever wondered “why?” Of course you have. What’s even more painful is when we find no joy in our circumstances and we seem to get no answer from our ever-present God of endless joy. THAT – I do not enjoy!

But notice that joy may be frustrated, but it is not lost. The cup in the Bible is a metaphor for fate. Jesus referred to this in his conversation with God in the Garden of Gethsemane, “If possible let this cup pass from me (Matthew 26:39a).” And then comes that beautiful statement of our Savior’s surrender, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

There is no way we could plumb the depths of the reasons for Christ’s surrender, but one of them is certainly cited here in Psalm 16. Notice the language. The Lord does not just give us the cup. God gives us Himself. He is our chosen portion and our cup. The Lord holds our lot. The fact that He holds our “lot” basically means that our fate is not simply left to chance. There is joy in knowing that God’s choices are providential and purposeful. Even more amazing is that we have Him! This is why the Bible speaks so often of the paradox of joy that God’s people find in the midst of sorrow (James 1:2-4, Romans 5:3-5, Psalm 30:1-5). It can be said, because God is our cup and our portion that our suffering is not pointless, nor is it joyless.

The Lord does not just give us the cup. He gives us Himself. He is our chosen portion and our cup. He holds our lot. The fact that He holds our “lot” basically means that our fate is not simply left to chance. There is joy in knowing that God’s choices are providential and purposeful. Even more amazing is that we have Him!

The Lines in Pleasant Places

But what does the Bible mean here about the lines falling in pleasant places? This is a reference back to God’s distribution of the promised land to Israel as their inheritance. It is as if he is walking around within the boundaries of his inheritance and finding wonderful things. It is like a man who has just been given land exploring it for the first time and he likes what he sees with every step he takes.

What is interesting about Israel’s inheritance is that it was possessed in obedience. I think this sense of boundaries, or commands is also encapsulated in the word “lines.”

So let’s put it all together. Sometimes you don’t like your circumstances, but you cannot change them. When you don’t like your circumstances you may not think much of God’s commands because you don’t want to do them. But Psalm 16:5-6 tells you that there is joy always available here. How so?

The Journey and the Job

  1. Journey in the command. As the picture of the verse indicates, walk around, take a look. The command may not look like much when you take a look at it, but journey in it. You will find some pleasant places in it. You will find some unexpected beauty there. In God’s commands, there is no regret. There are no foolish mistakes. When certain things DON’T happen, certain things WON’T happen! Think about it! Take joy in the journey of waking rightly with the Lord.
  2. Work the command. Just like Israel had to work the land you have to work the command. It will bear fruit! You will find the joy of God’s preservation in the command. You will experience the bounty of God’s blessing in His commands. Don’t negotiate it, shortcut it, or question it. Just do what God says to do! His ways are not your ways and His thoughts are not your thoughts. He’s God. You and I are not! Work His plan. Do His commands. You reap what you sow! “Those who sow in tears will reap with shouts of joy (Psalm 126:5)!” Work it! There is joy within the boundaries of God’s commands. You will never be truly happy until you are concerned with being holy.

Joy is Always Available in God’s Word (vv. 7-8)

I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
I have set the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

Psalm 16:7-8

I don’t know about you, but I do my worst thinking at night. Sleepless nights are filled with voices. It is at night that my mind replays every criticism, rehearses every doubt, and exaggerates every fear. But David does not hear cursing, he hears the voice of blessing in the night. David has found that joy is always available in God’s Word.

The passage is instructive to us about our approach to God’s Word. If you want to hear the voice of God bring you joy and drown out your critics in the middle of the night then God’s Word must be taken 1) as counsel 2) as instruction 3) to heart. God’s Word is not intended only to be read. The intention of God’s Word is for it to be obeyed. Furthermore, if it is to change me, it must be within me. Psalm 16:7 reflects David’s commitment to Scripture meditation and memorization reflected in Psalm 119:11, “Your Word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against thee.”

I do my worst thinking at night. Sleepless nights are filled with voices. It is at night that my mind replays every criticism, rehearses every doubt, and exaggerates every fear.

And notice that his experience in God’s Word helps him to find that God is not only always before him, but that God is at his right hand. The result is that he will not be shaken.

There is joy in knowing that there is not a single thing you can go through that God is not already there. He is ever before you. God’s Word is filled with stories, prayers, illustrations, and wisdom for every circumstance of life.

There is always joy in knowing that God is always available at your right hand. What does this mean? It is a nod to the ancient warrior who carried his shield in his left hand. This means that his right side is most exposed. Every warrior knows that the person beside you is critical to you. His shield was the cover for your right side! Let His Word be your counsel and His presence be your defense. There is joy always available in God’s Word!

Imagine going to be tonight and instead of hearing criticism, you hear Psalm 16. Take God’s word to heart in meditation and memorization. It will not be long until you do your BEST thinking at night!

Joy is Always Available in God’s Salvation (vv. 9-11)

There is nothing more miserable than not knowing where you will spend eternity. I remember what it was like not knowing. Doubt is crippling. I remember what it was like to be lost.

But did you know that of the 430 plus times the Bible mentions joy, that it mentions most the joy that is found in salvation? There is nothing that can bring a person more joy than knowing God, defying death, and having hope in the resurrection.

If you find a person who says, “I have no reason for joy.” You have found a person who is in Hell already.

David found joy in knowing that the grave was not his end. As humans, we need something to look forward to. David looked forward to leaving behind a life in which we experience only the first-fruits of joy at best and entering into God’s presence where there is endless pleasure and fullness of joy.

If joy is always available in God, in God’s people, in God’s word, in God’s ways, and in God’s salvation and you meet a person who says, “I have no reason for joy,” that is a person who is in Hell already. For a human, created by God and commanded to enjoy God, to have no reason for joy, he is already experiencing the tragedy of Hell minus the flames.

If that is you, I would point you to Christ! Repent of sin. Turn to Jesus today! Today is the day of salvation. JOY IS ALWAYS AVAILABLE!

Other posts that may interest you:

Joy is Always Available (sermon video)

Why the Ladies Love Thomas Rhett

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HATEFUL ENEMIES BLOG POST GRAPHIC

Redemptive Response to Cursing, Abusive, Hateful Enemies

Between emotion and action, Jesus issues four corrective commands. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” – Luke 6:27-28 Those commands seem unreasonable and impractical especially when we have such cursing, abusive, hateful enemies. Does Jesus really expect us to respond to such horrible people with redemptive action? The answer is, Yes. Not only does he expect it, but one character in the Bible exemplifies it, Joseph.

In my previous post, we looked at how Joseph loved his family despite them becoming his enemy. How did Joseph exemplify the other corrective commands of Jesus?

When Family Becomes Enemy Title for Blog Post

Do Good to Those Who Hate You

Joseph did good even when life was bad. Joseph’s brothers sold him. He served his master well and God gave him favor (Genesis 39:3-6).

Potiphar’s wife falsely accused Joseph of rape. Potiphar put Joseph in prison. Even there he did well and the Lord gave him favor (Gen. 39:21-23).

“Where” Joseph was never changed who Joseph was. He did well because the Lord is good. Joseph’s actions became a testimony to everyone around him. We can learn from his example. When you respond with bad, it does no good!

Bless Those Who Curse You

Joseph’s brothers conspired against him. Blessing and cursing; both are about words. Words hurt.

Our natural emotional response to cursing is to curse back. In Genesis 45, Joseph had the opportunity to get physical and verbal revenge on his brothers. At one time they determined his fate in a pit, now Joseph had the opportunity to determine their fate from the palace. What sort of words would Joseph choose, blessing or cursing?

Joseph chose blessing. If you read Genesis 45:4-14 you will find that Joseph directs his brother’s attention to what God has done. He then promises to bless them and provide from them out of the abundance of Egypt. Notice the last line of this paragraph full of blessings.

“After that his brothers talked with him.”

How many of us in our time of hurt would welcome a productive conversation? Imagine having a conversation in which wrongs are confessed, the hurt is expressed, and apologies are exchanged. That sort of reconciliation only comes through redemption. A conversation like that does not come about through revenge. Cursing for cursing does not cure the hurt.

Pray for Those Who Abuse You

The Bible doesn’t record Joseph’s prayers, but make no mistake, Joseph prayed. The integrity of his character, the strength of his witness through trial, and the favor God gave him only comes through prayer. Joseph never wavered from God’s will. He interpreted dreams through the wisdom of God. When the moment of redemption came, the emotions were overwhelming. I’m sure the hurt resurfaced. But rather than revenge Joseph chose redemption. A choice like that only comes as the product of prayer.

As for you! But God!

The climax of Joseph’s story comes in Genesis 50:20. Jacob, the father of these lost boys brothers has died. Now that dad is gone, will Joseph finally get revenge? Absolutely not. He explains:

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good to bring it about that many people should be kept alive as they are today.

Genesis 50:20

Somewhere between angry emotion and destructive action is something only Christ can do in you.

So how do we tap into this redemptive response only Christ can give?

  1. Know Christ as Lord and Savior. Through repentance and faith, we enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ (Rom. 10:9,10, 13). We don’t need a situation change as much as we need a nature change. The Bible teaches that when we repent of sin and receive Jesus as Lord and Savior that He places His Holy Spirit inside of us (2 Cor. 1:22). The fruits of our new nature will begin to emerge (Gal. 5:22-24).
  2. Renew your mind. After giving his discourse on such a great salvation, Paul turns his attention to life application in Romans 12:1-2. Our new life in Jesus calls for us to not be conformed to this world, but to be transformed into Christ. That transformation comes only through “renewal of the mind.” Renewal of the mind means that we unlearn those habits and patterns of reaction to emotion that conform to the ways of the world. We then learn Biblical, Christ-honoring patterns of behavior as part of the transformation of salvation.
  3. Feed and foster new life from the graces of the church and spiritual discipline. Part of discipleship is discipline. Seek to establish daily habits of Bible reading, prayer, service, and worship. Your church becomes a critical ally in the transformation process. God uses the church to minister His graces of forgiveness, conviction, grace, mercy, and love to His people. Prayer is a conversation with God. Sometimes in prayer, you feel as if you are only speaking to Him. You will be amazed at how God uses His church to speak back to you.

Conclusion

We will all have cursing, hateful, abusive enemies. When people take destructive action against us we are flooded with negative emotion. Our natural reaction is to return destruction for destruction. But Jesus is our in-between. He is our corrective thought. In a sin cursed world He has chosen to call his people to be the conduits of redemption. Unnatural? Yes. Supernatural? Absolutely. But by following Christ we introduce into the fabric of a fallen story something that will save many people alive. Think about it. Had Joseph chosen destructive action and destroyed his brothers the seed of the Savior would have been lost. What salvation could Christ bring from you if you choose redemptive response rather than destructive action?

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When Family Becomes Enemy Title for Blog Post

When Your Family Becomes Your Enemy, How to Effectively and Redemptively Love

When your family becomes your enemy, how do you redemptively and effectively love them? Is it even possible?

In my previous post, we examined four commands that Jesus gave us that call for radical, redemptive action in response to our hateful, abusive, cursing, enemies (Luke 11:27-28).

throat punch love your enemy title

But I say to you, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”

Luke 11:27-28

I ended with the question of who can possibly carry out these commands in such an emotionally volatile situation? Has anyone ever done such a thing? The answer is, yes. The finale of the Book of Genesis is the telling of the story of Joseph. Joseph’s story is curious to us because his family becomes his enemy. He was hated, cursed, and abused by his brothers.

The CliffsNotes Version of Joseph

I would encourage you to read the Joseph story in its entirety. Joseph’s story is found in Genesis 37-50. Let me give you the CliffsNotes version.

Joseph was the favored son of his father as indicated by the magnificent robe he wore (Gen. 37:3). He was a bit of a tattle tale in that he brought a bad report of his brothers to his father (Gen. 37:2). Joseph was also a bit naive. He had a dream that indicated that there would come a day in which Joseph’s brothers would bow down to him. When he told them of the dream, to no one’s surprise, they did not take it well (Gen. 37:5-8). Joseph then has another dream that is much like the first. And like a naive, favored, little brother with a total lack of self-awareness, Joseph reports on his dream again as if they would be happy to hear it. Needless to say, again, it did not go well.

Do Good to Those Who Hate You

And so, in Genesis 37:4 the Bible says that Joseph’s brothers hated him. Joseph may have been the proto-typical annoying little brother in some ways, but that does not excuse their attitude toward him. Even still, bad goes to worse. In Genesis 37:5 the Bible says they hated him even more. As if that were not enough hate, Genesis 37:8 they hated him even more.

Checkmark on hating Joseph.

Bless Those Who Curse You

The Bible doesn’t say that Joseph was cursed, but it does say in 37:18 that his brother’s conspired against him. They considered two options. Option 1, kill our little brother. Option B, sell little brother. In the traditional sense, cursing is the wish or determination of a destructive fate upon someone. In the modern sense, people think of cursing as the use of profanity. I would say in a “conspiracy” conversation of this sort, either applies. I’m sure there are some words the Bible bleeps out between men who are trying to dispose of their brother.

Checkmark on cursing Joseph.

Pray for Those Who Abuse You

As the brothers deliberate between murder and human trafficking, they throw Joseph in a pit. The most chilling verse in the story comes in Genesis 37:25. “Then they sat down to eat.” Imagine the confusion that would be in you if you were captured and thrown into a pit. How much fear would fill you to have brothers so evil deciding your fate? This is a horrible situation and Joseph’s brothers eat a sandwich. Abuse is a cold, calculated manipulation of a person.

Checkmark on abusing Joseph.

There is no peace in the relationship between Joseph and his brothers. They are enemies and not at all acting like family.

When Family Becomes Enemy

Abuse is always painful. That pain is multiplied exponentially when it is family. When the people who were put on earth to nurture you, abuse you; it is a twist in the fabric of creation itself. That is NOT the way the world is supposed to work. How can a mother, father, son, or daughter treat you like they do? How can a brother or sister turn on you as they have? There are a lot of people who have a Genesis 37 and it is very difficult to listen to them tell the story.

When your family becomes the enemy it unleashes an F5 tornado of negative emotion in a person’s heart. They live in an internal, inescapable storm. When family is the enemy, there is no shelter.

So how does Joseph respond? He responds with radical, redemptive action; just like Jesus commanded in Luke 11.

Joseph Loved His Family/Enemy

In an improbable turn of events, Joseph goes from being one of history’s first victims of human trafficking to becoming the Governor of Egypt. God gives him some insight that becomes valuable economic advice to the nation during famine.

In Genesis 42, Joseph’s father sends some of the brothers from Canaan to Egypt to buy food. In an incredible twist of fate, Joseph’s brothers walk into the room and bow before Joseph. They do not recognize him, but he recognizes them. It plays out just like his boyhood dream.

The Bible says in Genesis 42:7 that Joseph treated them like strangers and spoke roughly to them. We might respond, “Serves them right!” I can’t imagine the amount of negative emotion that may have built up in Joseph over so many years. But Joseph is not getting revenge, Joseph is seeking redemption.

Joseph Tests His Brothers

If you continue to read the story, Joseph begins to test his brothers. In each test, Joseph brings the fate of his younger brother, Benjamin, into question. Benjamin is an important point of focus because he is also the only other brother born by Joseph’s mother Rachel. Rachel is the favored wife. Joseph was the favored son. With him gone, surely now favor has fallen on Benjamin.

Will the brothers tell him the truth about Benjamin? Will they use him as a pawn in bargaining for their own self-interest or will they abandon him as they did Joseph? In short, Joseph is trying to see if they have had a heart change.

So why go through all of this trouble of testing them? Why choose redemption rather than revenge? Genesis 42:9 says that “Joseph remembered the dreams that he dreamed of them.”

What we know of the dream is that Joseph’s brothers bow down to him. That is all that Joseph’s brothers really cared to know of the dream as well. But though that may have been the content of the dream, that was not its full meaning. If that is all the dream was about, the vision is fulfilled and Joseph can move on. But Joseph realizes that the dream is not about humiliation, it is about redemption.

The Emotional Release You Need

From Genesis 42 – 44 we read of Joseph testing his brothers. How do the tests end? Pass or fail? At the end of Genesis 44, the brothers break. They exhibit a heart of compassion and a commitment to the protection of their younger brother. Finally, in a roundabout way, they realize that they have brought much grief upon their father in what they have done to Joseph. They do not want to cause more family pain. The brothers have had a heart change.

And here comes the emotional release!

In Genesis 45:1-3 we read one of the Bible’s most moving scenes. In a torrent of tears Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers. They stand silent, in total dismay of this incredible twist of fate.

This is the moment we dream of when we have been hurt by an enemy; especially when it’s family. This is the great equalizer when all that is wrong is made right. When we finally have the upper hand – and it would feel so good – right!

But notice that this emotional release does not come out of revenge. It comes through redemption. It does not come from a heart of destruction, but reconciliation. Joseph saved his family because he loved his enemies.

Critical Truths in Loving Your Family/Enemy

There are some critical truths we can glean here from Jesus’ command and Joseph’s example.

  1. You may be the victim, but in Christ, you possess the greater power. It takes little power or integrity to destroy a person or a family. To retaliate is natural. To redeem is supernatural. If you follow Christ as your Savior, through God’s Word, His Spirit, and His desire to seek that which is lost, you have access to the greater power to redeem. Imagine God using you to bring some horrible people to salvation.
  2. God protected Joseph. God will protect you. As terrible as Joseph’s story was, hindsight shows us that it wasn’t all bad. There may be a time in which the actions of an enemy result in what seems like a loss to you. You may lose your family. In the end, you may lose a job. It may not be your fault, but you lose a friend. Whatever you lost, it may be terribly unfair. There is no excuse for what happened to Joseph, but being removed from his family at that time may have been the best thing for him. I’m afraid that the conversation the brothers had about killing Joseph in Genesis 37 would have only continued. Eventually, they may have followed through. We also see that despite the evil of the removal, God used that time to work in Joseph’s life. Sometimes God has to work in you before He will work through you. When people are up to awful things, God is up to greater things (Rom. 8:28).
  3. Who they are doesn’t define who you are. Joseph was sold into slavery but it never compromised his integrity. Our culture seems to embrace a “once a victim/always a victim mentality.” That doesn’t have to be the case. A victim has every right to make choices that eventually lead to victory. Furthermore, if you read Jesus’ four commands in Luke 11 in context, you realize all that the enemy does to you comes down to a single issue. And that issue ultimately has nothing to do with you. It has to do with Christ. People victimize us either 1) because they don’t know Jesus or 2) because we do know Jesus. They are going to do what they do because of who they are, but we respond in the way we do because of who Jesus is.
  4. Your enemy ultimately faces eternity. I pray that you know Jesus as Savior. If you do, what someone did to you will have no bearing on your eternity. A person may take something from you in this life, they cannot touch your eternity (Matthew 6:19-21). God will restore eternity-fold what the enemy has taken. So, let’s ask an objective question. If you get revenge, it may feel better for you in this life, but what good does it do for eternity? What good does it do for yours or for theirs? In revenge, there is only loss. In redemption, there is eternal gain.

What else can we learn from Joseph’s response? To be continued in the next post.

What more can be learned from Joseph’s response? Read the follow up post: A Redemptive Response to Hateful, Abusive, Cursing Enemies.

HATEFUL ENEMIES BLOG POST GRAPHIC

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Don’t Push the Panic Button on Death

Other than crashing, do you know what is the #1 concern for airline passengers? It is not the hassle of delays. It is not even the long lines at security. It is not the high cost of tickets.

The #1 concern of airline passengers is turbulence.

I’ll admit, of all the things that I hate about the whole hassle of air travel, it is turbulence that makes me hold on to my seat and pull the seatbelt a little tighter.

But have you ever wondered what is actually going on in the cockpit during turbulence? According to Patrick Swift of AskthePilot.com, not much. He says from a pilot’s perspective, their reaction to turbulence is more about trying to avoid coffee spilling on passengers than it is a safety issue. He says:

“For all intents and purposes, a plane cannot be flipped upside-down, thrown into a tailspin, or otherwise flung from the sky by even the mightiest gust or air pocket.”

When the pilot comes over the cabin speakers to announce that we are going to encounter a small patch of rough air, all I hear in my mind is, “We are in a patch of rough air and WE’RE PROBABLY NOT GOING TO MAKE IT! Those 17 tiny pretzels we gave you will be your last meal – we hope you enjoyed it. Thanks for flying Delta.”

What’s most interesting is that passengers tend to exaggerate the actual effects of turbulence. Some passengers would say that the plane suddenly descended by as much as 3,000 feet when in reality it may have been as little as 10.

Why are there such divergent reactions between the pilots who are relatively unphased by turbulence and passengers who are in a total panic? It all comes down to perspective.

Life has a lot of ups and downs to it. Along the way, there will be turbulence. How do we avoid wild swings of emotion? How do we avoid hitting the panic button?

In Ecclesiastes 7, Solomon outlines the ups and downs of life. Along the way he gives some incredible perspective. When a person trusts God he can actually glean some very good things at some very bad times.

The key verse that unlocks the meaning of the passage is 7:14a. “In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made one as well as the other.

It is in realizing that even in the turbulence, our pilot is not in a panic. God has something good for us even in the bad. In Ecclesiastes 7, Solomon is giving us a pilot’s perspective on life turbulence and in a sense telling us – don’t hit the panic button.

Don’t Hit the Panic Button on Death

At first reading, Ecclesiastes 7:1-4 seems to be a morbid perspective on life and death. He says that death is better than birth. Is this a gruesome wish to die? Is it a twisted encouragement to end one’s life? Not at all.

In the final line of verse 2 Solomon says about death that “the living will lay it to heart.” He is not endorsing death. He is pointing us to wisdom. The greatest lessons for the living are not learned at a party, but at a funeral.

Given the choice, I think we had all rather be at a birthday party than a funeral. A party is a much happier occasion – it involves feasting (v. 2b). At a good party there is a lot of laughter (v. 3a). Everyone is in the fun zone when they are at a party. Solomon describes it as a house of mirth (v.4b).

We can learn a lot about living if we take some time to think about dying.

But it is foolish to think that life is just one big party (4a). As ridiculous as it is to believe the earth is flat, so it is to believe that your life can be perfect. Every day can’t be a party. People who run from party to party usually make a mess of their lives. Parties are great experiences, but there is very little wisdom that is learned on the dancefloor.

A funeral has a sobering effect on life. Losing someone will make you push the pause button on the fun zone and force you to take some time to think. As hard as death is, don’t push the panic button on the moment or on the rest of your life. “Lay it to heart.” Learn from it. Remember verse 14, God made even this day. We can learn a lot about living when we pay attention to dying. What are the lessons of a funeral?

  1. Decisions matter. Funerals have a way of reminding us, that both good and bad decisions matter. Health decisions matter. Life decisions matter. Moral decisions matter. There is nothing more tragic than losing someone to a bad decision. There is nothing that would make that lost life more wasted than you making that same bad decision. There is nothing like a funeral to also remind us that good decisions matter. There is a greater spirit of comfort in a family whenever someone is lost who made great decisions. Those decisions blessed that family. Those decisions will continue to help guide that family. Every funeral puts a finality on decisions. Observing death helps us to evaluate life and wonder if it were to end soon, have I made great decisions that will last long after I’m gone?
  2. Family matters. There is nothing like a funeral to bring out the true family dynamic. You see some great, bonded families at funerals and you also see the horror that a segmented, divided family can bring. Funerals remind us that the decisions we make in marriage and parenting matter. Death brings finality but awakens us to the opportunity we have in life. How do you want to be remembered by your kids? How do you want to be remembered by your spouse? Funerals are sobering reminders to tell people you love them while you have them.
  3. Life matters. Funerals confirm what James says in James 4:14, life is but a vapor. It comes for a short time and then vanishes away. No matter how long we live, it is never long enough. I think part of what Solomon means by “the living will lay it to heart” is that the wise learn from death how to make life count.
  4. Jesus matters. If anything funerals remind us is that we are not going to live forever. But wait a minute; according to the Bible, we are going to live forever. The Bible teaches us that we are eternal creations of God. Each of us will live forever, but there are two very difference versions of forever. One is an eternal lake of fire reserved for those who have rebelled against God. The other is a new heaven and a new earth for those who have received God’s Son, Jesus Christ, by repentance and faith. Death makes the decision final, but you are going to live forever. Jesus said today is the day of salvation. Why not make your forever decision today?

Don’t push the panic button on death. Losing someone is a turbulent time. But remember, God gave you plenty of days to party and He has also made this day. Lay it to heart. Learn from it. The lessons we learn in dying give us the wisdom we need to really live.


The Voice of Intimidation

This week I am sharing some excerpts from my new book, Pulse. These excerpts are taken from chapter 2, Courage in which David is making his way to fighting Goliath. Before Goliath draws a sword, David is assaulted with words. Personally, I know no one who has ever been attacked by a sword, but all of us are well acquainted with the cutting sting of words. How do we overcome those inevitable, critical voices? We have already looked at the voices of insinuation and humiliation. Now let’s discuss the most frightening voice of the three, intimidation. 

Critic #3: Goliath, The Voice of Intimidation

When David stepped onto the battlefield, Goliath took it as an insult: “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” (1 Samuel 17:43).

Brian Branam book Pulse, Life in Rhythm

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In the annals of ancient battles, you will discover that before there was fighting, there was talking. It was customary for warriors to brag about their own superiority and strength and to parody their opponent’s weaknesses. Trash talking is an ancient art.

Insults are weapons against your “want to.” Intimidation is an attack on the will. We see this in every area of life from athletics to politics. It’s easier to call someone slow than to chase them. It’s easier to dismiss someone as ignorant than to listen to them. If a person’s will can be stunted with brutal words, it makes the fight that much easier to win.

But rather than paralyze his will, David saw Goliath’s intimidation tactics as an invitation, especially when Goliath began to mock the one true God. In ancient warfare, this was also customary. It was part of the routine of trash talking to mock the gods of your opponent.

Earlier, David had asked some of the soldiers at the battlefield, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Samuel 17:26). Then, as David drew near to Goliath, we read, “The Philistine cursed David by his gods” (v.43).

David understood that the battle with Goliath was not merely for the honor of Israel’s army, but for the honor of God himself. This was the part of Goliath’s taunts that pushed David over the edge. Judging by David’s response, he cared very little about what Goliath thought of his size. But he cared very much about the honor and glory of God, and he cared very much about shutting the mouth of a Philistine who would dare defy Israel’s holy King!

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1 Samuel 17:45-47 Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head.”

Intimidation is a distraction from the mission. In response, David could have gone into a diatribe about his amazing talents with the sling, but there was no need. Rather than boast about his talent, he simply used it for the glory of God. Nothing more needed to be said to Goliath. He would discover soon enough how great David was with a sling!

How do you handle the critical voice of intimidation? Stay focused. The mission is too important to get sidetracked by bullies.

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Be sure to check out the previous posts in this series, Insinuation and Humiliation.

If you would like to read the first chapter of Pulse, subscribe to my website and I will immediately give you access to a digital copy of Chapter 1, Commitment.

How do you deal with critical voices in your life?