Keys to Joy at Christmas

Joy to the world, the Lord has come! Let earth receive her king!

It’s a beautiful phrase that proclaims why we must rejoice this holiday season. Yet during the Christmas season, the biggest struggle for me — and possibly for many others– is the struggle for joy. It’s funny that joy would be something hard to maintain during this the “season of joy,” yet it is.

Personally, for me, the past year was characterized by a misapplication of the Doctrine of Sin. I was focusing almost completely on my own sin and failures, instead of allowing God’s grace to flow in my life. Through the great words of C.J. Mahaney, my parents, and God’s Word, I realized that I had been doing the easy part — identifying my sin, yet that was all I was doing. I was not doing the hard part — crushing my pride by accepting God’s free grace. This act of refusing God’s grace sapped joy from my life. But I am still grateful for the lesson I have learned through this season of my life — and am now joyfully enjoying God’s grace once again.

Which brings me back to Christmas — it is a time where we all seem to get caught up in the nation-wide Christmas grumpiness. What we need to do is to take just a few “keys” to joy, and apply them to our lives. Now, these keys are not original to me (as most things are not), but come from the great blog Girl Talk.

First, we must contemplate the incarnation.

I have found this key to be of the utmost importance, particularly this Christmas season. As I have thought upon the great wonder of the incarnation — the miracle of Christmas — and upon the great news that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:6) it has sent shivers up my spine and has brought tears to my eyes.

This past Wednesday was especially sweet to me as I led worship, sharing a story of sacrifice, and just contemplating with fellow believers on the incarnation and on Christ’s death. I don’t usually cry – but the overwhelming power of the message that God had laid on my heart came with such a force. We must always keep this wonder in the forefront of our minds and hearts.

Two other ways to contemplate the incarnation, as pointed out by Nicole Whitacre, include reading chapter five, “God Inncarnate” from JI Packer’s Knowing God, a chapter that affected me deeply this past summer during a class I was taking on the book.

“The Christmas message is that there is hope for a ruined humanity’s hope of pardon, hope of peace with God, hope of glory because at the Father’s will Jesus Christ became poor and was born in a stable so that thirty years later he might hang on a cross,” says Packer, “It is the most wonderful message that the world has ever heard, or will hear.”

The second way to contemplate the incarnation is through music, particularly the Sovereign Grace Christmas Album, Savior: Celebrating the Mystery of God Become Man. The songs on this CD are absolutely wonderful — full of beautiful, theologically strong lyrics and perfect music for the whole year.

The second key is to practice the spiritual disciplines. A great way to do that is to get a hold of Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney – a book I desperately need to pick up and read along with my daily Bible readings. I really like what Janelle Bradshaw said in her post on this second key:

“It can be a temptation to let a few things slide. You know the thoughts: “Things will settle down after the holidays. I’ll get back to it then.” Often times, the spiritual disciplines can be the first to go.

We usually don’t feel the immediate effect of skipping a few devotional times here and there. But, what happens if we don’t get our presents wrapped in time or the cookies made before the big meal? That would be a disaster! “

And which one of us has not experienced that very thing happen to us at least one year around Christmastime? I doubt one of us could say that we have been faithful each year during this busy time. But we must remember that “the precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart…they are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb.” (Psalm 19:8,10)

The third key to Christmas joy is to serve and give to others.

It reminds me of my visit to the nursing home just a couple of weeks ago. I went with the junior high department of my church’s youth group to sing Christmas carols in the halls. As expected, we walked into a smelly, overly heated, dry, old building with what seemed to be smelly, cold, elderly people. And that’s how many of us saw it when we first walked in. Yet when we began to sing, I saw a building that was full of sad, lonely, joyless people who needed to hear those songs proclaiming the greatness of the incarnation.

In one hallway, we stopped to sing for one lady who began to direct us as we sang. I set my guitar down (since we sang a cappella), and turned to see a older black man sitting on his bed, reading a Christmas card that one of the kids had given him. His face was so sad — so lonely, as if he had no one in his life. The television in front of him was the only light in that room, except for a little light from the hallway. He struggled to read the card – and his face slowly melted. And then he began to sing along with us in a deep, quiet voice…

“Joy to the world, the Lord is come, let earth receive her king…”

I thought I saw a tear in his eye as he looked up at me. I smiled and wished him a “Merry Christmas!” A smile took over his face as he looked up at me. “Merry Christmas,” he said. His eyes quickly returned to that simple card we had made for him earlier that day.

It’s just another example of serving and giving to others — it truly brings you great joy as well. A quote I loved from J.I. Packer was quoted in the Girl Talk post. In the quote, he reminds us:

The Christmas spirit does not shine out in the Christian snob. For the Christmas spirit is the spirit of those who, like their Master, live their whole lives on the principle of making themselves poor–spending and being spent–to enrich their fellow humans, giving time, trouble, care and concern, to do good to others—and not just their own friends–in whatever way there seems need.

If God in mercy revives us, one of the things he will do will be to work more of this spirit in our hearts and lives. If we desire spiritual quickening for ourselves individually, one step we should take is to seek to cultivate this spirit. ‘You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty became rich’ (2 Cor. 8:9).

The fourth key to joy is continued communion with God. This is essentially staying and praying to God throughout the day. Not just part of the day. The cross need to be at the forefront of our minds all the time, not just the morning or evening, or Sunday or Wedndesday. We must constantly rely on God for our joy – especially when we serve others. In these things, we cannot do them alone. Meditate on God’s Word all day.

The final key to joy is to return every gift into an opportunity to glorify and adore God.

“Pleasures are shafts of glory as it strikes our sensibility”.I have tried to make every pleasure into a channel of adoration. I don’t mean simply by giving thanks for it. One must of course give thanks, but I meant something different. Gratitude exclaims, very properly, “How good of God to give me this.” Adoration says, “What must be the quality of that Being whose far-off and momentary coruscations are like this!” One’s mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun. If this is Hedonism, it is also a somewhat arduous discipline. But it is worth some labour.” (C.S. Lewis as quoted in, When I Don’t Desire God, by John Piper)

I pray you will have a joyful year full of the wonder and mystery of God become man – and I pray that you will not stop simply at God becoming man, but what he did as a man on this earth. And that will bring you great joy.

Joy to the world, the Lord has come! Let earth receive her king!

Originally posted 12/22/2007

Hunger For Community

I highly recommend that you take the time to read this insightful and convicting article by Mike Ensley in Boundless.

When I first started ministering to teens who struggle with same-sex attraction, I met “Josh.” Of the categories of people we worked with, Josh fell into the “never acted out” one. He was a good kid who loved Jesus, he served at his church and sang in the youth worship band. To this day he’ll describe me as one of his mentors, but honestly I’ve always hoped to emulate his gentle spirit and genuine affection for God and other people.

Secretly, though, during his adolescence Josh suffered with attractions he neither chose nor wanted. He also did not obey them, but he struggled with this problem in secret in most arenas of his life, including the church where he attended and served.

I thought that stunk. In fact, I was pretty ticked that Josh even had to be a part of my little group over at the Exodus ministry where I volunteered. Not that he wasn’t a good guy to have around — always has been — but all he needed was a safe place to be transparent and find acceptance and support.

This article also in some ways relates to my article on Boundless But For the Grace if you would like another follow up or insight into some of my thoughts.

In Between Bites of Apples and Grapes

It’s always a thrilling experience for me when I read an excellent article. Of course, it was a little odd that this particular piece of literature (taken from the local newspaper) was about the incredible destruction caused by a 5-alarm fire. Nonetheless, in between bites of grapes, apples, and strawberries, I read the incredible story of a Mr. O’Connor.

“Standing in front of a charred lot where his waterfront home stood the night before, Dan O’Connor shook his head and nervously kicked at the blackened debris on the roadway.

The yellow sweatpants, red sweatshirt and Ravens football jacket he wore yesterday afternoon were what he was wearing when he escaped his burning home about 10:30 p.m. Sunday.

And it is all he has left.

Mr. O’Connor’s house was one of three destroyed in a five-alarm blaze on the 3300 block of Shore Drive in the Oyster Harbor community on the Annapolis Neck Peninsula.

The fire, which caused $2 million in damages, remains under investigation, but county firefighters believe it was accidental.

The irreplaceable artwork and artifacts Mr. O’Connor has collected in his worldly travels are now blackened ash. His dark blue Mercedes is unrecognizable.”

I had to stop reading there as verses began to flash through my brain, particularly Matthew 6:19-21, which says “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Mr. O’Connor had put all of his time and energy into traveling the world and collecting artifacts. He lived in a huge home, and owned a beautiful car. Now, all of that is blackened ash, taken away in an instant by flames that melted the paint off the fire trucks that came to save it. All that remains for Mr. O’Connor are the clothes he is wearing and a few friends to live with.

Now, I do not say all of this to condemn Mr. O’Connor. On the contrary, I have a feeling that many of us, especially around this time of year, are buying into the lie that we can waste our lives during the Christmas season (not to mention the rest of the year). This is what I mean.

Many of us are quickly caught up in the commercialism surrounding Christmas. Our minds are filled with the thoughts of getting, getting, and getting. Each of us wants the new iPod, the latest fashion, the coolest new toy, or the nice check from Grandma. We quickly lose focus of what Christmas is all about – and I have wondered how we would treat Christmas if we received no gifts at all this year.

Every person on this earth will one day be like Mr. O’Connor. Actually, they won’t even have the clothes on their backs or friends to fall back on. All of this world will fade away, and the only “treasure” that will remain is not our iPod or new clothes, but the treasure we store up in heaven.

It is a hard thing to put our complete focus and attention on Jesus Christ during this holiday season. We live in times of economic uncertainty, and the desire for things seemingly can grow as we see things slowly taken away from us.

During this Christmas season, I hope that each of us can think about Mr. O’Connor. We do not know what tomorrow will bring, and that must cause us to do everything in our power not to waste the time we have here and now.

“God created us to live with a single passion: to joyfully display his supreme excellence in all spheres of life. The wasted life is the life without this passion. God calls us to pray and think and dream and plan and work not to be made much of, but to make much of him in every part of our lives.” – John Piper

Some helpful tools this holiday season:

How Not to Waste Your Life

Invest This Christmas

Keys to Christmas Joy

Keys to Joy at Christmas (Tim’s Version)

But For the Grace

My latest article is up at Boundless.

Joey hates life.

It’s been rough. His dad drinks and hates the kids. His mom hates his dad, and she take it out on him and his siblings. So he spends his time walking the neighborhood streets. It’s just his thing, he says. It sure beats hearing and dealing with the junk at his house.

So he wanders, just looking at houses and imagining that he lived there — just him, and maybe a wife and kids someday. All he wants is normal — no more drunk dads, mad moms, or any other pain in his life.

I see a lot of Joeys out on the streets. Just walking and staring straight ahead. Some act like nothing is wrong — but I’ve seen their eyes, and I can see the sadness, the pain, and the heartache. And I hurt for them.

Imagine with me for a moment that you are Joey. Because you were.

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