Happy New Year!!!! How quickly 2016 went. In 2017, we are looking at some major changes here at our church, but one thing remains: We can always rely on the faithfulness of God. Recently as I spoke to our young men and women, we looked at two passages. Romans 8:28 says “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose.” Then we added Jeremiah 29:11, ” For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” From this we learned that God has a plan for each of us and that He is using everything we have done and will do for good to give us a hope and a future. As a church body we can hold onto these verses as well, believing that God has so much more planned for us. He has a plan for our church beyond anything any of us could ever understand. He has known about this transition for over 2000 years and has been prepared for this moment in our church for just as long. We just need to be faithful to God at this time, diligent in prayer, attentive to needs, and persistent in our service. God has placed each one of us here for this moment!!!
When I think about my time as a follower of Christ, one of the easiest scriptures for me to remember is James 1:2 which says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.” The reason this verse is so easy for me to go to, is because so often I quote it. But to live it out in my own life is usually something different.
This time of the year, it is so easy to think about all the fun, pleasant, and warm things we are thankful for. We have a whole day committed to being thankful, and we often theme everything around that holiday with the theme of thankfulness. And it is good to be thankful for the blanket that plugs into the wall, or the working heating system, or the happy marriage you have, or the great job, or the love of family and friends, or any other thing that we may have mentioned our thankfulness for around the dinner table on Nov. 24th. But how often do we include things in our life that brought pain, trouble, or sorrow to us on that same list?
By no means, am I saying that I am a professional thanks giver in any capacity, let alone one that is this difficult. So, know that I am writing this because it is something that I am having to work very hard on.
When thinking about the concept of remaining joyful in all times, good and bad, it is important to point out that joy and happiness aren’t the same thing. Now since this isn’t a new thought, I’m not going to spend much time on it. I will however just point out that happiness is conditional, while joy can be felt regardless of condition or circumstance. It is also okay to be happy. I feel like, when we converse about joy and happiness, we often discredit happiness entirely. When in reality, that shouldn’t be the case. Our happiness is a good thing, and God wants to give it to us, but it just isn’t the main priority. The main priority in all things is the glory of God. And when we find rest and joy in God during all things, good and bad, in our life, God is glorified.
So, what is joy? Well joy is defined by Webster as “the experience of great pleasure or delight.” Now that may be easy when we are with loved ones or doing something we really enjoy, but did the passage in James say to count it all joy, when we receive blessings of various kinds? No, it said when we meet trials in our life, we need to count it as a joy. In Philippians 4:4 Paul tells us to “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” Yet always rejoicing is sometimes very hard to do.
So how do we start seeing joy in our hard times? We simply start by thanking God for them. It is a discipline that takes time and takes a lot of effort. But despite its difficulty, we can know that God has a plan for our lives and that He works all things together for the GOOD of those who love Him. Notice that doesn’t say comfort, convenience, or pleasure of those who love Him, but He works all things for our good. We learn from God speaking to the Israelites in Jeremiah 29:11 that God has plans, and that those plans for His people are not to harm us, but to prosper us.
When we think about some of the ways that God brings us closer to Him, it can seem impossible to be joyful or content in the Lord. But we can trust His love to carry us through, as it says in Romans 8, “For I am persuaded that not even death or life, angels or rulers, things present or things to come, hostile powers, height or depth, or any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!”
So, start today. When there is a tragedy, thank God. When things go smoothly, thank God. When life seems to not give you a break, thank God. Rejoice always, again I say, rejoice.
As I sit down to write this morning, my article is now 12 days overdue. This is in part due to the fact that I’ve struggled with what to say. I’ve never been good at saying goodbye…especially to people that I love so dearly. So, I’ve procrastinated until the point that I cannot wait any longer. Even now, I cannot find the right words to express my thoughts and feelings. So, I will simply say thank you.
Thank you for taking a chance on a young, unproven, inexperienced guy.
Thank you for accepting our family into this church family, as if we had been here all along.
Thank you for showering our family with love and support.
Thank you for the countless words, letters, and cards of encouragement through the years.
Thank you for your prayers for my leadership, my health, and my family.
Thank you for the grace and mercy when I messed up along the way (which happened a lot more than I really care to admit).
Thank you for being partners in the gospel.
This church will always be remembered as one of the highlights of my ministry and my life. I thank God that He brought our family and this church together, though I wish we would have been granted more time together.
As I close, I would like to leave you with the words of the Apostle Paul,
“I give thanks to my God for every remembrance of you, always praying with joy for all of you in my every prayer, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:3-6)
This is my prayer: That God will continue the good work that we’ve done together and carry it on to completion. I pray that each of us will continue to fight the good fight and run the race well. So that one day, as we all stand before the Lord and we will hear the words we long to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”