Where Joy Is Found

“Know this, my dear brothers and sisters: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to grow angry. This is because an angry person doesn’t produce God’s righteousness.”

James 1:19, 20

Sydney Harris shares an occasion when he was walking with a friend home from the office. On the way, his friend stopped at a newsstand to purchase the evening paper. Completing the transaction, Harris’ friend thanked the vendor politely. The vendor didn’t even acknowledge it. “A sullen fellow, isn’t he?” Harris commented. “Oh, he’s that way every night,” shrugged his friend. “Then why do you continue being so polite to him?” Sydney Harris asked. “Why not?” inquired his friend. “Why should I let him decide how I’m going to act?” Notice that the operative word is “act.” His friend acts toward people. Many of us react toward them.[1]

This is the guidance James provides—“quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to grow angry.” In addition to conforming to the format of a letter, James belongs to the literary genre of Wisdom literature. Such literature was widespread throughout the Middle East during the first century CE. Advancing understanding of wise instructions for life in general, sacred Wisdom literature communicates to readers how to live happily as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Various values and actions consistent with discipleship are examined and urged as faithful expressions of fidelity to God. Here, James implores Christians to “act” toward one another rather than “react.”

James knows who he is. He is a disciple of Jesus Christ. This knowledge provides James with an understanding of the behavior that is now expected of him—the understanding that refuses to return anger with anger, incivility with incivility. Each one of us has natural impulses and internal responses to the behavior of others. Yet, failure to harness those impulses, when they would be hurtful to another, is to surrender the command of our conduct. That is slavery to impulses, which make us mere responders to others. That is when our discipleship stumbles—those occasions when we pour out invective after it has been poured out over us.

Throughout the teachings of Jesus, we are enjoined to return good for evil, to turn the other cheek when the hand of another strikes us. That requires uncommon strength, and uncommon control of sinful impulses to defend our honor. That requires that we “act” as Jesus demonstrates in his own life and ministry, rather than “respond” as Peter did with the sword the night Jesus was arrested in the garden. Nobody is unhappier than the one who has surrendered command of his or her inner impulses and strikes back when injured—physically or emotionally. Yet, God’s righteousness expands when we return anger with love. That is where joy is found.

[1] Nightingale, Earl, Transformational Living: Positivity, Mindset, and Persistence, Shippensburg, Sound Wisdom, 2019. 37.


The Gift of Encouragement

“So continue encouraging each other and building each other up, just like you are doing already.”

1 Thessalonians 5:11(Common English Bible)

In the January, 2020 issue of Runner’s World magazine, a woman shares her struggle to complete the New York City Marathon. Halfway through the twenty-six-mile run, personal resources ran out. Physical and emotional resources depleted, she would walk to the sidelines and drop out. Except, there were people on the sidelines. Strangers to her. Moreover, not one of them would let her stand with them on the side of the street. They were not rude. Rather, they shouted, cheered, and pushed her forward with words of encouragement. Strangers would not allow her to quit. She finished the marathon in last place. However, she finished the race!

That is the business of the church! We encourage people not to give up on the race. We shout words of encouragement. We urge them to continue, particularly when it is difficult. We do so in the certain confidence of God’s strength that never falters. Showing up for worship is a shout from the sidelines. Serving in some ministry, alongside others, is a shout from the sidelines. Financial giving to ensure that the church continues to move forward is a shout from the sidelines. Paying attention to others, listening deeply, and caring with an expansive heart, is a shout-out from the sidelines. Each is a real and meaningful means of urging people forward when they face every kind of struggle, difficulty, and challenge.

Some years ago, the distinguished Christian thinker and teacher, Lesslie Newbigin taught that the primary task of the Christian is engagement. Preaching is important. Teaching is important. However, the primary task of the Christian is deep and meaningful engagement in the lives of those we encounter every day. What the church preaches and what the church teaches is not the primary concern of most people. What is most urgent in the lives of the common person is the question “Is there someone who cares?” Authentic engagement in the life of another, championing them through difficulty, create a ripple effect that changes multitudes of lives.

The single greatest mistake that Christians make is the assumption that their faith is a private matter. Such an assumption directs the believer down the path of selfishness. Comments such as, “I can be a good Christian without going to church” reveals that selfishness. As Newbigin argues—and as the apostle Paul asserts here in his letter to the Thessalonian Church—Christians are to gather so that they may mutually encourage one another. Demonstrations of care, support, and encouragement are shouts from the sidelines to those discouraged and defeated by life. These “shoutouts” become enough for those whose own resources have become depleted to finish the race.


How Can I Find God?

“It’s impossible to please God without faith because the one who draws near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards people who try to find him.”

Hebrews 11:6

The beginning of the matter is faith. Faith does not mean the absence of doubt. As Jesus spoke to his disciples for the last time, the Bible tells us that some of them doubted. Their doubt did not bother Jesus. What Jesus did was to command them how they were to live after he left them. Here, faith is the determination to live “as though it is true.” When two people make marriage vows to remain together “until death do they part” they are aware of the staggering divorce rates. They are aware of the possibility that their marriage may fail. Yet, they begin their life together on faith, the determination that they will remain together until death. Hebrews instructs that we begin the search for God “as though God does exist.”

Faith is not putting aside all doubt. It is determining to believe that God is there, just as we are present in the world. Faith is not putting aside all arguments against the existence of God but, rather, choosing to “accept as true” that God loves and understands and is interested in the smallest details of our life. A serious quest for God will put away all excuses for not beginning to seek God, excuses such as not having sufficient time to be alone with God each day, and sincerely strive to be in a personal relationship with someone as real and present as a spouse or dear friend. Faith is an acknowledgment that God is someone who is worth our worship, our love, our striving to learn from, and a decision to follow.

Let the one looking for God then turn each day to a quiet place, a place free of the possibility of interruption and distraction. In silence, think of God as present. Perhaps make a mental picture of God standing directly in front of you or seated right beside you. If it helps, picture God as Jesus groomed as your favorite picture of Jesus, wearing the traditional dress of the Hebrew people of Jesus’ day. Some find sitting in a church before a stained-glass window of Jesus helpful, as do I. Imaginatively, look into tender eyes and see arms outstretched to embrace you. At that moment, confess how you have wronged others and God. Pour out your hurts, disappointments, and longings. Share with God your unmet needs.

Then, after the silence, accept the forgiveness of God, the forgiveness you have heard proclaimed from the pulpit, read in the Bible, or shared with you by those who believe in Jesus. Accept the forgiveness even if you find it difficult to believe that anyone can forgive you, even God. By faith, trust the promise that you are forgiven. Trust that God has taken all that you are ashamed of and removed it from you. As God has placed all of it behind you, now make a mental picture that your back is turned to it and you face forward with no guilt. In that new freedom—and in gratitude—resolve to learn from Jesus and to live as Jesus teaches us to live. Hebrews promises that God will reward you—promises that you will find God.



God’s Purpose. God’s Call. God’s Power

“. . . so is my word that comes from my mouth; it does not return to me empty. Instead, it does what I want, and accomplishes what I intend.”

Isaiah 55:11

Reading the Bible, with a fresh and alert mind, impacts and stirs the reader in extraordinary and often unanticipated ways. Because the printed words belong to a real, present, and active God, the words are used imaginatively and purposefully, in a tailored fashion, for each individual reader. Reading the Bible is never a solo activity. God, in the Holy Spirit, is always present, accomplishing a purposeful work in the mind and heart of the individual who comes expectantly to experience something new. When the mind is dull and expects little from reading the Bible, this dynamic and amazing power is absent. In my own engagement with the Bible each morning, I experience three reoccurring themes.

First, the Bible reveals the purposefulness of God. Perhaps in no other place in Scripture is this more clearly and directly presented than in the twelfth chapter of Genesis, verses 1–3: God promises to bless Abraham. But, with penetrating clarity, this blessing is ultimately for the purpose of blessing all of humanity. A blessing to all people, of all nations, is the bottom line of God’s promise to Abraham. God’s unfolding purpose may be too vast and, at times, imperceptible, to be grasped this side of the grave, but, at least, we are assured by the Bible that the world has been delivered from meaninglessness. With this knowledge, we can live quietly and confidently, trusting the care of the future to God.

Second, the Bible reveals God’s call upon each person. Assuming a robust theological posture, the Apostle Paul declares in Ephesians 2:10 that we were, “ . . . created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives.” Candidly, Paul corrects the notion that followers of Jesus Christ are to participate, here and there, in good work. No; good work, or doing good things, is to be our way of life. It is all part of God’s divine activity that our own lives be caught up in the one grand purpose that God is continually unfolding in the world. Each person’s life is made integral to God’s resolve to gather the nations under the Lordship of his Son, Jesus Christ.

Third, the Bible reveals God’s power. God is not defeated. With panoramic vision, Paul captures the human condition in Romans 8: “Who will separate us from Christ’s love? Will we be separated by trouble, distress, harassment, famine, nakedness, danger, or sword? As it is written, we are being put to death all day long for your sake. We are treated like sheep for slaughter. But in all these things we win a sweeping victory through the one who loved us.” (verses 35–37) Contrary to appearances, difficulties, hardships, and death will not defeat God and those who belong to God. The struggle will certainly manifest itself in every life. But in the end, we will discover that our life has been guided and loved, and that disaster is over-ruled. More, we will find that nothing of value is lost.