Joy

Choose Joy

By Becky Cook

Tucked away in a Christmas bag from my mom this year was this picture. I almost missed it. Days after Christmas I found it, just a sliver of paper down in some Christmas tinsel. When I looked at it I was overcome with laughter. I could not help but understand the tears of these children and yet at the same time also feel the laughter that was coming from those behind the camera. God just spoke to me through this picture. In the midst of ending 2016 and ushering in the new, fresh year of 2017… we have got to choose JOY.
I hate taking pictures. I don’t want to see what I really look like on the outside. We expect “picture perfect” lives. We don’t want people to see the real US. We can throw fits, cry our eyes out and live in defeat of what life hands us. These kids are miserable. Probably uncomfortable and if one cries its’ a lot easier for everyone to cry. Behind the camera is someone just wanting to capture the sweet little faces of JOY. But the smiles are covered with tears.
Life is hard We think we will be happier if we just had what everyone else has. The perfect life, the perfect relationship, the perfect family, the perfect weight, the perfect health, and on and on. Our journeys don’t work like that.

As the new year rolls in, I am claiming to choose JOY this year.

I may not like the twists in my journey, I may not understand the ups and downs it will bring, I may be overwhelmed with so much JOY I don’t know how to handle it, but I am confident that “He who began a good work in me will be faithful to complete it”…. I serve a God who has more for me than I can think or even imagine, so I will trust and choose JOY. He knows the plans and His picture of my life will be perfect.
We live in a world that needs salvation, grace, peace, love and most of all JOY. Let’s be the walking examples of this. It’s ok to cry… JOY comes in the morning. These kids will look back one day at this picture and what a story it will tell. It will bring laughter to their lives and so much more meaning to the ones on the other side of the camera. Let the struggles of 2016 be a reminder of God’s presence to walk with us each day and never forsake us, even when we might have lost faith.
Let the new year of 2017 be ushered in with “unspeakable JOY” and a stronger faith in the promises given to us from a GOOD GOOD Father….
#2017ChooseJOY

The Coming of Christ

By Kristi Sullins

On that night so long ago the angels were charged with proclaiming the miracle of Christ’s birth. He had finally come, the Messiah sent for all mankind. It was the end of the wait, but for everything else, it was just the beginning.

Christ is the beginning of hope, bringing the possibility of a life more abundant than anything we can think. He is the promise of security in the middle of chaos, and strength to journey through any season of life.

He is the beginning of peace. For those who belong to Christ, we have been promised a peace that passes all understanding. That peace finds its beginning and ending with Jesus.

Christ is the beginning of joy for all those who believe. True joy is found in Him, and cannot be shaken by the things of this world. It is His joy that is our strength and our song. It is a joy that survives the changes and struggles of life because it is founded in the One who loves us.

He is the beginning of love, sent from the Father Himself. Love comes from God. His love for us is unwavering, indescribable and undeserved, and the proof of this love was first found in the manger.

The beginning of hope, peace, joy and love is life changing. For the followers of Christ in the Bible, it was compelling enough for them to change the way they worshiped and believed. They changed tradition, which caused many to be rejected by family and friends. Persecution was real for followers of Christ, but what He brought them was worth any struggle.

Christ and His love were too life changing to ignore.

We have that same new beginning. Christ offers us the same hope, peace, joy and love, based on who He is and not on what we deserve. The promises of Advent don’t have to be packed away with the rest of the Christmas decorations but are meant to encompass our current days. Those who are followers of Christ are called to face the future without fear, and the celebration of Advent is meant to remind us that there is no need to fear because the good news proclaimed by the angel in the book of Luke is still the same.

Are you looking towards the coming year with the anticipation of a fresh start and new beginnings or do you feel anchored in the past with its poor choices and scars?  No matter where you find yourself, it is important to remember that the news of the angel, on that holy night, was a message of good news for all people. Christ, our Messiah, has come to set us free, and to give us a hope and future, our new beginning.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill to men.

The Coming of Joy

By Kristi Sullins

Christmas is one of the most joyful times of the year. People decorate their homes with bright lights and beautiful trees. There is special time spent baking fun treats, and wrapping packages. School lets out, time is spent with family and new memories are made. It’s just easier to feel joy at Christmas.

On the night of Christ’s birth so long ago none of those things were there. The stable was not adorned with festive colors, or filled with beautiful trees. There were no special treat or gifts. Family was far away in Nazareth. What was there, on that silent night, was joy.

The shepherds, tending their flocks in the field that night, were not concerned about joy. That all changed when an angel came to proclaim the good news. The Messiah had come as promised. Luke 2:10 tells us that proclamation was one of great joy and for all people. The shepherds rushed to find the one God had sent to be the Savior of the world. After seeing Him in the manger they were so full of joy, they told all they saw what had happened.

The wise men, in a land far away, saw the star in the sky. This star matched the prophecies they had studied for so long. Their journey to follow the star was long. It kept them from family and friends. They dealt with a deceptive king, and still they searched. When they came to the home marked by the star they found joy. It was joy in the Messiah, the promised one who had finally come. Their joy led to worship because He who had been sought for so long was now with them.

Strangely, the heavens, themselves, declared the joy of God as the angels filled the sky in worship. Why would God rejoice? In His omniscience, He knew what Christ would face. God knew that the celebration of Christ’s birth would be brief. A mad ruler would hunt him, forcing the family to flee into Egypt. He would live a very modest life. His brothers and sisters would not believe in Him. The ministry time on earth would be full of struggle, opposition and doubters. He would have a close group of disciples, but even those men would deny, doubt and deceive. Ultimately, the one who lay in that manger would hang on a cross, choosing to die for all. Our human understanding would tell us that heaven should have mourned, but for God, the time to rejoice had come. It was time to rejoice because soon He would no longer be separated from His people because of their sin. Soon there would no longer be a need for the sacrifice of animals because His Son had come to be the ultimate sacrifice. Soon the high priest would no longer be needed to stand between man and God. The Great High Priest had come, and He would bridge the gap between God and Man.

Christ, the Lord, had chosen to willingly come so that all who believed would be saved. His advent brought great joy!

Thanks be to God that the reason for joy did not end on that night because the promise of advent did not end. Isaac Watts penned a powerful reminder of advent in 1719. He was a student of the Word, and was drawn to the promise given to all believers of the coming of the King. Joy to the World was published as a hymn, an anthem for the church to claim the promise of advent, but it was never meant to be a Christmas carol. Watts pulled his inspiration from Psalm 98, and the promise of the King that would return for His people. He was not proclaiming the birth of Christ, but the return of the Messiah. Watts was calling for all to prepare their hearts for the return of the one who had already been. He proclaimed Joy to all the World because our King is yet to come. Our advent is not over. We, who choose to believe, wait and watch like the wise men, full of joy and hope because the return of the Messiah has been promised. Our joy does not rest in a miracle of the past, but in the certain promise of our future. We wait with joy, watch with joy and prepare our hearts with joy for the King WILL come.

Joy to the world, the Lord IS come
Let earth receive her King
Let every heart prepare Him room

Life Changing Christmas

By Ken Edwards

Unique gifts are not easy to find. It takes work to find the right gift that truly expresses our feelings and our love. There is a heartfelt joy when we see that smile from ear-to-ear when they receive that prefect gift.

The best gift might be a special toy, or the newest electronic gadget this year. For some clothes may be perfect while others will cry, “Next package please.” Gift cards can be an easy way to shop, but we lose the joy of finding the right gift.

Our goal should be to inspire a special moment that changes the life of both the giver and the receiver. Unfortunately, Christmas has become more about, “What will I get” rather than “What can I give.”

What happened to the idea that our mother told us about; “It’s not the gift, but the thought that counts”?

Here is an idea that may bring some of that back into our Christmas. Something that is unique, expresses our love and leaves a lasting impact. A gift that teaches our family about giving and not just receiving. This sounds too good to be true, but it’s not.

There are many simple, low cost ideas that make good teaching moments with our children. Try turning this Christmas into a family ministry Christmas. Here are five low cost ideas that could change your life and someone else too.

Bake some cookies and deliver them to a shut-in down the street. Use this opportunity to pray with them in front of your children.

Send a military care package with goodies to someone away from home this Christmas. Get your children involved with the packing. Include a small Bible or devotional book, and explain to your children the importance of studying God’s Word.

Take a hat or some winter gloves to a homeless shelter like The Rock at Noon Day Ministries. See if you can volunteer with an age appropriate activity for your children.

Sponsor a child in an orphanage or make a special donation for a missionary. Then keep their picture on your refrigerator. When you pray for them at the mealtime, you will remind your family that we can carry out the Great Commission in our own family.

Make some inexpensive craft items for the residents in a local nursing home. The residents love children, and your visit may bring a special joy to them as they interact with your children.

Unique gifts are not easy to find. When we make the effort, we may find that magical moment that changes the life of both the giver and the receiver.

During the hustle bustle of this Christmas season, remember, the greatest gift ever given was the birth our Savior Jesus Christ.

Restore – Cost Counting

By Karen Polich

Cost Counting – Assessing the Damage

 In a broken world with broken people, most of us will find ourselves participating in restoration numerous times throughout life’s many stages.  – Pastor Michael Cook.

(Listen to his Restore sermon series here.)

Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem carrying God’s mission in his heart. He began to look around, finding rubble. He found so much rubble in some areas that he couldn’t even get through it. Nehemiah knew that he needed to have a solid picture of the situation before beginning to rebuild and restore. (From Nehemiah 2:11-20)

Nehemiah did something very important. He looked around and did a full assessment. When we are trying to restore and rebuild, we need to be willing to shine a light into our lives. When we search our hearts, we can assess the damage. Some areas may be worse than others. We can see what is right and whole as well as what is wrong and broken. It is not easy, but it is necessary. Pastor Michael Cook reminded us that when we are humble and broken and we take those courageous first steps in putting things back together, God has a special place in His heart for us. So often we forget that God is with us when we seek restoration in our lives.

God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. James 4:6b

When we have been living in the rubble for too long, we can get so used to it that we begin to think it is normal. The longer we sit in the rubble, the harder it is to get started. Keep in mind that thinking about getting started and actually getting started are like night and day. Restoration cannot occur until we take those first steps and start the process. It isn’t going to get any easier by waiting. Consider it the chair of resistance; the longer we wait to get out of it, the harder the struggle.

Moving forward in restoration, brings satisfaction and excitement, but don’t forget to make allowances for the pain that will come as well. There may be those who don’t want to see you rebuild your life. Nehemiah experienced that, but He focused on God’s grace and the desire to see Jerusalem restored. We must choose to push through the pain. We must choose to shine the light of God’s love into our lives and embrace what will come when we rebuild and restore our lives.

Will you take that first step today?

 

Why I Praise Him

By LuAnn Edwards

If you attend Albuquerque’s First Baptist Church, you may have seen me singing in the choir or with the Praise Team. You may have asked yourself the question, “Why does she raise her hands?” There are several reasons why I praise my Lord. A few of them include: (1) The truth has set me free (John 8:32); (2) He inhabits the praises of His people (Psalm 22:3); and (3) Praise makes the enemy flee (2 Chronicles 20:1-24).

Christ set me free; I am so thankful to Him for this.

I was heading the wrong way in life and have a pretty good idea of what my life would be like without Him. He rescued me from a miserable existence. Had I continued on the path I was taking, I would be living without hope, trying to fulfill myself with meaningless relationships and material things. How can I not praise Him for all He has done for me?

The Lord desires my worship, and praise is an expression of that worship. Praise brings me into God’s presence and fills me with His joy and peace. To sincerely praise Him, we must do so in humility and true devotion; how can we truly praise Him and have animosity in our hearts toward others? Praise allows me to lift up the Lord and glorify Him. Do I only praise Him in church? No! I praise Him at home and in my car and even when I am alone at work. At times, I praise him loudly with singing; or I may worship Him quietly while listening for His still, small voice. I believe He desires this of me, and I totally enjoy honoring Him in this way. (Psalm 34:1; Psalm 98:4; Psalm 134:2; Psalm 150:4; Eph. 5:19-20.)

Praise sends the enemy running! The story of Jehoshaphat (found in 2 Chronicles 20) crying out to God for the people of Judah shares a wonderful truth from God’s Word. Jehoshaphat heard that armies were coming to attack them, and he knew they did not have the power to fight back. He prayed and looked to the Lord for help. The Lord spoke through one of the men saying, “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s” (v 15). God told them they were to march down against the enemy, but they would not have to fight. Jehoshaphat and the people of Judah bowed before the Lord and began to worship Him. Some stood and offered praise to the Lord with a very loud voice. The next morning they went out to face their enemies. Jehoshaphat stood and told the people to have faith in the Lord. He then appointed men to sing to the Lord and praise Him saying, “Give thanks to the Lord, for His love endures forever” (v 21). As the people began to sing praises, the Lord set ambushes against their enemies causing them to kill one another, and they were defeated! Judah did not have to fight!

What battle are you facing today? Try giving thanks to the Lord, for His love endures forever. He will inhabit your praises, and His truth will set you free!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Abundant Life

By: LuAnn Edwards

Are you filled with the peace of God? Are you overflowing with joy and abounding in love? When we abide in Christ, He lives through us and we bear His fruit. I believe this is the abundant life Jesus talks about in John 10:10.

The Christian life is not just an adequate life; it is full of blessings – God blessing us and us blessing others.

When we allow Him to lead us and we rely upon Him with complete trust, He will work through us. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20a). In addition, each one of us is a new creation in Christ. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5:17). No longer should we live in the past or the ways of our past. We should now live for Christ and desire a deeper, personal relationship with Him.

An abundant life comes as a result of abiding in Christ so we will bear fruit. To abide in Christ means we completely surrender ourselves to Him and walk in obedience. We bear fruit as we continue in our daily walk with Christ. This daily walk should be one of personal commitment and getting to know Him better through prayer and Bible study. “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:8). Bearing fruit, such as peace, joy and love, honors the Lord and brings gladness to our hearts.

Peace abides in us if we know Jesus as our Savior and Lord. In John 14:27a Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.” Jesus has personally given us this gift; He is our peace! Peace is a special place of knowing He is always present, along with believing He is working all things together for our good. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him…” (Romans 15:13a).

An abundant life is filled with joy.

When others see this joy in us, they long for it too. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4).We should always be joyful, for the joy of the Lord gives us strength (Neh. 8:10). Joy also comes through loving others.

In 1 John 4:11-12 we read, “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” Our love shines outward as we deny ourselves and our selfish desires and put others first. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4). These verses portray a beautiful picture of love.

An abundant life is a life growing in Christ. It is a life dedicated to prayer and gaining knowledge through His Word. Through this walk of surrender, trust and obedience, Christ richly fills us with His peace, and we experience overflowing joy and abounding love.

 

The Simplicity of Contentment

The Simplicity of Contentment

By: Kristi Sullins

 “Everything is amazing and nobody is happy.”

These are words that hang on the wall right above my desk.  I am a lover of the written word so instead of art I cover my wall in quotes, phrases and verses that speak to me.  The above quote above hangs front and center.  I remember clearly when I found it.

In 2013 I had the amazing opportunity to go to Malawi, Africa.  This was a mission opportunity I never dreamed to have, and to be honest was considering a Jonah approach to the trip as time grew close.  My first day out in the villages changed me forever.  Each small house and poorly clothed villager brought new questions to my heart.  Why were they so happy?  Why did they operate with such a spirit of contentment?  Do they know what they are missing, and how much more life has available?

My first interaction with children brought the desire to haul them all to America so they would have what they needed.  Surely children need more than old tires to play with and balls made of string and trash.  Of course, they need more than mashed corn and sugar cane to thrive.  It was clear to my American eyes that there were things that needed to be changed.

Thankfully God refused to let me look through my American eyes very long.  He allowed me to see the reality of their contentment.  It was present in the laughter of the women as they worked together to shuck the corn.  They had friendship.  It was present in the smiles of the children as they played and worked.  In spite of their lack of things they had joy.  You could hear it so clearly in their worship songs.  They would not limit the music to just one day a week.  They sang as they worked.  They sang as they rode the bus.  They worshiped throughout their day.

By my standards, they did not have many reasons to sing.  There was hunger, disease and poverty.  What is there to sing or smile about?  The answer was they were content with where they were and what they had.

After the second day my prayer changed from “Please Lord do not let me make a fool of myself” to “Please Lord help me understand the source of their joy”.  God graciously answered that prayer.  He led me to a young mother holding her little girl sick with malaria.  Praying over this little one left me feeling stressed over how God would answer.  It left her mom with peace that God had heard her prayer and He would handle it in His way.  He led me to a school that was full of children, but greatly lacking the supplies they needed.  I was full of regret for all they were missing.  They were full of joy that we cared enough to bring them the message of a God who loved them, and left them with real soccer balls.  The clearest understanding came from my interpreter who day in and day out displayed God’s love for those around us.  Her passion for the lost pushed her to walk miles with me even though she battled pain from surgery.  With no pain medicine available and no complaints ever voiced, she taught me that there was never an excuse to lose joy.  Her joy came from God and was not altered by her current reality.  These were flesh and blood examples of Paul’s words in Philippians 4 “I have learned in whatever situation I am in to be content”.

There in the fields of Africa I was reminded that the simplicity of contentment in life is found in letting God be God.  It is not in what you have or what you can get.  Happiness is not found in the ease of your life, but in the source of your joy.

“Everything is amazing, and nobody is happy” hangs on my wall now to remind me of the lessons from Africa.  It helps strip away what stains my view of contentment, and takes me back to reality.  Oh to be happy when life is not amazing!