Exploring my 2021 theme word: joyful

When I picked a theme word for the year—only a few days ago—I had no idea how difficult it would be nor how helpful.

My word? JOYFUL

My purpose? I want to ensure that I am focused on the Lord, with a joyful attitude. Joyful has many facets of meaning, of course. This post explores what the Bible says about the word joyful and makes practical applications.

Charles Spurgeon wrote, “Make Him the source, the center, and the circumference of all thy soul’s range of delight.” This is my 2021 goal.

Joyful appears 25 times in the Scriptures. Most of these are about gladness—both from bad guys and good guys. I want to explore those passages that refer to joyfulness in the Lord or because of His blessings. You’ll notice that the majority of references to joyful fall into these two catagories.

  1. On the eighth day he sent the people away: and they blessed the king, and went unto their tents joyful and glad of heart for all the goodness that the LORD had done for David his servant, and for Israel his people (1 Kings 8:66). After King Solomon dedicated the beautiful new Temple, including a prayer and generous ceremonial sacrifices, the people rejoiced in God’s goodness to them. Why? The new, beautiful Temple represented God’s presence and was their permanent place for worship and sacrifices. Up until this time, the people had used the portable Tabernacle, but now they had a luxurious place for worship. Today, in many places in the world, we can freely worship God. We have church buildings. But, best of all, the promised Messiah has already come, and because of His death and resurrection power, He indwells our hearts. Even if we weren’t able to meet freely in public, no one can take away the communion we have in our hearts with the Lord. But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us (Hebrews 9:11-12). So, our responsibility is not to forget the great privilege we have. What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? (1 Corinthians 6:19) Let us praise God for His gift of the Holy Spirit, living in joyful thankfulness for all His goodness.
  2. And kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with joy: for the LORD had made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria unto them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel (Ezra 6:22). I don’t do as much reminiscing as I should, but looking back on 2020 gave me the opportunity to review His miracles and blessings. The Bible says, The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will (Proverbs 21:1). The Israelites had proven this true. It is also true today. In our case, it wasn’t the king’s heart, but other authorities changed their minds in our favor as a direct answer to prayer. We watched the hand of the Lord turning our “rivers.” Evidence of God’s working in the past is a motive for great rejoicing. How has the Lord worked on your behalf this past year? Be joyful.
  3. But let all those that put their trust in thee rejoice: let them ever shout for joy, because thou defendest them: let them also that love thy name be joyful in thee (Psalm 5:11). Trusting in God is a great reason to rejoice because we are yielding to His leadership and power. Here, it mentions that God actually defends us. What a blessing! The next part speaks of our love for God’s name. In Old Testament times, people were afraid even to voice the name of God because it was so sacred. Do we love God’s name? Are we guilty of using it in vain? One of the Ten Commandments says, Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain (Exodus 20:7). Using God’s name lightly, cursing, and talking crudely about God are all ways people vainly use His name. Also, “praying” without being conscious that one is actually talking to the God of the universe might be included. Some use His name repetitiously in prayer, almost like a mantra. For example: “Lord, we ask you, Lord, to, Lord, help Lord….” Now, that prayer might be sincere, but it also might be using the name of God like punctuation. That would be vanity. Let us all guard against treating the name of God lightly. We should love it, revere it, and be joyful in the Lord. (Read more about that last phrase in this next verse.)
  4. And my soul shall be joyful in the LORD: it shall rejoice in his salvation (Psalm 35:9). The Source of our joy is Jesus. We are joyful in Him and in His salvation. The way to be “in Christ” is to consciously put one’s faith in Jesus’ payment on the cross for his sins. Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new (2 Corinthians 5:17). Are you in Christ? You’ll know if you are a new creature or not. Your soul will be joyful in the Lord.
  5. My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips (Psalm 63:5). This passage is not talking about a succulent plateful of barbequed ribs; it’s about soul food and satisfaction. The parts of meat that make it tasty are the bone and fat. God satisfies Christians with the best spiritual food. This is why we should audibly praise Him.
  6. Make a joyful noise unto God, all ye lands (Psalm 66:1). Sing aloud unto God our strength: make a joyful noise unto the God of Jacob (Psalm 81:1). These two verses express the same concept: audibly praising God. Notice the songs are directed to Him. They are joyful praise prayers. Believers through the centuries have poked fun at the phrase: a joyful noise, saying it doesn’t matter if you can carry a tune or not. Corporate singing from God’s people doesn’t need to be perfect. It only needs to be joyful and heartfelt communication with God.

I want to commit to joyfulness in 2021.

For more verses on this subject, you can sign up to receive my blog regularly. My next post will continue this theme.

What does 2021 hold?

The great Scottish poet, Robert Burns, once wrote, “The best laid schemes o’ mice and men gang aft a-gley.” I would roughly translate it: our best plans usually mess up.

My husband and I made 2020 plans, but the Lord saw fit to change them up, show His hand in the solutions, and guide us through. We are thankful. Many days, I had to consciously choose to worship, and it was the best theme word for the year I could have chosen. (Scroll down to the previous post to read the specifics.)

Now, we’re beginning a New Year. It brings with it some bright hopes and also trepidations. Optimists see it as a clean slate. Pessimists are scared to crack the door open to 2021. I personally look forward to getting settled, if God permits.

Last year–seems funny to say that–we sold our home back in Spain, moved to the United States, and are presently living with family. My husband and I look forward to having our own home and we’re actively working on that. Everything on this side of the ocean is new and different. Most proceedings require paperwork and patience, and I foresee more of that.

What does 2021 hold?

Only the Lord knows.

The Bible gives some great advice: Go to now, ye that say, Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that (James 4:13-15).

In the great scheme of things, our lives are so short, the Lord compares them to water vapor. We are fog, clouds, steam-like. Ephemeral. With eternity in view, our lives are mere blips on the time line.

But, this doesn’t mean our lives are unimportant or insignificant. They are. God is involved and He will guide us well. If He wills, we shall live and do this, or that. It’s a great way to live and the right way to die. For this God is our God for ever and ever: he will be our guide even unto death (Psalm 48:14).

If I had made my own plans last year and everything had gone perfectly according to them, I would not have been able to watch God do the impossible, move “mountains,” and give supernatural strength. I would have depended on myself to do it all—and would’ve failed miserably. The reason we are where we are today is because of God’s guidance, enabling, and provision.

What does 2021 hold?

It’s an opportunity to trust the Lord even more. We can hold onto His hand and follow Him. Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me (Matthew 16:24). Following Jesus means denying self and identifying with Him.

What an opportunity! We get to follow God as He leads us perfectly. As for God, his way is perfect: the word of the LORD is tried: he is a buckler to all those that trust in him (Psalm 18:30).

The word buckler is a shield. It is better than any corona virus shield or vaccine. God Himself is a body shield for us. His way is perfect, and His Word has been proven.

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path (Psalm 119:105).

Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee (Isaiah 26:3).

But let all those that put their trust in thee rejoice: let them ever shout for joy, because thou defendest them: let them also that love thy name be joyful in thee (Psalm 5:11).

I am going to choose JOYFUL as my theme word for 2021, knowing that I can be joyful in Jesus, whatever my circumstances.

If you choose a theme word or theme verse or phrase for this New Year, please feel free to share it in the comments.

Happy New Year!

Looking back over 2020, looking forward

For many people, 2020 means nightmare scenario. Our memories include sickness, the corona virus scare that began in March, shutdowns and isolation, not being able to see our loved ones, and going through disease and deaths.

For us, living in Spain during much of the year, we experienced all of the above. It was the most difficult year of my lifetime on several fronts, and the only thing that got me through was continually choosing to worship instead of worry.

We faced sickness, death, strict corona virus restrictions, trials, and, on top of that, an international move that began with selling our house and legal issues.

But, God directed our paths.

Even though this was a hard year, we watched as miracles unfolded. I don’t use the word miracles lightly, either. Even our lawyer told us, “You can thank God.” It was obvious that Someone much bigger than us was making things happen.

We arrived in the United States at the beginning of November. Our shipment arrived in good condition in mid-December. We are thankful.

My husband and I are living with a relative while searching for a house. When we found one we both loved and made an offer, we felt like this might be it. We prayed that God would either open or close doors and make it obvious to us if this was the house He wanted for us. Before the inspection, it became clear that this wasn’t the house He wants for us.

I love that we can trust God to guide us well. It is exciting to live like this and watch as He smooths the way or closes the door. All we need to do is follow Him—like silly sheep following the Shepherd. He always leads us well, provides, and protects.

I chose a theme word for 2020. It was worship.

With all that was going on in our lives, much of it unpleasant, I made it a point to turn off my worries and cares and consciously worship. I didn’t do it perfectly. There were days of tears and asking God why. I actually walked out into the yard and poured my heart out to the Lord, telling Him I couldn’t manage without His supernatural help. The great thing is, His help is always freely available.

Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not (Jeremiah 33:3).

This is my testimony for this past year. God showed me great and mighty things. That’s what He does.

I am looking forward to seeing His mighty hand in 2021.

How has the Lord blessed you this past year? Want to share? Please feel free to comment.

Explaining the Christmas Star

Even the major news networks are explaining the “Christmas Star,” the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn that many were able to see on December 21. The planets got closer together than they had been in 800 years. I find it interesting that people who go to such lengths to discredit the Bible try to explain what the special star in the biblical text might have been.

The Christmas Star has been explained away throughout the decades. Perhaps it was a comet—and that is why it appeared to move.

Maybe it was a meteor zooming by.

This year, it could have been the “Great Conjunction.”

The Bible prophesies Jesus’ coming: I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel (Numbers 24:17a). The star actually seems to be a metaphor for Jesus.

When the star indeed appeared, the wise men recognized it as the star that represented the birth of the Messiah. They said to Herod, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him (Matthew 2:2).

As we know, Herod believed the wise men. He asked when the star appeared and plotted to kill all the baby boys, so that his kingdom would not be threatened.

The wise men left the palace, and something amazing happened: lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy (Matthew 2:9-10).

They recognized the re-appearance of this special star, and it moved, guiding them to the house where Jesus lived. It moved and then hovered over that specific house. It must have appeared just above that house, because it doesn’t make sense otherwise.

All the explanations of conjunctions, bright stars, comets, meteors, and all the rest do not match what actually happened.

The wise men:

  • actually saw a star and knew its meaning.
  • went for a time not seeing the star.
  • saw the star again when they exited Herod’s palace.
  • followed the star, which led them to the place where Jesus was.
  • prostrated themselves, worshipped the Child, and offered Him gifts. (Matthew 2:11)

What does the star mean for us, today?

I find several spiritual lessons in this story:

  • People who know the Scriptures recognize miracles when they see them.
  • Real wisdom requires action. These men left and acted upon what they knew. They sacrificed time, energy, and treasure to seek Jesus.
  • God will lead those who seek Him. But if from thence thou shalt seek the LORD thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul (Deuteronomy 4:29).
  • Jesus deserves our worship. When historical people saw Jesus, they prostrated themselves (the wise men, Abraham, Isaiah, lepers, the healed lady, and even demon-possessed people). In the Book of Revelation, when the Lamb (Jesus) takes the book, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him.
  • We owe Him our effort and service. Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ (Colossians 3:24).
  • Giving as unto the Lord actually stores up treasure in heaven. Jesus said, Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Matthew 6:19-21).
  • Meeting King Jesus is humbling.

The planets aligning themselves were not the Star of Bethlehem. That special star has never been repeated. Besides, God calls it a star. Planets together are not stars. God is the Creator of the universe, and we can trust Him to label His handiwork correctly. God produced a miracle for the purpose of guiding people to Jesus, just as He did with the shepherds a year or two before. Remember the angelic announcer and the multitude of angels and great light?

Jesus, the Light of the World, was announced to the world with shining light. To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 5:11).

Emmanuel: God with us

The miracle of Christmas is tied up in this name: Emmanuel. This name first appeared in a prophecy going back 700 years before Jesus’ birth. Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14).

The virgin birth involves a whole series of miracles. We have the miraculous conception of Jesus by the Holy Spirit. And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God (Luke 1:35).

Even though Mary couldn’t understand the supernatural science, she was willing. And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word (Luke 1:38a).

In the Gospel of Matthew we read: Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us (Matthew 1:23). This is a direct quote of Isaiah, with the addition of the meaning of the name, Emmanuel.

God with us.

What an amazing concept! God presents Himself in human form—in baby form—to mankind. He lives among us. God with us.

Its significance is enormous. Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross (Philippians 2:6-8).  The Creator makes Himself like the created in order to save His own creation. It is awesome, unfathomable.

Jesus means Savior. This was His human birth name. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).

Emmanuel. God with us.

Jesus. Savior.

Isaiah’s prophecy adds these names for Baby Jesus: Wonderful Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace (9:6).

God with us.

Jesus said, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world (from Matthew 28:20).

And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you (John 14:16, 26).

Emmanuel wants us to be content with His presence. Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee (Hebrews 13:5). True contentment is in Him.

Do you know Emmanuel? Is the Holy Spirit with you and teaching you?

Are you content in His presence?

Have a Merry Christmas!