“For this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
For the past few weeks every news outlet was fixated on the “eye of the storm,” where it will hit and the damage it could cause to people and property. It is as if nothing else was going on in the world except the “eye of the storm” and its consequences. Life can be like that sometimes; when disaster strikes, either natural disasters like hurricanes, or disasters that strike to the core such as illness, loss of a loved one, or economic uncertainty, everything else seems to just disappear around us. In the eye of the storm, nothing else matters but the storm. A life well-lived in joy is one that draws strength in seeing beyond the storm and understanding that our Lord will provide all that is needed to weather the storm, that the peace of God,” which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7) The joy of the Lord celebrates the presence of God in the midst of the storm and sets our eyes hills of God’s never-failing grace, the one who promises to “keep you from all evil; he will keep your life…from this time on and forevermore.” (Psalm 121) A life well-lived in joy is not giddy all the time but is confident that God will provide the strength, the hope, and all that is needed wherever the “eye of the storm” may hit. A life-well lived in joy knows and witnesses a faith that is contagious, especially to those caught up in roaring seas or shattered dreams. Joy is all about knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt the mighty hand of God will offer strength when ours grow weary and that,” although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (I Peter 1:8-9) A life well-lived in joy has “thank-you Jesus on their lips in good times and in bad, in uncertain times and tough times, and just all the time.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”
In an age of lightning-fast judgments and impatience with those whose ideas are very different than our own, these words of Jesus can be unsettling, if not counter-intuitive. The 2 greatest commandments sound good on paper, especially the first, but to love our neighbor is sometimes a bit of a challenge to be sure. When Jesus says to “love our neighbor,” he is not just talking about those who live near us, rather he is referring to everybody on earth for whom he died on the cross to save. A life well-lived in love is one that sees the good in all people and values them as children of God. It may not mean that we understand what they are doing or why, and certainly does not mean we need to approve of their actions in our minds, but it does mean that our judgment takes a back seat to God’s grace and mercy. While on a mission trip in Joplin, Missouri I happened upon a book in the library of the church who was hosting us with this opening statement; “be kind. Everybody is fighting a battle.” Loving our neighbor is understanding that someone’s reaction to us or the world around them may be about unseen struggles that are impacting their outlook on life. A life well-lived in love offers kindness and compassion towards all people and understands that everybody has challenges to one degree or another which impacts their worldview. We are called to share the love of God, which is nothing less than grace. There is also a blessing with a life well-lived in love; the freedom from the need to judge anybody and just enjoy the life that has been given by God. A life well-lived in love celebrates the blessing of those around them, offers grace instead of judgement, shares the peace of Christ in all circumstances, and seeks wisdom from the very heart of God. Thank you Jesus for the love you have poured into us by your Holy Spirit!