The Joy of Glory

Discovering endless joy in the boundless glory of God…

Category: Joy

Lent: Repentance, Fasting, and Ashes?

Today, Ash Wednesday, is the beginning of Lent…a 40 day season. If you’re thinking the math doesn’t work…don’t forget that Sundays don’t count. They’re treated like mini-Easter celebrations.

I grew up without even hearing the word “Lent.” As a matter of fact, when I first heard it I thought someone was talking about “lint.” Imagine my confusion. Perhaps you are unfamiliar with Lent and find yourself wondering what all this talk of repentance, fasting and ashes is about…what does it all mean?

Lent
lentLent is meant to be a season that prepares our hearts for the celebration of Easter, much like Advent prepares us for Christmas. Traditionally, such preparation has been sought through focusing on repentance and fasting, which often makes people think Lent is a sad or depressing season…and nothing could be further from the truth!

Repentance and fasting should lead us to JOY in Jesus! Lent should to lead us to the joy of Easter! But, how exactly does that work?

Repentance
repentanceRepentance reminds us that we are sinful and in need of a Savior.  Without a Savior, we would be left under the just penalty of sin…which is death.  We need someone to defeat our sin by dying in our place…and…we need that person to defeat death by rising again. In other words, we need Jesus…we need Easter.

Focusing on repentance reminds us that we need Easter.

Fasting
imagesTo many, fasting seems like and outdated ascetic practice reserved for medieval monasteries. How does fasting engage our hearts and reveal our need for Easter?

Fasting, typically, involves removing something that is normally present in your life.  Most commonly it is food, but people also fast from social media, television…nearly anything…but the point is we remove something that leaves a void. You notice that it is gone, and yet, life goes on without it. Our life didn’t depend upon that thing after all.

Fasting reminds us that we are not truly dependent on the things we think we are and helps us realize that we are dependent on Jesus! As our body hungers for food to satisfy our stomach, we are reminded that the only thing that can truly satisfy our deepest hunger, the hunger of our souls, is Christ! He is the one we need…the one who died and rose again to quench the thirst of our hearts and satisfy the hunger of our spirit with himself!

Fasting reminds us that we need Jesus…we need Easter!

And so, after focusing on repentance and fasting for 40 days, by the time Easter gets here, we erupt in celebration that Jesus has conquered our sin and become the satisfaction of our souls!

 Ash Wednesday
ash-wednesdaySo…repentance and fasting are meant to point us toward our need for Easter…but, what is up with the ashes? How does Ash Wednesday help us start this journey towards the joy of the empty tomb?

Ashes are symbol of repentance.  At SVCC, when I put ashes on people’s foreheads I speak the words, “From dust you came and to dust you shall return.”

These words and the ashes remind us that the penalty of sin is death…that we must return to dust.  We need to repent and turn from our sin to our Savior.  And, that is why I do not only speak the words, “From dust you came to dust you shall return…” but that phrase is followed by the instruction, “So repent…and believe the Gospel.”

The Ashes remind us of our sin and it’s penalty, death…but, using them to make the sign of the cross reminds us that we have a Savior to turn to who has defeated sin and death! We use dust, the sign of our deserved death, to make a cross, the sign our death is defeated. It is a beautiful picture of the Gospel. It is a beautiful reminder that repentance is meant to lead us to the cross…to Jesus…to joy in him.

Now there is nothing magical about the ashes. They are a symbol of what is actually taking place in our hearts, namely, that we are acknowledging our sinfulness, repenting, and turning to trust in Jesus.

Without a heart of repentance and faith ashes merely give you a dirty forehead. Yet, when united with a heart of repentance and faith, this external symbol is a powerful means through which God reaffirms what has happened to you… that your death and doom to dust has been conquered by Christ!

This Lent, embrace that truth by faith. Let all your repentance, fasting and ashes lead you to the same place…to the empty tomb where we embrace the resurrected Jesus by faith!

Let Lent lead you to Easter!

Dear Faith Family of SVCC

*Today, at our annual family meeting, I breifly reflected on many things that happened among our SVCC faith family during 2013.  Below are the thoughts I shared in the form of a letter.

Dear Faith Family of SVCC,

_DSC0152It is difficult to express everything that I feel in my heart about 2013. I think the greatest analogy that comes to mind is that of childbirth…after all, my third little one, Talitha, entered the world this past year. Through that miracle of life I have found myself reflecting again and again on the joy that comes through pain.

Perhaps that is the best way I can describe 2013…it has been a year of joy amidst pain. In our own home we experienced quite a scare through the birth of Talitha as Holly dealt with some serious after-effects of the birth. Our daughter Charis was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder and our parenting challenges seem new every morning. My brother and his bride moved overseas. And there are various other challenges I will not mention…I do not want this to sound like a list of complaints. It is not.

Amidst all the pain, and I know many of you have endured much greater this year, we have seen the faithfulness of God again and again. He never left us as Holly struggled through birth complications, He is ever present in our parenting and Charis is a constant reminder of his grace, and I praise him daily that my brother and sister-in-law have followed his leading to take the gospel wherever he leads. Without fail, there is joy amidst pain for he is amidst the pain!

IMG_2232At SVCC this year we have experienced pain. I have sat with some of you before surgeries or beside hospital beds and prayed. Some of you have seen loved ones make the transition from this life to the next. There are some which have been hurt by those who they trusted. Many of you have allowed me to see and know you amidst your pain and you have shared in mine…and it has been beautiful for I have seen your joy.

Even when some have felt like there was no joy to be found, I have watched others gather around them and pray for them, fight for them, hold on to them. There have been relationships healed, children born, adoptions granted…both physical and spiritual. We have seen many come to Christ, be baptized and grow in him. Amidst all the pain there has been extreme joy because Jesus is always amidst our pain!

IMG_2233Of course there have been some practical, external things that we are thankful for in 2013. We’ve partnered with Common Thread Community to open a studio, there are nearly 50 musicians involved in the worship ministry, and John-Mark joined us as our worship leader. The women’s ministry had their largest retreat, there are college students coming out our ears, we’re setting up chairs fairly regularly, and there are two new community groups. The youth have grown, I have parents sending me Facebook messages like this, “Is youth group happening tonight…I just need to check because it is my daughter’s favorite part of her week.” The children’s ministry is the same, especially with interact, this past fall we saw our kids really engage through prayer (evidenced by the prayer walls).  We’ve also prayed over Ashford Taylor as she heads to Spain, Carley O’Neal to Australia, and Emily Echevarria to India. All of these things are awesome…massive blessings…but they are only happening by the grace of God!

Any success here is not in how large retreats are or how many chairs we set out…we do not boast in numbers (that’s why we don’t really count them), we do not boast in anything but Jesus…and the only reason I list all of those things is to say…Jesus is at work.  Amidst pain, through pain, we see him at work and we rejoice!

Nothing has increased my faith more this year than seeing you praise amidst pain. I’m not trying to make it sound like this year has been all pain…it hasn’t, but many times you can hear from a church leader and it just sounds like life is totally awesome all the time and that’s not reality. We have had pain this year, but you have praised amidst it all and that shows the world the glory of Jesus unlike anything else!

Praise amidst pain magnifies the majesty of Jesus!

Let’s keep magnifying Jesus! No matter what comes our way in 2014! No matter if the year is awesome or awful, let us be full of awe! No matter if it feels like we are being showered with blessings or if it feels like we are being beaten down by a deluge of suffering…Jesus is with us amidst any storm and he can walk on any amount of water!  Let’s trust him and praise him and make him known to the nations.

I love you all. May his grace be with us,

Jonathan

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We Rejoice in our Sufferings (Part 1)

On Sunday, I found myself grasping for words as I stood before my congregation trying to hold out one of the great paradoxes of the Christian life, namely, that our suffering is filled with joy.  We are a people who are always “sorrowful, yet rejoicing.”

My words seemed to fall flat, or at least short of this incredible, indescribable reality. So here I am, trying again to explain the unexplainable. I want to take a couple of blogs (who knows how many) to dive deep into how and why we are a people who rejoice in suffering.

Romans 5:3 says, “…we rejoice in our sufferings…”

How?…and…Why?

Before we can talk about how and why we find joy amidst suffering we must talk about what joy/rejoicing is.  What is joy…true, biblical joy?

joy_sand-1Joy is easy and difficult to define. It is easy because we all have a sense of what joy is through our own experience. We know what we mean when we use the word “joy.” But, it is hard to actually express that known meaning with words because our experiences of joy are wordless movements of the soul. Joy is something that happens within our hearts more so than our heads.

As soon as we attempt to describe joy…we feel as though we are doing a disservice to what our heart has felt and known. It is like trying to describe a sunset…even the most beautiful words cannot replace the experience of the eyes beholding the final moments of a day’s end.

Due to this difficulty, many people try to define joy by saying what it is not. In my experience, this typically leads to contrasting joy with happiness…usually by saying something like this: “Happiness is an emotion based on external circumstances, but joy is a reality based on eternal truth.”

I get what is being said and I do not totally disagree, but I do think pitting joy against happiness is problematic because they are both felt and often they are felt together to the point that they really cannot be distinguished.

Again, I get what is being expressed by this sentiment, primarily, that there is a flimsy-surface-level-self-centered-happiness that depends on things going my way. I don’t want anyone to confuse that with biblical joy! But, I also don’t want anyone to confuse that with biblical happiness!

The Greek word makarios is most commonly translated as “blessed,” but it just as accurately means “happy.” Reread the beatitudes of Matthew 5:1-12 to get a biblical description of happiness.

My point is simply this, I don’t want to pit joy against happiness in such a way that people think joy has nothing to do with happiness. Nothing could be further from the truth…joy has to do with real-true-deep-eternal happiness!

So what is biblical joy? If it cannot really be defined in words, but only experienced…how shall we get at its meaning? Perhaps pointing at biblical pictures/experiences of joy is the best place to begin. There are many, but I will simply go straight to my favorite…

Matthew 13:44, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

Jesus is showing us what the kingdom of heaven/God is like. So what is it like? His answer…supreme joy!

In this story, Jesus makes no bones about the fact that joy is stirred up within us by things outside of us. Whether that is possessions, people, experiences, or whatever…certain things move our heart and soul toward this thing we call joy! And in this passage, we encounter a man that finds a treasure… a treasure that is so joy producing, he is willing to sell everything… everything else that has ever brought him any sense of joy… he sells it all so that he may own this treasure.  This treasure is worth more than all of his previous possessions put together, and the joy it produces is more than if you added together all the joy he’d previously experienced.

Jesus reveals to us that joy and value/worth are connected. Things our heart values produce joy…and the more something is worth to us, the more joy it produces.  When your heart finds something beautiful, glorious, amazing…the response of the heart to perceiving such things is to feel what we call joy!

And Jesus’ words in Matthew 13 beckon the eyes of our heart to see that nothing is of more value than God himself! Therefore, nothing produces joy like God! He is the buried treasure that we are willing to sacrifice everything to possess! When our hearts behold the beauty, the wonder, the majesty, the supreme value of God, they swell with the indescribable response of ultimate joy!

Much like the man in Jesus parable who joyfully gives up everything because he has found a superior source of joy…so too the Christian is willing to suffer the loss of anything for superior joy in God.

Herein, we begin to glimpse how joy amidst suffering might be possible in the life of the believer… because the source of our joy is God who is supremely worthy!  Suffering cannot remove God as the source of our joy! Nor can suffering subtract from the value of God and make him less enjoyable.  If anything suffering highlights the value of God! In Matthew 13, does not the man’s willingness to sell all he has highlight the superior value of the treasure he discovered and his superior joy in it?

This is the picture of ultimate biblical joy, namely, that joy is the response of the heart to seeing glory (value, beauty, majesty) and there is nothing more glorious/joy producing than God. When you posses God, you posses supreme joy. This is the starting point for understanding joy amidst suffering.

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