Nothing Can Take the Place of God

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I’m a sucker for a sappy commercial, but a couple of days ago, I saw one that went over the top. I cried like a baby. I’m not talking about a stray tear or two. I’m talking about being so choked up I couldn’t even speak. And every time I thought about the stupid commercial, I teared up again. Good grief!

It was a commercial for a pet supply store and was done in a claymation effect. It portrayed a little boy standing at a store window and staring at the red bicycle within. He goes home, tapes a picture of the bike on an empty jar and starts earning money by shoveling driveways. Day after day, he goes out into the blustery weather until finally, the jar is nearly full.  

On his way home one afternoon, the boy notices a dozen or more puppies in the window of the pet shop. One of the puppies wakes up and walks to the window, and the boy immediately notices the puppy is missing one of its back legs. The dog holds its from paw up to the window, and the boy presses his hand against the glass. (I’ll go ahead and tell you the tears began to flow a little at this point, but I held it together. . .mostly.)

In the next scene, it’s Christmas morning, and the young boy goes downstairs to discover the red bicycle under the tree. Realizing he didn’t have to spend all the money he earned, he (along with his parents, of course) return to the pet store and purchase the dog he had befriended. Unsurprisingly, the wounded puppy was the only one left.

As the boy rides his new bicycle with glee, he realizes his puppy can’t keep up with him, which saddens them both. In the next scene, we see the parents coming down the stairs to find a pile of bicycle parts on the floor. They peer out the window and discover their son had used the pieces from his new bicycle to create a cart that acted as the dog’s back legs. The boy ran and laughed as the dog happily chased him around the yard. (And that, people, is when the floodgates burst open. Shoot, I’m crying right now. What is wrong with me?)

Although I now hate the commercial for making me feel like an emotional basket-case, I love the meaning it portrays. The boy had his eyes set on the thing he thought would make him happy. He longed for it. He worked for it. He dreamed about it. But somewhere along the way, he realized it wasn’t the most important thing after all. And, in the end, he gave it up because he determined the bicycle was not what he needed most. He needed a friend, and he found one.

You know, we can be just like that young boy. We set our eyes (and our hearts) on things we think will make us happy, but in the end, they never satisfy. We always need more. Sometimes the things we work so hard for turn out not to be as great as we expected. What we need is to have the same realization that sweet boy had—that our dreams and desires are not the most important things in life. Sure, we can buy a lot of nice things to fill our homes, but they will never fill the void in our lives. We can work long hours to climb the corporate ladder, but at the end of the day, who cares? We think we need so much, but what we really need is a Friend. Someone who loves us despite our grand mistakes. Someone who won’t leave when the going gets tough. Someone with whom we can be ourselves instead of putting on a disguise. Someone who will fill the void and restore peace and happiness in our lives. No one and nothing can do what He does or take His place.

As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one. For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.
— I Corinthians 8:4-6

God is God. There is none like Him. There is nothing that could ever compare. And there is a longing in our heart only He can fill. Don’t settle for the red bicycle. God wants to offer you so much more. He wants to be your Friend, and when you have a Friend like Jesus, you don’t need anything else!

Got Joy?

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Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia; How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.
— II Corinthians 8:1-2

You've heard of an oxymoron, haven't you?  According to the online dictionary, an oxymoron is "a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction."  A few examples are as follows:  deafening silence, jumbo shrimp, living dead, great depression, virtual reality and original copy.  These are phrases we hear and use frequently, yet they hold an apparent contradiction.

Second Corinthians 8:2 seems to also put forth an oxymoron.  It says, "in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy. . . abounded."  Say what?  In a great time of celebration, sure, I can understand joy reaching new heights.  But in the midst of a great trial of affliction?  That's another story altogether.

Let's break this down.  First, we know that these churches were undergoing affliction and persecution.  They were suffering for their faith.  Life was certainly no bed of roses.  Second we know that they had abundant joy.  Plentiful.  Ample.  Lavish.  Generous.  More than enough.  That's a lot of joy, especially in the midst of their circumstances.  But notice, Paul goes on to say that their abundant joy abounded.  As if it wasn't great enough, it became even more available and present in their lives.

We know the Bible is true and that it contains no errors, so the question we are left with is this:  How can one have abundant, over-abounding joy in the midst of great trials and affliction?  How is this possible?  Is it even possible for us today?

Yes, it is possible.  Not easy, but possible.  How?  Well, that's a process in and of itself.  It begins by distinguishing between happiness and joy.  Remember, happiness depends on happenings, but joy for the Christian is constant because Jesus is our joy, and He never leaves us.

Next, we must turn our focus from our problems to Jesus, the source of our joy.  As long as we're staring at our giants, we'll be anxious and stressed.  When we're trying to figure out how to cross our Red Sea, we're overwhelmed and confused.  When we try to bring down the walls preventing us from reaching our dreams, we're overcome with defeat and discouragement.  But when we look to Jesus and allow Him to work in our lives, we feel overjoyed and at peace.

Last but by no means least, we must surrender complete control to God and be willing to accept whatever He may bring.  Trial and affliction, peace and contentment -- whatever He desires.  Only when our desires line up with His will we find that true abounding joy that we so long for.  The joy is within us, but accessing it requires total surrender of our wants and wills.  It means saying, "For better or worse, Lord, I know that Your will is perfect and that You have a plan, even though I may not understand it.  I'm joyful because You have chosen to use me and my life for Your great purpose.  I'm joyful because I know I'm resting safe and secure in Your hand and that nothing can touch me except You allow it.  I'm joyful because I understand that You have a purpose for my life and that it is for both my good and Your glory.  I'm joyful because I know that no matter what I face today, You will never leave me nor forsake me.  I'm Yours, Lord.  Use me as You see fit."

Is your joy abounding today?  If not, why not?  It's something worth thinking about.

Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.
— Romans 15:13

Reunite With Delight

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For children, delight is easy to come by. A new toy. Recess. A trip to the zoo. A loose tooth. Christmas. Yes, each of these things and many more bring a gleam to the eye and a smile to the face of youngsters across the globe. But in the grown-up world of jobs, traffic, deadlines, and bills, delight is harder to come by. Perhaps that’s why so many of us struggle with the concept of delighting in the Lord. We want to be happy and joyful. We want to sing praises and give worship to God because we know He’s worthy. But how do we force ourselves to feel delighted when the emotion isn’t there?

Delight thyself also in the Lord: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.
— Psalm 37:4

Does anybody else cringe when reading this verse? Delight thyself also in the Lord. Up to this point in the chapter, the psalmist (under the inspiration of God) has ordered, “Don’t worry, don’t be envious of others, trust in the Lord, and do good."  And then, on top of everything else, he continues, “And delight yourself in the Lord.” Seriously? I can’t even get the first command in check, and now you want me to smile and praise like I don’t have a care in the world? I read that verse, and instead of finding comfort, I see one more demand on my time, energy, and resources. But more than that, I see one more area in which I feel like a spiritual failure.

This morning, however, I took the time to dig into the meaning behind the command, and I discovered something that changes everything. Once again, I had limited God’s Word to my feeble understanding by concluding the word “delight” meant only one thing—to be happy. But if you study it out, you’ll find the word actually has multiple meanings, and those other meanings transform this command into a reprieve or respite. 

The Hebrew word translated “delight” means “to be happy about; to be soft and pliable; to be pampered.” Yes, the Lord wants us to be happy in Him and to experience joy in His presence. He longs for us to desire and obey Him, to long to please Him. But, it goes beyond that. He also wants to see us soft and pliable, as clay in the Potter’s hands, ready and willing to be molded as He sees fit. The good news for us here is that we don’t have to do the work. We only have to be willing to allow God to work in and through us. We don’t have to determine the how or why, nor do we have to figure out how to make everything come together as we feel it should. God does the work. He is the Potter, and we are the clay.

Better still, to delight in the Lord is to be pampered by Him. We rarely think of the Lord pampering us, but isn’t that precisely what He does when He pours down blessings on us time after time. He responds to our every cry and meets our every need. When He asks us to delight in Him, He does not intend to burden us with another item on our to-do list but rather to invite us to rest in His presence and allow Him to lavish attention on us. Think about it for a moment. One-on-one time with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. That’s something special—remarkable even. And we’re invited to spend time in His presence anytime we want for as long as we want. We can talk, listen, or just enjoy the silence. God offers us a time to come away from the world—the grown-up world of jobs, traffic, deadlines, and bills—and to reunite with delight.

Delight thyself in the Lord. It's more than an emotion.  It's a choice.  A choice to rejoice even when we don't feel like it.  A choice to allow God to mold and make us into what He wants us to be.  And a choice to rest in His embrace and allow Him to pour out His goodness upon us. Now that I understand it fully, I think I can do that. How about you?