Count It All Joy…in Everything?

pexel joy
This past Sunday, Justin and Nicole Konotopka, challenged us to wrestle with what we read in James 1:2-4,
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
They shared their testimony of the trials and tribulations they have faced this past year and how they are seeing God’s faithfulness through it all as well as discerning his work in their lives as he is making them more mature.  They talked about how even in the midst of the ways their lives have been turned upside down, they are still holding on to God.
After they shared, we had an opportunity to talk as a church about how God has provided us with one another to come alongside each other in times like this.  We can pray for one another and encourage one another and bless one another in times of trials and tribulation.  We don’t need to walk through these times alone.
Our challenge is to continue to grow in what it means to “be the church.”


Earlier this week I was reading in my devotions from Philippians 4 and came across verse 4, “Rejoice in the Lord alway.  I will say it again: Rejoice!”

That’s a great verse and a great reminder, but how often would that be a word we would use to describe ourselves?  How often do we actually rejoice?  When I think of rejoicing I get the picture of someone singing and dancing, laughing and shouting about how wonderful things are.  Kind of like we see Julie Andrews in “The Sound of Music” dancing and singing, “the hills are alive with the sound of music,” as she glides across the Austrian mountainside.  Or like Gene Kelly in “Singing in the Rain” dancing in the streets and swinging on lightposts while whistling and crooning, “Doo-dloo-doo-doo-doo-doo-dloo-doo.” 

Now I know that I am not an overly emotional guy.  Is that redundant?  But how often do I rejoice?  I have been known to get pretty excited and even jump up and down when the Redskins or Colts win a big football game.  But that doesn’t last very long and I am not really rejoicing in the Lord so much at that time, just celebrating a win. 

So I think this is a valid question.  How often do I really rejoice?  Paul tells us in I Thessalonians to be joyful always and that seems a little more doable.  He also tells us to give thanks in all circumstances, which is difficult because of the parameter of “all circumstances,” but the idea of being thankful is something we can deal with.  However, if I picture rejoicing like Julie Andrews in “The Sound of Music” and Gene Kelly in “Singing in the Rain;” then I have a little bit of a problem, because I don’t ever really act like that. 

I even decided to take a look at the word rejoice in Scripture and sure enough I found singing, shouting, playing instruments, celebrating and even leaping, as well as waving palm fronds and leafy branches referred to in conjunction with rejoicing.  When Solomon is crowned as king after David we even see the ground shaking with the sound of their rejoicing.  And in Nehemiah at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, we see that the rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.

So what do I do with that?  Paul is challenging me to rejoice in the Lord always, but my life is not a Broadway musical and I feel a little silly dancing up the stairs, twirling around lightposts, and singing at the top of my lungs.  How about you?  Well, maybe that’s our problem.

You know in the early church we see a contagious Christianity.  We see people being added to their number daily.  It was like people saw these early Christians and said to them, “I want whatever it is that you’ve got.”  And Christianity spread like wildfire.  But eventually that victorious rejoicing gave way to traditional practice and we as Christians became much more refined and proper.  We do church well, but how often does the world really see us rejoicing?

When you stop and think about it, we have a lot to rejoice about don’t we?  Just even think about what we are celebrating this month.  We are celebrating the birth of our Savior who came to earth to die for the sins of the world.  That is worth some singing, dancing and shouting isn’t it?

How much more effective witnesses would we be if the world saw us walking through this life rejoicing?  We would be much more contagious.  I guess that is my challenge for us this Christmas season.  Let’s really rejoice.  Let’s treat the Christmas message like we used to treat waking up on Christmas morning and running down to see the presents.  Let’s let the world see in our faces the wonderful message of the Gospel.  Let’s “Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again: Rejoice!”

Winter Preparations

So, I am new to Minnesota and I am still getting used to some things.  For instance, this weekend I spent Saturday shrinking wrapping my windows to winterize my house.  I have never had to do that before.  I have to admit that I had no idea a hair dryer could be such a useful household tool.  As a homeowner it is good to do those kinds of things that will help prepare our home for winter.  But at this time of year there are also some other preparations that we should be making at our homes as well.

Christmas is just 18 days away.  Usually people say, “only 18 more shopping days til Christmas.”  But it might be better for us to say, “only 18 more preparation days til Christmas.”  I’m not talking about shopping, wrapping, or organizing our Christmas parties.  I am talking about preparing our hearts.  Christmas is one of the most important times of the year.  It is a time for us to celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. 

Speaking as a father, this is a critical time for my children.  If I don’t take advantage of this time leading up to Christmas to speak into their lives and teach them what Christmas is really all about, then they are going to be taught by what they see all around them.  If that happens, then they are going to be more excited about getting gifts, eating Christmas cookies, looking at all the christmas decorations in the neighborhood, and watching Frosty the Snowman on television than on focusing on the birth of the Savior.  And who can blame them?  If we don’t take the time to help prepare their hearts, then their hearts are going to be prepared by what they see.  And even though I am no longer 9 years old, the same is true with me.  If all I invest myself in this time of the year is buying Christmas gifts, baking Christmas cookies, and decorating our house to prepare for Christmas, then that is where my heart is going to be too.

So my challenge for us is to make the most of these 18 preparation days before Christmas to prepare our hearts and the hearts of our loved ones for this Christmas season.  So how do we do that?  Well, let me offer a few suggestions…

1) Nativity scene (or Creche) –  Use the nativity scene to help you remember what you are really celebrating.  Give it a prominent place in your decorating.  As you set it up, consider what the different pieces represent.  Maybe even use the nativity scene as a teaching tool.  I have heard of families who build the scene throughout the time leading up to Christmas, having Mary and Joseph arrive on Christmas eve and the baby Jesus on Christmas morning.

2) Christmas carols – Take a walk and sing some of your favorite Christmas carols.  And as you sing, consider what the carols are saying.  We have sung these songs so much it is easy for us to forget the meaning behind the words.  But listen to what you are singing.  It is hard to sing “Joy To The World” and not have a smile come to your face.  Try it.

3) Advent calendar or special devotional – An Advent Calendar is simply a calendar that uses some means of helping you celebrate each day of advent beginning December 1 and leading into Christmas.   The idea is to help you focus each day on some element of the Christmas story.  Last year we started as a family reading through a devotional book called “Jotham’s Journey” by Arnold Ytreeide.  It is broken down into a portion for you to read and talk about each day of advent leading into Christmas.  My kids couldn’t wait for December 1 this year so they could start the book again. 

4) Serve – Find someplace or some way to serve.  Having an opportunity to serve others is a great way to get our focus back where it belongs.  If you are looking for a place to serve in the Chaska area, check out the Love INC (In the Name of Christ) website,

These are just a few ways to prepare you heart.  Maybe you have others.  Feel free to send your comments back about how you like to prepare your heart for the Christmas season.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Now that Thanksgiving is behind us, everywhere you look it is beginning to look a lot like Christmas.  If you drive through neighborhoods you see lights and decorations on more and more homes and lawns.  The television commercials and other advertisments are reminding you of all the gifts you need to buy from websites like Flyp.  There are radio stations playing nothing but Christmas music.  I am cutrently sitting in Dunn Bros. sipping my Earl Grey tea from a cup that reminds me to “share the joy.”  You can venture to downtown Minneapolis and enjoy the Holidazzle Christmas parade or the animated holiday display at Macy’s.  And don’t even get me started on the Mall of America.

So along those lines, this weekend I will begin a Christmas sermon series at The River Church.  I will be preaching on the Christmas story from Luke 2.  But during this series we will not be focusing on Santa Claus, or snowflakes, wrapping paper or wreaths.  We will be focusing on the real meaning behind this season. 

I want to invite you to come and check us out during this holiday season.  Or if you have visited us in the past, but it has been awhile, you might want to come back and check us out again.  There are some changes going on and we would love to see you again.

Enjoy this Christmas season.  Go out and check out the lights.  Go downtown and see the parade and the display.  Enjoy your time shopping at the Mall, but also make sure to get to church and spend some time focusing on what this holiday is really all about.

Remember, Rejoice, Reflect

So the holidays are here.  What are you looking forward to?  The turkey?  The shopping?  The family time?  The parties?  The holidays are full of all kinds of things and mean different things to each of us.  One of the greetings that we use with one another during this time of year is “happy holidays.”  That’s great.  I hope you are happy, but even more so, my hope for all of us is that this holiday time would be a time to remember, rejoice and reflect.  What a wonderful way to wrap up one year and begin the next one. 

We start with Thanksgiving which is a time to remember.  It is a time to look back and consider all the ways that God has blessed us and provided for us.  It is a time to consider all of those things that we take for granted everyday.  It is a time to pause in the midst of our busy lives and give thanks.

Then we move on to Christmas.  The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is a time to rejoice.  It is a time that can easily be consumed by all the hustle and bustle of buying presents, going to parties, and everything else that comes during the commercialized portion of the holidays.  But instead of focusing on all of that, it is a time for us to rejoice in the true meaning of Christmas.  It is a time for us to rejoice over the baby who was born as the perfect gift to a lost and dying world, so that our Heavenly Father, who loves us so much, could bring us back to a right relationship with Him.  Christmas is a time to rejoice over what has been done for us and the hope that we have in Christ.

Then we move on to New Years.  The time between Christmas and New Years is a time to reflect.  A time to look back over the year that was and look forward to the year to come.  It is a time to reflect over God’s faithfulness to us and to renew our hope in Him for the new year.  God is good and He knows the plans that He has for us.  Entering into the turn over from one year to the next is a perfect time to reflect.

Remember, rejoice, and reflect.  What a great way to celebrate the holiday season.  Instead of wishing you a happy holidays, I wish for you a time to remember, rejoice and reflect!