Friday, April 12, 2013

For The Joy Set Before Me

The Crack in the Sky

I was at my computer, typing up a paper for class.  The college was nearby, and our apartment was close to the water in San Pedro.  I had just taken a break and was gazing out the window when I saw it: a disjointed colored line lighting up the sky.  I froze in place and just stared in shock.

Jesus was coming back, and I was scared.

Immediately, I dropped to my knees by my bed and cried out to God, "I'm not ready.  I'm just not ready for your return."  Other people ran outside, pointing and shouting at the spectacle.  It turned out, though, that Jesus wasn't coming back...yet.  It was just the Air Force dispatching chemicals into the air to test the atmosphere.  Pretty cool effect.

I'm not sure how many students reacted in the same fashion.  But my reaction found its beginning in loneliness.  It wasn't that I was without friends.  I had a few close ones.  And we were always together for study groups and fun.  But I was new to Southern California.

After high school, I moved up to Washington to start college.  It was there that I had turned my life over to Jesus.  In my sophomore year, I moved into a house with three other students.  We called the house "The Servant's Quarters", sponsored by Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship.  I encountered a lot of fellowship and love in that close-knit group of people.  Unfortunately, my grades weren't something I could write home about.  So the college wrote to my parents about my low scores, thanking them for the money but excusing me from the school.  Humph!  So, I moved down to Southern California to raise my GPA.

In contrast to the close Christian friendships I had in Washington, I felt incredibly alone in my faith in my new environment.  I went to church, but had difficulty connecting with the Christians there.  I ended up getting scared that I would lose something.  So, I began to live by a list of rules.  Do not drink.  Do not swear.  Do not party.  Do not.  And I would frown on those who did.  In fact, I became pretty judgemental.  My walk with God turned into a list of rules.  And I thought, incorrectly, that I just couldn't face Jesus coming to take me home since I didn't live up to all the rules I had created.

A New Start

After one year, my grades improved and I was accepted into California State University, Chico.  I finished up my required undergraduate work and set my sights on International Relations.  And I joined Inter Varsity again.  Over the years, I became a bible study leader and connected with other Christians.  Then one day, one of the Inter Varsity leaders commented to another, "You know, Jim seems like he's always angry."  I had to think about that.  It wasn't until I was sitting down with one of the leaders, Jonathon, that we were able to identify why.

"Jim," he asked, "why do you do what is right?"

I was caught a little off-guard, but answered, "Because the bible tells me I have to, of course."

"Well, I do it because of the joy.  The bible points out that because of the joy set before him, Jesus endured the cross.  Don't you think joy is something to look forward to?"

I realized that, in order to "protect" myself from going astray from my faith while in Southern California, I had ended up clothing myself in the garment of legalism.  My faith was just another law to be obeyed.  And I lost something in the process.  In "Got the Joy Within", I spoke about how joy wasn't just a passing feeling, that joy is locked into something strong and lasts forever.  It's the kind of joy Jesus passes onto His disciples before He left them.  It's the kind of joy I was missing in my walk with God.

Hebrews 12:2 states that we should fix "our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."  When you think about it, sitting next to the Father Almighty would produce a lot of joy.  What about what Paul says in Philippians 2:9?

"For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name
which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow,
of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue
will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

Can you imagine what that would be like for Jesus?  Every knee bowing and every tongue confessing that He's Lord?  He's going to experience a lot of joy.

Joy with the Father and Spirit. 

Joy having reconciled the lost to the Father through His death on the cross.

And joy in relationship with those who trust in Him and will spend all eternity with Him.  All that He did on earth was for joy.

I found that I needed to take a look at what following Jesus was all about.  I didn't want to be judgemental.  I didn't want to be angry all the time.  I took a look at what Jesus did on the cross - taking all my sins upon Himself - and realized that I needed to walk in God's His love.  God didn't call be to live up to a list of "do not's".  In believing that Jesus died for my sins on the cross, and believing that God raised Him from the dead, God had given me everything I needed to live for Him.  I can walk according to His Spirit and according to His word in joy.  I find that joy in confessing my sins to other Christian brothers.  I find that joy in loving my wife and caring for her needs.  I found that joy in bowing before God in prayer and knowing the peace of His presence and love.  And most of all, I find that joy in believing that God has prepared a place for me in heaven because of what Jesus has done for me.

In Hebrews 12, Paul encourages us to drop the weight of sin that so easily ensnares us and to run the race.  No doubt there will be trials and tribulations, struggles and at times even doubts.

But the joy is worth it.


  1. Amen Jim, What a great lesson to learn.

  2. Thanks, Chris. Went through a trying time a couple of years ago, and I was thankful for the brothers in Christ who I was able to go to. I found forgiveness, and gained the confidence in knowing God would speak to me through them and pull me through that difficulty. The joy was there as well, as God's truth and love were present.