There should be no confusion. The popular song from the early seventies tells us that “Jeremiah was a bullfrog” and he sang “joy to the world.” The time-worn Christmas hymn tells an entirely different story. Perhaps Three Dog Night and the society in which we live would find joy to the world in the disguise of a friendly bullfrog with a “mighty fine wine.” But true joy can be found in only one place.

This Christmas season, as we consider the words of a host of angels to shepherds on a remote hillside over 2000 years ago, it is appropriate to see the importance of joy. It is more than contentment, although contented people often have joy. It is more than family ties, although our families are often a source of joy for us. It is more than a newborn child, although whenever we hear the cooing of a brand new, infant our hearts leap for joy. Yes, Joy is more than mere happiness, it is a state of being that can only be found in Christ. The Christ of Christmas.

You cannot manufacture nor imitate true joy. It can only be encountered when you encounter Jesus. So, this season as you sing of Joy to the World, let the Joy of Jesus flood your heart and extend to all the people you meet.

  “The angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.’”  – Luke 2:10

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, so beginning with today’s post, I will be relating what Christmas is to me. Please enjoy.

When we served as missionaries, some of our American brothers and sisters were carrying on an idea that ultimately became very disturbing. The practice was to buy tickets for a cruise. Of course, going on a cruise is not disturbing in and of itself. Many people enjoy taking a leisurely vacation cruise to spend time with friends doing what they mutually agree is fun. But that isn’t the whole story. On this river cruise, there would be Bible studies led by big named preachers and worship directed by the most fascinating personalities in the Christian music market. Again, nothing is throwing up red flags to this point—although one can wonder if the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on this vacation might be better spent.

The cruise down the Dnieper River (and later moved to a different river in Russia), and the tourists would bathe themselves in the aura of all this Bible learning and worship, then they would land at a significant city, disembark, and with the help of a translator blitz the locals with tracts and canned evangelistic presentations. They would record names and numbers to report back to their friends at home the hundreds and thousands of “decisions” made along the way.

What disturbed me was not the desire to see people come to know Christ, but that the ultimate purpose of the trips was to make the tourists feel good about themselves. The method of evangelism left little or no possibility of follow-up or discipleship among those who reportedly became Christians. Truth be told, each year it was found that some of the same people (in the hopes of getting a handout or other aid from the wealthy Americans) would “get saved” over and over again. And to me, perhaps the most disturbing factor of all was the name given to the cruise: “The Riverboat of Hope.”

More Hope is found in relationship—first with Christ, and then with fellow believers who can help us grow in our relationship with Christ. That is Christmas to me.

  “Christ in you, the hope of Glory.”  – Colossians 1:27c

(And keeps on going . . . And tells)

Life is hectic. Time ticks away as we rush from here to there trying to do everything. What we were unable to accomplish in previous years, we often shovel off onto our children, and so the next generation gets to try to live out not only their own dreams but the dreams of the parents and grandparents that have been passed down over the years. The motivation seems to be, “ I have come to terms with the truth that I will not be able to personally accomplish this dream or goal, but I still want to see it done and so my child must complete the task whether he’s able to or not, whether she wants to or not.

And life becomes a circular series of shenanigans that we perform to try to pull off those dreams.

My point? We are a people on the go! So, what are we to do with all of this going. Let me propose that, since we are going—possibly reaching for an impossible dream, we should be busy as we go. Since we are going to go anyway, why don’t we as Christians carry with us the message that will accomplish more in a moment than our dervish-like spinning will in a mountain of lifetimes? For the individual Christ-follower, this is the heart of the Great Commission: As you are going (because you are going) share what you know about Christ. Let it be our practice. Then we will grow as we go.

  “So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.”  – Mark 5:20)

If you know me, you know that I am a big proponent of fostering and adoption. There are children who need stable, loving environments in which to grow and thrive.

Dr. Albert Reyes* writes:

There is a troubling statistic that I saw recently that really struck a chord. Did you know that there are more than 107,000 children in America’s foster care system at any given time?

These are children that have been abandoned, abused, or utterly neglected. Their very livelihood has been turned over to a stranger to administer through an overcrowded Child Protective Services (CPS) system.

My heart breaks when I think it could be my own child in that situation, the hurt and loneliness those children must be experiencing.

Yet, even in spite of the heartbreak, I still have hope. I think of Jesus when he said “the fields are white unto harvest.”  These children are the harvest that God has put before us to sow seeds of his love. We can be the solution to the lost and suffering among us—the least of these who have been cast off by society are the very ones that Christ came to save.

In Bond County Illinois (my home county), we live in a place where there is a significant (and often unmet) need for both foster and adoptive families to open their homes to forgotten and suffering children. Consider how you can be a part of meeting this need through participation or support of on-going ministries. Here are a few suggestions (some familiar, others may be new to you):

*Albert Reyes is the President and CEO of Buckner International. The above quote is from an email dated Thursday, November 10, 2016.

Like many people, I like a cup of coffee. I usually start my day with a cup and then have a second with breakfast. Some days I might have more, but I usually find that two is all I drink. Even so, I like my coffee the way I like my coffee. When I was a little boy, I liked the smell and the thought of coffee, but I didn’t like drinking it. That was okay, because (as I was told) it would stunt my growth—and what little boy wants stunted growth?

We know that the claim that coffee will stunt your growth is just a ruse to keep children from drinking the stuff, but it does give us something to think about spiritually. Spiritually we are designed to grow. Once we have spiritual life, we want to grow. That means that we need to do the things that help us to mature. Just like we teach our children the things that will help them both grow physically and mature mentally and emotionally, Christians want to mature spiritually.

The way we do this is to eat good spiritual food, exercise spiritual muscle, and develop good spiritual relationships. To that end I would encourage every believer to spend time in God’s Word (the Bible), spend time with God’s Son in prayer, practice generous giving through Christ’s Bride the church, and develop healthy relationships for accountability with a fellow believer who is trustworthy. We want to grow, we are designed to grow, so let’s do all that we can to grow.

  “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.I Corinthians 14:20)

I worked my part of my way through college and seminary as a sales associate at Kmart. I started with the company as an after-school worker in as a high school junior. One of the things I learned on that job were that the successful stores had one of two kinds of managers: those who you knew because of the impression they gave knew what they were doing and you were willing to do whatever they asked you to do, and those who, when they asked you to do something, got down on the floor and did it with you. At one point, a local store manager said that the in-store snack bar/café needed a thorough cleaning. When he asked me to use a couple of hours after closing to get on my hands and knees to scrub the floors by hand, he handed me one of two scrub brushes and proceeded to use the other himself.

Living the Christian life is like that. People need to know that we either have already gone through what we are asking them to go through, or that, although we’ve been there before, we are willing to get our hands and knees dirty while we serve with them.

The Christian life is not lived in isolation, but in community, and sometimes community gets messy. When it gets messy, we roll up our sleeves and serve. As Chuck Swindoll once observed, we need to “improve our serve.”

  “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”  –Jesus  (John 13:14)

The Internet is a wonderful tool. We have grown accustomed to using it for work and play. We can do our research on-line. We can purchase almost anything we use around the office or home on-line. If we are unfamiliar with some idea, news item, or person, we can just “Google” it on-line and become better informed. A growing number of people have jumped on the bandwagon of social media to stay in touch with long lost friends, and even develop new friendships with like-minded people. We like to be connected via the Internet.

One thing that making these connections—business or casual, old or new—requires is our connection. One might say that our connections rely on our connection. If our connection to the information super-highway is slow or (worse) broken, then we miss some of the connections that we want to make with our friends.

The same is true for good discipleship. In order to grow we have to be connected. Certainly, if we want to grow spiritually we must have constant connection with God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. But this is only half of the necessary connection for growth. To be truly connected to God, we must also establish and keep connection with God’s people. This is usually done best through small groups in the local church. Get connected today, and stay connected for the future.

  “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” – (1 Corinthians 12:26)