As the lights dimmed and we prepared to watch Apollo 13, my friend said under his breath, “Shame they all died.” I watched the movie about the 1970 spaceflight with apprehension, waiting for tragedy to strike, and only near the closing credits did I realize I’d been duped. I hadn’t known or remembered the end of the true story—that although the astronauts faced many hardships, they made it home alive.
In Christ, we can know the end of the story—that we too will make it home alive. By that I mean we will live forever with our heavenly Father, as we see in the book of Revelation. The Lord will create a “new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1) as He makes all things new (vv. 1, 5). In the new city, the Lord God will welcome His people to live with Him, without fear and without the night. We have hope in knowing the end of the story.
What difference does this make? It can transform times of extreme difficulty, such as when people face the loss of a loved one or even death themselves. Though we recoil at the thought of dying, yet we can embrace the joy of the promise of eternity. We long for the city where no longer will there be any curse, where we’ll live forever by God’s light (22:5).
At a conference in Asia, I had two eye-opening conversations in the span of a few hours. First, a pastor told of spending 11 years in prison for a wrongful murder conviction before he was cleared. Then, a group of families shared how they had spent a fortune to escape religious persecution in their homeland, only to be betrayed by the very people they had paid to bring about their rescue. Now, after years in a refugee camp, they wonder if they will ever find a home.
In both cases, victimization was compounded by an absence of justice—just one evidence of our world’s brokenness. But this vacuum of justice is not a permanent condition.
Psalm 67 calls on God’s people to make Him known to our hurting world. The result will be joy, not as a response to God’s love but because of His justice. “May the nations be glad and sing for joy,” says the psalmist, “for you rule the peoples with equity and guide the nations of the earth” (v. 4).
Although the Bible writers understood that “equity” (fairness and justice) is a key component of God’s love, they also knew that it will only be fully realized in the future. Until then, in our world of injustice, we can serve to point others to our God’s divine justice. His coming will see “justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:24).
After my wife and I had the privilege of visiting the Louvre in Paris, I called our eleven-year-old granddaughter Addie on the phone. When I mentioned seeing da Vinci’s famous painting Mona Lisa, Addie asked, “Is she smiling?”
Isn’t that the big question surrounding this painting? More than 600 years after Leonardo captured this subject in oil, we still don’t know if the lady was smiling or not. Though enraptured by the painting’s beauty, we are unsure about Mona Lisa’s demeanor.
The “smile” is part of the intrigue of the painting. But how important is this anyway? Is smiling something the Bible mentions? In reality, the word appears less than five times in Scripture, and never as something we are told to do. However, the Bible does suggest for us an attitude that leads to smiles—and that is the word joy. Nearly 250 times we read about joy: “My heart leaps for joy,” David says as he thinks about the Lord (Ps. 28:7). We are to “sing joyfully to the
Clearly, the joy God provides us through everything He has done for us can bring a smile to our face.
John Babler is the chaplain for the police and fire departments in his Texas community. During a 22-week sabbatical from his job, he attended police academy training so that he could better understand the situations law enforcement officers face. Through spending time with the other cadets and learning about the intense challenges of the profession, Babler gained a new sense of humility and empathy. In the future, he hopes to be more effective as he counsels police officers who struggle with emotional stress, fatigue, and loss.
We know that God understands the situations we face because He made us and sees everything that happens to us. We also know He understands because He has been to earth and experienced life as a human being. “He became flesh and dwelt among us” as the person of Jesus Christ (John 1:14).
Jesus’s earthly life included a wide range of difficulty. He felt the searing heat of the sun, the pain of an empty stomach, and the uncertainty of homelessness. Emotionally, He endured the tension of disagreements, the burn of betrayal, and the ongoing threat of violence.
Jesus experienced the joys of friendship and family love, as well as the worst problems that we face here on earth. He provides hope. He is the Wonderful Counselor who patiently listens to our concerns with insight and care (Isaiah 9:6). He is the One who can say, “I’ve been through that. I understand.”
As the minister spoke at a funeral for an old military veteran, he mused about where the deceased might be. But then, instead of telling the people how they could know God, he speculated about things not found anywhere in Scripture. Where is the hope? I thought.
At last he asked us to turn to a closing hymn. And as we rose to sing “How Great Thou Art,” people began to praise God from the depths of their souls. Within moments, the spirit of the entire room had changed. Suddenly, surprisingly, in the middle of the third verse my emotions overwhelmed my voice.
And when I think, that God, His Son not sparing,
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.
Until we sang that great hymn, I had wondered if God was going to show up at that funeral. In reality, He never leaves. A look at the book of Esther reveals this truth. The Jews were in exile, and powerful people wanted to kill them. Yet at the darkest moment, a godless king granted the right to the enslaved Israelites to defend themselves against those who sought their demise (Est. 8:11–13). A successful defense and a celebration ensued (9:17–19).
It should be no surprise when God shows up in the words of a hymn at a funeral. After all, He turned an attempted genocide into a celebration and a crucifixion into resurrection and salvation!
Kelly’s pregnancy brought complications, and doctors were concerned. During her long labor, they decided to whisk her away for a cesarean section. But despite the ordeal, Kelly quickly forgot her pain when she held her newborn son. Joy had replaced anguish.
Scripture affirms this truth: “A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world” (John 16:21). Jesus used this illustration with His disciples to emphasize that though they would grieve because He would be leaving soon, that grief would turn to joy when they saw Him again (vv. 20–22).
Jesus was referring to His death and resurrection—and what followed. After His resurrection, to the disciples’ joy, Jesus spent another 40 days walking with and teaching them before ascending and leaving them once again (Acts 1:3). Yet Jesus did not leave them grief-stricken. The Holy Spirit would fill them with joy (John 16:7–15; Acts 13:52).
Though we have never seen Jesus face-to-face, as believers we have the assurance that one day we will. In that day, the anguish we face in this earth will be forgotten. But until then, the Lord has not left us without joy—He has given us His Spirit (Rom. 15:13; 1 Peter 1:8–9).
I scanned the water intently, on alert for signs of trouble. During my six-hour shifts as a lifeguard, I watched from the side of the pool to ensure the safety of those swimming. Leaving my post, or even becoming lax in my attentiveness, could have grave consequences for those in the pool. If a swimmer was in danger of drowning due to injury or lack of skill, it was my responsibility to pluck them from the water and return them to safety on the pool deck.
After experiencing God’s aid in battle against the Philistines (2 Sam. 21:15–22), David likens his rescue to being drawn out of “deep waters” (22:17). David’s very life—and that of his men—was in serious danger from his enemies. God buoyed David as he was drowning in disaster. While lifeguards are paid to assure the safety of swimmers, God, on the other hand, saved David because of His delight in him (v. 20). My heart leaps for joy when I realize that God doesn’t watch over and protect me because He’s obliged to but because He wants to.
When we feel overcome by the troubles of life, we can rest in the knowledge that God, our Lifeguard, sees our struggle and, because of His delight in us, watches over and protects us.
My granddaughter’s favorite tune is one of John Philip Sousa’s marches. Sousa, the “march king,” was a US composer in the late nineteenth century. Moriah isn’t in a marching band; she’s only 20 months old. She just loves the tune and can even hum a few notes. She associates it with joyful times. When our family gets together, we often hum this song along with claps and other boisterous noises, and the grandchildren dance or parade in circles to the beat. It always ends in dizzy children and lots of laughter.
Our joyful noise reminds me of the psalm that implores us to “worship the LORD with gladness” (Ps. 100:2). When King Solomon dedicated the temple, the Israelites celebrated with praises (2 Chron. 7:5–6). Psalm 100 may have been one of the songs they sang. The psalm declares: “Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth; worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. . . . Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name” (vv. 1, 4). Why? “For the LORD is good and his love endures forever”! (v. 5).
Our good God loves us! In grateful response, let’s make a “joyful noise unto the LORD”! (Ps. 100:1 KJV).
Some days seem to have a theme running through them. Recently I had one of those days. Our pastor began his sermon on Genesis 1 with two minutes of breath-taking, time-lapse photography of blossoming flowers. Then, at home, a scroll through social media revealed numerous posts of flowers. Later on a walk in the woods, the wildflowers of spring surrounded us—trilliums, marsh marigolds, and wild iris.
God created flowers and every other variety of vegetation (and dry ground to grow in), on the third day of creation. And twice on that day, God pronounced it “good” (Gen. 1:10, 12). On only one other day of creation—the sixth—did God make that double pronouncement of “good” (vv. 24, 31). In fact, on this day when He created man and His masterpiece was complete, He looked over all He had made and “saw that it was very good!”
In the creation story, we see a Creator God who delighted in His creation—and seemed to take joy in the very act of creating. Why else design a world with such colorful and amazing variety? And He saved the best for last when He “created mankind in his own image” (v. 27). As His image-bearers we are blessed and inspired by His beautiful handiwork.