It’s Never Been Like This Before

“Listen, all who live in the land. In all your history, has anything like this happened before?” (Joel 1:2)

In the book of Joel, a horrific, never-ending invasion of locusts devastated Judah. The locusts just kept coming and eating until all crops were destroyed, animals were starving, and people didn’t think they could take any more.

Have you ever felt the same way? Have you ever been devastated? Maybe not by locusts, but in a such a way that you knew nothing would be the same again?

What do we do when our world is turned upside down?

When Joel’s world was out of kilter, he turned to God. In times of devastation, we have a decision to make. We can wonder where God is in all the madness and turn away from him. Or we can double down on our relationship with God, cling to him with all our might, and seek his face in the midst of our circumstances.

Joel 3:14 intrigues me. It says, “Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.”  This verse can be applied on many levels, but let’s talk about what it means in our day-to-day lives.

We are part of a great drama involving an epic battle. We have a deadly enemy who actively seeks our destruction, who wants to devour us like a lion chomps down a zebra. On the other side there is a Savior who wants to rescue us from the darkness and fill our lives with light. This battle rages around us constantly.

The most important question of our lives is, whose side are we on? We must choose sides. There is no Switzerland here, no neutral area. Who do we serve? In the words of Bob Dylan, “you gotta serve somebody.” If we think we are neutral, we’re deceived.

One day, God will judge us based on whom we serve. This is the fulcrum of our lives, the choice upon which everything else rests.

Y’all, the valley of decision isn’t the place where people make decisions. It’s the place where God decides and decrees our eternal fate based on whom we served. In the valley of decision, God’s enemies are judged, and his people rewarded.  

What does this mean in our everyday lives? It means when all is right with our world, we serve God. When we face devastation, we turn to God. In every circumstance and every situation, in good times and bad, our devotion lies with God. Our hope remains in God. Locusts ? We serve God. Viruses? Yes, we still serve God. When the world goes mad, our allegiance to God remains steadfast. And when we stand in the valley of decision, we’ll be eternally grateful to be on the Lord’s side.

Dear God, I choose you. I give you my whole heart and I want to serve you with everything I have. In good times or bad, I will serve you. I want to spend eternity in heaven, enjoying your presence forever. Fill me with your light and your love. In Jesus’s name, amen.

fruit of the spirit

Joy Part 3: Today, Choose Joy

“…Choose today whom you will serve.” (Joshua 24:15)

It seems our choices have multiplied in recent years.

We used to have one kind of coffee. No latte, frappucino, or cappuccino,—just plain old coffee. And when I was growing up, we had four television channels. Now we have hundreds of networks and tons of ways to stream TV and movies.

So many choices. So many decisions.

Experts estimate the average adult American makes around 35,000 conscious choices every day. Most of them are insignificant, like choosing which shoes to wear. Some of them are momentous and change the course of our lives.

Choosing joy is one of those life-changing choices.

Let’s take a trip back to ancient Israel. Elderly Joshua wanted to address his people one more time. He called them to gather together in Shechem. (The whole story is in Joshua, chapter 24.)

Shechem isn’t just some random place Joshua chose out of a hat. It had significance to the Israelites. Shechem was the site of the first promised-land covenant between God and Abraham. Abraham, obeying God, had left his home, and headed for Canaan. When he reached Shechem, just inside the border of the promised land, Abraham stopped and set up camp.

While in Shechem, God appeared and told Abraham, “I will give this land to your descendants…” (Genesis 12:7). Abraham built an altar to commemorate God’s promise.

Fast forward now to Joshua. He calls the Israelites to gather at Shechem, the place of promise. He wanted the people to choose to serve Jehovah God and turn away from the counterfeit gods of the surrounding nations. What would they choose?

The place of promise was also a place of decision. Joshua asked the people to choose: Jehovah God or a counterfeit?

Just like the Israelites, we’re in a place of promise and a place of decision. God has promised us joy, but we have a decision to make. We can choose fear, anger, jealousy, or other emotions instead of joy. We can choose to try and muster joy with our own strength, through our own willpower. But the so-called joy we manufacture on our own is counterfeit. It won’t spend like the real thing.

Or we can wisely choose the joy of the Lord.

Each morning when we get up, we can choose joy. We can pray each day for a fresh supply of the joy of the Lord. Remember, our words have power, so consider actually saying out loud every day, “Today, with God’s help, I choose joy.”

Kay Warren said, “Joy is… the determined choice to praise God in all things.” God gives us a choice. He offers us his joy, but it’s still our decision whether or not to accept it. Choose wisely. Choose to embrace the joy of the Lord.

Heavenly Father, I know my decisions have consequences. Today, I choose joy. I choose to believe you are involved in the details of my life. I choose to have confidence that, through you, everything is going to be OK. I ask you to fill my life with fresh joy each day. In Jesus’s name, amen.

Handling Life's Problems

Where Is God in All of This?

“…You always have God’s presence. For hasn’t he promised you, ‘I will never leave you alone, never! And I will not loosen my grip on your life!’ So we can say with great confidence, ‘I know the Lord is for me and I will never be afraid…’” (Hebrews 13:5-6)

I’ve heard this old saying from as far back as I can remember: “Into every life a little rain must fall.” I only recently learned it was penned by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his poem, “The Rainy Day.”  The poem says, “Thy fate is the common fate of all—into each life some rain must fall.”

We expect a little rain to fall. We’re OK with some occasional misfortune or difficulty. But, sometimes a little rain turns into a torrential flood, and one problem piles on top of another until our troubles become more than we can bear.

Sometimes, as Princess Leia said to Obi Wan Kenobi, “This is our most desperate hour.” We are grieved by the loss of a loved one. The test results have turned into a seemingly-hopeless diagnosis. Our once-thriving business has failed, forcing us into bankruptcy.

In those desperate times, we wonder, “Where is God? How could God allow this to happen to me?”

Could God make the world utopic? Yes. Could he could fix every problem, erase every tear, and relieve every pain? Of course. But if he did, we would be mindless robots. God gave us free will. We can choose whether or not to serve him. He wanted us to choose to follow him because we loved him, not because he forced us. Free will means we must have the option of choosing evil.

Adam and Eve were free to choose whether they would obey God. They chose poorly, and their choice brought disease, destitution, and death to the earth. Because people are free to choose to do evil things, bad things happen to everyone. No one is immune.

But in our times of chaos and crisis, it’s easy to wonder if God has forsaken us.It’s easy to doubt God’s love and care for us. Has God forgotten about us when we are in our most desperate hours? Has God stopped loving us? The answer is emphatically, NO!

God is present in our problems. God cares for us through our crisis. When our lives are turned upside down and we can’t see his hand, he is still there, still in control, and still surrounding us with his unfailing love.

We may not feel it him. We may not see him. But we must stand on what we know to be true: God will never abandon us. He will never forsake us. He will always be with us and he will always take what the enemy meant for evil and cause it to work for good.

Friend, I hate to say this, but everyone on earth grieves. Everyone on earth suffers. The question is not how we can avoid problems in this life. The question is this: Do we want to face our most desperate hour alone, or with God walking beside us? We have free will. We can choose. Let us choose wiselyeternity hangs in the balance.

Dear God, thank you for your presence. Even when I may not feel you, I know you are there. I know you will never abandon me. Help me be aware of your presence, even in my most desperate hour. Bring good out of my struggles. In Jesus’s name, amen.