Archives For joy

There are many ways for us to get into the Christmas spirit.

Some of us listen to and sing along with our favorite Christmas tunes. Others of us watch Christmas movies or send out Christmas cards to family and friends.

Many of us bring out the Christmas spirit by decorating. We put up a Christmas tree and hang up all sorts of ornaments on its prickly green branches. Those of us who are not too averse to climbing up ladders string lights on the outside of our homes.

100_5401I have one clever friend who gets into the swing of the season by decking out her car with reindeer horns and a bright red nose.

Speaking of reindeer, I invite you to check out this short clip of a YouTube video that has recently gone viral. Claire Koch, who is just five years old, captured hearts across the world (and the essence of the Christmas spirit) when she used sign language in a school Christmas concert so that her deaf parents could understand the lyrics to the songs.

With her little hands and big heart, this adorable child showed what getting into the spirit of Christmas is truly all about.

Even in the smallest of ways, Christmas is about giving. It’s about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ—our Creator God’s most extraordinary of gift of love and joy—by shining His self-giving love into the lives of others.



Should Christians grieve?

Tim Jackson —  August 17, 2011 — 1 Comment

Is grief okay for a Christian? Is it legitimate to be sad when you lose someone you deeply love? What’s this thing about “consider it pure joy” that James talks about in the New Testament? Should my “joy” as a Christian erase the pain of my journey through grief over having lost both of my parents in the last 2 months?

Do you ever read passages in the Bible that are just maddening? I sure do. Count it all joy? Are you kidding?

Or is it our understanding of what James meant that needs to be adjusted?

Listen in as Larry Crabb describes for us how grief fits in with James’s view of joy. I found it helpful and I think you will too.



Christmas “Magic”

Jeff Olson —  December 23, 2010 — 1 Comment

My neighbor across the street stopped by the other day to ask how my nephew with Duchene’s Muscular Dystrophy was doing. Last week my nephew faced a life threatening situation because the muscles in his throat that allow him to swallow food stopped working. I told my neighbor that he pulled through a surgery (to put in a feeding tube) that the doctors gave him little chance of surviving. Although he’ll never be out of the woods with his disease, all things considering, he is doing remarkably well.

Immediately, my neighbor (whose long white beard qualifies him as a look-a-like for Santa Claus) chuckled with a huge grin on his face, “See, I guess there is Christmas magic after all!”

My neighbor made a great point. We thought we were saying goodbye to my nephew when they took him  into surgery last week. But our family got a taste of  the miraculous.

Of course, this miracle stems from the ultimate miracle of  Immanuel–that God is indeed with us.

Whatever situation you find yourself in, may you more fully come to know and experience the life-changing truth of Immanuel!

Holidays & Heartache

Tim Jackson —  October 8, 2010 — 15 Comments

I’ve sat on this post for over a month. Didn’t know if I really wanted to post it or not. It just opens up areas of woundedness for us all that sometimes I’d just rather say nothing about. But then again, if we . . . I mean . . . if I really do believe that God is up to something good all the time (ya know, it’s a real pain when the Holy Spirit uses something you’ve previously written to remind you of your need to step into hard things), then this post is for all of us who are broken by grief and loss that is relentless. So, here goes . . .

The Labor Day holiday has always been a mixed bag of emotions for me. I love holidays–the food and the fun with family and friends. It’s such a delight. But there’s the sadness that another summer is ending. I love the warmth and will miss it in February when the icy Michigan wind is ripping at my face. Yet, the holiday also ushers in the first glimmers of fall–my favorite time of year. Fall–with it’s crisp cool mornings, the pallet of colors soon to be splashed over the maples and punctuated by the brilliant red of the staghorn sumac, the sounds of football on the weekends and geese making their pilgrimage south. And the tastes of apples, pumpkin pie, and my favorite drink–cider.

Okay, I think you get the picture. I like the last blast of the summer holiday. You bet.

But this past Labor Day holiday’s delight with my family and friends was pierced with a call from a close friend who lives just a mile from our home. She was describing to my wife the trauma of being first on the scene of a tragic accident on their way to church that Sunday morning. At the end of their rural country road, a car had failed to stop at a T-intersection and struck an embankment so hard that it was launch through the air, landing on the other side of the embankment completely out of sight of the road. It was the out-of-place plume of smoke in the woods that caught her husband’s attention and sent him exploring. He soon discovered the burning wreckage and immediately dialed 911. But it was too late to rescue the driver.

We later learned that the driver was the 20-year-old daughter and only child of a man who had lost his wife just four years earlier to cancer. The news sent me reeling. How horrible! How unfair! How sad! I was angry. I felt like I wanted to scream. I just imagined if I was in his shoes and that it was one of my daughters. How horrific! How excruciatingly difficult that would be for me . . . and I still have two more children and a wife. How alone when there’s no one else but you. How could this happen! This dear man whose daughter’s life held such promise for him is now gone. No time for goodbyes. Just gone. And he’s all alone. No wife. No daughter. Just alone.

I couldn’t get him off my mind for the rest of the weekend. From now on, every holiday–not just one or two for a while–but every holiday will be stained with the emptiness and loneliness of the absence of not only his precious wife but now his daughter as well. Celebrations will feel futile. Why bother? No one’s here to celebrate with. What’s the point?

When we think of holidays we can easily think of those wonderful, warm, glowing times that are so meaningful to so many. But what about those who struggle with facing their first holidays alone, without the loved ones who have been so precious and irreplaceable to them? When we’re enjoying the good times, do we ever stop to remember those whose hearts are breaking over their grief?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating a depressing mood during the holidays. Just that we remember that holidays can be filled not only with joyful celebration but also with heartache that’s crushing for those who have lost someone special to them. And that first year is especially difficult to navigate. To remember brings both joy and pain. And yet, to not remember some how diminishes the worth and value of that unique one-of-a-kind spouse, child, sibling, parent, or friend who is noticeable absent.

To suffer in grief seems to be so unfair. Why would God allow us to suffer and not relieve our grief, our sorrow, our pain. Nicholas Waltersdorf, a professor at Yale wrote about his journey through grief in the wake of the death of his son Eric, who died in a mountain climbing accident at the age of 25. In describing his suffering as a father over holiday get-togethers Waltersdorf would say, “Now, when we’re all together, we’re never all together.” He says he came to understand the suffering of God, the Heavenly Father through his own suffering . He wrote:

“It is said of God that no one could behold his face and live. I always thought this
meant no one could see God’s splendor and live. A friend said that perhaps it
means no one can see God’s sorrow and live, or perhaps God’s sorrow is His
splendor. Maybe the greatest thing about God is that he would choose to suffer
with us when he did not have to.”

It is the message of the greatest holiday celebration of all–the invasion of our planet by the Creator God Himself who came to remind us that no matter what losses we may face in this broken world as wounded and hurting people, there is always a reason for hope and joy. Why? Because we are never totally alone. God is with us . . . Immanuel (Matt. 1:23). And God weeps (John 11:35). And, when I think about it . . . maybe it’s true . . . the greatest thing about God is that he would choose to suffer with us when he didn’t have to.

Maybe you have a story of grief and loss that God has brought you through that you would be willing to share with others. Or maybe you’re in the middle of your journey through grief and just want to ask for prayer. Please feel free to share your story or concerns with the community of those who blog and post on this site.

Puppy love . . .

Tim Jackson —  October 5, 2009 — 3 Comments

I received an email recently that set me back and pushed me to tears. It simply read:

We want to share some sad news with you. Golden-older-reflection in glass doorThis past weekend, Brittany, our Golden Retriever, died at a little over 15-years-old. She was the puppy we bought from you back in 1994. I don’t know if you remember us or not.

Remember? Are you kidding? How could I forget those precious little balls of fluff nipping at our heals? She was one of 4 puppies that our Kassy gave birth to . . . the first one right beside our bed in the middle of the night. Talk about drama. We wanted our three children to have the experience to of seeing puppies being born. It was a major event.

Puppy Pics 053

The email went on to describe the impact that this canine had on their family:

Brittany was a great dog. We were able to share much love with her. She struggled with arthritis the last few years, but she did great fighting through it. We will miss her greatly. We thought we would share this news with you, since you shared in the start of her life.

What an amazing gift. That the Creator God, our Heavenly Father who delights in giving good gifts to His children, would create such creatures that wag, wiggly, lick, and cuddle their way into our hearts that when they die, we deeply grieve. I have wept deeply for each of the 3 dogs that I have lost to various illnesses. I can’t write this without tears even now (I hope no one walks into my office right now). How can this be?

For those of you who think I’m strange, all I can say is you just don’t get it. Or, maybe you struggle to love anything or anyone deeply. That’s not an accusation, but it is a question to ponder. For those of you who are reaching for the box of tissues right now, you know exactly what I mean. The bottom line is this: If you love deeply, you will hurt deeply when you lose what you love. Even if every piece of clothing you own has a dog hair somewhere on it. The depth of our grief mirrors the depth of our love.

Jesus knew that all too well. In John 11:35-36, John describes Him weeping at the tomb of his dear friend, Lazarus. The evidence was clear to all who witnessed it: “See how he loved him!” And that’s it. Love not only opens your heart to delight in the richness of life, but also exposes you to the depths of grief.

Love shared . . . even with a four-legged, whet-nosed ball of fluff that chews your favorite shoes . . . is multiplied exponentially more than we could ever imagine. So, my advice to you is this: Go ahead. Take the plunge. Jump into the deep end and love someone or something with all your heart and see what God does to enlarge your capacity to love beyond your wildest expectations. Sure it’s a risk. But it’s a risk worth taking!

Power vs. Happiness

Jeff Olson —  September 27, 2009 — 1 Comment

scroogeI don’t rent many movies these days, but last week our local movie rental store gave me a free rental. My vote was for the film about the true story of the blind man who climbed to the Summit of Mt. Everest. But since the last movie I picked out was about football, it was only fair that we went with a romantic comedy…”The Ghosts of Girlfriend’s Past.”

The film (with a plot that cleverly follows Charles Dickens’ famous classic “The Christmas Carol”) is about a decadent, self-centered, womanizing bachelor whose has a “Bah, humbug” attitude when it comes to love and marriage. The night before his younger brother’s wedding, he is visited by ghosts representing his past, present, and future girlfriends. By time the three visitors are finished with him, he has a radical change of heart and opens himself up to love again.

Personally, I don’t recommend the movie—except for the last 10 minutes. In particular, the best man’s speech by the main character at the wedding reception redeemed the movie for me. Here’s what he said,

 “Someone once told me that the power in all relationships lies with whoever cares less. And he was right. But power isn’t happiness. And I think that maybe happiness comes from caring more about people—rather than less.”

 The power he’s referring to is the upper hand of self-protection. And yes…it may keep a broken heart from getting crushed again, but there is no joy in it. It only ends up incarcerating the soul in a prison of fear, emptiness, and selfishness.

Only the willingness to give and receive love is what makes us truly happy and free to be followers of Jesus (John 15:13).

Happiest Days of Your Life

Jeff Olson —  September 11, 2009 — 1 Comment

boat for sale-flickrJust the other day I over heard a man say that the happiest days of his life were the day he bought a boat and the day he sold the boat. As one who owns a small fishing boat, he makes a good point.

A friend and fellow boat owner jokingly says that that the word “boat” is the acronym for “break out another thousand.” It can certainly seem like that, especially with the price of gasoline these days. 

I’m grateful to the Lord for many happy days. The days that rank up at the top for me would certainly include days like the birth of my children or the opening day of deer season or hearing the news that a close friend is cancer free.

What would you say are the happiest days of your life?

Who are you?

Jeff Olson —  August 3, 2009 — 8 Comments

PassportCertain songs tend to stay with and get me to thinking. Lately, I’ve been struck by the following lyrics from an older song,

“Who are you? Who, who…who, who?

The words strike me as more than a line from a catchy tune by the British band The Who. The lyrics actually raise a core question-do we know who we really are?

It’s an important question. And answering it is not as simple as rattling off the basic information found on our passport—name, address, etc. There’s a lot more to us.

For instance, the opening pages of the Bible tell us that we bear the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). The Bible also tells us that “we are God’s offspring” (Acts 17:28). In other words, who we are is wrapped up in being one of God’s kids. And those of His offspring, who have found forgiveness and restoration through Jesus Christ, can learn to walk in the peace and the joy and the purpose of a new life in Him (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Reading what the Bible says about us is truly good news. And I wish it were that simple. The problem is there are other destructive messages that come to us in various ways that compete with some of the things we read about ourselves in the pages of Scripture. As we’ve gone through life in a broken world, we’ve all heard lies that cause us to doubt who we really are; false messages that say we’re nothing or unwanted; half-truths that seduce us into believing there is something deeply flawed and unredeemable in us.

So…who are you? What are the messages you’ve heard? A lot is riding on the answers we end up with. If we don’t know what God really thinks of us, we will continue to live far less than who He intended us to be.

I was recently watching 100_1416the 2007 film Into the Wild. It’s based on the true story of Chris McCandless. Upon graduating from college in the early 1990’s, McCandless had become disillusioned with his conventional life. Without saying a word to his family, he up and sold all his belongings, withdrew entirely from the only life he new, and eventually ventured deep into the Alaskan wilderness—alone.

McCandless underestimated the rigors of the Alaskan wilderness and eventually died months later—alone. Before his tragic death, he appeared to have a change of heart regarding his decision to live as a loner. These last words were found scrawled in his journal:

“Happiness only real when shared.”

Being a loner is not what it’s cracked up to be. In fact, it was the first human experience God spotted as unhealthy — “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone'” (Genesis 2:18).

There are good things in life that  bring us joy. But they will only touch our souls when we share them with others.

We can’t get away from it. Our Creator wired us with a dual need for companionship with Himself and with other human beings.

Lasting joy can only be found within relationships.