With all the bad news in the news lately, I thought we could use some good news.
A ten-year-old leukemia patient has designed a sweatshirt to raise money for families impacted by pediatric cancer. Her design includes the words, “Be strong and courageous,” taken from Joshua 1:9.
A nightclub closed by COVID-19 restrictions in Lausanne, Switzerland, has been converted into a temporary blood donation center. Gen Z Americans (currently between eight and twenty-three years old) have relied on faith more than any other generation during the pandemic.
The percentage of North Korean citizens who are exposed to the Bible is steadily increasing each year despite extreme persecution. The YouVersion Bible app is now available in fifteen hundred languages.
Franklin Graham reports that Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association saw 1.3 million people give their lives to Christ through online ministries in 2019. This year, the number is 1.7 million. Franklin explains that due to the pandemic, “The people’s hearts have been softened a little bit. People who have not listened before are listening now.”
Santa in a snowglobe
On the other hand, there’s plenty of bad news available today. Let’s consider some Christmas-related stories.
A nurse who works with COVID-19 patients received an anonymous letter from a neighbor chastising her and her husband for displaying Christmas lights on their home. Their display is subdued—a wreath and a row of lights along one roofline. Nonetheless, the writer called her decorations “a reminder of divisions that continue to run through our society, a reminder of systemic biases against our neighbors who don’t celebrate Christmas or who can’t afford to put up lights of their own.”
In other words, if I don’t like or can’t afford something, you can’t have it. Imagine applying that mantra to the rest of life.
Churches across the country are canceling Singing Christmas Tree programs due to COVID-19 restrictions. As a result of pandemic-related financial stress, 45 percent of Americans responding to a survey said they would prefer to skip Christmas this year.
Shopping centers and photographers are stationing Santa Claus behind plexiglass shields, seating him high on a sled, or putting him inside protective snowglobes. No sitting on Santa’s lap this year, it seems.
Joy is a choice
Christmas should be a season of joy.
The angels announced the birth of Christ by “praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest'” (Luke 2:13–14). The shepherds who met the baby Jesus “returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen” (v. 20).
How can we have and share the joy of Jesus in this season as we celebrate his birth?
The answer is not to wait until the world is more joyful. When the pandemic is finally over, other fears and threats will take its place. The answer is to seek joy—a sense of wellbeing that transcends circumstances—rather than happiness, which is based on happenings.
It is to make joy a choice rather than a circumstance.
Three steps to joy
So, how do we choose joy today?
First, identify the source of true joy.
Jesus spoke of “my joy” which would be ours (John 17:13). The prophet Zephaniah assured us that our Lord “will rejoice over you with gladness” (Zephaniah 3:17). David testified, “In your presence there is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11). Your God is a God of joy.
Second, settle for nothing less than the joy of the Lord.
We can “rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4, my emphasis) because the Lord is always the source of joy. As Craig Denison notes, “We are not made to carry burdens that steal our joy and keep us from the abundant life Jesus died to give us.” If you are not experiencing the joy of the Lord today, the fault is not his.
Third, submit to the Spirit who produces joy.
Scripture commands us to be “filled” and controlled each day by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). When we make this choice, one “fruit of the Spirit” that results is “joy” (Galatians 5:22). If you have the joy of the Lord, it’s because you’re filled with his Spirit. If you do not have the joy of Jesus today, it’s because you’re not filled with his Spirit. (For more, see my latest video, “What does the Bible say about the ‘fruit of the Spirit’?“)
A World Series hero discovers true joy
Bernie Carbo was a baseball hero, hitting a clutch three-run homer for the Boston Red Sox in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. However, as he writes in Christianity Today, he was “totally miserable”—addicted to drugs, struggling in his marriage, and constantly at odds with his manager and coaches.
After his World Series heroics, he spent the next few years bouncing from team to team until his baseball career ended at the age of thirty-two. Years later, a prominent baseball player identified Carbo as introducing him to cocaine; his mother committed suicide after the story broke, and his father died three months later.
Carbo and his wife divorced, then his second marriage ended as well. He was ready to end his life when his phone rang. It was Bill Lee, a teammate from the Red Sox. Lee connected him with others who got Carbo into rehab where he suffered a panic attack. He ended up in a hospital in a room next to a retired pastor who helped him learn “what it means to live for Christ every day and to rely on him for forgiveness and strength.”
Carbo eventually became the co-founder of Diamond Club Ministry, which brings the gospel to young people and their families through evangelistic baseball camps and speaking engagements. He closes his article:
“Today, I share this story across the nation because I want others to know there is hope! There is a way out of the deadly seduction of abusing drugs. There is a way out of the anger and anguish that life can bring. Not only does Jesus Christ offer the way out, but he also offers the way in to a life more joyful and abundant than anyone could imagine” (his italics).
Will you choose his way today?