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Isaiah 9
You have multiplied the nation and increased the joy; they rejoice before You according to the joy of harvest and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil. For You have broken the yoke of his burden and the bar of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor as in the day of Midian’s defeat.

And hope comes where it is most potent…
When we allow God to have reign in our lives, he expands his influence. God’s expanding influence can be called his Kingdom. Here we see “joy” takes center stage once again in God’s Word. Four times in one sentence is a lot of joy!
Here is what God is saying to us. When you look for God in life, you discover him where there is gladness. This is where his Kingdom is expanding. When you look for the things that are not of God, you discover either dull lifelessness or rage. Going through the motions or being filled with anger leading to contempt.
Where do you experience gladness right now? Stay there. Let the gladness of being with god and being with others penetrate any gloom that remains.
God will break whatever is binding us up and keep us from giving in to the hopelessness that comes from everything that tries to work against God. Nothing can overcome his power.

ME
Where do you see gladness in the world today?

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“We are a low-joy nation. And what happens in low-joy places? Problems are bred. This low-joy has reached the highest levels. Our national leaders have finally succumbed to being almost pure predators.” (PD)
What is a predator?
What can be done?

How God wires us for joy and shalom…
How you might be the best true hope….Listen

 

DAILY DEVOTIONS BASED ON THIS SERMON

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Luke 2

Don’t be afraid. Behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all people…

Joy is gladness. When you share joy with God, you are glad to be with him. And God is always glad to be with you. When you share joy with others, you are glad to be together.

Happiness is not the same as joy. Happiness depends on circumstances. With joy you can be glad to be with God and others even in the midst of great suffering. In fact, our greatest joy may be just at those very times in our lives that are the hardest.

We continue to connect biblical principles with the latest brain research. Much of what I have been experiencing along these lines is informed by Dr. Jim Wilder and his team at Life Model Works. It centers on joy.

Last week, we noted the reason God has come to us in Jesus is to let us know how glad he is to be with us. How glad he is to be our God. Our adoring Father in heaven. The Christmas angel announced it:

Don’t be afraid. Behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all people…

So, you see, the good news, the gospel of Jesus, centers on joy. Forgiveness of sin through Jesus restores our relationship with God, but the joy of forgiveness is only part of the great joy God has in mind. When Jesus is explaining why he teaches what he teaches he explains this clearly:

I have told you these things so that you can have the same joy I have and so that your joy will be the fullest possible joy.

As Christians, we speak a lot about grace. We explain our trust in Jesus, our faith, as being “saved by grace.” But, then we do something that isn’t helpful. It has to do with forgiveness of sin. We connect being saved solely with forgiveness. But, to be saved is so much more than simply forgiveness. We are saved from sin. But we are also saved for something. We are saved for Joy.

ME

If forgiveness on the cross is all there is, then what are we suppose to do for the rest of our lives?

 

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Matthew 11

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

Jesus has given us specifics ways to have joy be our normal state. It has to do with connecting with him so closely, we learn to move the way he moves and think the way he thinks. Jesus compares this to the way people farmed in his day. When the field is plowed by oxen, an older experienced ox is yoked to a new rookie ox. The older ox leads the plowing until the younger ox learns to do things the same way. When they spend so much time learning to be in synch together, the younger ox takes on the traits of the older ox. This is what Jesus offers. Spend time with him, constantly focusing on Jesus and his ways, learning from him how to live a joy filled life in the midst of the suffering and hardship of normal life and we will return to joy quickly after upset.

Yes, the Christian life Jesus offers rewires our very brains. We become the kind of people who can face life the way he would face it if he were us.

ME

How did Jesus respond during times of stress and upset?  

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Thursday October 13

Judges 21:5

25 In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.

In the Book of Judges, God’s people went from leader to leader who would guide them in God’s ways. If the leaders were godly, the people would prosper. If the leaders were questionable, there would be fallout. But the worst times were when there was no on at all to lead. The people just did whatever they wanted without any guidelines for healthy living.

For those raised in a mixed-joy or low-joy environment, this becomes a great problem. Emotions will rule and we won’t even see this coming. This happens most often in two ways.

First, a key challenge for those of us who spent time in low-joy environments as an infant is we don’t have the capacity to return to joy quickly after we are upset. So usually what happens is we spend all of our time working hard to keep things from going wrong. This is how we become overly controlling type people. This is how we overreact over minor things. When we are over-controlling, there are no minor problems. Everything that goes wrong is a major thing.

The other negative challenge for those of us who spent time in low-joy environments as infants has to do with addiction. When we grow older, if we haven’t received this joyful and loving bonding as infants, we are always searching for someone or something to make us feel better. In our culture this most often means drugs and alcohol, sex, power, or money. This can expose itself as an addiction to affirmation and people “liking” us, or it may be the opposite and we try to get people to be afraid of us or stay away from us, or it may be an addiction for achieving accolades and being considered highly successful. In other words, if we look around us, what we might call normal society is filled with low-joy fallout. This is not God’s plan, it is sin. It is malfunction.

Here’s the choice. For most of us, we have issues with these negative challenges. We can either spend our whole lives trying to avoid anything go wrong or we can spend our time trying to please people or have people fear us, or use people or substances for temporary pleasure.

Not very healthy choices. Or, we can be trained under the power of Jesus and have our brains rewired to be able to return to joy quickly after upset.

ME

Think of key problems we have in our society. What does joy have to do with it?

 

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Nehemiah 8

Now go home and have a feast. Share your food and wine with those who don’t have enough. Today is holy to our Lord, so don’t be sad. The joy that the Lord gives you will make you strong.”

OK, I understand that God creates us out of joy and for joy, then what happens if a baby isn’t raised in a high-joy environment?

Related to all of this joy emphasis is strength. When a baby is growing a joyful brain, a baby is becoming strong. A baby learns to return quickly to joy from upset. In fact, a key indicator of future mental health is how quickly a baby is able to return to joy from upset. How fast she can calm down after being upset.

The movie, Inside Out has a very good picture of the way God wires our brain. A young girl Riley is the center of the movie. Or at least her brain is. Riley’s emotions are portrayed are Joy, Fear, Anger, Sadness, and Disgust. Joy is in charge.

As long as Joy has the upper hand more than the others, Riley thrives.

(Here is review that connects Jesus with Inside Out)

God creates babies to be raised in an high-joy environment. But when this does not occur, when babies are raised where fear or anger is the ongoing emotional environment of the household, then the child’s brain is underdeveloped at this key time off growth. When a baby does not see joy on his mother’s face consistently during this crucial time of his life, the baby becomes full of fear. If the baby becomes bonded to someone who is consistently experiencing fear, anger, sadness, or distress, for instance, the baby becomes distressed and will learn to watch for threats instead of seeking joy. This is then wired as the “normal” state of the brain rather than joy.

There is a big challenge here. Emotions come from the part of our brain called the fast track, where signals move so fast we are not conscious of them. They happen automatically. This is fine if joy is you normal state. But, if any of the negative emotions are our dominant normal state, it is not helpful. Here is a quote from Joy Starts Here.

Sadly, many of us experience life with low-joy. We grew up in families in which joy was missing, weak, or limited. In these low-joy environments our brain is organized around anxiety, fear, and the avoidance of pain. The absence of joy and the presence of anxiety just seemed normal. We were easily overwhelmed when things went wrong, and found it hard to recover from disappointments and distress. We felt trapped in negative emotions.” (Joy Starts Here, pg.20).

ME

What does it mean to you to realize when Jesus is in our lives we are a “new creation?”

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Tuesday October 11

Palm 131

Lord, I have given up my pride and turned away from my arrogance. I am not concerned with great matters or with subjects too difficult for me.Instead, I am content and at peace. As a child lies quietly in its mother’s arms, so my heart is quiet within me.

Do you know why else we can be sure we are meant for joy?  Because that is the way God creates us in the first place.

The most important organ we have is our brain. The brain regulates everything else. It is through the brain we experience emotional and physical health. Healthy brain, healthy life. Well, guess what? God wires our brains for joy.

Remember, joy means I am glad to be with you?

Think of an infant. You don’t have to teach an infant to be thrilled to be with his mother. Or a good mother to be thrilled to be with her baby. God already wires things this way. We could have dropped from the sky by storks like in Dumbo. But, no, God creates us to come out of the womb of our mother. And from that moment on, let the joy begin. And we’ll need as much of that joy as we can because the baby’s brain is developing at a tremendous rate, and joy is the key emotion to spur on healthy brain growth.

I say “mother” because mothers are usually a baby’s biggest joy. During the first three months of life, a baby feels joy by being close to their mother. Activities like nursing, rocking, sleeping near the baby, carrying him around near her body, are all greatly beneficial to mother and child. This connection is the root of all human development. Dad, Grandma and Grandpa- whoever spends significant time with the infant during this time, also reinforces this joy.

In the first six weeks, joy and bonding come primarily from mother’s smell, from being fed, and staying warm. Then bonding the next six weeks is touch-centered.

So, through smell, taste, temperature, and touch the baby begins to understand himself as a person in relationship to his mother. What the baby experiences during these first months becomes the emotional thermostat he will seek for the rest of his life. After three months the baby has developed enough of a picture in his mind what his mother feels about him. From now on, joy becomes very interactive. Relational. It is also at this time the main joy structures in the brain go through their most serious growth spurt.

After three months of age when the most rapid brain growth occurs, the visual part of the brain becomes the dominant sense. The baby is looking for eyes that are looking at them with joy. The baby instantly senses, “Someone is thrilled to be with me!” Nothing interests a baby more than looking at faces and eyes. It only takes a few seconds for a baby to explode with delight if joyful eyes are looking at him. Here’s another thing about joy.

Joy is the one emotion babies will willingly seek on their own. Since this is the case, they are motivated to have increasingly high levels of joy. They will keep working toward joy even if things go wrong. This is why babies will return to joy after being upset very quickly. They return to joy because mom or someone close to them soothes them after the upset. Babies are like vacuum cleaners. sucking up everything around them. A baby becomes what they receive.

ME

Some said, “The eyes are a window to the soul.” What might this mean in light of what we are learning here?

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Joy is a key theme in the life of Jesus and his teaching. Yet, we rarely speak of this in the Christian community. According to brain science, a high-joy environment is absolutely necessary for healthy brain growth. Considering a baby grows 2/3 of their brain in the first 90 days, dare I say, from the beginning, we are designed to be filled with joy.

As Christians, we are uniquely called to be the world’s “joy starters.” How?

First podcast in a series of how we can make progress in becoming the kind of people Jesus has in mind…

 

 

 

Go here for Daily Devotions based on this message

Ephesians 1

22 And God has put all things under his feet and has made Jesus the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Followers of Jesus, of all people, are chosen to be people of confidence to bring the joy of God’s blessing to the world, not fear-mongering. Paul didn’t try to provoke fear in order to get people to follow. Think of Jesus, himself. People weren’t attracted to Jesus because they were afraid of him.  No, Christians are to be the joyful presence of Jesus in the world. When we show up people are glad we are there.

Like everything else in the world, people tend to look for the negative. There aren’t news accounts every day of all the amazing compassion and joy that Christians bring to others in the world, even though there are countless examples. Instead, the media focuses on Christians as being against something. Or the Christians who are good at fundraising are the ones who spend money on TV ministries which tend to be shows about raising more money.

Fortunately, it is Jesus who is in charge and as he fills authentic Christians with his Spirit to get things done, the world can know him. And he continues to be known.

ME

When have you been a good example of a Christian recently where others were glad you were there?

Psalm 105

Remember the wonders he has performed, his miracles… 

God has worked in your life in the past. He has blessed you.

He wants you to remember this. Are you grateful that God has worked in your life? Then remember it.

The God Times devotions you are reading begin each day with the same instruction.

Spend 5 minutes before you read thinking about one or two things you appreciate in your life. These appreciation memories will enhance everything that follows. 

When we daily think about things we are grateful for, we bring healing to our brains. Gratitude. From medical journals to psychology blogs to yoga instructions, to Christian how-to steps, every health website, every magazine seems to have a article or blog about the same thing.

Being grateful.

Everyone has jumped on the bandwagon of what King David and God’s people have always known to be true. Spend time being grateful each day. This wisdom is now as prevalent as the instruction to drink plenty of water.

Just google the word, “gratitude.”

OK, so why is this so important? It is important to remember what you are grateful for because God wires the brain to work best in an environment of appreciation.

You don’t even have to believe in God to know this. In an article I read, “Gratitude without God,” an evolutionary psychologist said this.

The evolutionary explanation for this, he said, is probably that gratitude helps people initiate friendships and alliances—which then help people survive.

I guess everyone knows that daily gratitude is important, it’s just those who trust in God get to thank the source. By remembering the good things God brings into our lives, it  strengthens our health and strengthens our faith. Again this is worship. By spending time each day thinking about what we appreciate, we are declaring God worthy.

ME

How are your times of appreciation going? Actually do this. It’s good for you. Three times a day for 5 minutes for 30 days will rewire your brain. Just start with today…