The Essence of Joy

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The moment my first child, our son Ben, was born and placed in my arms I experienced something profoundly new in my soul.

To say that I was happy, delighted, elated, thrilled, enraptured … doesn’t adequately describe what I experienced in that moment. A door somewhere in my soul had opened and I had been ushered into something infinite and holy, something deeply satisfying and bursting with possibility and grandeur.

I believe it was in this moment that Joy made a defining entrance into my life.

I’m sure there have been other instances throughout my life when joy fluttered in and touched my soul, but this moment, when Ben was born, was the moment Joy ‘came of age’, came to reside, and came to lead me into new territory.

This was the first time that I truly understood the union the Holy Spirit and I have. This was the time when He and I together created a life. For nine months the Holy Spirit had been breathing upon this little human form while my body fashioned its physical being. And then, suddenly, here he was – Benjamin, the fruit of our partnership – the image of God birthed into the world! I had tapped into the Holy Spirit expressing His Joy in that moment and rejoiced right along with Him!

The Bible credits Joy as being the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Joy is the nature of the Holy Spirit, an expression of God’s personhood. Joy is the fruit that permeates my life as the Holy Spirit expresses himself in our relationship. This was the Joy I experienced when my son was born and it transcended the realm of human emotion.

One of my favourite scenes in the Bible describes Jesus being “full of joy through the Holy Spirit ..” (Luke 10:21)

Seventy-two disciples had just returned from an assignment, and they too were full of Joy as they reported to Jesus how it all transpired : “Lord, even the demons submit to us in Your name!” they triumphantly declare.

Jesus was pleased with their report and celebrated with them. I can imagine Jesus and his friends laughing and dancing around and ‘high-fiving’! But I believe Jesus’ response went deeper than simply being emotionally pleased with his disciples’ ministry success.

The Message translation puts it this way:

“At that time, Jesus rejoiced, exuberant in the Holy Spirit. ‘I thank you, Father, Master of Heaven and earth, that you hid these things from the know-it-alls and showed them to these innocent newcomers. Yes, Father, it pleased you to do it this way.’”

Jesus explained to His disciples that the Joy they were experiencing at that time was not due to the fact that they had power over demons. Rather, the source of their Joy was their union with God – “your names are written in Heaven” (Luke 10:20). God was delighting in seeing “Satan fall like lightning from heaven…” (Luke 10:18), from seeing people set free from bondage, and the disciples’ spiritual union with the Father meant they were conduits of that Joy themselves.

Over the years Joy has become my familiar safe place.

It is the anchor that exists well below the waterline of my emotions. It is something rooted deep within my spirit that is not subject to the ebb and flow of circumstances that sway my world to and fro. Whether conditions are blustery or calm, whether the sun is rising or setting, whether the destination is in sight or I’m bobbing around in limbo, my life stays the course because it is anchored by Joy.

Joy is multi-coloured. It is saturated with hope, with contentment, with assurance, and with strength. Joy cannot always be explained. It by-passes human reasoning and taps into something eternal and spiritual. Joy is a deep knowing that despite the reality of the circumstances in my life, all is well with my soul. I have found that Joy may express itself through happiness, through singing and dancing, through exuberant triumph – or through peace and serenity. And, for the one who has committed their life completely into God’s hands, Joy can even express itself in the midst of sorrow (Job 6:10).

Humanity thinks a lot about Joy around this time of year. We see it written on cards, displayed in decorations, sung in songs.  Christmas gives voice to the source of all true Joy.

That first Christmas, an angel came to some terrified shepherds on a Judean hillside and declared, “I bring you good news of great Joy that will be for all people … a Saviour has been born to you: he is Christ, the Lord.” (Luke 2:10)

That Good News was God’s Joy spilling out over the earth as His redemptive plan for his much-loved humanity began to unfold. He was issuing an invitation to all of us to come into a personal relationship with Him through the Saviour, Jesus Christ.

I pray that all who sing ‘Joy to the World’ this Christmas will truly enter into that deep spiritual union with Jesus.

May we all experience the profound essence of Joy that will paint each season of life in the richest of colours, and be that anchor of hope whatever the circumstance.

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Margins: Limitation or Possibility?

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I’ve discovered there are two ways to look at a margin.

A margin can be a boundary – fringe, sideline, edge, or it can be a surplus – room, scope, profit. One definition speaks of limitation, the other of possibility.

After mulling over these definitions for a couple of days I saw something beautiful emerge.

I saw how Jesus transitioned people from one margin to the other, from the fringe of Insignificance to the place of discovering the surplus of Potential within themselves.

Jesus always gravitated to the marginalized. One moment He is preaching to thousands on a hillside, the next, He’s crossing treacherous waters in a small fishing boat in search of a madman in a cemetery.

A read through the Gospels exposes Jesus constantly searching for the Overlooked, the Unnoticed on the fringes of communities he travelled through – the lepers, the sex-workers, the widows, the misplaced, the people struggling with their demons. Jesus understood their plight – after all, who could identify more with being marginalized than Jesus himself? His compassion drove him to open blind eyes, release the oppressed and preach good news to the poor.

Yet for each one, every single person, the healing encounter with Jesus went beyond merely the physical aspect of their lives.

Jesus looked into their eyes. He scanned their souls. He found that place of deepest need – the Need-to-Belong, the Need-to-be-Valued, and he touched them there. And his touch repositioned them – both in their own thinking, and in the perceptions of those around them.

Encounters with Jesus gave the Insignificant value, and the Sidelined purpose.

Those encounters allowed each one to sense their own value and uncover the empowerment that comes from that. These Anonymous Ones uncovered the surplus of the unlived life within themselves and tapped into it’s potential. For these Fringe-dwellers their purpose had now been defined, and they were empowered to move on in life with dignity and influence. Their place of residence shifted from Obscurity to Significance.

Zacheus grew in spiritual stature the day he met Jesus; the Samaritan Woman became an ambassador for genuine love; Bartimaeus became a man of vision; a Roman Centurion began winning spiritual battles; the Tax Collector became a benefactor; the Psychopath became an evangelist.

Our mission is to complete what Jesus started in our world.

We should find ourselves constantly scanning the horizon in search of the Lost, the Forgotten, and the Exiled, and introduce them to a Jesus encounter.

They live in the bewildering place of fatherlessness, in the insidious place of bullying, in the distressing place of poverty, in the horrific place of human trafficking, and in the empty place of fame of fortune.  We will find them at checkouts, mothers’ groups, in jails, in church, over the neighbouring fence, in our own families. They are all around us, searching for inclusion, and a purpose for living.  Sometimes all it takes is a cheery word to the woman cleaning the Rest Room, a coffee date with the new single mum at school, some time for the old man who lost track of his family years ago, a welcoming smile to the overweight woman hiding at the back of the room … it’s not that hard!

That search for belonging, that incessant hunger for value is the prompt that has led us all to Jesus. We were, at one time or another, all lost until we found Jesus walking towards us with arms outstretched.

He stopped amidst the swirling, stifling, suffocating crowd.

“Who touched me?”

The woman trembled, bloodied, afraid.

She knelt before the Lord of Ones and whispered her confession.

And He, who would one day Himself be bloodied for Ones such as this said,

“Be healed.”

 

He slept through the storm as they crossed the Lake,

While the Madman waited in turmoil amongst the tombs.

Naked, too strong for chains and irons, yet hopelessly bound,

He ran and fell at the feet of the Lord of Ones.

And He who would one day be bound in the place of Ones such as this said,

“Be free.”

 

He sat and watched the Rich and Powerful throw in their coins.

The Widow came, unnoticed, yet seen.

She gave out of her poverty two small coins of infinite value.

“She gave her all,” mused the Lord of Ones.

And He who left the wealth of Heaven in order to give His all for Ones such as this said,

“Be blessed.”

 

He stood alone as the crowd hurriedly dispersed.

“Unclean!” they reviled, and hissed and cowered.

The Leper knelt before the Lord of Ones and pleaded, “If you are willing..”

And He who would soon be defiled by the sins of Ones such as this,

Reached out and touched, and said,

“Be clean.”

 

I wait, speck in an ocean, grain of sand on a beach,

Bloodied, bound, impoverished, unclean.

Overcome by His Presence, overwhelmed by His Grace, “I come to worship,” I whisper.

And the Lord of Ones who died in my place embraces me and draws me in.

With words that echo across time and eternity He whispers back,

“We are one.”

© Julie Cochrane 2013

Today Jesus is still searching for one more soul to transition from the margins of limitations to the margin of possibility. Let’s remain alert, on call, so we don’t miss the opportunity to partner with him on the journey.

The Unlived Life

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Creation

Zion's superheros with border - photo credit  Julie Cochrane

Our three grandsons live next door to us.

Each afternoon the boys drop in, check out our fridge and pantry, then pull out the Craft Box and get down to some serious creating…. all the while chatting away, filling me in on their day. I love these times.

Zion is 7yrs old and lately has been making superhero characters. He draws them and colours them, and cuts them out. Then he and his two younger brothers tear around the house and yard playing out imaginary dramas with these characters.

I’ve always been fascinated by a child’s insatiable drive to create. Whether it be drawing superhero figures, building Lego structures, solving puzzles on their ipads, dancing, playing dress-ups, telling stories… dreaming and creating is in their DNA. It’s the way Creator God designed them – in His own image. We are all born with the hunger to create, a drive to craft something new, something unique.

I was reflecting on all this last week when I was hit with this thought:

If God is Creator, if creating is intrinsic to his immutable nature, then he must be creating continually. God never stops creating.

Now, I know you know that.

I’ve always known that.

But this was one of those revelation moments for me.

And it was startling.

What is God creating today? What did He create yesterday? Another plant species? Another universe? There must be an infinite amount of things that God has been creating since … um … well, throughout all of his eternal existence. God has never stopped creating.

It’s impossible for my finite mind to fully comprehend this fact. Who knows what remarkable creations exist outside our universe, or within it for that matter, that we just cannot know about.

But one thing I have come to understand is this – that one of the ways God chooses to create is through people. This is why He created us in His own image – so we could partner with Him in the process of His creating.

We are conduits. But not in an impersonal way, rather God delights to see this new creation of His with my spin on it. My personality, my experiences, my talents, my passions, my choices – it’s a partnership. God sharing Himself with me. Me sharing Him with the world. I clearly remember being overawed by this fact throughout my first pregnancy – each day realizing that God’s act of creating human life was taking place within me, and with my assistance. How astounding!

Sometimes we tend to limit our understanding of ‘creative people’ to the painters and sculptors, web designers, musicians, writers and dancers of this world. But if we look more closely we’ll find creativity driving the scientist to discover that new vaccine, the detective to solve that crime, the company manager to build that business, and the mother to turn that house into a home. Whoever we are, God will use our personality, our passions, our talents and our choices to express His creative nature through us.

God has assimilated His creative self into us. What a privilege. What an inspiration to locate what He is up to in us today, so that we can capture it and proclaim it to the world around us. Think about that for a moment – God releasing His creative passion through me today – with my unique spin on it!

zion's superhero gang - photo by Julie Cochrane

Zion, self portrait