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Be glad and rejoice

Rev. Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

Do not fear, o soil; be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done great things! 

Do not fear, you animals of the field, for the pastures of the wilderness are green … 

O children of Zion, be glad and rejoice in the Lord your God … 

– Joel 2:21-23a NRSV

The prophet Joel sang these words for the people of Israel in the midst of a calamity. 

The land and crops had been utterly destroyed by a locust plague. 

The people were hungry, as were the animals. 

The very soil was damaged and tired. 
And yet the prophet called the people to rejoice because the Holy One was in their midst, even in the face of suffering. 

Their privation would not last forever. 

My hope is that wherever you are, you are surrounded by loving family and friends, and that your heart sings with praise. 
But some days are harder than others, more tender, more poignant, because life happens.

Circumstances change. 

We, too, experience hardship as the people of Israel did. 
May I suggest a simple exercise that might lift your heart? 

Find a pen or pencil and some paper, and consider these questions for just a few minutes.

Jot down what comes to mind. 

  • Can you name three holiday memories? Any holiday will do. 
  • What might you be looking forward to? Just three things. Doesn’t have to be anything momentous – looking forward to a cup of afternoon tea or morning coffee counts. 
  • What three things/people/places/happenings can you name that you’re grateful for? 

I wonder what arises as you take a look at your list: a smile? A deeper breath?

Space around your heart? A lifting of your spirit? 

So often it’s the little things that can turn our negativity to praise, our sadness to thanksgiving. 

And God is in the midst of it all. 

Happy Thanksgiving! 

We can be joyful

Josh Medlock, Director of Student Ministries

How do you define a Joyful Life?

I look around and it saddens me to see so many people striving towards materialistic things.

Do we think that having more things and more money will bring us more Joy?

How many times do you catch yourself daydreaming about the things you wish you had?

Do we really need more things? In most cases, probably not.

I recently read an article in one of the blogs I subscribe to that speaks to this.

It suggests that by implementing six new habits into our routines we can open ourselves up to experiencing a more Joyful life.

I am not particularly hip on lists that offer a ‘one pill for everyone’ type of solution.

I did, however, find this list to be one that speaks to where I am.

Here is what they offer:

1) Start living with no regrets

One of the biggest reasons for feeling like you are living with an empty life is your unfulfilled wishes and long-held resentments.

Oftentimes, the saddest summary of life contains three descriptions: could have, might have, and should have.

Start doing things that you always wanted to do, tick them off your bucket-list, and start living a life with no regrets.

If you always wanted to be a chef, enroll yourself in a culinary course.

If you want to write a book, start writing it.

If someone has done bad to you, let them know how they made you feel about it and forgive them.

Life is all about savoring every moment and making the most of it.

2) Start looking out for your passion

There is no joy like working day in and day out on something you’re really passionate about.

Knowing that you are dedicating your life to something purposeful is a hard feeling to be expressed in words.

The thing about passion is that it makes your life both beautiful and worth living.

If you haven’t found your passion yet, it’s absolutely okay. Just keep looking for it and don’t settle.

Interestingly, some people have multiple passions, and if that’s the case with you, go after them and keep doing things that make you happy and your life better.

Share your passion with others and it just might be contagious.

3) Start spending some time in nature

People who feel a connection to nature and believe that nature is important to their lives are generally happier than those who don’t.

If you find it hard to believe this, there’s a scientific explanation.

It says that when we observe the beauty of nature, our bodies produce higher levels of proinflammatory cytokines that make our mood better.

You get a sense of calmness when you spend considerable time in green settings.

The fresh oxygen, beautiful mix of colors, and serenity can change your mood in an instant and boost your happiness levels.

4) Start looking after yourself

People often tend to forget that happiness starts from within.

Nothing in this world can make you happier if you are not happier from inside.

You must learn to look after yourself if you want to live a joyful life.

The first step is to start looking after your body. 

Apart from physical fitness, if you think you need to learn a specific skill to be better at something, go for it.

But don’t forget about your spiritual well-being.

Tend to your spiritual needs with as much vigor and gusto as you do your physical needs.

5) Start giving back to society

There is no more joy than knowing you have added value in someone else’s life – however large or small that contribution may be.

Giving back to society not only helps you to be generous and benevolent, but gives you a sense of purpose as well. 

It also makes you happier knowing that once you did something for others not just for yourself.

Helping others in any capacity makes us dutiful human beings and responsible individuals.

To quote Denzel Washington: 

“At the end of the day it’s not about what you have or what you’ve accomplished … 

“It’s all about who you’ve lifted up, who you’ve made better. It’s about what you’ve given back.”

6) Start investing in your growth, and the growth of those around you

The one thing that is strikingly similar among all joyful folks is that they are serious and dedicated about their growth – mental, physical, intellectual, and financial.

The very fact that you are trying to become better with every passing day helps you enjoy your life even more.

Start reading books and blogs, watch inspirational videos, read interviews, listen to podcasts.

Talk to people you admire and who inspire you about what makes them Joyful.

Even more important than your own growth is the growth of those around you.

You can be that person who inspires or motivates.

Don’t be afraid to invest time and energy into others and walk with them.

I know this is a lot of information and perhaps you are already doing some of these things.

If you are, I would encourage you to keep doing them and give it your all.

If you have read this list and are thinking, “These are things that make sense but I haven’t started them yet,” know that it is never too late.

No one can promise you that doing any of the things on this list will lead you to a more Joyful life.

I can promise you this, though. You will never know if you don’t try.

I choose to try.

I choose to try and make a difference in my life and the lives of those who surround me by striving towards Joy.

Serve, Give, Grow, Live, Lead.

Sounds like a pretty good plan to me.

Special thanks to Sandeep Kashyap for this inspirational list.

God’s got this

Rev. Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

Steven Charleston, a retired Episcopal bishop and spiritual elder in the Choctaw Nation, asked a question over social media awhile back that has had me musing and pondering ever since.

He asked: “If you got your 15 minutes of fame, which today would probably be closer to your 15 seconds of fame, and you could use those seconds to share one message with the world, what would you say? What do you think humankind needs to hear the most?”

Given a 15-second global microphone, Bishop Charleston would say: “do not give in to fear. I think fear is at the root, the deep root, of what is driving our battered world. If we can diminish fear, we can increase hope.”

I think the bishop is on to something.

The biblical witness offers God’s words to “not be afraid” in many places (Psalm 27:1 and Isaiah 12:2 are two examples among many); Jesus spent a lot of time asking his disciples to have faith and not be afraid (Matthew 10:31 and Luke 12:32 are two beautiful passages).

We have a lot to be afraid of, don’t we?

A pandemic that just won’t calm down; escalating climate change; a deeply divided nation; denominational and congregational change; change with a capital “C,” period.
So many cultural forces pander to our fears, making us feel unprepared or ashamed (or both) if we don’t hedge against the worst, building fortresses to try to keep the thing we’re afraid of out, or at least at bay.
But there’s this thing about fear.

When we are really afraid, we retract, coil up, tighten.

Fear can literally restrict our breathing.

When we give in to fear, it compromises our faith and our ability to trust that God’s got this.
Through the power of the Spirit, we can handle anything the world throws at us.

We may not like what the world is throwing at us, but the Holy Spirit helps us to stand firm, breathing the God-given free air of grace and abundance.
Trusting in God’s presence doesn’t mean that we won’t suffer; the witness of God-in-Christ tells us we will indeed suffer.

But in the midst of hardship and suffering, God is with us, providing a way through the sea, a way through the fire, a way through the desert.

Surely it is God who saves me;
I will trust, and not be afraid.
For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense,
And he will be my savior.
Isaiah 12:2 RSV

My friends, God is with us in this very moment, and in each and every moment.
So wear your mask, and take care of our children and vulnerable adults by doing so.

God is with us.