All posts by Stephen Rountree

Last Leaves

Magnificent palette

The leaves may have mostly fallen and we’re well into winter, but Patti’s latest work, Last Leaves with it’s warm, comforting colors and gentle, quiet presence, ushers us into the days of autumn. Her wood burned and hand-painted gourd imagines the last oak leaves clinging to their stems.

They’ve worked all spring and summer to provide so much for so many.
Designed to convert sunlight into food, they’ve spent their entire lives harvesting light and feeding their tree. They’ve offered shelter and camouflage to countless insects and animals. Some of the leaves have met an early end as they’ve become food for a few of those hungry creatures.
Without reservation, the leaves spread out, creating welcome shade for anyone or anything that happens to rest beneath them. And when the summer breeze blows, they fill the yards and woods with their soothing, whooshing chorus.

Giving their all

Then, as the days shorten and the nights grow longer—and cooler, and the sun rises ever lower on the autumn horizon, the leaves prepare to bid farewell. But not before giving one last beautiful gift — their greatest display of all—their autumn colors. For a few stunning days we marvel at the deep reds, bright oranges, and vibrant yellows. And then brown. As far as the eye can see. They’re tired now. They’ve given everything. They’re ready to go. So one by one, they slip away, drifting to the ground.

Beautiful, melancholy autumn

Autumn can be a melancholy season, in a year and in life. But Last Leaves reminds us that there’s hope for the future as well as an appreciation for what’s about to pass. Tucked away between the leaves, Patti has drawn small acorns. As one leaf completes its life and work, as one tree marks another year, new life springs from old and the cycle continues just as intended.

In Genesis 8, God speaks to Noah after the flood, assuring him that He’ll never again flood the earth or curse the ground because of man. He says in verse 22, “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” Last Leaves is a beautiful reminder of the seasons of life, and of the magnificent, loving Creator who gives every good gift to His creation.

A little backstory

The name of this piece is inspired by a classic short story by the nineteenth-century American writer, William Sydney Porter, better known by his pen name, O. Henry. You can read The Last Leaf, a story about giving your all, here.

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More takeaways from nature…

I’m always inspired by God’s creation. You can read another lesson I’ve learned from leaves here.

Crying rocks

Our raison d’être

Artists, crafters, writers, and appreciators of the arts know that nothing is created without some purpose. The purpose may seem insignificant, but it’s there, as a thing’s reason for existence.

Our Presbyterian friends, among others, are familiar with the Westminster Shorter Catechism, a series of questions and answers that teach truths from the Scripture. The very first question is, “What is the chief end of man?” In other words, what’s our grand purpose—why are we here? The answer: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.”

That’s as good an answer to the question as I’ve heard. And it’s a good way to gauge how we’re doing with fulfilling that purpose. Because we’re created by God, made in His image, brought to life with His very breath, loved deeply by Him and blessed by Him in countless ways, we’re supposed to glorify God in everything we do. Even in the most mundane aspects of life, we’re called to glorify Him. 1 Corinthians 10:31: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

Not everyone’s into glorifying the Creator of everything

The earth and all creation are faithful to testify to the glory of God. Psalm 19:1-2: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.” But, sadly, in all of creation there are two kinds of creatures that refuse to give glory to God. The first is Satan and the other fallen angels, whom he led in rebellion against God. The second is mankind—you and me. We’re not exactly keeping great company there, are we?

But that brings me to the title of this post. In Luke 19, we find Jesus entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. The following Friday will see Him crucified and buried. As Jesus enters Jerusalem, riding a donkey colt, the crowds are ecstatic.

Luke 19:37 picks up the account: “As He was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of His disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of The Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’ And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.'”

One woman’s creative way to glorify God

A good friend of mine lost her mother nearly two years ago. Her mother, Betty Wood, collected souvenir rocks from wherever she and her husband traveled.

Besides being a rock collector, Mrs. Wood believed passionately in her reason for being, to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. So she put her collection to use in encouraging others to glorify God. She wrote “Luke 19:40” on one side of her rocks and on the other side, she imagined a quote from the rock—”If you won’t praise Him I will!”—inspired by that verse. Mrs. Wood gave the rocks to many people over the years, including the ladies in her Sunday School class at Liberty Baptist Church in Hampton, Virginia.

Betty Wood’s inspiration lives on

It’s impossible to say how many folks have one of those special rocks on a shelf somewhere or how many have been inspired to find new, creative ways to glorify God after seeing those stones. Betty Wood inspires me to ask myself, “How am I doing with my grand purpose? Am I using my gifts, and whatever God has given me, to glorify Him? Or am I too often content to let a rock do my job for me?”

THE ORIGINALS
Betty Wood’s rocks carry her legacy of glorifying God to new generations. Photos courtesy of her daughter, Joy DeNoon

A rocky chorus

A crowd of rocks cries out to glorify God. Most of them have found homes with my friends at Mattaponi Baptist Church, where I was privileged to speak on a recent Sunday.

Check out the Inspiring Handmade shop for original art & craft that helps you praise God and enjoy your own Philippians 4:8 moments

The season of love

If Bible chapters were months of the year, 1 Corinthians chapter 13 would be February. It’s often called the “love” chapter, and for good reason, as you see here.

In the middle of the chapter is the apostle Paul’s elegant description of true love, where he writes the familiar words, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

Countless weddings make use of these words, which is a little ironic considering Paul never married. But the “love” chapter is not about romantic love anyway, or even the ideal committed selfless love between a husband and wife, as wonderful as that is. When you read all 13 verses, you realize that Paul is going much deeper.

It’s all for nothing without love

The first few verses challenge people of faith to examine ourselves, asking, “do we have a genuine love for others?” Paul says that we can be very religious, even have great faith, but if we lack love, then we are nothing. Something tells me those verses might not make it onto a Valentine’s Day cross stitch.

Jesus delivered an even weightier version on that message in John 13:34-35, saying, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Not only are we commanded to love others, but our expressions of love will be evidence that we are following Christ.

Love will be the last thing standing

In the last verses of 1 Corinthians, Paul writes, “Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

Paul seems to explain that some aspects of what we know or practice as part of our expressions of faith today will one day pass away. And on that day, we’ll be face to face with our Creator, who loved us so much that He sent His Son to die for us so that we wouldn’t have to bear the blame and the punishment for rebelling against Him.

That’s the simple, yet powerful expression of a loving God to His creation. And like a child, we understand just a little bit of it now, in this world. But if we’ll accept His gift of love by trusting in Christ, on the day we meet Him, He’ll welcome us with open arms and in that amazing moment, we’ll finally understand complete love.

Famous last words

Paul concludes the chapter with these famous words, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

Faith and hope are absolutely important, especially in this life, but there’s nothing greater than love. Not romantic love, but the love that comes from God through Jesus Christ. That’s the greatest love—the greatest power—in all creation.

New work from the studio for Valentine’s Day

As I was thinking about this passage and looking toward Valentine’s Day in a couple of weeks (helpful hint: it’s Friday the 14th this year!), I decided to create new version of a sculpture I designed a few years ago.

Called One Heart, it’s a picture of what God does with a man and a woman when they join in marriage. “Faith” and “Hope,” an integral part of any marriage, are hand-stamped onto the salvaged wood sculpture, but on the heart, higher and lifted up is “Love,” as God unites their hearts as one together and with Himself. See more of One Heart in the shop.

Fire in the jungle

This week, Patti is introducing a new piece in the Inspiring Handmade shop called Fire in the Jungle. It’s a work full of energy, conflict, passion, and respite—a little bit like life. The name of the piece reflects the tension inherent in its bold colors fighting for your attention.

A fire in a jungle evokes imagery of devastation amongst lush green vegetation—death and destruction encroaching on areas teeming with life, but kept at bay, maybe, by a river or a stream, or a drenching afternoon rain. Such a scene would be a confusing mashup of hope and hopelessness.

Our lives are full of these elements, aren’t they? Pain, refreshment, loss, restoration, difficulty, rest. Taken on their own, they might not make much sense. But in the hands of the Master, they can be blended together to create a work of art—a life—that speaks encouragement and beauty into the world around it.

1 Peter 1:7 tells us that “we have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

A cold winter’s sky

One of my favorite things about winter is the clear night sky. While it’s more comfortable temperature-wise to skywatch in the summer, the winter sky seems clearer and sharper. Colder air is often less hazy, so it feels like I can see farther into the depths of space. And there are no bugs.

The next time you’re outside on a crisp winter’s evening, turn your gaze skyward fo a minute or two and consider that, while some of those tiny points of light are single stars, like our sun, some are many times larger than our sun and some are not even stars at all, but are entire galaxies, appearing to our eyes as a single speck of light.

From my own back yard…

Just tonight, as I looked out toward the south, I saw Orion. The distinctive 3-star belt makes the hunter one of the easiest constellations to spot.

The main figure of Orion is a large rectangle comprising four bright stars, including two of the brightest stars in the sky: Betelgeuse marks the hunter’s upper left shoulder, while Rigel anchors the lower right, representing his right knee.

A set of 1825 astronomy cards published in London c. 1825 featured a hand-colored etching of Orion the hunter.

Betelgeuse (pronounced, “Beetle-juice”) is a red supergiant. The star is more than 850 million miles across—that’s about 1,000 times wider than our sun. If you were to replace our sun with Betelgeuse, the red star’s surface would engulf the planets Mercury, Venus, Earth, and extend out even past the orbit of Mars.

Scientists speculate that earlier in its life, this stellar supergiant devoured a neighboring star about the size of our sun. Now, astronomers believe Betelgeuse will soon die in a supernova explosion.

Cosmic drama

That’s a lot of drama going on just in the left shoulder of Orion. Imagine what’s happening at this moment in every other corner of the universe.

I guess that’s why I really love the winter sky—it reminds me of the magnificently powerful God who created it. I’ve been drawn before to Psalm 19 in my work. This week, I returned to it to create the piece you see at the top of this post.

It opens with these two expansive verses:

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.”

It’s good to remember to look up every now and then. It helps put our trials, triumphs, and ourselves in perspective. If all of that cosmic drama is unfolding at one little red spot in the sky, surely we, along with the cosmos, were created by a being of unimaginable power.

The writer of Psalm 19 thought so. And he knew he was accountable to his Creator, so he closed that Psalm with this request and praise, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”

A good prayer anytime, and certainly on a cold, clear winter’s night.

Photo by Rogelio Bernal Andreo, October 2010. The Orion constellation and surrounding nebulas of the Orion Molecular Cloud complex. Also shown is the red supergiant Betelgeuse (top left) and the famous belt of Orion composed of the OB stars Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka. To the bottom right can be found the star Rigel. The red crescent shape is Barnard’s Loop.

A Psalm 19 Night is now available in the shop.

What’s your whale?

In the familiar account of Jonah in The Bible, we read that God assigned Jonah the unenviable task of traveling to Ninevah (modern-day Mosul in Iraq), to tell the Assyrians that they were about to be judged and obliterated by God unless they repented and turned from their wicked ways. Instead of obeying God and delivering the unpopular message to a vicious nation that many historians say was among the first superpowers of the ancient world, Jonah likely saw his assignment as a suicide mission. So he ran.

That decision wound him up in the belly of the “great fish” and then Jonah himself had to repent and realign himself with God.

Fast Foward

We all make bad decisions like Jonah at some point. A good friend of mine says “good judgment comes from experience … which usually comes from bad judgment.” But experience alone isn’t the ultimate teacher. Proverbs 2:6 says, “For the LORD gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding.”
Our bad decisions probably won’t land us in the belly of an actual whale like Jonah, but they can entrap us just the same.

So, what’s your whale?

Do you feel trapped today—stuck in the belly of something? What’s your whale? Maybe it’s grief. Or self. It could be some form of addiction, or anger, or pride. It doesn’t really matter what it is. What matters is whether we want to get out and how we escape.

Once Jonah realized where he was, his response was to pray to God. He went straight to the source of wisdom and God heard him and answered him. As a result, he was released from his whale and was given a second chance to do what God wanted him to.

Available in the shop

I’ve explored the idea of Jonah through a sculpture that’s now available in the shop. Called simply Jonah, the salvaged wood sculpture is painted in acrylics and hand stamped with the text of Jonah 2:1-2. It reminds me that no matter how dire my situation, I can always turn to God, call out for help and He will hear me.

And as long as we’re on the subject of whales…

“No, you two go on and have fun. I’d just be a third whale.”

A new song

New Song sculpture by Stephen Rountree

A new year. A new decade.

100 years ago, our nation was entering what became known as the “Roaring Twenties.” It was a time of economic and cultural growth and prosperity.

As we ease into the 2020s, I’m wondering if these will be the “Roaring Twenties” for me creatively and spiritually. Will I see new growth in those areas of my life this year? I’d like to. Maybe you would, too.

A vision for 2020

Lately, I’ve been meditating on Psalm 96. It’s short—just 13 verses—but it’s packed with big ideas that make it worth dwelling on in these early days of the new year. I’m using it as a guide for my goals—my vision—for the year, maybe the rest of my life. Depending on how you might count them, there are around seven calls to specific actions in this Psalm.

• Sing a new song to the Lord
• Bless His name
• Tell others about His salvation
• Give God the credit He is due and tell others about His glory and marvelous works
• Praise the Lord and rejoice because of the Lord
• Fear the Lord (as in holding Him in proper reverence and awe)
• Worship the Lord with all your heart in reverence

You can read Psalm 96 for yourself here.

Inspired to create

This Psalm has inspired the first sculpture of 2020, which I’m calling New Song.

This piece is created from salvaged oak barn wood from a circa 1905 barn in Southwest Virginia. You can see the barn and read more about that here.

I’ve taken one of the old oak planks, cleaned it up, and cut off the parts I didn’t need. I sanded it, painted a landscape on it and hand-transferred the first verse of the Psalm onto it. It reads, “Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth!”

In essence, I’ve given this old piece of oak a new song. It was part of a barn for many years—more years than I’ve been alive. Then it was part of a pile of scrap wood, destined for a landfill or a fire.

But now it will have a new life as a piece of art that carries the words of God on it. Its new life will be totally different than its old one. The old oak wood will be in someone’s warm home instead of exposed to the harsh mountain weather. It will be appreciated on a deeper level than it was before. And it will be able to inspire thoughts about God and life in ways that it never could before.

That’s a lot like what God does with people. He finds us, remakes us, and gives us a new purpose—His purpose. Our new lives, which are possible because of Jesus Christ’s work in us, are infinitely more satisfying than what we could have imagined before. As Jesus Himself says in John 10:10, “… I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

Making it real

If I put into practice the calls of Psalm 96 this year, I believe this will be the start of the Roaring Twenties for both my creative and my spiritual life. So my goal is to offer God my creative projects (like this blog) in new ways this year—offering them for His purposes to share His works and His message. Exactly what that looks like, I can’t say at this point, but I want this year to be productive and full of praise for the ultimate Creator.

How about you? Would you like to start your own Roaring Twenties this year?

Why not join me in meditating on Psalm 96 this week and think about how you might put some of those calls into action. I’d love to hear your ideas! You can always reach me by email here. I’ll return to this topic in future posts to consider what some of the calls from Psalm 96 look like in practice. For instance, singing to the Lord sounds easy enough, but what does the “new song” refer to? How, exactly, do I give God the credit He’s due, or tell others about His marvelous works?

Stay tuned!

New Song is now in the Inspiring Handmade shop, ready to inspire in a new home.

New Song sculpture detail
Detail of New Song, by Stephen Rountree

Share your thoughts on Psalm 96. What would your year look like if you put some—or all—of those calls into action?

Walking on water in 2020?

Wood and wire sculpture

What do you want to do or become in 2020? For those who like to set goals, the new year inevitably brings with it the talk of resolutions. Some folks aim to lose weight, eat better, or get in shape. Others will strive to read more, or start—or finish—that book they want to write.

You’re reading Inspiring Handmade (thank you!), so perhaps you have a creative project in mind. Will 2020 be the year you try a new type of art? Or take what you’ve learned in the past to the next level? What could that look like? What will you create this year? What stories will you tell?

Chances are, if you play it safe, doing the very same things in the very same ways, you won’t meet your goals, create the art or stories you envision, or become what you want to be.

How can you stretch yourself this year? That’s a question I’ve been asking myself. I want this next year to be a productive one, especially in the area of creativity. I want to create new art, in new ways. I have new stories I want to tell through a variety of media. Maybe you can relate. This blog is all about being inspired through and for creativity—inspired to dwell on things that are good, excellent, and praiseworthy (see Philippians 4:8), inspired to create works that communicate those attributes, and inspired to surround ourselves and feed our minds and spirits with work that helps us focus on those things.

What we’re all pursuing is fulfillment, isn’t it? That’s what all the resolutions, goals, plans, and creative works are about if we boil it down.

The secret to fulfillment

And here’s the secret that’s become more clear to me over the years: We’re the most fulfilled when we’re fulfilling our created purpose. I believe that purpose is to glorify God and enjoy a relationship with Him forever.

With that big idea in place, a lot of other things start to make sense. We’re all created in the image of God, the master Creator. Is it any wonder that we also find joy in creating? My art is simply an extension of—and an avenue to fulfill—my purpose. Yours can be, too.

For me, then, it’s vital that I remain connected to my Creator. I can see a direct correlation between the time I spend in prayer and reading God’s Word and the volume and quality of my creative ideas and output. Quite simply, when I’m reading and meditating on the types of things described in Philippians 4:8, the ideas sometimes come in such a flood that I can’t capture them all.

But being in the presence of my Creator is risky. He loves me, but He’s also intent on changing me. I’ve shared about that in more detail in a previous post. It’s challenging and often uncomfortable. Part of me doesn’t like change. But that’s where the creativity comes from. The more closely I relate to my Creator, the more like Him I become and that certainly includes increased capacity for creativity.

A strange incident on a rough sea

The pastor and author, John Ortberg, entitled one of his books, “If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat.” The title is a reference to a passage found in the gospel of Matthew. Chapter 14:22-33 is a fascinating account of a strange event that occurs right after Jesus fed thousands of people with only five loaves of bread and two fish. After the crowd had eaten their fill, Jesus’ disciples collected 12 basketfuls of leftovers. Matthew continues his account this way, describing Jesus sending His disciples to the other side of the Sea of Galilee:

“Immediately He [Jesus] made the disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He dismissed the crowds. And after He had dismissed the crowds, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. When evening came, He was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, ‘It is a ghost!’ and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.’ And Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’ Jesus immediately reached out His hand and took hold of him, saying to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.'”

Dwelling on this passage inspired the last piece of art I’ve created in 2019, a work that casts an eye toward the new year. Pictured above, it’s called Water Walker, a sculpture in salvaged oak barn wood, hand-painted in acrylics, with wire, white pickling stain, and distressed, hand-transferred lettering.

Making it personal

There have been many lessons drawn from the account of Jesus helping Peter walk on the water. Personally, it challenges me to realize that if I really want to grow in any area of my life, I have to step out of my safe, comfortable place and old habits, and, most importantly, stay connected with and focused on my Creator.

When I do that, I find the creativity, the passion, the energy, and the fulfillment I’m looking for. I find myself walking on the water. How about you? Do you hear the invitation to step out of your boat in faith, trust, and expectation? What do you want to do in 2020 that might require stepping out of your boat?

Be inspired throughout 2020 and beyond

If you’d like more inspiration or would like to inspire someone special, Water Walker is waiting for you in the Inspiring Handmade shop. Give yourself—or someone else—the gift of original art to inspire new things in the new year.

Hand-painted wood and wire sculpture

Perfect love at Christmas

Christmas card cartoon

We’ve come to the final week of the Advent season. If you’ve missed the previous posts, you can check them out now. I’ve written about hope, peace, and joy in the past three weeks.

This last week focuses on love. I’m sharing one more cartoon from my Christmas card archives. The one shown above pokes a little fun at all the trouble we go to in the name of love for our friends and family. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, things just don’t work out as planned. And doesn’t that seem to be the case especially at Christmastime?

The best of intentions

We have the best of intentions of showing our loved ones how much we care. We’re going to get our cards out early. We’re going to find and buy that perfect gift and cook the perfect Christmas dinner. But sometimes—maybe it feels like most of the time— things happen to make it less than what we dreamed it would be.

But love isn’t about performing, buying, decorating, or any of those things—as good as they might be. Love is found simply in the offering.

The best of gifts

In the gospel of Luke, we read that the angels announced the good news of a Savior to shepherds out in the fields. It was God’s announcement of His gift—His offering of love to all mankind.

“And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:10-11).

It was the announcement that the world had been waiting for—the gift of life and love from the Creator and sustainer of life had arrived. Everything wasn’t perfect. Far from it. The first Christmas must have been a difficult, inconvenient experience for nearly everyone involved. But the tiny gift that was delivered that night changed the world for all time.

Today, when we allow true love to enter our lives, it changes everything. My hope for everyone reading this is that you will experience the true love of your Creator this season.

Thank you for reading these Advent posts and for visiting with us here at Inspiring Handmade. Merry Christmas!

sketch
Sketch to final art

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What would you give for true joy?

cartoon of a traveling snowman

This week is the third in the season of Advent. My last two posts have looked at the hope and peace of Advent. This week, the theme is joy and I’m sharing another Christmas card from my archives. I did this one in 2006, before there was TSA Precheck. If you travel by air at all, it’s a safe bet you don’t associate airport security with joy. But at least you don’t have to remove your eyes and nose. Yet.

When we think of that original Christmas journey made by Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem, we might think more about the hardships they faced—a young, pregnant woman making the 70-to-80-mile journey with her husband, a journey that could have taken four or five days.

Someone once suggested that the account of Mary and Joseph’s trip to Bethlehem just goes to show that traveling during the holidays has always been difficult! I think they might be onto something.

What does true joy cost?

But as I’ve been thinking about joy this week, it struck me that as difficult as their journey may have been, and as many comforts as they may have left behind, Mary and Joseph suffered all of it for the joy of not only becoming parents, but becoming parents of the promised Messiah.
It seems to me, that in every case in Scripture, when people decided to pursue true joy, that is, the joy of knowing Jesus Christ, they had to leave something behind.

A pattern emerges

We see the same truth revealed in the life of the disciples, don’t we? The disciples, Peter, Andrew, James, and John exchanged a lifelong career of fishing for food for the joy of fishing for men on behalf of Christ. The apostle and gospel writer, Matthew, exchanged the lucrative job of collecting tax money for the joy of collecting souls for Christ.
And the pattern repeats throughout Scripture, but there’s no better example of this than Jesus Himself.

As a member of the Trinity, God the Son was and is always in perfect union with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. They’re always in perfect harmony and to be with them must be a deliriously wonderful place to be. Yet God the Son left it all. Why? For joy. Hebrews 12:1-2 says: Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. There was joy in doing for His children what we could not do for ourselves.

Leaving heaven

Philippians 2:4-8 says it another way, “…Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Imagine leaving heaven, where you were constantly worshipped, to go to a place where you were constantly attacked, misunderstood, maligned, complained to, complained about, and ultimately tortured and executed in the most gruesome manner imaginable—all to rescue the very people who did all that to you.

And yet, that’s what our Savior did for us. He gave up all the majesty, glory, and comfort of heaven for the joy that was set before Him—the joy of rescuing us, His children from our slavery to sin and giving us a new, regenerated life in Himself.

What about us?

Today, He offers us that true joy of knowing Him and drawing true, everlasting life from Him. To accept that offer from Him, we’ll have to leave something behind. However, we don’t have to accept the offer. We can continue to cling to what we have, what we can do for ourselves—our own will and our own agenda. We can choose those things instead of joy if we want.

C.S. Lewis writes that there is always something some people insist on keeping, even at the price of misery. There is always something they prefer to joy.

So we can cling to whatever we would rather have instead of joy. Or we can relax our grip, and follow Jesus’ example and experience the true joy of belonging to Christ.

Back to that snowman…

The poor snowman in my illustration had to part, if only briefly, with some rather personal and important things. But he did it for the joy of getting to wherever snowmen fly during the holidays.

Have you ever thought about letting go of whatever you’ve been clinging to and reaching out to grasp true joy—the waiting hand of Christ, who loves you more than anyone else ever could? There’s no better season to do it than this one.

Feel free to get in touch using the box below if you want to talk about it. It would be my joy!

sketch for snowman card
Snowman traveler sketch