Finding Joy

I come from a long line of negative women. I love my mom, but she tended to be very pessimistic. She came by it honestly because my grandmother was also. It’s not that any of us had a really bad lot in life, but that was just ingrained in us. Who knows how far back it went in our family. Fast forward several years ago, when a friend was diagnosed with breast cancer at a young age and as I prayed for her I said, “What a waste of a beautiful life it will be if she dies this young.” And the Lord replied: “No more a waste than if you live for 100 years with a bitter, miserable heart.”

That was like a glass of cold water in my face. I had to make a change, but I wasn’t sure I could do this. To be honest, being miserable became a comfortable, known place. But God started gently through my best friend who began to rain down “Joy” on me. She gave me coffee cups, kitchen towels, figurines, photos, whatever she could find with those three letters emblazoned on them. She said, “I’m going to make you Joyful whether you like it or not.”  Then the Spirit began to direct me to Joyful verses in His Word:

“You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with Joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:11).

“You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with Joy” (Psalm 30:11).

“The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of Joy” (Psalm 65:8).

“This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).

Then He pulled out the big guns and send a beautiful little girl into my life named Joy.  She calls me Nana and she lives up to her name. Not that my Joy is in her, but she is a constant reminder that “The Joy of the Lord is [my] strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).

I don’t know your life or what traits were passed on to you, but I know that in Christ, you can be a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). The Lord can set new patterns in your mind and heart and give you Joy, hope, and peace. If you’re tired of negativity and misery, today can be the start of a new attitude. Come, Beloved, find your Joy in the Lord.

The Never-Get-Out-of-Debt Payment Plan

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The American economy seems to run on spending more than we earn. The average credit card debt per household in the U.S. is $5,700 – $9,333 with a total outstanding U.S. consumer debt of $4 trillion. Being in debt is one of the most discouraging struggles. I know this struggle well as we have been under the self-made burden of financial debt. The Bible has a great deal to say about financial stewardship, but even more about relational stewardship. The apostle Paul says that we should only have one debt on our balance sheet: “Let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt to love one another” (Romans 13:8).

Financial advisors can help you devise a plan to pay off your credit debt, but the Bible says that love for one another is a “continuing debt,” that can never be finished. It is a life-long obligation. Love is more than a “warm fuzzy feeling,” love is a choice we make every day. 1 Corinthians 13 offers us a practical example of choosing to love. You may be very familiar with it, but I want to challenge you to read this passage a little differently. Instead of the word “love,” put your own name in the verse and read it aloud:

_______________ is patient, _____________ is kind. ____________ does not envy, ______________does not boast, _______________ is not proud. ______________ is not rude, ______________ is not self-seeking, _______________ is not easily angered. ______________ keeps no record of wrongs. ______________ does not delight in evil, but ______________ rejoices with the truth. _____________ always protects, _______________ always trusts, _____________ always hopes, _______________ always perseveres (v. 4-7).

So how did you do? I don’t know about you but I started to get uncomfortable early in.

Love, as Paul outlined it in these verses, doesn’t require any money, but it is costly. It will cost you time and attention and patience and ego, but it brings amazing dividends. Every day you and I have the opportunity to share the love of God in this world. When we are patient, kind, humble, considerate, forgiving, honest, and compassionate we are making installments on our never-ending debt of love. Beloved, what would your home, workplace, church, and community look like if you followed the Bible’s payment plan?

Can’t I Just Get Some Rest?

I’m not very spiritual or eloquent this morning. What I am is tired. Joy had oral surgery this week and we have been taking care of her for the past couple of days. I say taking care of her, but really we’ve been keeping up with her. She has been going wide open since the second day. Plus, I have a Bible study lesson to prepare and teach today. Laundry needs to get done. Floors need mopping. And there is always that 2-year-old ball of sweetness and fire that wants Nana’s attention.

What I want to do is follow Jesus’ advice to His disciples to “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31). Rest is important. It was modeled for us by God Himself in the creation week when He rested on the seventh day (Genesis 2:2). Yes, rest would be so nice. Let me just sit with Jesus in a quiet place as the disciples did. Or did they?

Let’s look a little farther into this story. “But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them” (v. 33). What happened to their solitary, quiet place alone with Jesus? What happened to their day of rest? It got swallowed up by needy people. “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (v. 34).

I want to talk to those of you who are tired. I’d love for this story to say that Jesus sent the crowd away so His disciples could rest. But it doesn’t. He taught them and then He fed them. More than five thousand of them. And the disciples were right there helping Him. Then Jesus sent them off in a boat and into a storm. When they got to the other side of the lake, more people were waiting. Oh, how I relate! But He showed up for all of them. The needy people and the disciples. And He will show up for you and me. Weary, beloved servant, Jesus knows. He cares. And He is with you.

Before I could finish this post, Joy woke up and came running into my study. Laundry and floors can wait. My girl needs morning snuggles. Jesus knows.

Be Silent

When I was in first grade I was put in the corner multiple times for talking. I have not outgrown that need to express myself. But I am learning about the power of God in silence. And it’s a very challenging lesson.  There is someone dear in my life who is making some very poor decisions and I have a LOT I want to say to him. But God has urged me to silence.

The lesson is rooted in the story of Joshua and the battle of Jericho (admit it – you started singing in your head didn’t you?) When Moses died, Joshua took over the leadership of the nation of Israel. He was well-suited for the next phase in their journey for they were facing a lot of warfare to take over possession of the Promised Land. Joshua was leading the people in the direction of Jericho when the “Commander of the army of the Lord” came to him with the strangest battle plan in history. But he followed it to a T. For six days the entire nation walked silently outside the walls of the city as the priests blew the trumpets. I would have shaken my fist and shouted to the people on the other side of that wall, “You’re going down! God is going to give us the city! You don’t stand a chance!” But that was not the plan. Words were nowhere near as intimidating as the sound of trumpets and shuffling feet.

God is telling me, “I know how frustrated you are. I know you have wise words you think will straighten him out, but he will never hear me with you running your mouth at him. Be silent.” Argh!  But, of course, He’s right. So like Joshua and the people of Israel, I am going to Stand Still (that’s a great song by the Issacs) and pray and watch. You know the rest of Joshua’s story. On the seventh day, the people marched and then the command was given to SHOUT – and the walls came tumbling down. I suspect I’m not the only person dealing with a stubborn stone wall. All your advice and – let’s be honest – nagging have has fallen on deaf ears. So Beloved, be silent. Stand Still. Let God do the work. And the talking

All in the Family

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In John 17 Jesus made a request of His Father: “My prayer is . . . that all of them would be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so the world will believe you have sent me” (vv. 20-21).  It made me think of the sweet season of ministry my family had with college students in Tallahassee. Through our church, we “adopted” a young man away from home as our “watch-care son,” who became our son. He had a key to our house so he could do laundry while we were at work. He was at our table several days a week. I sewed patches onto his National Guard uniforms. I took homemade chili to him when he was sick. We hosted birthday parties, bonfires, and Thanksgiving dinners and He and His Dad spent Christmas with us one year. It was not unusual for him to crash on my couch. I talked him through break-ups and prayed him through the loss of his grandmother. I made many airport runs. He called us Mom and Dad and my son called him brother. When he got married, we were in his family pictures. It was a sweet relationship that continued long after he graduated from FSU. He didn’t just hang out with our family, he was family.

And he brought other friends into our family. Many, many students had their feet under our table and we often sat together around the Word. It was not unusual to be in Wal-Mart and hear a thick Chinese accent call out “Mom Beth! Mom Beth!” We still stay in contact with many of those students who call us their “second family.”

I think that is a small picture of the relationship Jesus prayed for. That we would not just hang out with the Father, Son, and Spirit, but that we would be part of the Triune family, with our feet under God’s table, crashing on His couch, crying on His shoulder, and bringing our friends home with us.  I can’t wait for that family reunion! Beloved, will you be in the family portrait?

Are You the Kind of People God Uses?

 

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I live in the south where heritage is a big deal. I recall often hearing my grandmother and aunts talking about someone new to the community and asking “Who are their people?” They wanted to know if the new comers came from a family with a good reputation (and money of course). In the first century, during Jesus’ day, one’s family lineage was everything. Only men from the line of Levi could serve in the temple, and the royal heritage was reserved only for those descended from Judah, and from David to be specific. That is why the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew (1:1-17) is so surprising. Jesus’ family heritage was anything but stellar. Matthew records at least three liars, two adulterers, a thief, a cheat, a murder, a womanizer, an idolater, a woman who was from a despised race, a prostitute, a man who impregnated his daughter-in-law and a host of foolish people. God chose this family of dysfunctional human beings to be the earthly lineage of His Son.
Aren’t you glad to know that God isn’t looking for perfect people? He’s looking for people with a messed-up past to bring the power and beauty of His Son into the world. He’s looking for people like you and me with scars that tell others our stories of redemption. He’s looking for the most unlikely people to show off His majesty and glory. Beloved, if you have a past – or even a present – that is filled with mistakes and regrets, you are just the person God is looking for. If He could turn all my ashes into beauty, imagine what He can do through you.

Are You Part of the Family of God?

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“We are all brothers and sisters and children of God.” Have you heard that lately? In this day of rage and offense and social upheaval, the idea of one big happy human family under the same “Higher Power” sounds good. There’s just one problem. It’s not true. The mere fact of being human does not qualify us as children of God. It means that we are all God’s creation. But the relationship is very different between creation and Creator and child and Father.

The Bible makes clear those who are the children of God:

“To all who received Him [Jesus Christ], to those who believe in His name, He gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).

“You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, (Galatians 3:26).

Children of God are those who have received Christ as their Lord and Savior. Period. End of debate. Does that mean that God doesn’t love all people? Absolutely not. Remember John 3:16? “For God so loved the world . . .” that means all people. All people are loved by God, but only those in Christ are the beloved of God.

Thus, to say that we are all “brothers” is also not true. Now before you write me off hear me out: All humans bear the image of God. That in itself should be enough to cause us to love and respect all people and work for the good of one another. But that doesn’t make us “brothers.” We don’t like to think in terms of “us” and “them” but the Bible makes the distinction clear.

The Bible also tells us how to recognize a “child of God”: “This is now we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10). Did you catch the fact that there are only two “fathers”: God or the devil. Those are His words, not mine. Unlike natural families, you and I choose our father.

I know, you prefer to hear something warm and fuzzy. But people are going to face judgment with a false security that being human gives them an “in” with God. Warm and fuzzy isn’t getting the truth across. There is only one way to be a child of God – faith in Jesus Christ His Son. That makes you Jesus’ brother or sister. And mine. I want you to be part of the family.

Welcome to the Family

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I was never popular in school. I had a weird name, I was tall, clumsy, and awkward. I wore hand-me-downs and homemade clothes and every school picture looked like I didn’t own a hairbrush. I wasn’t one of the smart kids and wasn’t part of the “in” crowd. Oh, but I wanted to be. I wanted so much to be accepted by the pretty girls who dressed in the latest fashions and carried themselves with an air of confidence I could never master. That carried over into my adult life. I always felt that, wherever I was, I didn’t belong.

But God says I do belong. With Him. Paul wrote, “You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household” (Ephesians 2:19). No, it’s not because I’m less awkward or because I dress better or finally found a hairbrush. It’s because of Jesus. Jesus made me acceptable to God. He made me part of the family. He died to cover all my sins and to take away my shame. Because of Jesus, I’m part of the “in” crowd – because I’m in Him. But it’s not a popularity contest. In God’s Kingdom, everyone is the same – rescued, redeemed, restored and joined together as one holy dwelling place for the Lord (2:21).

My friend, God’s hand is stretched out to you too, to welcome you into the family, to be “in,” and to never be rejected again. It doesn’t matter what you wear or where you live or work or whether your hair is neatly brushed. It doesn’t matter if you never finished school or if you have a string of letters after your name. It doesn’t matter if you made all the right choices in life (like anyone has) or if you made every mistake possible. It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, live in a mansion or a tent, come from the right family or the wrong side of the tracks. God says to you “Come.” Take Him up on His offer. There’s more than enough room at the family table for you. You can sit next to me.

Peace Between You and Me

“When you enter a house, first say ‘Peace to this house.’” Luke 10:5

The promise of peace came to us, wrapped in rough cloths and laid in a humble manger.  This Baby was God in human flesh, and He is our hope and our peace.  As we’ve considered this Advent week of peace, we have focused on peace with God, peace in times of fear and peace in the face of the frustrations of life.  One major cause of frustration is – well – the people in our life.  How can we have peace in our human relationships?  Let’s see what God’s Word has to say.

God made you and me as very different people.  We all have our own opinions, tastes, preferences and ideas.  Yet God calls us to live together in peace.  Sometimes relationships become strained and feelings are hurt.  Yet God calls us to live together in peace.  What is important to me may not be as important to someone else in my family.  Yet God calls us to live together in peace.

Paul gave some very good advice about living in peaceful relationships.  He said to “honor one another above yourselves” (Rom. 12:10).  “Do not be proud” (v. 16).  ”Bear with the failings of the weak” (Rom. 15:1). “Comfort those in trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Cor. 1:4).  “[Speak] only want is helpful for building others up according to their needs” (Eph. 4:29).  And most especially “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph. 4:32). This is how we “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” (Col. 3:15).   Paul issued this important perspective: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everybody” (Rom. 12:18) Hebrews 12:14 makes it even more personal: “Make every effort to live in peace with all men.” That certainly brings it right to my doorstep.  I am to make peace with others a priority, to pursue peace and keep a humble attitude toward others.

Jesus prayed that His followers would have a spirit of unity.  This comes when we are, first at peace with God, and them at peace with our fellow Christians.  No doubt we will have differences of opinion.  Baskin Robbins doesn’t feature 31 flavors of ice cream because everyone likes chocolate.  God made us all unique, with different passions and gifts and quirks.  But we all share one very important thing: we are all made in the image of God, and that is the place to begin building peace with one another.

Holy Father, I choose to live in peace with others, my family, my friends, my co-workers and the stranger you will send my way today.  Help me to put peace with others at the top of my “To-Do List” today.  Amen.