Anticipation

My granddaughter is going to be a daredevil. (Nah – she’s too sweet –maybe a dare-angel 😊) We have a game she loves. I’ll say “Are you ready?” then I count. “One” and she smiles. “Two” and she begins to giggle.” “THREE!” and I’ll twirl her around, or drop her just a bit (with my arms firmly around her) or toss her a few inches in the air. She squeals with delight! Yesterday we did that for a half-hour as she sat in her swing on the back porch. Always the same routine. “Are you ready?” “One.” Give the swing a jiggle. “Two.” Pull the swing closer “THREE!” Give the swing a big push. Cue the laughter and smiles. I love it as much as she does, because of her sense of anticipation. She knows that when Nana starts the countdown, fun will ensue.

What do you do when life hands you a challenge? When your world gets turned upside down? When you feel like you’re in the spin cycle of a washing machine? Friend, I’m there, and I suspect you are too. The thought occurred to me as I played with Joy-Joy – what if God is giving the countdown? What if He’s about to do something that will bring delight to our lives? Isaiah 43:19 says: “Behold, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” If only we could hear Him saying, “Are you ready?” “One.” “Two.” Would we hold our breath in anticipation? Would we smile? Would we look around with expectation?

I’ve been around the block enough times with God to recognize a pattern of sorts like my granddaughter recognizes the countdown. Something comes along that interrupts my life. Usually something hard. Then He uses that situation in ways I would never imagine to accomplish extraordinary things. I’m in the midst of one of those hard situations now. I have a choice. Will I sit in hopelessness or listen out for God’s voice?

Beloved, have you lost your sense of anticipation with God? Have you resigned yourself to hopelessness? May I encourage you to tilt your ear toward heaven and listen for the countdown? I think I hear Him – “Are you ready?”

But I Don’t Feel Forgiven

 

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Through many years of serving in women’s ministry, the most oft-repeated statement I hear is: “I just can’t forgive myself.” The weight of shame and the burden of past sins and failures seems to be the most popular accessory for Christian women today. What if I told you that you didn’t have to carry that over-stuffed bag around anymore? Sweet friend, if you have accepted Christ as your Savior, the Lord says: “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Hebrews 8:12). If God doesn’t remember your sins, why do you need to?

That fashionable bag of shame you are carrying is empty of all your sins. Oh, there is still a heavy weight there, but it is not your sin – it is stones of false guilt put there by the enemy – the accuser who wants you to feel the weight of a sin that no longer exists. But you say, “I don’t feel forgiven.” Here is where you are going to put faith in action.

I want you to grab 2 pens – one of them with red ink, and go to an empty page in the back of your Bible. One by one, take out those stones from the bag – yes, your sexual promiscuity, the abortion, the affair, the failed marriage, the crime you committed, the stupid thing you can’t believe you did – and write it down. Now beside every entry write in red ink “1 John 1:9.” This verse declares, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Confess it, thank God for His forgiveness and claim it as a truth, not just a feeling. Then when the enemy tries to throw that rock back in your bag, point to your written confirmation of freedom and own what Jesus did for you.

Here’s the bottom line my friend: you don’t have to forgive yourself. God has already forgiven you through Jesus’ sacrifice. There is nothing left to forgive. Now pick up your empty bag, fill it with the joy of freedom in Christ and claim the new life you have been given.

Why?

Reading in Acts 16 this morning where Paul and Silas are in prison for preaching the Gospel. There are a lot of why’s in this story. At the beginning of Acts 16, Paul wants to go to Asia, but God wouldn’t let them. Why? They were stripped, beaten, severely flogged, thrown in prison, and fastened in the stocks (vv. 22-24). Why? Despite it all, in the middle of the night, our boys “were praying and singing hymns to God. Why? But wait, it gets better. A violent earthquake shook the prison and “all the prison doors flew open and everyone’s chain came loose. But they all stayed. Everyone. Why?

Why did all this happen? So the jailer would see and believe in the power of God and so that he and his family would hear the gospel and be saved. I suspect a few prisoners also believed that night.

I take tremendous hope in this story because it tells me if God would go to such lengths to bring the man and his family to salvation, He will move mountains to save my loved one too. I have no doubt that when these new believers came up out of the baptismal waters, Paul and Silas realized all their suffering was worth it. God had directed every single thing to save this family.

Beloved, I know that you are suffering. I know that you are asking “Why?” I know it’s hard and painful. Believe me, I know, because I am there too. But I’m going to pray and praise God in the suffering because I believe He will use it to show His power. And He will break the chains that bind my loved one and throw open the prison door and set them free. It’s going to be worth it all one day. Suffering in God’s hands always – always – brings Joy. Just ask Paul and Silas. And Jesus.

Joy and Delight

Photo by Ashley Andrews

From the day they moved in with us, we have made it a point to sing to our granddaughter. Poppy makes up songs with her name. I sing hymns and songs from my childhood, like “This little light of mine,” “Jesus loves me,” and “Oh, little playmate, come out and play with me.” I sing them fast and silly when we’re playing and soft and slow when I’m trying to soothe her or rock her to sleep. We’re pretty sure she sings to us too when she oohs and aahs back. I guess you could say singing is our love-language with her.

Last night she was playing beside me, standing at my footstool when I looked at her, overwhelmed with love and started singing her favorite song – “I love you a bushel and a peck.” She lit up in the biggest grin, threw her head back laughing, and started jumping up and down. It blessed my heart so much to see her Joyful reaction. I sang it again and again, holding her sweet little hands while she jumped and laughed. Let me tell you – nothing this world can offer will ever compare.

It gave me a glimpse into one of my favorite verses, Zephaniah 3:17: “The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” Imagine this with me. You are doing life, going about your normal day – or maybe it’s not a “normal” day. Maybe it’s a hard, painful day, or a dull, colorless day. God looks at you and His heart swells with delight and He breaks out in a song – a song just for you. Maybe it’s a soft melody to “quiet you with His love,” or it may be a happy song of rejoicing. But it is inspired by the pleasure He finds in you. Yes, YOU! You are a delight to God, just as my granddaughter is a delight to me.

How should you respond? Just like Joy-Joy did – with a big grin and a holy laugh and yes, even a happy jump or two. Your delight in God delights Him. It’s a never-ending circle of mutual gladness. Maybe that’s the secret behind Psalm 37:4 – “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. When God is the desire of your heart Beloved, He will be your delight.

It’s Time to Put Christmas Away

 

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I’ll be taking down our Christmas tree today. Packing away the ornaments, wrapping them carefully so they won’t get broken and schlepping them back to the storage shed in the backyard. I’ll throw the tree on the burn pile and sweep up the pine needles and try to restore my home to its normal disorder. We also have to get the house ready for a mobile baby so she can roam safely to her little heart’s content. Christmas has to give way to everyday life.

But I’m not going to pack away the essentials of the holiday. I’m keeping out the hope and peace and faith and Joy and love. I liked focusing my mind each day on the good stuff, and I think you did too. I think we have to keep those things front and center every day in every season least we lose them – and lose our way. Do we need a refresher?

Hope – the confident expectation we have as we look for God, always considers His faithfulness, goodness, graciousness, and lovingkindness. Peace – the quiet assurance we have in God – is the fruit of hope– and it grows in the soil of faith – which is stepping out on His promises and knowing our feet will meet His hand. It blossoms into Joy – an unshakable sense of cheer even when there’s little to be jolly about, all of which find their strength in the love of God – the wide, long, high, deep and perfect love of God.

The calendar may say that Christmas is over, but your heart doesn’t have to surrender the experience of the holiday. Hold tightly to everything you received this Christmas Beloved – no, not the stuff that was under your tree – but the true expressions of the season. Hope. Peace. Faith. Joy. Love. You’re going to need them all year long.

The ABC’s of JOY

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“The Lord has done great things for us and we are filled with joy” (Psalm 126:3).

What great things has God done for you?  Have you thought about His “showers of blessings” lately?  When my heart becomes a little bit sour or I am sad and weary, I sit down with paper and pencil and go through my ABC’s.

AAir conditioning (I do live in the deep south). And Advent – that Jesus came and will come again.

B – The Bible – God’s Holy Word – my passion and calling. And The Baptist College of Florida where I’m blessed to work.

CCoffee (do I hear an Amen?).  And Christ my Savior. And fresh clean sheets on the bed.

DDonald, my sweet husband of 34 years. And deliverance from sin and death.

EEndurance – especially now that I’m in grad school. And elephants (Roll Tide!)

FFamily and Friends – the greatest treasures this side of heaven!

GGrace from God. And my granddaughter, Joy.

I won’t go through the whole alphabet, but I think you get my point.  One sure way to find joy when you’re running low is to “count your many blessings,”  because joy and gratitude are two sides of the same coin.

Maybe this year has been filled with heartache, grief, disappointment, or struggle.  These certainly make it difficult to be thankful and joyful.  Still, I have no doubt that somewhere between A and Z there are blessings you can grab onto to restore joy to your heart. If you woke up this morning, you already have at least one reason to be thankful and joyful.

The Bible continually calls us to remember and rejoice in God our Savior.  I invite you today to go back to school and practice your ABC’s.  Reflect on the great things that God has done for you and be filled with JOY!

God Bless Us Everyone!

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Ebenezer Scrooge was the quintessential Christmas grump. The light and fun of the season eluded him – or perhaps it’s more accurate to say he chased it off. He rejected every spark of happiness or celebration of the season and did his best to squash it for others. He was bitter, hard, greedy, and rude. Scrooge had no Christmas joy. What changed his attitude? When the Spirit of Christmas Future showed him the difference between the grief expressed at the death of Tiny Tim and the indifference at his own passing. Realizing that he would die a lonely death and no one would care, Scrooge determined to “honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”

In a culture that regards “the holidays” as big business, what does it mean to “honor” Christmas? Is it singing non-offensive festive songs? Is it toy drives and food collections? Or does it mean actually saying the word Christmas – and emphasizing the first six letters? Is it posting “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” on all our social media accounts?

I think, perhaps old Ebenezer got it right. For Scrooge, honoring Christmas meant opening his heart (and his purse strings) to joy. And it meant sharing that joy with everyone he met. After his change of heart, Scrooge, Dickins said, suddenly discovered that “everything could yield him pleasure”[1] He understood that real joy wasn’t just for a season – it lasted all year long and included everything and everyone around him.

Beloved, does your joy gets packed away with the Christmas decorations? Then your joy is in a holiday on a calendar, not in the One we celebrate. Real joy is rooted in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Real joy comes from knowing that your sins are forgiven and you have eternal life in heaven. That is joy that carries you all through the year and through the ups and downs of life. I’ve heard it said that Christians are the only ones who can truly celebrate Christmas because they know the joy of redemption. If Christmas is only a season of joy, then you need to find the reason for the season and know the joy of Christ “all the year.”

[1] http://www.authorama.com/a-christmas-carol-6.html

The Real Joy of Christmas

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Christmas isn’t always a Currier and Ives painting. Some Christmases are hard, saturated in grief, exhaustion, disappointment, loneliness, struggle, and family drama. I’ve had some of those Christmases – no doubt you’ve had them too. I remember Christmases when my Dad was stationed far away from us, the first Christmas after my Mom died, and Christmases with no tree and no presents because there were no funds. Those were sad holidays, but they were not joyless. I know – that sounds like a contradiction, but the joy of Christmas is not in trees and presents. And while they are (usually) a blessing and a delight at Christmas, our family is not the heart of our joy. Christmas Joy is not found in stores – you can’t even order it from Amazon. And I can guarantee you that it isn’t in “Christmas” themed movies or T.V. specials or over-produced “Christmas” songs.

The true joy of Christmas is the assurance of God’s faithfulness to redeem His people from their sins. That’s exactly what Matthew said in his gospel. The angel who appeared to Joseph said, “[Mary] will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). This baby wasn’t just born to be a king who would rule on a throne. He was born to be the sacrifice for the sins of the world. He was born to break the power of death. John said He came to bring light into our darkness (John 1:4-9). Joy at Christmas comes from understanding our desperate situation before God and then recognizing what He did for us. The truest expression of Christmas joy is not a party or a present – it’s worship. That’s how Mary saw it. She said “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior” (Luke 1:46). Christmas should be a holy celebration, a time when we put aside the tinsel and trappings and bow low before the Baby in the manger. It may never be as perfect as the picture on your Christmas cards, but Beloved, no matter your circumstances in this season, may your Christmas be full of real joy.

Christmas Joy!

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“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”  Luke 2:10-11 KJV

Joy is synonymous with Christmas. It’s written on cards and ornaments and sung in our favorite Christmas carol, Joy to the World! It shines in the eyes of little children at the sight of Santa and the presents under the tree. Joy fills out hearts as we embrace loved ones and are reunited with far-away family. But is our joy merely in the lights and gifts and celebrations at this time of year?  Do we truly understand the reason for the joy of the Christmas season?

The angels brought the good news of the birth of Jesus with a proclamation of joy, because God had fulfilled a promise to which the Jews had looked for centuries, the promise of the Messiah who would rule in righteousness and justice, who would save His people and restore to them all that God had given to them.  And they were right about the coming Messiah – yet they were also wrong.  The Jews expected a Messiah who would break the enemy’s rule and restore Jerusalem back to its former glory in the days of David and Solomon. But the true enemy of the Jews was the same enemy you and I have today.  Our own sinfulness. Sin is what kept the Jews in bondage, and it is what keeps men in bondage today.   The Messiah of God did not come to break the back of an enemy nation, but to break the bonds of sin that keep mankind imprisoned.  And that is the true joy of Christmas.

Beloved, don’t let your Christmas joy stop at the tree.  Look beyond the tinsel and wrappings and see the Messiah in the manger, the Savior on the Cross and the Risen Christ who has come to set you free.  JOY to the world, indeed!

The Secret to JOY

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“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor like yourself.’”  Matthew 22:37-39

 

What is the secret to having joy?  The answer is in the word itself.

JJesus

OOthers

YYourself

It is the perfect accompaniment to Matthew 22:37-39 and it is the truest path to real joy.

To love God is the highest joy we can have.  To love Him with all your heart and soul and mind is to love Him with your entire being.  The heart—kardia—is the seat of emotional thinking, it is the place from which our truest self emanates.  When the Bible expresses the character of a person it describes the condition of his heart: “His heart was righteous; His heart was evil.”  The mind—duaboia—is the seat of conscious thinking, where we process information, establish our understanding, and, most telling of all—make choices.  When we say “My heart is set on” a certain thing, what we are really saying is “I’ve made a choice and directed my heart toward this thing.”  The mind and heart are interconnected.  When we talk about our soul—our psyche—we are speaking of the part of us that is immaterial and eternal – the part that God placed in us when He made us in His image.  Interestingly, the root word for soul is psycho, which means to grow cold.  A healthy psyche is a soul that burns with a passionate love for God.

As we love God in this all-consuming way, we cannot help but love others.  Such love overflows from our hearts and touches others around us, our families, coworkers, friends – even total strangers can be touched by the love that springs from a heart in love with God.  You won’t have to force yourself to love them, it is a natural response when God is the greatest love of your life.

The Lord doesn’t want you to neglect love for yourself.  God loves you, that’s reason enough to love and care for yourself.  Be kind to the one that Jesus loves.  Be kind to you.

Joy is not hard to find, it is as simple as loving—Jesus—Others—and Yourself.