Pursuing Joy

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,-Hebrews 10:24, NIV.

So, I have a confession to make. This last year has been difficult and despite my best efforts at trying to see the glass half full, I can’t. It is really joy I am looking for right now. The past month has seen two family friends pass away that were pillars of my young life growing up. Somehow, when you lose those who helped to shape who you are, it shakes your world. It is like the foundation you counted on is no longer there.

So, I was very grateful and thankful to my son and his wife for gifting me with a new devotional book by Shaunti Feldhahn, Find Joy. It can be found Amazon, if you would like to buy it. To be honest it was on my Christmas wish list, so it was a book I wanted to read, but the timing for receiving the book was perfect. God’s timing.

Since we’re being honest here in this blog, this book is not what I had expected. It is not an easy quick fix, full of positive Bible verses to read, but really is an eye opener for me personally.

If you recall my last blog, I talked about the transforming power of the Holy Spirit to change us from the inside out. And that is still true, but sometimes we need another person to come alongside us with encouragement too. The Apostle Paul planted many churches and preached the Gospel many times to an unbelieving, Gentile world, but what we forget sometimes is that the letters he wrote were to believers that needed encouragement and direction. We all need that. It’s tough to go it alone on this faith journey. We need each other. I am so thankful for people like Shaunti Feldhahn for being an encourager of others.

The big thing I have learned so far from reading the book is that joy is present. It is not something we need to conjure up on our own, like psyching ourselves up. And it is not God who withholds joy from us, but it is our own issues that blocks the joy in our lives. I need to let go of any unforgiveness, to stop and be amazed by God, following God’s plan for my life instead of my own, and remembering all the good things God has done and brought me through on this journey. Like I said, it’s not memorizing some feel good Bible verses, but its about getting rid of the joy blockers. At least that is what I am getting out of this particular devotional book. I’ll let you know later after I have read more. I’m only a few pages in.

You might be having a difficult year this year too. Just know you are not alone. Life’s challenges hit us all, Christian and non- Christian alike, but as believers we can go to God and allow Him to speak to us from His Word, and from other Christians. And we can help others and encourage others from what we have gone through.

And maybe instead of pursuing joy, we learn to stop and listen to God. He might just reveal the things that we are allowing that block joy. Joy is not something out of reach, but is right where we need it to be, found in Him, alone. God Bless- Nancy

Inside Out

I remember one of my first jobs in my early twenties. I worked as a fashion merchandiser and stylist for a small chain of ladies fashion boutiques. I enjoyed most duties of the job, but I really enjoyed unpacking the boxes of new clothes and accessories. It was my responsibility to style the mannequins with these new arrivals and quite often it was my styling selections that caught the attention of shoppers. I enjoyed selecting items for the shoppers that made them look their best. Many times I would see them look at themselves in the mirror just outside the dressing rooms, looking quite pleased at the new selections. New clothes can often brighten someones day, when they look at themselves and see themselves in a new way. But, soon these new clothes would become old, worn and would be replaced. They would become too familiar and fail to bring the joy of newness they once held.

Recently, I was reminded of Paul’s admonition to the church at Ephesus to put off their old selves (Ephesians 4:22) The Ephesians had the inclination to return to their old ways (from before salvation) instead of continuing to grow in their faith. Paul wrote to them to keep them encouraged to follow their new selves and put off the old ways. It reminded me of those days of retail, replacing the old with new.

Many people believe trying something new will fix the feelings inside of them. The shoppers I styled felt that way, but just for a moment. The real change must come from the inside out, not the outside in. And most importantly, it does not come from our own efforts, but from the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

When we ask Jesus to be our Savior and Lord, the Holy Spirit comes to live within us, empowering us and transforming our lives from the inside out. At first, we might not notice any changes, for change can be slow. We need to get rooted and grounded in the Word of God and allow God to speak to us, changing us, convicting us and convincing us at other times. And also having encouragement from teachers like Paul to help us put off the old and to learn to grow into the new.

We might not always see this change in ourselves, it’s not like looking in a mirror at new clothes on the outside. But it is very apparent to others.

For me I first realized how others could see what I hadn’t yet after I had accepted Christ in eight grade. I remember someone (an upperclassman) noticing the change when I returned to school my Freshman year. They simply said “There’s something different about you.” I wasn’t quite sure what they were talking about, I’ll be honest; I wasn’t expecting to have anyone notice me and standing out in high school and be called different wasn’t exactly something I welcomed.

But, since that time, I have seen it in others; this amazing transformation that literally lights them up from the inside out. The Holy Spirit just can’t be contained! People are always trying to fix themselves and create the better version of themselves, much like constantly buying new outfits to change the outside. Quick fixes won’t change you, but God can! From the inside out. From hearts of stone to living hearts filled with the Holy Spirit. God Bless- Nancy

The Hand Print of God

It was a dubious, thankless job. But I was willing to do whatever was asked of me to help out. My job? To clean the interior of aircraft with a bucket of water and and magic eraser. This plane was a vintage 1940’s but had been repurposed to haul goods, people and mail to the poorest parts of the Caribbean, specifically the country of Haiti. In recent months Haiti has seen its share of disasters including a large earthquake. The plane I was set out to clean that day was awaiting a replacement engine, so it had been grounded for awhile. As I entered the darkened cabin, I surveyed the interior and began to sum up the task of cleaning the side walls, panels and ceiling. And then I noticed it… the small, child- sized hand print on one of the windows. It was silhouetted against the backdrop of the hangar. It sparked my interest as I contemplated how it got there and whose it might be. It was obvious that it had been a hand reaching out from the seat just below the window, pressing against it. Was it from a missionary family’s child? Was it from a Haitian child being airlifted to a hospital due to the earthquake?

I’ll probably never know the identity, but it spoke to me that day, and provide the incentive I needed for the humbling task ahead of me. It put a real dimension to the work I was helping with. The real human equation that connected me to others who had sat in those seats and with those who would be sitting on that plane when it took off again. Providing help and aid to those who need it in the places not so far from my own country. Close, but yet a definite world away. I thought of my own children sitting in those seats and how many finger prints and hand smudges I had cleaned on the windows of our minivan.

It also reminded me of how often we fail to see God at work. We see all the bad in the world and think, there is so much! What can I even begin to do to change this world? But every little bit we do helps and we must also remember that we do not do it alone. God empowers us through the Holy Spirit, encourages us in His word, and leads us through His wisdom to show up at the places where we are needed, even if that is to clean a plane on my day off. God is working. He has been working as we know; He sent Jesus. This world is still not ready for His return and in the mean time, there is so much we can do, but we need to realize that God is at work. Just like that hand print that gave proof, if you will, of the work the mission flights were doing, stop and look around you and look for God’s hand print in this world, in your own world, it’s there.

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. (Philippians 1:6 New Living Translation)

God Bless- Nancy

Death To Life

Doubting Thomas. Have you ever thought about how he would compare with you? It might seem like a strange topic for Christmas time, especially Christmas Eve, the day I’m writing this blog. But bear with with me for a moment. When we think of Christmas we mostly think about the cute little baby Jesus in the manger. And the cute nativity scene with the animals- sheep, cows, and camels. and the very peaceful baby sleeping in Mary’s arms. We don’t usually fast forward to Jesus all grown up as a man. We save that for Easter.

When we look at the Christmas story as told in the Gospels, we enjoy the story as a completed picture. We have the perspective that those living at the time did not. Except for Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the wisemen, and John the Baptist. They all knew who Jesus was when he was born because the angels had visited or in the case of the wisemen, by studying the astrological charts. Everyone else around them, did not know what was happening. They were looking for a Messiah, but they didn’t see who He was when He arrived as the little baby lamb of God. They hadn’t read the gospels, like we have.

Sometimes God is trying to show us what He is doing, but we don’t see it. We lack perspective until we look back and see what He has done. The people of Jesus’ time had been awaiting a savior to free them from their darkness and when He came they did not all realize it, and as He grew to a man, even failed to understand who He was, calling him simply Joseph’s son.

As this advent season gives way to Christmas day, God has been preparing my heart and helping me to understand what He is doing in my life. Piece by piece, step by step, He reveals areas I need growth.

Recently, our beloved family dog died. It was the first dog we had ever had and she died unexpectedly early Sunday morning. My sorrow was deeper than I realized it could be for an animal. It brought back grief and sorrow that I still carry for my Mom who passed on Christmas Day 2014. Christmas can be a very sad time for some, myself included. But, as I was feeling so sad about losing our pet of six years, my thoughts and emotions were jolted in the opposite direction when on Wednesday my daughter and her husband announced their pregnancy. From death to news of life. In three days. Sounds like a familiar story, right? From feeling overwhelmed by the death of a pet, and my mom, to celebrating the upcoming addition to our family. From grief to joy.

God showed me in that moment, how I could be like doubting Thomas. He had just lost His friend, the man He had spent three years following and a presumed lifetime waiting for, like his other fellow Jews. And then He was gone. Thomas was in the middle of grieving and was in shock over the news that Jesus had risen. Jesus was not dead, but had resurrected. How could this be? Was it true? Is this really a change from sadness to joy?

Thomas wanted proof. He wanted to see for himself. Even when Jesus appeared to him later. It was Jesus who offered for Thomas to see the nail prints in his hands. I can finally understand how he felt. A bit of shock. A jolt from his grief into hope. Hopeless to hopeful.

I have a print of my new grandson or granddaughter’s ultrasound. I see him/her. I have anticipation for our meeting. On Sunday, I was grieving, but on Wednesday I celebrated. We just do not know what will happen next. God has it under control. It might seem dark now. But light has come into the world.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made, and without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.– John 1:1-5

Merry Christmas and God Bless You

Waiting for the Light

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.- Isaiah 9:2 NIV

Isaiah’s words prophesying the birth of Jesus brought hope to those who lived at his time as well as ours. But what does it mean to be a people walking in darkness? Do we walk in darkness too? Spiritually speaking yes, we do, until we accept Christ’s offer of forgiveness. But also we can have dark times in our lives when we cannot seem to see the way out. We are looking for answers to free us from our depression, anxiety and stress. We see the world around us as a very dark place full of injustice and heartache and even grief. Grief is especially difficult to process at Christmas time. It can appear so dark.

Or perhaps it seems as if God is far off and silent. That’s how many of the Israelites felt during the four hundred years of silence between what we now have as our Old and New Testaments.

During that time there were no prophets or people being filled with the Holy Spirit to speak God’s message until the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah, Mary, and Joseph. Their darkness was about to end and God was breaking forth the light. Mary and Elizabeth would have the Holy Spirit come upon them and the silence would be broken.

I wonder what I would have thought if I lived at that time in Bethlehem or Nazareth? Last night my husband and I visited a local church’s drive though nativity. Scenes depicting the birth of Jesus are recreated, complete with the marketplaces, King Herod’s temple, the inn with no room, the stable where Jesus was born and the gate of the city guarded with Roman soldiers. You are completely transported back in time. As we drove through, we rolled the windows down and listened to the conversations between the people. Herod was scolding the people, the carpenter was sanding a piece of wood, the blacksmith forging the iron, the women in the market trying to sell us their wares, the Roman soldiers sitting on their horses, looking suspiciously over us and our car, the shepherds watching the sheep eat the hay, the young Mary and Joseph begging the innkeeper to give them a room for a trade of a loaf of bread. Although some of the conversation followed the Bible story as we have heard it many times before, many of the actors improvised. I liked this improvisation. The women were gossiping around the town well, and the craftsmen telling each other to travel safely. It was what it probably sounded like back in the day. People will spread rumors and talk about politics and business, no matter what time frame. People are the same.

So, what do you think it would have been like? Rumors about a rushed marriage and miraculous birth. A king who would be sought after by wise men following a star? Shepherds seeing angels? People living under the oppression of the Roman government in a violent time? A difficult life of work and never enough money for most of it went to the tax collectors. Religious rulers working in conjunction with the Roman rulers to increase the burden on the people. Making up new rules that must be followed. Yeah. A dark time. It was good news of great joy, when they heard about Jesus. Light breaking into the darkness.

As we get ready for Christmas, let us think past all of the preparations, past the shopping, past the food prep, past the sadness when we think of the loved ones who won’t be around the table this Christmas. Let’s look for the light breaking into this world’s darkness. Remember, Jesus came once as a little baby in a humble stable, but He is coming back again. Breaking into the darkness of this world. But next time He won’t be a baby, but a a triumphant King. That is truly good news of great joy! -God Bless – Nancy

Expectation

So, what are you expecting this Christmas? Presents? A family get together? Traveling? A candlelight Christmas service with carols? Hope for a year that has seemed hopeless? Joy? We all have our expectations of what Christmas might bring. The problem is with any expectation, it doesn’t always happen as we want. Reality is different from expectation.

This advent season, I was planning on focusing more on my own heart. I was also expecting to get through this Christmas without grieving my mom as much. In the past it has been really hard for me to feel much like celebrating Christmas. It has been eight years now since my mom died on Christmas morning. Over the years it has gotten easier as I processed through my grief. But, when Christmas time comes around; I struggle. At first, I cried every time I saw the Christmas cards in the store rack labeled “For Mom on Christmas” But, it does get easier every year.

Until… that one thing that brings it all back. The pain and sadness that she is not here with me this Christmas.

Yesterday was that moment as I unpacked some Christmas decorations. There was this small house that lights up from a small bulb inside. It had been my mom’s. But, more than that, she had gotten it from her best friend as a gift. I thought about both my mom and her friend who were both gone now. Before I knew it, the tears were flowing down, unexpected. I had been doing so well this year. What happened? How can I shut off the grief I feel every year at Christmas?

Maybe this will be a part of my preparing my heart for Christmas. It is still tender and need of healing. A soft heart can hear from God.

As you prepare for this season, be mindful of those who might be grieving and validate their feelings. And look past the busyness of the season and ask God if there is something He is working on within your heart. Christmas is so much more than a baby in a manger. It is about a Savior. It is about the expected Messiah who came in a very unexpected way to accomplish what only He could in a very unexpected way. -God Bless, Nancy

The Wrong One?

Have you ever grabbed an item off the store shelf, thinking you had one thing, but only to discover after you arrived back home you had some entirely different? I have. Once I grabbed a jar of pickles from the store, only to get home and realize what I bought wasn’t dill pickles, but dill pickles with jalapeno pieces that were very spicy. The jars looked the same, but in small print were the words “with jalapenos”.

Yesterday, a similar thing happened when I stumbled into my kitchen to make my breakfast, I opened the cupboard and surveyed the boxes of cereal. Hmmm. Pumpkin Spice Special K, sounds good, and without thinking much about it, I grabbed the box and a bowl from the cupboard. I began to pour out the cereal into the bowl and in my morning foggy brain, realized that someone had switched the cereal in the box, because what I was pouring into the bowl was not flakes; it was little ring shaped cheerios. “Who would do that?” But, wait… no, I turned the box around to face me and discovered nope, no cereal substitution, just the box of honey nut cheerios. I had grabbed the wrong one. From the side, both boxes had a brownish color. Both boxes were of the same size. Both were side by side on the shelf. I grabbed for what I thought was Special K, but my hand actually picked up the cheerios.

I only realized my mistake when I tried to use the cereal, that is poured it out. I thought I knew what I had in my grasp. Appearances can be deceiving as they say. It made me think about my faith and about my faith journey. Is it possible to grab at faith, thinking we have the “right” one? Is there really any difference? Without getting into a full blown apologetic discussion about other religions today, let’s consider: Are there really different faiths within the Christian faith? Sadly, there are a few, just as there were in the early days of Christianity. Its not just about what music styles or versions of the Bible are used, but real differences in the Gospels presented.

Peter warned early Christians about false teachers in his second letter (2Peter 2:1), and in his letter to the Galatia church, Paul suggested that many spies had infiltrated the church, trying to disrupt the faith (Galatians 2:4). In his second letter to the Corinthian church he warned of false apostles (2 Cor. 11:13). Even Jesus warned His disciples that many false prophets would arise (Matthew 24:11). These are just a few examples, there are many more, so they should be expected.

So, are there different gospels too? You may have heard of a few, such as the prosperity gospel that promises blessing for asking God for it and if you expect it you can have it all- sports cars, health, wealth, mansions, fame, etc. And most people can see through all the false claims made by this gospel, but are there others? How do you know if you have heard and chosen the right gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ.

The easiest answer I have is this;

1.) Does it line up with what the Bible has to say? Does it line up with the entire bigger picture of the Bible, that is both the Old and New Testaments? Some churches have eliminated the Old Testament in favor of just the New. Is it an addition to the original accepted canon of Scripture or is it something written later on by a self- proclaimed prophet or writer who added their own personal thoughts without proper scholarly research? Watch out for what is presented as a gospel not found in a scholarly version of the Bible. Compare verses of the Bible from “word for word” translations with “thought for thought” translations of the Bible, which while easier to read, often fall short of the actual meaning of a verse and can confuse the reader- leading to a misunderstanding of the gospel.

2.) Does it add any requirements of what must be done to be in right standing with God? Such a gospel might look the same, like my boxes of cereal, but no one can earn or keep a spot in Heaven. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast.”(Ephesians 2:8-9) and “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9). “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:28) “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”(Romans 3:28).

3.) Does it require a personal commitment? Many people have been mislead that joining a church, being confirmed, or because their parents attended a church, that they are in right standing with God. That is, they are automatically considered a Christian. But, the Bible says we are all sinners in need of a savior and we must recognize it is our personal standing before God that will be judged when we die, not on whether we were sprinkled as an infant, confirmed as a child, or because we gave money or volunteered with the nursery. “And this righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God“, (Romans 3:22-23)We must recognize and admit we are not able to have fellowship with God, that we are the ones who have broken His commandments, and must admit it. We need to realize we cannot fix it in ourselves. We need Jesus as our savior. Our personal savior. For our sins. To die for us. To justify us before God.

For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. (Romans 10:10)

Have you grabbed the right one? -God Bless Nancy

Hope

And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love- 1Corinthians 13:13

So, in the last few years I have had this aversion to weeds. In my yard, in the flowerbeds, in the cracks in the driveway. But, it wasn’t always this way. When my husband and I moved, we moved into a neighborhood that has this thing against weeds. I am in awe of all the perfectly kept lawns here. Not a weed in sight. Perfect and green. And then, there are the HOA inspectors who ride through the neighborhood on Monday mornings. looking for any code violations. They look for any lawns that need mowing or trash cans left out. If there are, the homeowners will get a letter in the mail with a notice to either comply or pay a fine.

I’m not a fan of paying fines, so I am obsessed with following their rules. And attempting to get this perfect lawn. Well, it hasn’t happened yet, despite our best attempts, so we live with the stray weed or two.

Growing up, I really didn’t mind them. I thought the ones with little flowers were actually kind of pretty. I didn’t think of them as weeds really, just flowers that grew by chance. I saw their beauty instead of their annoyance.

So, this past week as I was taking our elderly dog out for a walk in our back yard, I spotted an annoyance. Except, it really caught my attention in a good way. It was standing out where and when it shouldn’t be standing out. It wasn’t so much as an annoyance as beautiful reminder of hope.

This year has been very trying on me and on my patience. I keep waiting for the right opportunities to come forward- applying for jobs and praying that I will actually get to use what I am called to do. I have also watched as neighbors have died from Covid, leaving behind children and spouses. I have seen relatives grow older and frailer, making me look at the future with a bleaker, pessimistic view. I have felt my patience tested, even with my elderly dog, who is not only blind but I think has a slight case of dementia. Do dogs even get that? She requires multiples trips outside to do her business, one trip after another, sometimes five trips in two hours.

So, on a cold morning this past week, as I grumpily took the dog out, I spotted a very bright and welcomed little flower spouting proudly from the lawn. It shouldn’t be there I mused- not because I did not want it to be there, but, you see we had had a frost a few days before. The lawn had been covered in a beautiful layer of frost. It is supposed to kill all the grass and the fragile plants. But, no, this beautiful dandelion was this bright spot of yellow on the now brown, dead grass.

It hadn’t bloomed with all its buddies in the summer or early spring, but here it was in November, standing up as the singular bright spot of life. It was a reminder to me, that despite the year that has seen both bright and bleak spots, there is still life and hope. It was a reminder to stay faithful, keep hope alive, and there will be a bright spot coming soon. It isn’t in our timing, but in God’s timing.

Sometimes I feel like that little dandelion. Everyone of my friends seemed to bloom earlier, in the summertime and springtime, and here I am in the autumn of life, blooming or hopefully soon to be, with all the hopes and dreams I have had for years. But, maybe that’s okay. Maybe, like that flower, I can be a bright spot in other people’s lives, when they are feeling the bleakness around them.

Most people have read the verse above, and remember it from weddings and the talk of love as the greatest, but I was reminded that in this verse, faith, hope and love are connected. Faith is believing, hope is putting our trust in and love is what God has shown us in sending His son. Never give up on believing, on faith, on hoping. For God never gives up on loving us. -Amen

Casting Call

“Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”

-Peter (1 Peter 5:7, ESV)

I have had an on and off again relationship with fishing. I learned how to fish when I was a child, but didn’t really do much fishing until my teens and early twenties. On good days I could send that little bob and lure flying across the water some 60 feet. And on the not so good days, about 3. Those days the bob and lure made a big plunk into the water right in front of me. It was all about the timing and releasing the line on the reel and stopping the line release and extending my arm and swinging the pole. I was definitely not a a pro. To me, it felt the same way whether I cast the line three feet or sixty. I didn’t have a perfect technique to it, so every time the results were different.

The same is true for casting of my anxieties. I’ve read 1 Peter so many times, yet most of the time it feels like those little splunkers in the water. I want to cast it all away. Like sixty feet, like tossing a ball to Jesus. Like “Hey, Jesus, here catch” or “Here’s all my stuff that I’m holding onto and it is bringing so much anxiety, PLEASE, take it here, like NOW.”

But, most of the time I TRY to cast those anxieties and worries, and then mid cast I start thinking about it all, trying to find my own solution, replaying the situations back in my head like a movie reel, and SPLUNK, It doesn’t make it to Jesus, but lands right back a few feet from me, where I will reel it back in to carry myself, once again.

Have you felt this way too? You want to do this, cast your cares, follow Peter’s advice, but you keep falling short. You cast your cares, but somehow they keep creeping back into your thoughts, and grab for attention.

Me too, but one thing I have learned is to keep on casting. The other step is to stop my thoughts mid cast. To concentrate and think about what I am allowing into my thoughts. Not allowing myself to get entangled in them and allow them to be set on auto play over and over again.

I think that is why I like the verse above from the ESV (English Standard Version) version of the Bible. It says casting, like this is an ongoing process, not just a once and done. That is the way it has been for me. It is a constant battle with my anxieties and worries. I keep casting. I do not give up with one bad cast, like from my fishing days- I keep on working on the technique. I don’t have to worry about Jesus not catching (taking on) my anxieties or worries, it just depends on my letting go, extending my arms and releasing them all. He’s got this. -God Bless – Nancy

Meet and Greet

“Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials,” -James the brother of Jesus Christ

I don’t know about you, but this isn’t one of my favorite memory verses. I mean I can deal with the part about encountering or meeting with trials. I can agree with what James is saying, but the joy part? Well, that’s difficult.

To be honest there are so many different variations of this verse. The one above is from the New American Standard Bible. Others use the words- “fall into temptations” or “whenever trouble comes your way” and even “whenever you face trials of any kind” Regardless, they all seem to agree that it is is not an if but a when. Life is full of troubles and trials. We get that. It is impossible to live this life without them.

I really like the version that uses the word encounter. I was recently reading a devotional from Dr. Charles Stanley of INTOUCH ministries and he compared the word encounter with meeting trials, like you would meet another person. Face to face-. It inspired me to think about this verse in those terms. How do I face trials? Do I greet them as I would a person on the street? As an acquaintance? As an adversary? Welcoming them with joy, seems very counterintuitive. I do not like trials. Why would I greet them as if they are a long lost friend, whom I am excited to be reunited with?

But can I really see them as that? Most of the time I rejoice whenever trials are over. Like whenever I recover from an illness, or when a project that has been trying and time consuming is accomplished and over. But, at the beginning? When I first meet them? If I let my feelings rule, I would run the other way, thank you very much! But, no thank you, I don’t need to greet you today troubles and trials, I think I’ll just turn off the path and avoid you today. But, I fear in doing that I would miss the opportunity for God to be there with me through this awkward introduction and greeting. Avoidance limits the pain, but also limits the joy and comfort I would receive from God.

As we read further on in the book of James, we see that these trials are to strengthen our faith and give us perseverance and mature our faith. These sound very inspiring and give the reader encouragement. Just as it would have for the early Jewish Christians James was writing to who had been scattered away from Jerusalem into the many areas of the Roman Empire. As many scholars believe, James was martyred sometime after writing this letter of encouragement, probably around AD 64. It was not an easy time to be a follower of Christ.

If James were writing the church today, he might have say, “Hey, I know you are going through these trials and difficult times, but just remember they are serving a purpose- to mature your faith, teach you perseverance- something you will definitely need to keep on going. So, welcome them, they are for your benefit. Yes, they are bound to happen, but God’s got this.”

In chapter 1, verse 5, James writes if we are lacking wisdom we should ask God. For many years I have read that verse as a stand alone verse, but this week as I read it again, it began to dawn on me that maybe it closely relates to dealing with the troubles and trials.

You see, that is one of my biggest issues when troubles or trials come. I wonder to myself, “What should I do to handle this, or fix this situation? How do I navigate this? What is my strategy? I also try to figure out if this is something I have brought upon myself, or is it a spiritual attack, or just a life issue? What I need is wisdom in dealing with it all; for discernment, for a pathway through the trial, for a way to handle it, to understand it’s origin, to have a peaceful attitude through it, yup, I lack wisdom on my own, and I need to ask God for wisdom for this trial. I have faith that God will show me what to do, how to navigate this and will bring me out the other side, better not because I will be stronger in myself, but that my faith in God will be stronger, because I will see how He is with me. Not all these trials have quick resolutions, and I need to keep believing – as James adds in verses 6 and 7- but God will come through.

So, these trials are a way for me to be drawn closer to God,to my faith in Him, my reliance on Him to give me wisdom and help me through, to strengthen my perseverance muscle. They are not designed to destroy me, but make me better, to help me mature in my faith, so that I lack nothing (v4).

If we can focus on that, then we can meet and greet trials with a more positive attitude. We can count it joy.

God Bless –

Nancy