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

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

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

Beloved

“I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” – Song of Solomon 6:3

Today, our son is getting married. Like other weddings I have been to, it will be a day to celebrate the love between my son and his bride. Many family members have traveled to witness this beautiful ceremony and reception. To join in celebrating with the couple this very special day, when they affirm their covenant before God to love each other no matter the circumstances.

I often think about our wedding celebration that is yet to come with Jesus. For Christians, we have this promise that some day, we, as the bride of Jesus, will be presented at the wedding feast of the Lamb. We will eat and celebrate together with Jesus and all of us will be beautiful, radiant, and unblemished. We will be healed and whole.

And I wonder, as I think about this upcoming celebration, if Jesus will gaze at his bride, the church, as a groom gazes delightfully at his bride. You see, I have seen it before, in my son as he looks at his fiancee and as my son in law looked at my daughter on their wedding day- also this year. He was totally captivated by her.

Life is so busy, and I think I missed it before, but what I saw a few days ago, was nothing short of beautiful. The look on our son’s face- He and his fiancee were practicing their wedding dance, and there it was- for a moment- my son looked at her with a most beautiful gaze, an amazing moment of love- shining through in his eyes as he looked at her. It caught me off guard as I had seen them many times together, but in that moment, I could imagine also, of the way Jesus will look at us, his bride with love.

A love that is sincere, captivating, beautiful. May we look forward to that day with all hope and anticipation. It will be a day to celebrate and will wipe away every bad memory of this sometimes long, difficult and tedious life. May it give you hope to think of Jesus looking at you with a love that is sincere, captivating and beautiful. Amen. – God Bless Nancy.

Waiting For The Morning

“Sorrow may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5)

Do you know many joyful people? Those people who always seem to have a smile on their face, no matter the circumstances? I do. And I admit sometimes I’m jealous that they can seem to be so happy all the time. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy, but I do not always appear that way. I’m a thinker, who likes to think about everything and if you see me out and about, I probably have a serious look on my face. It’s just that I’m thinking and reflecting on something. If you have seen me lately, you probably would have noticed a little bit of a frazzled look added to my my serious look due to my recent philosophy classes, which force me to think too much. But I am happy, just maybe not outwardly joyful.

This topic came up recently when my husband woke me up in the early morning hours to ask me what “sorrow lasts for the night , but joy comes in the morning” meant. It was a good question. Although I was tired, I managed to grab my phone and do a Bible verse search to find the passage the phrase had come from. Memorizing scripture is an area that I admit I do not have skill in, so I am so thankful for Bible search apps. It wasn’t easy to find because some versions trade the words sorrow for weeping. We decided to table the conversation until we were both more awake, but it started me thinking. Why do I not feel joyful all the time? Is there something wrong with me?

Maybe you too, have asked yourself this question before too. Are Christians always supposed to be joyful? Isn’t it a bit too unrealistic? Well, maybe what the problem is found in our definition of joy. If we treat joy as a feeling, then yes, we will not always feel “joy”. We might feel joy when our favorite sports team wins, but then become sad and depressed when in the next game the team loses. This kind of joy is changing with our circumstances. No one would expect us to feel joy if our team lost, or we receive news of the death of a loved one, or of a bad health diagnosis. So, what is this passage trying to say?

This particular phrase is found in Psalm 30 and its writer is David. If you’re familiar with the Psalms, David seems to write whatever pops into his thoughts. There are times when he cries out to God and wonders where God is in dark times. He will then remind himself of previous occasions when God came through in these darkest hours and he rejoices with praises to God. Psalm 30 is no different. Bible commentator Matthew Henry finds evidence in this Psalm of David’ sadness at God’s turning away from him because of his (David’s) sin. Henry believes David had security in himself and this brought him to sin and the feeling of sadness or sorrow that was replaced with joy once David repented.

While, I am not an expert at the meaning of this Psalm, I’ll offer what I can as I let God work on me through this passage. This is some of what I have gleaned through reading Psalm 30: 1)There will be times when we do have dark times. there is no getting around them. This is life, and the fallen state in which we live in the world. We as Christians, cannot escape the bad times in life, the dark hours, just because we are Christians- they will come.2) I also believe there are people who are just naturally happy go lucky people. It’s just their nature whether they are Christians or not. 3) We are all created uniquely by God and shouldn’t compare ourselves with others- even other Christians. We all have different temperaments. I might be more of a serious minded thinker, but that doesn’t mean I’m not joyful on the inside. 4) Joy is more than a feeling; it is a quiet confidence and trust in God. We rejoice because we know God will strengthen us through anything. 5) We can trust God and  He will get through to the morning- the times when we can rejoice again. 6) We should ask ourselves if we have let confidence in ourselves lead us into sin- is it God who has turned away, or have we turned away? If so do we need to repent a little? 7) The passage seems to be meaning that we shouldn’t focus on the dark times as a permanent place regardless of the cause- it is temporary. 8) After we go through these dark, joyless times, there will be joy. Times of praising and remembering all that God has done.9) Sometimes, we can be mistaken as to when we are in the dark places when actually we are in a time when we should be rejoicing. We can assume we having bad, difficult circumstances, but maybe things aren’t as bad as we think. We can focus on the negative or choose to think about the good, which is what I suspect the” happy” people  I know do regularly.

My husband’s question was a good one, and as I said, I probably do not have the perfect answer to the meaning of the passage, but I think it is one to reflect upon and do some research on. If you are finding yourself in a place where you are having are difficult time being joyful, reading the Psalms is a great place to start. Just be assured morning will come. Sometimes we just need to wait. -God Bless- Nancy

 

 

 

Looking For Good

The young girl ran purposely across the wet sand of the beach. Her hair blew across her face, making it difficult to see where she was running to. Her smile was big and every so often she would laugh with happiness. Every once in while she would look back over her shoulder to see if the thin blue piece of plastic was sharing in her enthusiasm. She held tightly to a small thread in one hand and kept running. Soon the blue plastic rose up from the wet sand and lifted higher and higher. The girl kept running for a bit until she realized her kite was now actually in the air. She stopped and watched it dance across the sky over the beach. She held tightly to her little string, listening to the advice of her dad and mom ‘To not let go” Her joy was evident to all by her huge smile. She pointed upward, to make sure no one missed this glorious event that had just happened. Then. Just as quickly as the blue plastic had risen from the sand, it crashed downward in an uncontrollable death spiral. The wind had shifted. The kite crashed to the sand. The girl was heartbroken. She had gone from excited anticipation, to joy, to devastation in the span of a few minutes.

If you’ve ever flown kites at the beach, you’ve probably been through this many times. You know what to expect. You know you need wind and updrafts to make things fly. But, when we are young we expect flying a kite to be easy. We just run really, really fast and it will soar. We are heartbroken when our kite crashes. It’s worse if it gets broken when it crashes. The few dollars our parents spent on the bright piece of plastic- or if they were really ingenious- the time they took to make a kite- was all gone. It was now a pile of string and plastic. Sometimes broken kites can be repaired, but usually they can’t.

I thought about this today as God challenged me to “look for the good” in things of life. Life can seem like flying a kite at the beach. We can get excited with a new plan in our lives. We want it to succeed, just like the soaring kite. We pursue it like the running child on the beach. We want our plans and dreams to follow us and then catch the wind and fly. For a while they might seem to be working with us and soon they are making forward progress. But, suddenly, there’s no wind, or a downdraft, that sends our dreams falling down. We wonder how can we recover the flight? Will our dreams crash like the kite? Can we find a good updraft to help them soar once again?

Unlike crashed kites that usually cannot be repaired, life can be repaired. Yes, sometimes God might want us to let go of some plans and dreams because He has something better in mind. Other times, though, He wants us to keep trying and not be discouraged when we feel broken and our dreams seem far from flight. Hold on to the string and don’t let go. God can use broken dreams and plans. He can use the broken us.

And I believe He wants to use the broken us, because when we are broken is when we call out to Him for help. We need Him to fix our kites sometimes. To heal our broken hearts and help us with our dreams. We might not see His hand at work in our lives and we might get discouraged when our dreams look like a kite spiraling down from the sky. It is in those times we need to stop and look for the good. When you find it, you will find it is from God.  In Jeremiah 29: 13-14, God reminds Jeremiah and us,  “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you” (NIV).

God Bless -Nancy