Joyful Unison

Isaiah 52:7-10 is a song of joy that is appropriate for Christmas Eve. Isaiah looked forward to the coming of the Messiah. We shout in joyful unison as we look forward to His coming again.

How beautiful on the mountains
    are the feet of the messenger bringing good news,
Breaking the news that all’s well,
    proclaiming good times, announcing salvation,
    telling Zion, “Your God reigns!”
Voices! Listen! Your scouts are shouting, thunderclap shouts,
    shouting in joyful unison.
They see with their own eyes
    God coming back to Zion.
Break into song! Boom it out, ruins of Jerusalem:
    “God has comforted his people!
    He’s redeemed Jerusalem!”
God has rolled up his sleeves.
    All the nations can see his holy, muscled arm.
Everyone, from one end of the earth to the other,
    sees him at work, doing his salvation work. (The Message)

Joyful unison comes when we proclaim the good news of Christmas. Christ is at work in our hearts, and He’s coming back. That makes me sing and shout joyfully with those in my path and helps me give and find sweet comfort in times of need.

Joy isn’t happiness, and that is a problem this time of year. Lust is powerful; we grab, get, and go at a rate that leaves us spent, disappointed, and tired after lust settles. Like dust on the floor after a big party, lust leaves a mess that is swept away or under something. It causes a downward spiral. Joy follows loving obedience and fills me with peace. Joy is free, and I don’t have to stand in line or go in debt to get it. It lifts my heart and brings me nearer to God and others. Greed surrounds this beautiful season designed to offer something better than what I want or expect.

Joy, love, hope, and peace are what Advent is all about. As I look forward to Christ’s return, I am able to wait patiently because I understand that love is all that matters. The opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s lust. Wanting what I want may get me a little temporary happiness, but it keeps me from finding true joy and peace and leaves me wanting more. Trusting that God’s love is more than enough and obeying His call leads to love which leads to joy, peace, and hope. The world may not understand the difference between joy and happiness, but Christmas celebrates the birth of someone Who lived out the difference beautifully.

God’s gift of Immanuel brought, brings, and will always bring love, joy, peace, and hope to the world. It’s what creates the joyful unison Isaiah foretold. May it be fulfilled in our hearts this year.

Love Joy Peace Hope

Remember When?

At worship on Sunday morning, I was asked to remember the time I first fell in love with Christ. My heart immediately went back to April 17th, 1964. I understood that Christ loved me enough to die for me, and wanted to love Him back with all of my heart. My journey took me away from His precious love for a long time, and I recalled that dark time as well yesterday as I found myself unable to pray or write. It was a terrible state very like hell. Hell is separation from God, and I had a bitter taste of that yesterday as I wallowed and whined in my own self pity.

I’m thankful my separation from God was only for a day, and I thank Him for reminding me of the time when we first fell in love. I found myself thinking of other times I had fallen in love. There were three, but I could only recall specific moments and dates for one. I know that’s because I’ve only experienced true love once. The memories brought both sadness and joy. I loved reliving those sweet moments of finding love, but my heart filled with excruciating pain as I thought of losing it. It was a taste of hell just as the love had been a taste of heaven. I don’t know if I will ever find true love again. I’m not sure if I can have that level of love more than once in this life. I am positive I don’t want my heart to go through that level of pain ever again, but I know God will help me sort it all out.

At the end of the service on Sunday, the invitation was to think again about that time I fell in love and accepted Christ’s love as my own. I do remember when, and I thank God that I have His love forever. Recalling the pain of losing love was a sobering reminder that I am the only one who can end my relationship with Christ. I know I can turn from Him because I’ve done that before, and I do not plan to ever do that again. My day away from Him yesterday was interminable as I found myself back in that terrible desert of separation.

God taught a beautiful lesson and brought much healing with the simple exercise of remembering when. Remembering when I met and fell in love with Him put all things into perspective. I marvel at how He gave me just what I needed just when I needed it. His love transcends and transforms in ways I cannot begin to understand, but I truly appreciate that love and the love He allowed me to experience while on this journey. There is joy as I remember my salvation, and that is beautiful hope in Psalm 51. I wasn’t surprised when He placed that particular psalm in my path this morning.

Hear God’s love and healing in verses 10-12. I pray I will have a willing and obedient spirit as His love leads me in His direction.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
 And renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Do not cast me away from Your presence 
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
 And sustain me with a willing spirit.”NASB

Obeying, Not Just Saying

God’s Word in our greatest defense against the forces of evil in this world. And when it comes to that defense, it has to be obeying, not just saying His Word. The scriptures this week take us to the wilderness where Jesus comes face to face with those temptations. A forty-day fast left him famished, so the first temptation, as is often the same for me after an hour or so, is to eat! Jesus teaches me a beautiful lesson as He was filled with the Holy Spirit, followed His lead, and obeyed His Father’s Words. Hear the Word of God.

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And He ate nothing during those days, and when they had ended, He became hungry. And the devil said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”

And he led Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, “I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.’”And he led Him to Jerusalem and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here; for it is written, He will command His angels concerning You to guard You,’and, On their hands they will bear You up,
So that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.’”And Jesus answered and said to him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”When the devil had finished every temptation, he left Him until an opportune time. NASB

I need to be mindful as I travel in the dangerous territory of the wilderness that Satan knows God’s Word better than I do. He uses God’s Word to his advantage, but the big beautiful difference between Jesus and Satan when it comes to God’s Word is that Satan is just saying, and Christ is obeying. It isn’t enough to memorize and quote scriptures to others along the way, and knowing His Word does not ensure safety along the path.

Obedience is our only defense against temptation. The Word of God is the only offensive weapon mentioned in that set of armor in Ephesians, and it must be wielded as Christ wielded it. Gently in obedience. I tried to do battle on my own yesterday as Satan convinced me to run. He had me believing it was best for me and for those I love dearly. I was worn and torn by the time I got home from morning worship because I had been doing God’s job instead of my own. Winning the battle is what Jesus did on the cross, so I don’t have to fight that battle each time I’m tempted. Thanks be to God!

I do have to hide God’s Word in my heart and let it be a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119:105-112 reminds me of the importance of obedience. I often don’t go past 105, but I should. Hear again the Word of God.

Your word is a lamp to my feet
And a light to my path. I have sworn and I will confirm it,
 That I will keep Your righteous ordinances. I am exceedingly afflicted;
 Revive me, O Lord, according to Your word. O accept the freewill offerings of my mouth, O Lord,
 And teach me Your ordinances. My life is continually in my hand,
 Yet I do not forget Your law The wicked have laid a snare for me,
 Yet I have not gone astray from Your precepts. I have inherited Your testimonies forever,
 For they are the joy of my heart. I have inclined my heart to perform Your statutes
Forever, even to the end. NASB

Remembering that God’s precepts are indeed the joy of my heart puts obedience in its proper light. I obey to get to joy not out of obligation. I hide His Words in my heart, not in rote memorization like a concealed weapon, but in order to protect me from my own sin which opens the door to Satan. I obey God’s Word because in that obedience, I find His joy and sweet peace. I slept like a baby last night after a twenty-four hour bout with the tempter. God reminded me when I was face down on the mat in tears that I don’t have to fight His battles for Him. He also reminded me that He wasn’t going to force me to obey. Obedience, like love, has to be a choice. Both lead me to a beautiful place of peace that opens the path to the praying life a little wider and makes this journey a walk in His kingdom:)

The God of Hope

Love and hope are inseparable. God’s love offers hope that leads to joy and peace beyond description. Romans 15:13 is a sweet blessing that fills my heart each time I read it.

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” NASB

Only the power of the Holy Spirit can bring the love, hope, joy, and peace of God. There are many substitutes in this world, but none compare to what God has to offer. I forget the Spirit and head out on my own sometimes and find myself lost and alone. When I am not feeling connected, I know the problem is love. I belong to the body of Christ and that means loving God and others. I can try to worship Him on my own, but it just won’t work. I can try to worship with others without loving them, but that will also fail.

Christ says this about love in Matthew 22:36-40.

Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” NASB

Love isn’t negotiable and neither is being a part of His body. I am, and always will be, whether I like it or not. I can try to separate myself from other believers, but it is as futile an act as an eye deciding to take off on its own. “We are one in the bond of love” as the beautiful hymn says, and I cannot love or fully live without being connected to others.

I love being in a house filled with the sounds of love. The girls bless me each time they come running to my room to say good morning or good night. My heart is right at home here, and the lessons in love just keep getting better. This week’s have gone straight to my core and hurt deeply, but God is faithful to bless, heal, and stretch my heart a little with each lesson:)

Joy Is Ours to Keep:)

This is the Season of Advent, and today’s candle represents joy. Joy is ours to keep, and no one can take His joy from us. The season began with the candle of hope. Hope is always present and is God’s promise forever. His peace surpasses all comprehension, and His love is assured. Philippians says it beautifully.

Philippians 4:4-7 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!  Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. NASB

The Lord is near! That gives my heart hope, peace, joy, and love. I can allow Satan and others to steal any one of these precious gifts of God, and weeks like this one certainly open up the door and give those thieves access. Jesus will close that door of grief and heartache and sit with me until the pain subsides. He knows that pain weakens and leaves me vulnerable. It’s why He came to make a better way, one where hope, peace, joy, and love abound and are mine to keep forever. If they are stolen for a time, He will help me retrieve and hold on to them.

Obedience leads to joy, and that’s the key to finding and keeping joy alive in my heart. Joy isn’t ha ha happy, and it isn’t Pollyanna optimism. It is His presence in the midst of disaster, sadness, and whatever else befalls me on this journey. He won the war, and I can shout from the depths of my heart because of that victory. He is coming again, and that is what Advent is all about. He has not left us and assures that He will be with us always. There’s joy in connection. There’s joy in knowing I am loved. There’s joy in knowing that this world isn’t the final word.

Obedience requires trust, and that means stepping out in faith and believing that God is who He says He is. When I do that, fear flees and worries wither away. I don’t have to understand as I obey; I simply have to trust God. Proverbs 3:5 says it best:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.”

The teacher in me wants to understand before I obey, but the Christ in me says trust in the Lord. I argue at times and fall prey to worry, but Christ’s sweet voice keeps whispering softly in my heart. When I get still, those gentle words calm my spirit and bring joy to my soul. Singing praises allow joy to flow down and up and all through me. It’s tempting to weep and wail, and I’ve done my share of that this week, but songs of joy lift. Hope, peace, and love join in, and the chorus becomes a heavenly one:)

The Innkeeper’s Daughter

Lillyann brought “The Innkeeper’s Daughter” to me yesterday and wanted to hear the story. She got in my lap, and Mylah quickly followed suit. The book is beautifully written by Carol Greene, so the girls did not move a muscle as little Abigail and Meangoat terrorized the neighborhood. I could tell Lillyann was anxious about the outcome when she asked if Abigail was ever going to be nice.

Abigail changes when she finds a sweet baby in her family’s stable. Knowing she is loved changes the way she behaves. The girls loved the story, and I loved sharing it with them. Jesus’s love does make a difference and saves me from my mean self! It even changed Meangoat in the story, and Lillyann was especially thankful for that:)

I love children and envy their sense wonder. As I watched the girls sleeping yesterday, I also envied their peace-filled sleep. Last night, I ended up sleeping for ten hours straight. That isn’t the norm, but I believe my exposure to wonder, love, and the sweet peace of watching them sleep must have been part of my own peace-filled sleep last night. I was shocked when I saw light coming in the window and couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the clock.

Love makes the world a different place, and that’s what “The Innkeeper’s Daughter” is all about. God’s love came down in the form of an innocent child. Children make a beautiful difference in this world when we listen and take time to hear what they have to say. When I model the girls wide-eyed wonder and join their giggles of glee when we play, joy and love come together in a way that is appropriate for this special time of year. So, take the time to wonder and giggle today. You’ll thank God for it later:)

Seeking God

Seeking God is so much more than simply seeing Him; it is an endeavor to find His love and His will in my life and His world. God is love, and love has a very special quality. It connects as nothing else. When I look for and find God in those around me, I experience the beautiful connection love offers. It is what walking in God’s kingdom is all about. Seeking is intentional, active, and often painful, but it is well worth the effort when I find and embrace the love it brings.

Accepting God’s love allows it to flow through me.  I have several friends with whom I have a deep connection, and that blesses me as nothing else. My son and I have a sweet connection, and the love I have for him and his family connects us beautifully. If God is the center of a relationship, it will be a taste heaven. If I am separated from someone I love, it is a taste of hell. I need to feel both in order to understand God and myself more fully.

Seeking God’s kingdom seems simple enough, but it is far from easy. It requires a level of faith I am only beginning to understand and a level of honest communion that tests my trust. I know it is what God desires for me, and that gives me the courage me to keep on seeking. Courage and love walk hand-in-hand.

Finding God opens new doors but closes others. Repentance is about turning, and turning means a new direction. It isn’t easy to leave old habits, but when I realize they keep me from experiencing the joy that comes from obeying God, I can move forward and live the life God has in mind. Love is transformed and transforming as God has His way with my heart. All transformations involve demolition, and the process takes time and energy. Understanding my need for repentance is what makes seeking so difficult. The beautiful result makes me forget what I was like before, and that’s when I know I’m heading in the right direction:)