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:)

Loving Deeply

Relationships in my life have been like stones skipping across a pond.  Staying on the surface and passing through without ever stopping and allowing love to deepen. Brief touches kept relationships from digging too deeply into my heart and would have caused me to skip through the entire span of my life with only a a drop or two of love had I not stopped and let God take my heart to a new level, one that went down and not up as do most graduations. God desires deep connections, and lessons this month were all about deep connections and the impact they have on who I am.

I’m fortunate to have those who hear my heart and know me deeply. It is the love God desires for me.  True love allows me to speak my heart and hear the heart of those I love. I have always had a special connection to my son, and no one loves me as he has and does. His quiet hugs fill my heart, and he hears my heart without having to hear words. I love that about him and the fact that he shows up when I most need a hug from an understanding heart.

God has blessed me with friends who, whether next to me or miles away, hear me, know me, and love me anyway:) I have a prayer partner who loves God and His Word more than anyone I know and shares that love with me. There aren’t words to adequately describe the effect that love has on my heart and the way I love and live. It makes me believe I can be who God created me to be while drawing nearer to Him and to those in my path.

In terms of the world, I’m not a wealthy person. In fact, I live a very simple life compared to most. I don’t own a home and drive a five-year-old compact car:) In terms of love, I’ve wandered aimlessly most of my life seeking someone to fill a void no one can. God has shown me that love is not something or someone I should be seeking but rather something I was born to express. In an environment of honestly expressed love, I am able to express it myself. When love is unconditionally given, fear flees. When I am accepted for who I am, faults and all, I can love and accept myself and others in the same manner. Such is the power of love, and such have been the lessons this month which have brought my heart out of the darkness where fear would have it stay forever.

Hope and love go hand in hand, and that has never been more obvious to me than it is now. The freedom that comes from accepting and expressing love that expects nothing in return creates an amazing space in which love responds obediently and finds joy that cannot be found any other way. The pieces of my heart have come together beautifully, and I am whole and ready to live and love as God knows I can. I love it when God brings things together beautifully even if I have to fall apart first:)

Ordinary Time

In the Christian calendar, the time that falls outside the distinctive liturgical seasons is known as Ordinary Time. There are 33-34 weeks of Ordinary Time which fall between Christmas and Lent, and between Easter and Advent. In Latin it’s called Tempus Per Annum or time throughout the year. The term comes from the word “ordinal,” which simply means counted time and has nothing to do with the ordinary or mundane.

As I went through the busy day yesterday, I thought about how my own time is counted. I go from season to season much as the church calendar does, but it is the time in between those busy seasons that make up most of my life. Talking with a friend, sharing a meal, playing with the girls, reading, and writing would be considered ordinary time in my life.

Counting time is a big part of my life. Counting down from one holiday or special event to another is very like that liturgical calendar, but I miss the ordinary time in life if I focus upon counting down. When it comes to my calendar, the ordinary time is the most precious time of all, and I mean that in an ordinary and mundane way.  I understand the concept of the liturgical calendar and use it as I study and pray; but when it comes to living my life, I plan to make sure I develop a deeper appreciation of that ordinary time between special events.

Holidays and special events cause many to sink into a state of despair and depression. I think everyone can relate to that or to the post celebration blues that follow a special day. I thank God for the celebrations on the liturgical calendar and on my own, but I pray that I will gain a greater appreciation for the ordinary time in both and be mindful of how I wait for God. How I wait is entirely up to me, and I can smile if I remember that God has me in the palm of His hand. I rarely remember that when I’m marching off on my own. Mylah learned to march this week, and her goose step is hilarious:) I go off with my own goose step, and I am thankful that God sees the humor in my marching around as I see it with Mylah’s. Even Lillyann had to belly laugh when she saw her little sister’s serious stepping:)

Joy takes on a new meaning as I learn patience in waiting and understand that suffering is an important part of the process of finding the fundamental joy that so differs from the ha ha happiness I often seek and the Pollyanna joy that can lead to the deepest despair of all. The deep joy God has in mind is not lighthearted happiness that comes from circumstances or pretending all is well but rather a fundamental joy that comes from the overwhelming sense that God’s hand is holding me always. I don’t truly get that until I am made aware that I’m not holding myself.  That’s where suffering enters in. As I come to that level of learning, I can smile knowing that He knows me and I truly know Him. That is what joy is all about.

Suffering teaches obedience, and obedience leads to joy. A simple path, but one on which I am given the choice of coming to know God and finding His joy or turning my back on Him and blaming Him for my hurt. There are times when I wish I didn’t have the choice; but then I realize that choice is what leads to joy and knowing God intimately, so I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

The Worth of Weakness

Hebrews 5:2 says of the high priest “he can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided, since he himself also is beset with weakness;” (NASB) Those words show clearly the worth of weakness. All are weak, but not all are willing to admit weakness. Our society looks down on weakness, and meekness is certainly not a trait we value. That is never more obvious than during an election year:)

We are all human beings, and the author of Hebrews is saying that is a good thing. Acknowledging weakness builds a bridge between us as we share the suffering sin inevitably brings. Jesus can relate to our suffering, and he is a compassionate Savior who can relate to our sin because He carried all our sins with Him to His cross.

Human beings are vulnerable and weak and always will be. In recognizing my own weaknesses, I am able to relate to the those in my path. At the heart of God’s truth, if I am willing to hear it, is the inescapable fact that I am a sinner. I must come to a place of knowing and understanding that to accept the forgiveness He offers and begin to walk in His kingdom.

God became human so he could relate to us, and that is at the root of Hebrews 5:2. Even more compelling is the description of Christ’s prayer in verses 7-10 “In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety.  Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation,  being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.” (NASB) When I think of Jesus crying out to God and learning obedience from His suffering, I am humbled and comforted as never before.  As I cry out, my tears are caught by hands that hear and sympathize as only those who have traveled the same path can. Christ never sinned, but He did take on mine and understands my heart in a way that makes me want to obey and experience the joy He has in mind for me. He knows exactly how it feels to want God to reach down and fix problems and take away pain, but He also knows that will only make things worse.

Fixing and enabling teaches dependence not obedience. It is human nature to want to fix weakness instead of allow it to takes its natural course and create the environment necessary to learn obedience. Nothing hurts more than seeing our children hurt, and God knows that better than any one. Nothing hurts our children more than making the path too easy and taking obstacles out of their way. It’s a most difficult lesson, and even Christ cried out for His Father to take away His cup. Obedience is not about control. In fact, it is about letting go of control. That letting go leads to joy, and that’s why God won’t take away our suffering. He knows it’s necessary in order for us to learn obedience and find the joy He has in mind for us.

While there is no end to the cycle of sin, suffering, and obedience as long as I am in this body, there is also no end to the joy that comes when I respond with an obedient, trusting heart. That is the abundance God promises when I understand the worth of weakness and humble myself in obedience to Him.  God’s Holy Spirit will help me when it comes to obeying, and that will lead to joy. Coming face to face with my imperfections is part of His perfect plan. It is what knowing God is all about:)