Wonder

Having gone to sleep with a dusting of snow forecasted overnight, I woke up to the ring of a text from my daughter, “Snow Day! School is cancelled.” She lives about 20 minutes away, but they had been forecasted to have several inches. The reservoir between us was supposedly the “difference maker!”

So, I got up that morning hoping to see at least a few flurries. Instead, what met my eye was literally a winter wonderland and the snow was still falling hard. I’m not ashamed to say, I squealed softly, did somewhat of a little dance/jump while the corners of my mouth lifted in a big smile and my eyes must have twinkled as I stood there taking in the wonder. Yes, I’m a big kid when it comes to frozen precipitation!

blog DSC_0371 bw

I know for those areas of the country where the presence of snow is common and the forecast of more is met with a deep sigh, this is an odd response. But for this native Florida girl now living north of the panhandle, but still in the Deep South where it is a rarity, it evokes not just a little excitement.

Though a couple of our kids were home for the holidays, as was my 4-month old granddaughter, they were still completely unaware and sound asleep under the covers. I resisted the urge to run upstairs and toss a few snowballs into everyone’s rooms to “share the joy!” (Yes, I have been known to do that in the past when we had a snow or two and my excitement to “play” in it exceeded everyone else’s. It did elicit the response I desired in that moment as I was followed outside for “revenge” and everyone ended up having fun in the process).

This time, however, I enjoyed a cup of coffee and the peaceful silence of watching it fall, anticipating everyone else’s “ooo’s” and “ahs” to come.

One by one, everyone woke to see the world outside their bedroom windows “raining” snow and covered in the “white stuff,” so we were joined by more who shared in the amazement of the unexpected and who were quick to build a small “Frosty,” to engage in a little target practice with one another as the snowballs were formed, and to attempt to catch my son’s Husky who may have been the most delighted of all!

And, as with all things during a baby’s first year, we watched with anticipation as my granddaughter experienced her first taste and touch of the “cold stuff” along with her first snow ride atop her comfortable and protected perch in the sled that her daddy pulled around.  And we all stopped to watch; smiles and laughter.

Funny how the “small things” of life can bring such joy…and wonder!

A baby’s smile.

A comforting hug.

Sunshine after days of rain.

A hand up after falling down.

A smile instead of a frown.

A bicycle ride or a walk through the woods.

A crackling fire on a cold winter’s night.

The deep quiet hues of a sunrise or sunset.

And then there are the larger “wonder” inducers of life as well…

A vast mountain range.

Waves upon the ocean shore.

A hike or a motorcycle ride along a mountain cliff.

A raft down a river, sometimes gentle and other times over tumultuous rapids.

Making one’s way through an open field, gentle breezes blowing as waves of grain or colorful flowers sway.

A ride down a majestic tree-lined road.

A sail across an open bay, wind moving it forward across the silent sea.

A still night, darkness all around and yet the stars and moon bursting out in bright array, declaring the glory of God.

Wonder.

“A feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable.”

Wonder.

Delight.

Taken for granted, “it is what is” and no more. Stopping in the moment, we recognize it for what it really is – the fingerprint of God! His gift within His creation, a moment to ponder in our hearts.

Wonder.

Refreshment.

Eyes to see.

While out west, we were mesmerized by the open desert, the deep canyons, and the majestic mountains. And, yet, I spoke to someone who had been caught up in the wonder of the “greenness” that dominates our state when they visited, in contrast to the rocky barrenness of their own desert landscape.

And I’ve read of those who live where rainfall is virtually non-existent that are enthralled by the sound of raindrops on the rooftops and the feel of precipitation against their skin. Those who long for the warmth as they bundle up against the frigid cold and those who long for “seasons” and the arctic air in the midst of their tropical temps.

Perspective has a lot to do with wonder.

Do we miss the opportunity to marvel in our everyday?

The people. The places. The experiences.

Do we ignore the glory in the ordinary…because it is, well, expected and “usual?”

Do we lose sight of the amazement of what’s in front of us and yawn at the familiar because we have grown accustomed to it and have lost sight of its own wonder, its own delight?

There is a “wonder and wildness” to life, as Michael Card sings, and freedom for those who “obey, who “forget not the hope that’s before (them) and never stop counting the cost!” There is a joy in the journey as we intentionally take hold of the amazement that is “life.”

I’m not just talking about the “life” that pumps adrenaline through our veins, though there is a great excitement and definite delight in that. I love those big moments, preparing for them and squeezing every moment out of them. And I love seeing God use those times in our lives for refreshment but also as opportunities for us to be used by Him.

But I love the quiet moments of life as well; those “treasures in jars of clay.”

Can we take delight and rest in what makes up most of life – the ordinary days where God is at work in the sometimes mundane and longs for us to see and delight in even that?  Can we grab hold of the amazement of recognizing what is right before our eyes, not losing sight of the awe of the familiar? Can we prize the moment and the circumstances that are ours and see beyond the surface? Can we be intentional about not allowing discouragement or anger or bitterness or boredom or desire for the “extraordinary” to cause us to lose our joy in the “now,” to lose our wonder in the everyday?  Does that seem like an oxymoron?  Not with God!

Perspective. Wonder.

We may look and see the ordinary; another may look and see the treasure.

We may look and see the expected, the norm; another may look and see something worth grasping and cherishing.

We may look and see routine; another may look and see opportunity for delight in our commonplace.

We may look and see “what is”; another may look and see what it really is and what it could be.

We can look in front of us and see wonder.

We can look in front of us and see delight.

We can look in front of us and be refreshed.

Here. Now.

Because He is in the midst of these moments, “doing a thousand things we cannot see.” (John Piper)

And there is wonder in it all!

“The whole earth stands in awe of the great things You have done. You make the going out of the morning and the evening shout for joy.” Psalm 65:8

“In Wonder”   Newsboys

So much wonder

Carved in Your coral seas

So much wonder

Shaded by ancient trees

I consider all Your hands have made

Every newborn’s eyes, every new sunrise

No power can tame Your presence

No light can match Your radiance

Let all creation sing in wonder

Every sea, every creature, every star

You opened up my eyes to wonder –

What a vision, what a wonder You are!

Such a wonder

Ordering time and tide

Such a wonder

Bridging the great divide

I consider all that You had, all You gave

And all that You endured

From this rebel world

What a wondrous cross You chose to bear

What a wonder You would even care.

Let every rock cry out

Let every knee bow down

You opened up my heart to wonder

What love, what a wonder You are!

No power can tame Your presence

No light can match radiance

Such a wonder!

“Many, LORD my God, are the wonders You have done, the things You planned for us. None can compare with You; were I to speak and tell of Your deeds, they would be too many to declare.”

Psalm 40:5

“Fear Not,” Said Daddy

The day was clear and the sun was shining; all seemed perfect for a family outing at the amusement park! To me, there was no better place in all the world to just enjoy being seven years old.

We quickly got our tickets and, with me way ahead of my brothers, sisters, and parents, we entered my “perfect world.” I ran first to the race cars, then the airplanes, the boats, the water flume – all the rides that were just my size. For one with so much enthusiasm for adventure, it was almost overload!

After about an hour, my parents led me to what they said would be the “most fun of all.” As I stared up at the monstrous creature before me, tears filled my eyes! My “perfect world” no longer seemed so perfect and my enthusiasm all but vanished.

“Come on, honey,” Daddy shouted, “You’ll love it!”

“I can’t, Daddy! I just can’t!” I cried, “It’s too big, too fast! I’m just a little girl!”

“You can do this…But I’ll let you make that choice; wait for us here while we go,” he said as they all ran excitedly up the ramp and towards the enormous roller coaster.

I sat on the bench with my head in my hands and cried, not only because I was having to wait alone and I wanted to not be afraid but also because I knew how disappointed Daddy would be in his little girl. He knew my love for trying new things so I’m sure he was surprised when I stood resolute. I’m also sure his heart broke a little when he saw my tears falling.

But my daddy knew this moment in time was bigger than what loomed before me; he knew it was an opportunity to teach and to train. And it was the way he raised us – taking those teachable moments wherever they arose.

So, when they all got off and were getting in line again, he tried once more to convince me. “You don’t have to be afraid; I’ll be right there beside you.” But I stayed firmly planted on the bench while everyone else ran back around for the second time with smiles and laughter.

As Daddy got in line for the third time, he felt a tug at his shirt.   Looking down, he saw me staring up at him with a cautious smile.

“I’ll go, Daddy, if you’ll sit beside me.” I barely got the words out when it was time to board the ride.

Eyes closed tightly, hands gripping the safety bar, I snuggled close to him as the ride started off with a jolt. We were sent soaring, higher and faster. Slowly my eyes opened a little at a time.  It was terrifying but so much fun.

This little girl who loved adventure, climbing, and proving she could do what the big kids could do and love it, was in her element. But first I had to face my fear.

Too soon it came to an end and we had to get off. I ran to the end of the line and, with great boldness, declared, “If you don’t mind, Daddy, I think I’ll ride alone this time!”

And sitting in the very first car all by myself, eyes wide open, and with a great big grin on my face, I was off on the first of many wild roller coaster rides without my daddy.

In fact, it was just the beginning of a lifetime of “facing my fears,” one of those life lessons my dad brought home to my heart over and over again.

Most of my life, if I said I was too unsure or afraid to do something, his immediate response would be, “Then you need to do it!”  And when I would tell him of an experience where I had to put that encouragement into action, I could see his smile and hear his joy through his words, “That a girl!”

In the moments when he was there at bedtime and we would be making up stories and talking about the day, in the opportunities when we would be driving in the car on a quick errand or a long trip, he would remind me that we face our fears – every time – because we don’t want fear to cast a shadow over our lives, we don’t want to miss opportunities, and we can know that, because we are His, God is with us, bigger than our fears.  He would remind me that I could face the impossible because He is bigger than the impossible. He would remind me that the scary things of life can be and should be faced knowing God can be trusted to walk with us and give us the courage to do or to endure.

The roller coaster was one of the first of many “face your fears” moments in my life. But it wasn’t the biggest nor the last.

Sometimes I have risen to the occasion and sometimes my fear has caused me to “stay firmly planted on the bench.” And always, I heard and still hear my daddy’s voice, “You can do this…I’ll be right here beside you.” And, while I know my dad has not been right beside me in each of those moments, I have known his encouragement and have always known that my Abba Father, God who is my tender heavenly Daddy, is indeed right here with me.

I hear the voice of my Heavenly Father say, “Fear not…”

I’m thankful that my dad began to instill this truth of God in my heart that day and, as I grew, he brought it back to Who gave him the courage to face his fears – though it was sometimes hard to imagine that the man who pushed the limits on adrenaline pumping experiences and new challenges had any fear. His confidence began with the One who walks us through adventures and valleys, thrills and incredibly stifling places, strong, healthy bodies and those broken and racked with evidence of the curse.

And, I’m thankful that, in some of his last days here on earth before he stepped into eternity where, for those redeemed by the work of Christ on the cross and His resurrection, fear is extinguished forever, before the God he loved and proclaimed, I was able to spend time by his side.

And I had the privilege and joy of speaking that truth to him, his once strong body and sound mind now frail, “You’ve told me all my life and I’m going to remind you now, Daddy: You don’t have to be afraid. I’m right here for now, holding your hand. But, most of all, Jesus is right here with you walking you through it all. Our God has told us, ‘Fear not…’ Hold on to and keep your eyes on Him!”

He looked at me through tired but still twinkling eyes, with that winsome, crooked smile that was uniquely my Dad’s and whispered, “It’s good to know I was heard; I guess I’m getting it back now. And that is good.”

Thank you for giving it in the first place, Daddy. Thank you for pushing me to step out beyond my fears as a little girl and also as a young woman, and, in the frightening moments not to look at the circumstances. Thank you for reminding me to look at Jesus.

You have no fear any longer, Daddy; I’ll see you when God calls me home and, in that moment and in the meantime, I’ll remember not to fear.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind and self-control.” 2 Timothy 1:7

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand!” Isaiah 41:10

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you…when you walk through the fire, you will not be burned…for I am the Lord your God…do not be afraid, for I am with you.” Isaiah 43

“…do what is right and do not fear anything that is frightening.” I Peter 3:6

                                                    ***     ***     ***     ***

“You can grieve for me the week before I die, if I’m scared and hurting, but when I gasp that last fleeting breath and my immortal soul flees to heaven, I’m going to be jumping over fire hydrants down the golden streets, and my biggest concern, if I have any will be my wife back here grieving. When I die, I will be identified with Christ’s exaltation. But right now, I’m identified with His affliction.” RC Sproul

1998 Dad and Me

A Quick Update and Thank You to My Blog Followers!

First of all, I want to thank you for taking the time to read and follow “Joy in My Journey.” I truly am humbled and encouraged that you would take a part of your day to engage with me here and, as some of you have shared, that God would be pleased to use these blogs to encourage and/or challenge you. We are on this journey together in Christ and I’m always thankful for feedback received!

You may have noticed that the web address has changed (or maybe it was seamless so you haven’t)!  Recently, I realized that, with the Word Press plan I had, random ads were sometimes seen when you visited my site. As I had no voice in what those were and did not want to be advocating for something I might not agree with or that might be a  distraction to my readers, I changed my plan and the address is now: joyinmyjourney.blog

If you click on or type in the old address, it will redirect; but I wanted to pass that along as explanation

Also, I know some email followers will simply read the blog in their email.  Again, thank you! But, from time to time, I will edit the blog after I have posted it. So, if you choose to read it a day or two (or longer) after you receive it in the email, you will get the most current content by clicking on the link to the website.

As I close, I’m asking the Lord to give each of you HIS joy, a renewed desire to seek and follow Him, and a fresh view of His grace to do just that!  I appreciate you being a part of my blog “family” and hearing from you!  I would also count it a privilege to pray for you as you have need and share it with me.

If you’ve never read the “About Me” section of my blog, this is the heart of why I began and continue to write “Joy In My Journey!”

I am thankful for the road on which God continues to lead me as wife to one and mom to three grown “children” and two more added “in-loves” (aka in laws) who delight my heart (as well as a first grandchild on the way)! I’m still growing in grace, finding joy in my family and friends as well as those God puts in my path, whether it be a small child I have been entrusted to teach, a young mom to whom I have the privilege of listening, a fellow believer walking the road alongside me, or a “random” stranger that enters my world for just a moment and either challenges and encourages me or I have the honor of doing the same. And I rejoice in seeking to find how He wants to use me in what He is up to in my little part of the world! My truest joy comes from my relationship with my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. His Word is my source of comfort but also that which confronts me and chips away at whatever is not in line with Truth, and I pray that everything I say and do reflects His love and grace well!

My prayer is that the name of our Mighty God will be praised through my simple journey and through the words that flow from my heart and are expressed in print.

Equally, my prayer is also that, as I write and as each person reads this, they will be drawn to the heart of God through Jesus Christ and be able to find His joy in their journey through a relationship with Him regardless of life circumstances.

Walk this road with me and be encouraged even if also challenged!


  

We Said “I Do” and Meant It – That’s the Beauty of Grace

32 years and a couple of months ago, my hubby and I said “I do.”

We had no idea what that would mean, but that’s beauty of saying “I do” in the power of Christ!  It’s just one aspect of the grace God pours out on relationships between two who love and fear Him.  The grace to grow up together, make mistakes together and apart from one another, the grace to love when it’s hard, the grace to forgive and be forgiven, the grace to laugh and the grace to cry – always together!  It’s the beauty of grace.

Very soon, we look forward to our only daughter making those same vows to a young man we have prayed for all her life, though we didn’t know his name.  God’s answer, with this particular young man, is a gift to both our daughter and to all of us.

As they prepare, we pray diligently for them both knowing the great joys and the sorrows will come; it is both that shape and solidify a relationship that is grounded in Christ and that is committed to intentionally saying and “doing” “I do forever.”  It is the relationship where both choose to grow in their walk with the Lord and to being humble and transparent with each other, no matter how hard it is or what it exposes; never hiding parts of ourselves.  For it is when the two are one in every way, even in humility and trust, sharing their strengths and struggles, wrestling and battling with and for each other (Ephesians 6:10-18), that the enemy can have no room for deception and division.  It’s the beauty of grace.

Recently, I watched our own wedding; the video tape etched with the years but the words, from the heart of God, still bold and true.

32 years and a couple of months ago, my hubby and I said “I do.”  As I listened to these vows and the charge from our pastor while my hubby was away on business, I sat in the living room and prayerfully and thankfully said “I do” again. And, yes, through the good and hard times – and, as with all, there have been both – I would do it all over again with this man, “the one whom my soul loves.”  Song of Solomon 3:4

I share these words for encouragement and challenge, whether you are married now or not.  If so, commit to your spouse again; if not, prepare your heart and mind, make your choices wisely, and realize that every decision we make has an effect on the one to whom we have said or will say “I do.”

Choose to love intentionally, deeply, faithfully, fiercely!  It’s worth it!

And when you blow it – big or small – don’t hide.  Take it to the cross together quickly.  Don’t let it linger.  Learn to say, “I blew it.  I’m sorry,” not “I’m sorry, but…”  And learn to say, “I forgive you.”  That’s the beauty of grace.

“See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”  Hebrews 12:15

In 1983, these words were spoken to a young bride and groom:

“The vows you are about to take are not a statement of feelings.  You are not saying to each other: “This is how I feel about you.”  You are saying, “This is what I intend to do.”  You’re making a statement about commitment, not about your feelings.

And your vows are being made before God.

One day you will stand before Him and you will give account for how you lived up to the vows you’re about to make.

S, when you marry D, you’re not just marrying another girl.  You’re marrying a child of God.

Similarly, D, when you marry S you marry a child of God.

And one day, He is going to ask you, “How did you treat my child?  How did you love her/him?  Did you fulfill your vows to one another?

What gifts do you bring as a statement of the purity and permanence of this marriage relationship…the rings.

When you look at marriage, perhaps the surprising thing is not that one out of every two marriages is failing.  Perhaps the surprising thing is that one out of two manages to succeed.

That when you join two sons of Adam, two sinners who have their peculiar way of doing things and their own selfish ways and mix them up and put them in the same room, it’s not surprising that there are problems…

But you have a great advantage.  You are Christians, you are children of God, and you have a pattern set before you. 

And the pattern is this, that you S are to love your wife.  The main point is – you are no longer individuals; you no longer are separate.  There’s been the creation of one person.  You no longer have your separate ways and separate dreams and separate goals and separate identities.  The two have become one.  The creation of one new person. 

So from here on out you are to think in terms of the unity.  You no longer have say over your own body anymore.  That belongs to your spouse.  And the two of you belong to one another.  You are to love your wife as you love your own self.

You spend all your time, money, and effort on yourself if you’re the average person, even if you’re the average Christian.  You are to love your wife with the same kind of attention you love yourself and treat her with the same kindness and tenderness you want for yourself.

You’re to love her as Christ loved the church.  Christian love does not seek its own.  Learn to say “no” to me (and my selfish desires) and yes to us.

And, similarly D, you’re called to be subject to and respect your husband.  To “be subject to” is not merely taking orders.  You’re being called to a voluntary submission or subjecting of yourself to S.  It’s used in the military context.  You are to subordinate yourself to the direction of the team; to work as a team going in the same direction.  Willing, positive, willful giving of yourself for S.

The apostle Paul says a woman was made for man so you are called to be a helper, a comfort, an encouragement to him; to make his dreams your dreams.  Most men need a cheerleader and that is something to which you are being called.

What will hold you both in good stead is:

1 – Be tender to each other as you speak sweetly and gently and kindly and never indulge in harshness or cruelty or abruptness.  To never allow yourself to act in an angry or harsh treatment of one another.

2 – The most important words you’re going to need to know and say are “I’m sorry” and “please forgive me.”  That you should be quick to admit guilt because you’re going to be guilty.  You’re going to fail and you’re going to fall short and sin over and over again.  So, it’s incumbent upon you, if you’re going to have a happy life and a happy marriage to learn to say, “I’m sorry” and “I was wrong, please forgive me for what I have done.”  And then to be quick on the other hand to forgive. 

You have a great advantage.  God has given you a pattern.  But even better than that He’s giving you the power.  He’s giving you His Holy Spirit.  And, as you seek Him, in DEPENDENT prayer, you realize that apart from Him you can do nothing, apart from Him you will fail, you will fall short, your marriage will end up on the rocks.  But, with Him and the power and the patter He has given, you stand.  You succeed. 

You need to realize how much you need Him.  Then commit to praying together and studying the Scriptures together, seeking Him daily that He would enable and empower to lead godly lives.

And, charging the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, assembled to watch this union.

Your responsibility to this couple is this:

-Rejoice with them and celebrate on this day what God is doing in their lives! 

-Support them in their times of testing.

-Forgive them when they make mistakes.

-Remember them in your prayers.

-Seek God’s blessing on their lives and on their marriage.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

   “Together”  by Steven Curtis Chapman

Here we stand, here we are
With all our wounds and battle scars
From all the storms and all the wars we’ve weathered together
We had no way of knowing when
We started way back there and then
How the road would twist and turn and bend
We just knew we belonged together

And if it wasn’t for God’s mercy and His grace
There’s no way we would be standing in this place
But because He has been faithful
Every step along the way
Here we are together

We’ve climbed up mountains higher than
Were ever in our hopes and plans
We’ve held onto each other’s hands
Watched miracles unfold together
And we’ve crawled on our hands and knees
Through valleys cold and dark and deep
Sometimes not even sure if we could make it out alive together

And if it wasn’t for God’s mercy and His grace
There’s no way we would be standing in this place
But because He has been faithful
Every step along the way
Here we are together, together

And if it wasn’t for God’s mercy and His grace
There’s no way we would be standing in this place
But because He has been faithful
Every step along the way
Here we are together, together

“In the marriage journey, (relational health and) healing follows where humility and true repentance have been.”   –     Matthew L. Jacobsen

 

“It is Finished” Began at Christmas, Remembered

“Peace on earth; good will towards men.”  A proclamation and a promise.

But so many things threaten to undo our peace.

Intermittently, circumstances and the pace of life chip it away.  Sometimes it is sin committed against us; while at other times, our own sin unconfessed.  Sometimes we grieve loss of various kinds in a world turned upside down; broken relationships or death that takes one we love far from us.  And sometimes we watch or are the prodigal sprinting to a supposed “safe place,” a place of assumed comfort, only to find it is anything but calm. And sometimes it’s obedience in a long direction.  But, though that “delayed obedience” may take a winding path, when it ultimately returns to the Truth, the enemy of our souls cringes. And sometimes it is loving unbelievers bent on denying the reality of Christ or believers who confess the name of Jesus but think and live like it makes no difference; yet we do not compromise our words or actions to appease in order to make one “feel” better;  but, unashamed, we speak truth out of a great love for them and for our Savior so they will “know the hope!”

And a tremble can be felt.

We are setting holiness in motion; allowing God to reign and work.  The enemy of our souls can wound our spirit, make us uncomfortable, insert sadness, stoke discouragement, or prompt tears.

But He cannot destroy us.

We can have rest.

“The weary world rejoices” and so can we as we set our minds on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy”and not let the lies penetrate our soul; all because of the our God penetrating the darkness and coming in flesh on that holy night! Pain is real but so is the Savior who has promised peace for the brokenhearted, a way of return for the runner, rest for the weary.

And even sin does not have to separate any further.   No, we don’t always follow perfectly, but we are in this world to be Christ’s image bearers, light shining in this generation, and we have been given the power to overcome and to grow in that likeness.   When we fail (and we will), we can run to the Savior and humbly go to those we have wounded or sinned against and make it right.  We can admit to those who have witnessed our failure and cynically thought, “Well, there you go – I see there’s really no difference in a follower of Christ” that we have failed and so need the Redeemer but also that  we do live as one being changed by the transforming grace of God.  For the difference is not in us; it’s in our Savior.

We have not only the obligation but the privilege of laying it down and reminding the watching ones that our hope is in Jesus and our desire is to become more like Him daily, to increasingly want His will not ours, and to understand and live out the beauty of His holiness a little more with each passing day and year.  And by His grace, we have that One who forgives us, picks us up, embraces us, brushes us off, then sends us out to “go and sin no more.”  We are great sinners, but we have a greater Savior! (paraphrased from John Newton)

And so, in the moments, there are times we will have a settledness in our souls and others when restlessness will haunt us; but, for the follower of Jesus Christ, we are at peace with God through the finished work of His Son, who came as babe on a silent night, crashing through the barrier between those who bear His image and our three times holy God, devastating death there on the cross with “Tetelestai” – “It Is Finished!”  The condemnation of our sin is paid for, defeat by discouragement has been decimated, and we, who long for the Savior’s return, keep “working out our salvation with fear and trembling” so that we are growing deeper in His truth and in His love, able to enter that respite and “shake off our fears.”

And it all began on that not so silent night!

We long for His return even when we feel too attached to this world.

“Peace on earth; good will towards men.”  A proclamation and a promise. The now and the not yet!  Gazing on the babe in the manger, we remember what was to come – His finished work on the cross and His resurrection to life!  And we await our soon and coming King once more!

This is Christmas!  The longing for Jesus to break through darkness and discouragement, hold us near to His heart, and equip us to rest even when circumstances cause our spirits to sometimes faint, even falter!

Christopher West says it well, reminding us of the reality of hope we find even in our weariness:  “This is the Christmas story in a nutshell: The Infinite One has wed himself to our finite humanity. This is what we’re preparing ourselves for during Advent. And this is why Advent is a time of desire: The bride is longing to be filled with the eternal life of her bridegroom. And so she cries in union with the Spirit of God: “O come, O come, Emmanuel.”

And Emmanuel has come.  It is finished!

You Are…

Today, I share from a guest blogger who I love and by whom I love to be challenged and encouraged – my husband, Steve!

DSCN1517 4 x 6

You are, not who I am, laid the foundations of this world.

You are, not who I am, was stretched out on a cross and hung for slaughter.

You are, not who I am, defeated death and rose from the grave.

You are, not who I am, sits at the right hand of God and is the ruler of all.

I am who You are when I love my neighbor as myself.

I am who You are when I love my wife as You love the church.

I am who You are when I reflect You well, my Lord.

I am who You are when I follow Your precepts.

I am who I am because You are “I AM.”

Love Them Anyway

IMG_0103 8 x 10

Friends and enemies.

Encouragers and persecutors.

Jesus said “Love them, do good to them.”

Everyone, Lord?

“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” (Matthew 5:44)

Time and again Jesus posed a question following a question and finished with “Go and do likewise.”

And so He gave the perfect example of doing just what He calls us to do.

He submitted to the Father and endured hatred from His enemies and persecution from those who were blind to the Truth out of His love for us…and for them.

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  (Luke 23:34)

Then He breathed His last, “Tetelestai!”  It is finished!  The debt we owe was paid in full. Ours is to receive that free gift, humbly seek to live out the love evidenced by truth that paid it, and return that agape love – that gift – to others.

They were kind to me…love them.

They wounded me…love them anyway.

They spoke words of encouragement to me…love them.

They tore me down and maligned my character…love them anyway.

They agreed with me…love them.

They disagreed and would not listen…love them anyway.

They found my words helpful and wanted to hear more…love them.

They ridiculed my beliefs and my love for you, Lord; they rejected you…love them anyway.

They made life easy for me…love them.

They made life miserable for me…love them anyway.

What that love looks like may be different and, yet, always the same.

“Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” I Corinthians 13:6

We won’t love our enemies like we love those who love us; still, we love by choice.

Jesus knew that; it is why He said to do both – pray for them and love them, knowing we cannot pray for someone without it changing our hearts to initiate a compassion for them even as we ask Him to transform their lives through a relationship with the living God!

Love can only be achieved by submitting our disdain, anger, hurt, and pride to Jesus who redeemed us, not just to pay our penalty for eternity, but to make us more like Him; to bear His image well and to break our hearts for what breaks His.  In obedience, as we pray for those we consider “enemies,” or for friends who have wounded us, we will supernaturally begin to love like Jesus; we will begin to desire a heart change in them and in us.  If we do not have concern for the lost or reconciliation among brothers and sisters in Christ – regardless of their “reason” or their attitude towards us – we are blind to Calvary love.

Love speaks the truth and does not change it to suit the situation or the audience.  But love that extends from a heart submitted to Christ is kind and patient; it does not pick and choose who is worthy of love. It is hard, but it is good.

Loving someone may mean saying hard things, those that will not “feel” loving or kind; and yet, doing so in a way that reflects the heart of God rather than our prideful one – speaking to bring healing and change rather than to be “right” is love of the purest kind.

Love is bold and responds out of obedience to Christ, so it does not compromise nor does it excuse behavior.  We can be angry about the sin that ensnares their hearts and ours, but the love He calls us to is not haughty, arrogant, easily angered, or rude.  It extends the grace of God but does not cover the offense.  Instead, it offers the reality of what was done at the cross.  It remembers that, apart from the grace of God, we would be His enemies.  Apart from Him softening our hearts and opening our eyes, we would still be blind to the truth – that redemption and the ability to run in freedom from sin is made possible by the love of God through Christ’s work on the cross and His resurrection!

Apart from His grace and our continual feeding on that grace, we are entangled by sin that so easily weighs us down and causes us, in pride, to look and live with our own eyes and hearts instead of His.

If He calls us to something, we can do it!  But it takes the total grace of God, the choice to submit our wills to Him and begin to pray for their heart change and their redemption.  And, when we have opportunity, to do good to them and provide for them even if they don’t deserve it; provide the way out then walk alongside them in the process.  We cannot will ourselves to “feel” love for someone; but we can, by an act of the will, be faithful to do what God has told us to do, even if we don’t “want” to.

Love is bigger than the “rightness” of our cause; it is intended for the redemption and restoration of souls.  It is intended that our “enemies” and our friends see and come to know the living God who has a made a way.

Love is an action.  Love is a choice; a decision to submit our hurt, our wills, and our desire for justice to the God who knows our hearts as well as those of our enemies and our friends.  We act out of that obedience not out of our emotions.  Sometimes it changes their hearts, but it always changes ours.

They are friendly…love them.

They are harsh…love them anyway.

They love truth…love them.

They hate truth…love them anyway.

They love me…love them.

They do not love me…love them anyway.

Then leave the results to the God who is exceedingly able to redeem and transform our enemies…and us!

Set It Free – Forgiving When It’s Hard

“Forgiveness can do much for one; forgiveness can do very much indeed.”

Sometimes it’s hard to let go of legitimate hurt.  You have been let down, wounded deeply by a close friend, and you find yourself reeling from the betrayal.

We may be annoyed by a stranger or an acquaintance speaking against us or acting in a way that hurts, but the close friend knows our hearts and we have allowed them a place of intimate confidence.  Trying to trust again can be daunting because “…only a friend comes close enough to ever cause so much pain.” (Michael Card)

In the midst of that situation, I have found myself shaking my head, yelling into an empty room to “get it off my chest” but knowing the words spoken would not be helpful were I to speak them directly, especially in the same tone.  They would not “be useful for building (the other) up according to their needs.”  (Ephesians 4:29).  Rashly speaking my mind might feel good for the moment, but it is not God’s intent and can ultimately deepen the rift and impede the settling of my soul as well.  But simply maintaining silence can be equally as painful to both parties; there is a better way.

I have been humbled by the Lord’s gentleness, bringing me down from my rant and calling me to His heart; reminding me that holding on to hurt wounds me deeper and could hinder the healing process between me and my friend.  Bitterness is not the answer.

Jesus was betrayed; that was the focal point of the Michael Card song above and, while I did not betray Jesus as Judas did, I have betrayed Him with my own sin more times than I can count.  Yet, He died for me and forgives me every time I bring my ragged self before Him as I seek to relinquish my sin more each time.  He has called me, to no less; and, if He calls, He equips.

If I choose not to forgive, no matter how large or small the infraction, then, as Amy Carmichael wrote, “I know nothing of Calvary love.”

But does that mean we simply ignore the injury that caused the pain, whether it be intentional or unintentional on their part? Is that amnesia helpful to the other or do we each need, at times, to give the loving accountability of one who wants the best for the person who offended me but also for the relationship as a whole. Are we willing to receive the same?

Certainly, there are times the intent of another is laser focused and meant to injure; but far too often the other person has not denied self or has allowed self preservation to open a breach in wisdom.  The result?  A word spoken too quickly, a confidence given up, an action that defies reason when at the hands of one we have entrusted.

“Real love demands pursuit…The Bible never says ‘Make it easy for others to sin against you.’* (Lane and Tripp)  Rather, we are called to pursue peace through reconciliation.

As Mathew 18:15 says, “If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him – work it out between the two of you.”  But we go prayerfully, with the goal of bringing truth to light and unity back to the relationship.  We humbly pursue, asking the Lord to show us if we have played any part in the conflict.

Certainly, in the case of old wounds, we may simply have to lay past hurt at the cross and walk away from the pain that we feel if not the person.

But, when the wound is fresh and we fail to honestly seek a better resolution, we run the risk of pressing it down without bringing complete healing and the danger is two-fold.  It can leave the one who offended us feeling as if they did nothing wrong, which is not healthy for them.  And it can create a bitterness we do not even realize exists until an incident later arises that causes the pain to resurface and our response to be even more pronounced.

God calls us to reconciliation with one another.  He calls us to bring conflict into the light where nothing is hidden and the darkness can be dispelled.

Proverbs 27:6 says, “faithful are the wounds of a friend.”  Words that bring healing, painful as they may be, are “truth spoken in love” but aptly so.  In this conversation, the words are intended to bring our sister or brother to understanding, to see behind their actions or their own words to the “why” so they can have eyes that comprehend and a humility that leads to repentance first to God and then to the one offended.

Certainly, we must ask the Lord to give us words that are healing, that are constructive; not with the intention to crush but rather to restore.  Words that bind up not tear down.  And in that time of asking God for our own heart to speak wisely, we cannot fail to ask that He be working in their heart as well so that they will receive it as intended.

What will it take to put aside our own pride for the good of our friend or one we love? Is the healing of a relationship worth the effort?  How can we step out of our comfort zone to a place where conflict might result but restoration and reconciliation will likely follow?

We know that bitterness hurts our own relationship, first with Christ and then, not just with the other person, but with all to whom we are close.

The ease with which we slide into placing that same mistrust on another is frighteningly simple; the way the enemy of our souls causes us to “see” with blind eyes and “hear” with deaf ears things that are not so is far too subtle and swift.  So, the question is not how can we put aside pride and the fear of conflict, but how can we not?

Sometimes we want to feed our bitterness; to stand in our “right” when they are “wrong.”  But perhaps, before a word is even spoken, it would be more beneficial to choose something about the person for which to give God thanks even if it feels like a chore to do so and even if it is a small thing.  A minute by minute dose of gratefulness will do much to re-order our hearts and attitudes.  Our hearts are made more pliable by obeying His command to be thankful even as we ask for healing.

“…in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”  (Philippians 4:6)

It can transform bitterness into deeper forgiveness.  Small obediences can change our hearts.

In a conflict with a friend, the totality of “love” is put on the line and only God, who is perfect in love, can empower us to work through the wounds of one who has acted unlovingly and seek repair through a love rightly expressed by words and actions.

“Love does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”  (I Corinthians 13:5-7)

The enemy desires to stoke flames of bitterness between believers because it hinders each person’s walk with the Lord and each person’s focus on the God of grace who has forgiven us so much and equipped us to walk securely.  Even as we hope for the other person to have a humble heart, to “take every thought (word and action) captive,” and to speak and hear truth for the purpose of reconciliation, we must be willing to do the same.

Friendships, relationships, can be messy; but they are also opportunities for seeing God’s grace firsthand and for extending it to another.  It is often costly. We may not receive the response for which we hope, but our call is to obedience and to reflect the Savior well regardless. God cancelled our debt on the cross through Jesus; we must be willing to do the same.

And, if they have humbly asked for forgiveness, can we do less than accept their offering? The enemy loves to push us to stoke anger and let it develop into bitterness, doing further damage to our hearts and the relationship.  But God calls us to extend His grace to restore a cherished relationship.  We give and receive a gift when we forgive, no matter how big or small the offense.

In this situation and in others that will arise, I pray for eyes to see and a heart that increasingly seeks the best for whoever I find myself in conflict with; trusting that God can take what the enemy meant for evil and make it even more beautiful and redemptive in His time!

“Forgiveness is both a past event and an ongoing process into the future.  It is a past promise you keep in the future…When we choose to practice true forgiveness, the relationship is not just brought back to where it was before the offense; it actually moves further down the road to maturity.”  (*Timothy Lane and Paul David Tripp, “Relationships: A Mess Worth Making”)

FORGIVENESS by Matthew West

It’s the hardest thing to give away

And the last thing on your mind today

It always goes to those that don’t deserve

It’s the opposite of how you feel

When the pain they caused is just too real

It takes everything you have just to say the word…

      Forgiveness

      Forgiveness

 It flies in the face of all your pride

It moves away the mad inside

It’s always anger’s own worst enemy

Even when the jury and the judge

Say you gotta right to hold a grudge

It’s the whisper in your ear saying ‘Set It Free’

      Forgiveness, Forgiveness

      Forgiveness, Forgiveness

      Show me how to love the unlovable

      Show me how to reach the unreachable

      Help me now to do the impossible

      Forgiveness, Forgiveness

It’ll clear the bitterness away

It can even set a prisoner free

There is no end to what it’s power can do

So, let it go and be amazed

By what you see through eyes of grace

The prisoner that it really frees is you

      Forgiveness, Forgiveness

      Forgiveness, Forgiveness

I want to finally set it free

So show me how to see what Your mercy sees

Help me now to give what You gave to me

Forgiveness, Forgiveness

Thoughts on Walking in Forgiveness

  • Stop. Pray.  Ask God for a heart to see own sin even as we go to another; pray for both hearts.
  • By keeping account of wrongs, we do not let it go. Share our hearts, open doors for restoration, and move on.
  • If we nurse bitterness, we are sinning against our brothers and sisters and we are sinning against God ultimately hurting ourselves. Choosing forgiveness over nursing wounds will bring healing.
  • When you walk away in anger from anyone who does not agree with you or assigning evil intent to that person, you are missing the grace of God that seeks truth.
  • When you grow angry with anyone who confronts you and either use your anger towards them or cut them out of your life, you are missing the grace of God.
  • Choose to “think on” and listen to music and other “inputs” that remind us to forgive as God forgave us.
  • Choose to cultivate thankfulness.

“It is Finished” Begins at Christmas

Restless…

So many things threaten to “undo” our peace.

Sometimes it is sin committed against us, sometimes our own sin unconfessed; sometimes we grieve loss of various kinds in a world turned upside down; sometimes we watch or are the prodigal sprinting to a supposed “safe place,” a place of assumed comfort, only to find it is anything but calm. And sometimes it’s obedience in a long direction.  But though that “delayed obedience” may take a winding path, when it ultimately returns to the Truth, the enemy of our souls cringe. And sometimes it is loving unbelievers bent on denying the reality of Christ or believers who confess the name of Jesus but think and live like it makes no difference; yet we do not compromise our words or actions to appease and “make nice” but firmly speak truth out of a great love for them and for our Savior.  And a tremble can be felt.

We are setting holiness in motion; allowing God to reign and work.  The enemy can wound our spirit, make us uncomfortable, insert sadness, stoke discouragement, or prompt tears.

But He cannot destroy us.

We can have rest.

“The weary world rejoices” and so can we as we set our minds on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy”and not let the lies penetrate our soul.  Pain is real but so is the Savior who has promised peace for the brokenhearted, a way of return for the runner, rest for the weary.

Sin does not have to separate any further.   No, we don’t always follow perfectly, but we are in this world to be Christ’s image bearers, light shining in this generation, and we have been given the power to overcome.   When we fail (and we will), we can run to the Savior and humbly go to those we have wounded or sinned against and make it right.  We can admit to those who have witnessed our failure and cynically thought, “Well, there you go – I see there’s really no difference in a follower of Christ”and we can live as one changed.  For the difference is not in us; it’s in our Savior.

We have not only the obligation but the privilege of laying it down and reminding the watching ones that our hope is in Jesus and our desire is to become more like Him daily, to increasingly want His will not ours, and to understand and live out the beauty of His holiness a little more with each passing day and year.  And by His grace, we have that One who forgives us, picks us up, embraces us, brushes us off, then sends us out to “go and sin no more.”  We are great sinners, but we have a greater Savior! (paraphrased from John Newton)

And so, there are times we will have a settledness in our souls and times when restlessness will haunt us; but, for the follower of Jesus Christ, we are at peace with God through the finished work of His Son, who came as babe on a silent night, crashing through the barrier between those who bear His image and our three times holy God, devastating death there on the cross with “Tetelestai” – “It Is Finished!”  The condemnation of our sin is paid for, defeat by discouragement has been decimated, and we, who long for the Savior’s return, keep “working out our salvation with fear and trembling” so that we are growing deeper in His truth and in His love, able to enter that respite and “shake off our fears.”

And it all began on that no so silent night!

We long for His return even when we feel too attached to this world.  This is Christmas!  The longing for Jesus to break through darkness and discouragement, hold us near to His heart, and equip us to rest even when circumstances cause our spirits to sometimes faint, even falter!

Christopher West says it well, reminding us of the reality of hope we find even in our weariness:  “This is the Christmas story in a nutshell: The Infinite One has wed himself to our finite humanity. This is what we’re preparing ourselves for during Advent. And this is why Advent is a time of desire: The bride is longing to be filled with the eternal life of her bridegroom. And so she cries in union with the Spirit of God: “O come, O come, Emmanuel.”

And Emmanuel has come.  It is finished!