Posted on January 29, 2019
“Be joyful always.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16 (GLT)
The Bible commands us to “be joyful always,”(1Thessalonians 5:16) but it takes strength to hold onto joy when life threatens to snatch it from our hands. How do we recognize a threat to our joy, employ a strategy to refute it, and come out stronger on the other side of it …still gripping our God-given joy?
The misconception of Biblical joy is that it feels like happiness. Even though “always”encompasses happy times and feelings of bliss, true Christian joy can endure through extreme hardship and pain. Happy feelings aren’t a requirement to be “cheerful no matter what,” as the Message paraphrase of 1 Thessalonians 5:16reads.
“Be full of joy all of the time,” the New Life Version translates. “Always be joyful,”reads the New Living Translation. “Celebrate always,” the VOICE paraphrases, and“Rejoice always,” the New International Version states. Joy is an emotion of great delight. Praise expresses approval. Worship regards something as sacred. Celebration makes something known! (dictionary.com) Where do we find the strength to rejoice in the middle of trials, frustrations, and heartbreak …sickness, death, and despair …loneliness, fatigue, and unfairness? The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible states that “rejoicing might be associated with praise.”
Posted on January 26, 2019
You have fixed all the boundaries of the earth; you have made summer and winter. – Psalm 74:17
Winter pops up in the Bible as early as Genesis 8:1. The literal Hebrew translation of the word means,“harvest time” or“autumn,” but the when I dug a little deeper into the word origin I found that winter has been associated with feelings of disdain dating back to ancient times! “Charaph,” the root word, also carries a definition relating back to harvest time, but also this one: “to reproach, taunt, blaspheme, defy, jeopardize, rail, upbraid.” Our modern-day definition of winter links the season to cold temperatures, but there’s no denying the depressive state of the Winter blues that can set in months of under gray skies and dead trees.
Posted on January 25, 2018
The voice outside the door was pretty routine. I had tried to steal a moment away to go to the bathroom, and fooled myself into thinking that shutting the door would signal the little people in the house to allow me a moment of privacy. (Bah. Ha. Ha.) God’s sense of humor never ceases to amaze me, and the state in which He met me for this moment was right on cue.
The uncharacteristic hesitation in my daughter’s voice led me to ask if she was OK. It hadn’t been the easiest year, and my heart broke right along with hers. I had been covering her in prayer and God’s Truth. That day, my eyes glazed over as she peeked through a crack in that bathroom door to tell me what was weighing on her heart.
” I want to have Jesus in my heart,” my daughter whimpered, “it’s just too hard without Him.”
“I need Jesus, Mommy.” I excused myself to “wash my hands” and then witnessed my daughter handing her life over to Christ as we prayed together. It was a marking moment of pure joy, that sent my prayer life into overdrive on a completely new level. A heart surrendered to Jesus will most certainly face trials and challenges, and strength is what I pray for my girl as she faces the start of the next decade in-step with her Savior.
“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy many be complete.” John 15:11 (NIV)
His strength enables my feet to keep trekking on. “Be joyful always,” ( 1 Thesalonians 5:16), is a lot easier to live out when things are sunny-side up. But when life becomes painful, hard, and unfair …lonely and badgered with doubt …it takes His strength to keep hiking through the snowy woods.
The Greek word for “joy” in John 15:11 is “chara,” which means “joy, gladness.” But underneath a part of the definition that says, “the cause or occasion of joy,” it’s defined a little further as, “of person’s who are one’s joy.”
When Jesus is our joy, it is complete. His joy becomes ours. He becomes our joy. The root word of chara is “chairo,“ a primary Greek word that expands the meaning unto “to be well, thrive.” The strength to find Joy comes from Him.
The source of our strength isn’t something that we can grip, it’s a surrender to a source that flows through us.
Surrender means to yield the possession of power, to give oneself up, relinquish, abandon, or “to give oneself up to some influence, course, or emotion.” Jesus told his disciples, “Greater love has no one than this, to lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13
“The branch must remain open to the flow of the vine’s life. If the branch were simply wound around the vine tightly, it would still die without producing any fruit.” Beth Moore, Portraits of Devotion, Day 216.
On whose accord to we lay down our lives for our friends if we have not surrendered our own into His hands? Surrendering our self-centered disposition for a Christ-centered perspective takes Holy Spirit strength. A daily, soul-surrendering strengthening, from the vine.
“If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in His love.” John 15:10
Why is that so hard for humanity to accept that uninterrupted obedience is unattainable this side of heaven? Even before the constant clamor of criticism that bombards us through social streams, internal doubt has always threatened to disqualify us from the full and vibrant life Christ died to give us.
The same little voice that peeked into the bathroom weeks earlier, recently discovered that discipline remained a part of a Christ-committed life. Frustrated by her own disobedience, that sweet child asked me if He was even in there.
“Of course He is,” I reassured her, pointing to her heart,“He will never leave you.”
Christianity is a slow change, an individual walk. Yet, we compare our obedience to those around us and entertain benchmarks that may not be realistic for the current way-point of our hearts. Each day that we choose to walk with Jesus, we get a little stronger. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit provides us with the strength to obediently follow Him.
Lucky for me I grew up in the 90’s, or my struggle with perfectionism would have been glaringly obvious. Don’t mistake my life for a suffered one …I’m the same high energy crack-up that I’ve always been. I just don’t own a scale, talk about weight, or lose sleep over my reflection. God convicted me of that negative thought cycle long ago, and I choose to obediently stop it. We will never lack strength to accomplish His will in our lives.
How easily our hearts can be led down a road full of absolute crap.
“It’s a lesson, not your life-story,” I assure my daughters when they make mistakes. “Everyone struggles with difficult choices.”
How can we let our soul’s find their worth in a grade, paycheck, weight, good review, re-tweet, or accolade ? The strength to be imperfect comes from Christ. If we hold onto anything else but His validation, then we set ourselves up for a good crushing when the external feedback we receive inevitably fails us.
“There is no fear in love,” 1 John 4:18a says. Guilt and shame over the mistakes we have made in our lives does not come from God. Romans 3:10 states, “There is no one righteous, not even one.” Jesus died so that we could live life to the full (John 10:10b). He never said we had to be perfect.
“My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hiding all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Colossians 2:2-3 (NIV)
How often do we take a look around our lives and gently rebuke and remove incorrect theology and religious practices? How often do we speak up and speak out about Christ when a worldly world-ism wafts across our eardrums? Paul was confident! He was strong enough to put up healthy boundaries as to what he was willing to absorb and entertain. We would be smart to focus on Christ the way Paul did.
It takes strength to walk away, kindly disagree, pray for an enemy, forgive and unfairness, process criticism with humility, or forgive ourselves for failure. “If you want to change, surround yourself with people that get it,” my pastor preached this past Sunday.
What if God asks us to obediently embrace a season of isolation as we tune into His voice above all others? The Book of 1 Kings tells how God prepared the prophet Elijah. Through my daily journey with First5, I learned that he obediently hid for three years, relying on ravens to bring Him meals twice a day. “But God wasn’t setting Elijah aside — He was setting Elijah apart.” Krista Williams, First5
“ Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.” 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 (NIV)
God has laid this lesson of strength upon my heart this year, and He continues to teach me how His strength lies behind our joy, surrendering, obedience, imperfection, and construction of healthy boundaries. “Listen, stay alert, stand tall in the faith, be courageous, and be strong. Let love prevail in your life, words, and actions.” 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 (VOICE) For Love to prevail in our lives, our connection to the Vine must be strong. We can accomplish this by training daily in study of His Word, and obediently following His lead for our lives.
Posted on January 7, 2016
The shadow of my stride around God’s promise illuminates motherly purpose to my heart.
I revisited The Other Side, today, as part of a new blog tradition to make a “Throwback Thursday” post part of my routine. As I scrolled through the text, my jaw dropped at how much it mirrored my notes for today’s #livefree Thursday, “I’m marked.”
“Maybe my daughters will learn to love distance running and it’s masochistic ways, too. If not in running than in something that they question why they love, until they are out there in it. I’m trying to instill an experience in them that will help shape their determination, by simply showing them who I am. I might not have it all figured out yet, but maybe that’s a good thing to accept early on in parenting.
Practice isn’t perfect, but it can make it.” -The Other Side
When the satellite TV becomes digitally distorted for a moment, I panic over what might happen if it doesn’t straighten itself out…what if I miss a play of the Browns game that could become the only highlight of our entire season?!?!?! When my motherly satellite dish gets bogged down by heavy rains of “I don’t know what to do here…,” I tend to wig completely out in a panicked search of plausible solutions.
I do not know how to keep my baby daughter from feeling defeated over getting placed on a bad behavioral chart color at school. How can I convince her that she is truly going to be OK if she will not listen to any reasonable word I have to say? What kind of crazy state comes over my baby when she cries in fear before I even know what I should be mad about?
“Lo Lo,” I assured, “I promise I will not be mad at you, baby…just tell me what happened.” (Famous last words, mom.)
“It will only make it worse if I tell you.”
Make what worse? What did I miss?
I could tell the dread of having to run laps around the property (punishment for breaking four very broad house rules that can be applied to almost any circumstance) was already starting to cause a “crank” in her side. But there was nothing to be punished for yet…
And then the self torture began as my mind launched into the outer realms of space where the occasions in which I totally lost my cool hang out…and then I started, once again, to doubt my parenting abilities. I started to feel all kinds of crazy …and defeated …and like I am going to screw these kids up for eternity.
“I’m trying to instill an experience in them that will help shape their determination, by simply showing them who I am.” -The Other Side
God wants that for us. He wants to help shape our determination by showing us who He is.
“I AM, “he told Moses in Exodus 3:14, “I AM WHO I AM.”
He is all that we will ever need, because He has planned out every minute of our lives. God layered each life with purpose so profound that He states the only provision required is His plan, for the deployment of which He sent His Son…and His Spirit.
“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession- to the praise of his glory.” -Ephesians 1:13-14
Mothers are not made mothers by accident. God meant to give me these children. It was no mistake. God’s plan is perfect and His timing is perfect, but my understanding of His perfect will is anything but.
If I can learn to relax in my purpose and create habits of seeking out His Word and giving what I have to Him each day, then my daughters will be well-equipped to apply the same principles in their own lives. I have no doubt it will be hard to watch them stretch out to grasp Him in their own time. But by prayer and discipline in my own life and walk with Christ, I can do my human best to lead them to the path of righteousness.
In Paul’s letter to Timothy, he reminds his young padawan in the faith of the example he gleaned from his mother and grandmother. Two generations of faithful servants led Timothy’s feet to the start of his own path to answer God’s call on his life.
“I am calling up memories of your sincere and unqualified faith, a faith that first lived permanently in the heart of your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am fully persuaded, dwells in you also.” -2Timothy1:5
Isn’t that marvelous? Paul didn’t say Timothy’s mother and grandmother were perfect. They were marked.
I am marked.
Every night, as I scroll through my camera roll in the quiet of a post-bedtime house, I am reminded of how blessed I am by the simple smiles of the day. A midst the selfies, photo bombs, and “send this one to daddy” poses, it’s there. That look of love. They were looking at me, today… And we were all smiling.
What if we captured one of those moments and brought it, and Ephesians 1:13-14, with us to our time with God the very next day? What a powerful reminder of God’s mark of “mom-hood,” and positive way to launch the day.
The next time you’re struggling in a panic for “what to do,” remind yourself to be yourself.
It’s already in you.
If you need to take a lap around God’s mark, send your kids out to run one! “Practice isn’t perfect, but it can make it.”
Happy #Livefree Thursday!