Thursday, September 30, 2010

What Joy Looks Like: Conclusion

"Dear brothers and sisters, I close my letter with these last words: Be joyful. Grow to maturity. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with you." 2 Corinthians 13:11

What joy looks like...

Growing up. We grow up in many different ways. Physically our bodies grow, our features change from the cute, chubby baby that goos with glee to the independent toddler who begins to speak their mind. Then comes the awkward stages of elementary school when our bodies grow disproportionately to our playmates that leads right into dreaded adolescence when our bodies seem to grow with a mind all their own. Somewhere between the ages of 18 and 20 our bodies reach maturity. Finally!

But wait! It doesn't stop there. Our minds and emotions are all mixed up in this growing-up process too. And, for many of us, our heads and hearts take longer to mature. We go from the joyful, carefree, gooing baby to the snappy happy toddler ready to conquer the world to the emotional basket case of adolescence and independence in only 10 short years. The hardest stage, I think, is the next decade between adolescence and adult. Looking back, those years in my life were full of melancholy.

It seemed back then my mood could swing with the changing winds. My joy, my happiness was dependent on what I thought others thought of me; how I thought others perceived me. If I thought others like me or my accomplishments, then I was happy. If I felt I disappointed others, thought they disliked me or what I'd accomplished, then I was sad, melancholy. Imature, really.

But that changed as I grew up. I learned that if I stopped trying to please people and concerned myself more with pleasing the One who created me, my joy grew. I learned that as I drew closer to my Creator, I found my purpose; what He created me for. I discovered that striving toward my purpose, I matured. As I matured in my faith and my purpose, God gave me people who encouraged me and whom I could encourage.

I find it ironic how Paul concludes his second letter to the Corinthian church with both a command to be joyful and to grow up. The two are interrelated. Whether it be emotional or spiritual maturity, joy accompanies both. We are meant to encourage one another and be united in one purpose: to proclaim the good news of Christ's resurrection and salvation to those who have not heard. This proclamation, this news is the greatest joy!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

What Joy Looks Like #3

"I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth." 3 John verse 4

What joy looks like...

Dirty feet. My daughter's feet... muddied from the streets of Kampala, Uganda.

Five years ago (or so) she came home from summer camp ready to pack her bags again for Africa. She'd seen the documentary called Invisible Children that revealed the horror of the Northern Ugandan children; children under the age of twelve, stripped of their childhood, forced to live as murdering soldiers, desensitized of all emotion. My daughter was ready to fight for justice on their behalf. "If I don't go, who will?" she asked.

I knew her desire was true and not a whimsical, emotional, teenage wish. I could see God's hand print for foreign missions on her life since she was a little girl but, war-torn Africa? That was beyond my comfort zone as a mother. So, we prayed for three years. We prayed that an opportunity would arise for her to go with a well established ministry team from somewhere in the United States.

God provided the way the first Sunday we set foot in Wellspring Church, November 2008.

She's traveled and ministered to the children at the Kampala Children's Center twice now. The first year was full of pictures of gorgeous children full of joy and hope; children who have been stripped of everything this world calls precious. Yet, they're full...full of God's redemptive work through Jesus; full of dreams and purpose not only for their own future but the future of their nation.

This year, there was a photo of her. She was teaching the children how to play; how to "think outside the box" (literally) when it came to creative play. I can't explain the emotion that overwhelmed me at seeing her face fully animated and engaged with these children. She exuded Jesus from every pore. She was alive! She was doing "the good work" that God had preordained for her from the beginning of creation.

Every parent has great aspirations for their children when they're born. We dream about how great they can be; imagine the career path they should take; wish the best for them. But, we must remember, God is their Father. Our only purpose is to raise them to explore how God made them, designed them and encourage them to follow God's desire for them.

"I have no greater joy than to hear (see) that my children are walking in the truth." 3 John 4

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What Joy Looks Like #2

"It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us." 2 John verse 4

What joy looks like...

A questioning child. A thinker. That's my firstborn. He was always full of questions as a toddler. Much more advanced than just "why?" He was always trying to figure out how things worked. I remember one warm, fall night when he was three. We were cuddled up in his bed, in the darkened room near an open window. Like every night we'd read a book or two, said our prayers and relished the silence that comes before sleep. In the quiet of that particular night, he noticed the stars.

Mommy?" he asked. "Who put the stars in the sky?"

"God did." I replied.

I can't recall the specific conversation after that but I do remember that's when he first realized the awesomeness of God. That's the night he realized the same God that filled the sky with stars created him and loved him so much that He gave us Jesus. I know, because that night he asked Jesus to live in his heart and help him to love God like He loved him.

It's been twenty years since we had that conversation. It's but a blur in my firstborn's memory amidst the years of rebellion, questioning and doubt. But God remained faithful to that prayer. He revealed himself not only as the God who placed the stars in the sky but the God who loves my child unconditionally.

I sat at the dinner table Monday night with my firstborn, his wife, his two year old daughter and six month old son. We held hands and his daughter prayed, "Thank you Jesus for our food and for our family. Amen!"

What does joy look like? A child. My child who is journeying with God and teaching his children about the One who placed the stars in the sky.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

What Joy Looks Like

"When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul." Psalm 94:19

The word joy appears over 240 times in the Bible. It's obviously meant to be characteristic of one who knows God and puts their faith in Christ. But, it wouldn't be fair to say you must be happy no matter what's happening in your life. That would be unrealistic. Not every experience is joyful. But I do know through scripture, that joy is meant to be restored in our hearts as a result of trusting God with our lives.

What does joy look like in real life? I thought over the next few days, I'd draw a picture of how God's defined joy in different circumstances of my life. Hopefully you can relate. Will you join me?

What joy looks like....

Wood rot. It's been a problem in our aging home for over a decade now. We knew about the rotting basement door and the one at the back of the garage but the beautiful archway in the front of the house is what surprised us. This archway was the selling point of our home; the quaint characteristic that made the house stand out from all the rest in the neighborhood; the focal point of compliments from guests and passers-by.

At first I just thought it was only in need of a quick paint job until I went to scrape off a peeling paint chip and my finger went through the wood siding. My husband reassured me it would be no big deal to just replace the one side of paneling and cover it with vinyl siding like the rest of the house. So, we put it at the bottom of our "to do list" for the summer.

Last Saturday (the last weekend of the summer) my husband started peeling away the siding, digging at the rotted veneer only to find more rot at the core. The entire post had to come down. What we thought would be an afternoon's work for novice, do-it-yourself carpenters was halted. My husband's heart became anxious knowing this project was beyond his ability and he'd have to call on someone else for help. But that call would wait until Monday.

It wasn't ten in the morning on Monday when the master carpenter and his wife was already taking measurements.

"Wow! That was fast" I commented as I greeted them. "Did Pete call you this morning?"

"No. I've just been working on the solution for your basement door frame and this archway in my head for a few weeks now. I'm ready to order the materials and frame everything out," he nonchalantly replied.

My heart literally leapt for joy knowing God had resolved the issue before we even had time to whisper up a prayer for help. What love He'd shown us in that moment, to send these friends who so willingly lend a hand; who come alongside us and help to bear our burdens. What a blessing. What a joy.

When they left, I couldn't get to the phone fast enough to let my husband know he could cross that call to the master carpenter off his "to do list" because God had already sent him.

God's joy comes in so many different packages. I just can't wait to see how it's wrapped every day.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Joy is Contagious

"Your God has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy." Hebrews 1:9

Laughter is contagious. It attracts. Have you ever noticed? When you enter a room, are you not first drawn to the one who is laughing? It doesn't matter if you know what they're laughing about, you can't help but smile in return and wonder, "What's so funny?" Laughter lightens the mood in the room as well as in our hearts

I had the privilege of spending the weekend with someone who loves to laugh. From the time we unloaded our cars, pitched our tent at the fair and sold our first book, we were laughing; not at anyone...just from the pure joy of life. Our joy attracted the crowds.

We sat side-by-side in the midst of 20,000 people glad to be living our dream as authors, sharing our talents with families, encouraging aspiring writers to pursue their dreams. It's not that we were privileged; that our dreams were fulfilled without pain, rejection and hard work. On the contrary, we both faced hardships in our journey (and still do) but the joy of what has been made complete thus far, gives us hope.

It should be that way with all of us on our journey with Christ. So many of us hang onto the sorrow of the cross; the picture of the suffering, dying Jesus that we forget the joy of the empty tomb. We use the cross as an excuse to focus in on our own suffering as though that is how we identify with Christ. We forget, that Christ came to give us hope, a future, abundant life...JOY.

The psalmist writes of our Savior in Psalm 45:7 "You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy." Does picturing a laughing, joyful Jesus make you tilt your head and say, "Hmmmm?"

I don't think he attracted the crowds by frowning or furrowing his brow, pointing an accusing finger or motioning toward Golgotha. Instead he greeted the crowds with compassion, with healing, with forgiveness, with hope for the future. That brought joy. That's what attracted the crowds

Does the joy of the Lord attract the crowds (however small) to you? Can you truly say, "The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song." Psalm 28:7

Monday, September 6, 2010

Eternal Encouragement & Hope

"...and by his grace (God) gave us eternal encouragement and good hope. (May he) encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word." 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17

Encouraging is not something that comes naturally to me. Encouragement is what I seek from others at low points but not what I find easy to give. I have to consciously focus on my words and body language when someone comes looking to me for encouragement. Encouragement is a skill that I've had to learn. Maybe it's because I'm distracted by my own world at that moment. Maybe it's because I'm wondering how to solve their issue or crisis rather than focusing on listening to their heart. Maybe it's because I don't like pain and I want to end it quickly for them.

My husband on the other hand, is a great encourager, much like I imagine Barnabas to have been who was known as the Son of Encouragement (Acts 4:36). An encourager consoles. He will stop what he's doing and focus on the hearts of others. An encourager is a visionary. He sees the "big picture" and knows, in light of the present moment, everything's going to be okay. An encourager cheers. He revels in the good. He's on your side, praising your good points, cheering you on to be the best, to do your best until you reach your destination. An encourager is a good problem solver. In the midst of chaos, he helps untangle the mess, clear the path so you can be on your way again.

Everyone needs an encourager in their life. We're told in 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 that Jesus, himself, has given us eternal encouragement by his grace (of forgiveness). Jesus is our great consoler and listener when we hit our low points. He's also our visionary and cheerleader. He's the artist that drew the big picture and will work out all the messes along the way cheering us onto His desired destination for us.

As we walk together, those who find encouragement hard to find or hard to give, learn from the eternal encourager, Jesus. May we in turn encourage one another in Him and in everything.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Toxic Puddle

"Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he (God) will give you everything you need. So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom." (Luke 12:30-32).

Fluorescent green blood oozed onto the driveway from beneath my eleven-year-old car. Praying my cats wouldn't attempt to quench their thirst by lapping up the toxic puddle, I hopped in the car and raced to the opticians office, anyway.

I'd spent the week wearing retro '90's frames since my newer frames snapped and I was anxious to return to the 21st fashion century. I breathed a sigh of relief when I got there without the car overheating despite the needle on the temperature gauge registering HOT.

Sporting my new specs and a $300 bill, the two-and-one-half mile ride home was a bit out of focus. Despite all the adjustments in the optician's chair the frames were uncomfortable, my sight was off and my mental cash registered started to "ka-ching" loudly as the radiator hose hissed mockingly, two blocks from home.

As I pulled into the driveway, I hovered between panic and faith.

This year my husband and I made a major adjustment. We made tithing, saving and paying off debts our financial priority. Our financial decisions have been based on needs vs. wants and what our budget allowed. These are biblical principles and how the "Christian financial experts" say we should be living. But what to do when needs out-weigh the cash flow in the midst of disciplined stewardship? Where does God's grace and mercy come into play?

Jesus tells us in Luke 12 that we are more important to God than the birds of the air or the lilies of the field who always find food and are beautifully adorned. So, he says, “Don’t be concerned about what to eat and what to drink. Don’t worry about such things. These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers all over the world, but your Father already knows your needs." (Luke 12:29-30). Instead, Jesus encourages us to "seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he (God) will give you everything you need. So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom." (Luke 12:30-32).

If I've learned anything this year it's that life is not a cosmic chess game between us and God. How much we've tithed, saved or how great our needs it never out-weighs God's love, grace and mercy toward us who honestly seek Him first. It's about abiding in Christ and Christ abiding in us. It's about the flow of relationship.We don't give in order to receive. We give because we love. He gives because He loves and it gives him great pleasure.

The tow truck carried away my red wagon and within 24 hours the toxic puddle had dried up and the damage was repaired. "Ka-ching." I must admit, my hand wandered toward the big, red panic button but as it hovered, Jesus reminded me "Don't worry about such things...Your Father already knows your needs...It gives (Him) great happiness to give.

Whatever creates a toxic puddle in our lives, may we learn to see God's smile reflected back at us and remember, He's got it under control.