Blasting Off to My Greatest Adventure

This morning I pushed the “red button” to launch and signed a book contract. In the next nine to twelve months, Pouring In, Instilling a Personal, Passionate, and Permanent Faith in the Next Generation will be on bookstore shelves and on Amazon! Praise God! It’s been a long time coming.

He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.  Philippians 1:6

I didn’t make this decision lightly. As I prayed about it for two weeks, I heard God say, “What are you afraid of? I gave you this book.” . . . or, did I? or, Was I just hearing what I wanted to hear God say? or, Was it just the voices in my head?

As I celebrated with family and friends, I could hear the subtle whisper of doubt in my ear.

Although the excitement of signing a book contract is overwhelming, so is the fear. What if no one buys my book? What if I can’t finish it on time? What if I FAIL?!

The fear of failure can be paralyzing.

I was watching William Lane Craig’s Defenders class on YouTube a couple months ago when he said, “Failure might be God’s will for your life.”

God’s will for your life can be that you fail. God can lead you into failure. Because he has things to teach you through failure that you can’t learn through success.  ~WLC

I had to stop and sit with that for a while. That thought has never crossed my mind.

Is it OK if failure is in God’s will for your life or for mine?

Obviously we won’t fail spiritually if we are following Christ. And we won’t fail when it comes to eternity. We have victory in Christ and nothing can change that. Amen!

But, what if it is not in His plan for me to be successful? Ever?! Would I be OK with that?

Again, I sat with it.

Part of me wanted to just jump up and appear holy and righteous by saying, “Whatever Thou willeth I will doeth with joyeth!” But, is that real? Could I really rejoice in that?

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that failure and success are a state of mind. They are an attitude not an absolute.

My soul longs to love Jesus Christ and to follow Him with reckless abandon.

If we pursue Jesus as though He is the only thing that we are chasing, nothing else matters. If we surrender our lives to Christ, then success or failure become irrelevant.

Therefore, it doesn’t matter if my book succeeds or fails. All that matters is if it brings glory to God and His Son Jesus Christ. It’s all about Him.

A friend of mine who was about to start fundraising for her new ministry once told me, “don’t chase after the money . . . . chase after the mission, and God will provide.”

As I rest on the threshold of this extraordinary adventure, this is my prayer.

Dear Abba, Father,

Lord, you are so good and so loving. Thank you for your Word and the promise that You will never leave me. You are always by side. Therefore, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Keep my eyes always on You as I venture out into the great unknown. Build my trust day by day, and keep my spirit open to your Word. Help me stay connected to the vine, Lord, because YOU are my lifeblood, YOU are the air I breathe, and YOU are my everything. In Your Son’s precious name. Amen.

To God be the glory!  Here we go!

 

5 Life Questions Teenagers Need Help Answering

Parenting is an awesome responsibility; awesome in the fact that it is joyful and rewarding, and, awesome in the fact that it is an enormous undertaking. It is beautiful, breath-taking, frightening, intimidating, overwhelming, terrifying and wonderful all at the same time. What can I say, it’s awesome!

My kids are fourteen and sixteen. Finally, they are leaving the house wearing clean clothes that match. They no longer get knots in their hair. And, for the most part, they shower and wear clean underwear everyday.

Ahhh, the sweet, clean smell of success! And, like Nanny McPhee, I am tempted to walk off into the sunset satisfied with a job well done.

 . . . . but, wait! The job isn’t done yet!

It ain’t over until the fat lady sings! And she ain’t singing until my kids graduate from high school and leave home.

Much of our kids’ character and direction in life is forming during their teen years and into their twenties. As Christian parents, we mustn’t lose focus or parent on autopilot.

Our kids hit a fork in the road during adolescence. And the critical decisions they make at this juncture will determine the trajectory of their life.

1) They will ask questions of IDENTITY. Who am I?
  • Am I a beauty queen?
  • Am I an athlete?
  • Am I nerd?
  • Am I worthless?
  • Am I a child of God?

Teenagers are questioning their identity now more than ever.

Not only do they have to decide whether they will be the the criminal, the athlete, the basket case, the princess or the brain; and, what college to go to and what they want to be when they grow up. But, our kids are also faced with questions like, “What gender do I identify with?” and, “What is my sexual orientation?

The questions that young people are facing today are confusing at best and dangerous at worst.

If they don’t have guidance when answering these questions, they are likely to be overwhelmed by the lies of the world.

2) They will ask questions of PRIORITY. Who will I live for?
  • Will I live for myself?
  • Will I live for everyone around me?
  • Will I live for the person I love?
  • Will I live for God?

Kids will naturally answer the question, “who will I live for?” with a resounding “Me, of course!”

In a culture obsessed with self-esteem, we are told we should focus on ourselves. We should love ourselves. Because . . . “you’re worth it!”

Nowhere in scripture does it say to love yourself. The greatest love of all is NOT inside of you. The greatest love of all is the love of God.

How our kids answer the question of priority will determine the relational aspect of their future. Will they grow up to be in abusive, or codependent relationships? Will they be people pleasers? Will they be all about themselves?

It is up to Christian parents to model a life lived for God.

3) They will ask questions about REALITY. What is truth?
  • Is there one truth? or, . . .
  • Does everyone have their own truth?
  • Which religion is true?
  • Is God the author of truth?

Truth is what grounds us; morally and physically. Truth is what keeps us from floating around in space. The truth of gravity that is.

Establishing that truth is not relative but absolute is essential to passing on the faith to our kids. Without truth, everything else flies out the window.

“What’s true for me may not be true for you” makes no sense.

Belief can vary from one person to another. Truth cannot. Can a fact apply to one person and not apply to another? Of course not. Neither can truth.

4) They will ask questions about CONTENTMENT. Where will I find peace?
  • In relationships?
  • In substances or things?
  • In achievements or successes?
  • In God?

Coming out of the holidays, the phrase, “peace on earth,” is still fresh on our minds. We are told in scripture that when the truth of God is our foundation, peace is our reward.

The LORD gives strength to his people; the LORD blesses his people with peace.  Psalm 29:11

However, peace can be tricky. Peace within a family or between nations is not a guarantee in this life. How can our kids be content in Christ and have peace in such a troubled world?

As our kids trek into adulthood, they will need to learn contentment. Our kids will have to answer the questions, How will I be ok with ‘what is‘? and, Where will I find peace?

5) They will ask questions about SUFFERING. How will I cope with life?untitled-design-75
  • With alcohol?
  • With medications?
  • With relationships?
  • With God?

So many kids today don’t have any coping skills. This is evidenced in the high number of school shootings we have witnessed in the past 10 years, and the growing number of teen suicides.

When trials come, and come they will, life goes on whether we want it to or not. Kids need coping skills and they need to know where to go for comfort.

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.  Psalm 147:3


Teenagers need input from parents when deciding the answers to these critical questions. They need a voice of truth regularly pointing them toward God.

We hope and pray our kids will answer these questions in a way that puts their life in God’s hands.

  • Who am I? . . . . I am a child of God (Galatians 3:26)
  • Who will I live for? . . . . I will live my life for God (Romans 12:1)
  • What is truth? . . . . God is truth (John 14:6)
  • Where will I find peace? . . . . I will find peace in God (Psalm 46:10)
  • How will I cope with life? . . . . God will get me through (Isaiah 41:10)

Our role does change when our kids become teenagers. But we still have a role.

We cannot stop having input in our teenagers lives. Because the noise of the world will never cease. And, the pull of the world is strong.

So, just before your kids become teens, take a short breather and pat yourself on the back for a job well done. Then, prepare yourself for the hardest stage of parenting.

If you have teenagers, then you are almost done with the race. Almost. Don’t give up so close to the finish line.

We Must Always Look Back, We Must Always Remember

Well, this is it. That’s all she wrote for 2016.

As I reflect on the year, I see how God’s hand was at work. I see His faithfulness. I see His great love. And I see His goodness permeating the story of my life. I encourage you to ask God to reveal how He has moved in your life this past year. It might surprise you.

Friends, we must always look back and be thankful. We must always remember.

I was reading my devotional this morning and it was so beautiful I thought I would share it with you.

Jesus Calling by Sarah Young, December 31st     

     As this year draws to a close, receive My peace. This is still your deepest need, and I, your Prince of Peace, long to pour Myself into your neediness. My abundance and your emptiness are a perfect match. I designed you to have no sufficiency of your own. I created you as a jar of clay, set apart for sacred use. I want you to be filled with My very Being, permeated through and through with Peace.
     Thank Me for My peaceful Presence, regardless of your feelings. Whisper My Name in loving tenderness. My Peace, which lives continually in your spirit, will gradually work its way through your entire being. 

Thank you so much for joining me in my journey to love and know God more this year. And may God bless you in 2017!

Tis The Season of Night

It’s three o’clock in the afternoon and the sun is going down. The shadows loom long behind me. Tis the season when the sun goes down before it is actually up. Tis the season of night.

I used to be cheerful around the holidays. I used to love the carols, cookies, candles, and the warmth of the season. I used to like decorating. I liked the tree and the lights and the celebration and gift giving.

Now, its mostly darkness. It’s mostly night.

I get why this season has the most suicides. There is something about intense jubilee and celebration over presents and a fat man in a red suit in the midst of a dark, troubled world that seems wrong.

But without darkness, what good would the light be?

I am so grateful to God. He has been so good to me, yet I can’t shake the darkness. I can’t shake the night.

Part of the difficulty of the season for many people is reconciling family with joy around Christmas. So many movies and commercials show joyful and magical families and traditions. Take for instance the inevitable Christmas Hallmark movie. It would be wonderful if everyone’s life was filled with a warm loving family, a passionate and fulfilling romantic relationship, and wonderful friends and the perfect job.

However, not everyone’s story has a happy ending . . . or a happy beginning, or a happy middle.

And it struck me. What about people who did not or do not enjoy a warm family and loving relationships? Their wounds are opened afresh in the name of Christmas. What they did not or do not have is dangled in front of them. And they are wounded all over again.

Who doesn’t long for peace on earth? Who doesn’t long for unity in their family? We all do. However, some people know they will never have it. How does one reconcile that?

Unity and peace on this earth are a luxury not a guarantee.

Even Charlie Brown in A Charlie Brown Christmas was depressed at Christmas time.

charlie-brownI just don’t understand Christmas, I guess. I like getting presents and sending Christmas cards and decorating trees and all that, but I’m still not happy. I always end up feeling depressed.”  ~Charlie Brown, A Charlie Brown Christmas

I, and many others, sympathize with good old Chuck.

I am glad that Christmas is over. I always look forward to the holidays being over. Maybe that makes me a negative person. But, I know I’m not alone.

We are told that we should be happy because of Christmas.

I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus, Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.  ~Charlie Brown

However, being depressed at Christmas might mean that you are more in tune with the reality of the world than those who are happy. And it might mean, that you see how we have turned Christmas into something that has nothing to do with Jesus. And that should make us sad. There is such a thing as Godly sorrow.

Jesus came into a dark world. A world of night.

He left the glory, beauty and light of Heaven and the love of His Father to save our sorry souls. He came to a place of darkness and perpetual night for us. Wow! It’s amazing! Would I have done the same thing? Probably not.

If the holidays are difficult for you, I’m right there with you. Your family might not see your hurt, but God does. And He blesses you.

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
     for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
     for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
     for they will inherit the earth.  Matthew 5:3-5

Where We Went Wrong

I often wonder where we went wrong as a society in America. A majority of our kids are walking away from church and the faith when they get old enough to make their own decisions.

I have spent a lot of time in thought over this issue. And I have done much research for my book on the topic of passing on faith in Christ to our kids.

While on the treadmill the other day, a commercial came on about kids asking Santa to bring them their favorite toys. A scooter for $1,000, a princess carriage for $400, an American Girl doll and accessories for $120, etc.

It hit me that this is one of the ways we, as a society, have gone wrong.

Christmas is the story of Jesus coming to the world to save us. He was a King, yet there has never been anyone more humble than Jesus Christ. His crown was made of thorns not adorned with jewels. Jesus came with a message of love, grace and hope. He was the very picture of humility and selflessness.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant,  Philippians 2:5-7

He taught us to love our enemies, take care of the poor, and turn the other cheek. He taught us to focus our attention outward, on others.

Yet often, at Christmas time, we send the message to our kids that causes them to focus inward. The message of Santa Claus is to focus on me. What do I want for Christmas? How many presents will I get this year?

Parents spend and spend on Christmas presents for their kids. And the holiday season becomes about selfishness, not selflessness.

At a pivotal age, we teach our kids the rituals of Christmas. We teach them to work hard and be nice, so they will get presents. God forbid they be on the naughty list! We teach them to focus on “what will get me stuff?” We teach them to focus on themselves.

Selfishness is human nature. We are born with it. Parents, little by little, have to teach kids to change their nature and to become selfless.

What if we had never introduced Santa Clause, Rudolph or Frosty? What if our observance of Christmas had always been about the message of Christ? What if we taught our kids selflessness at Christmas?

As I write this, A Charlie Brown Christmas is on TV. The message of Charles Schulz in this show is brilliant. He saw the materialism and all the silly things we focus on during the Christmas season back in 1965. He tried to portray the true meaning of the birth of Christ, and show us how we have strayed from it.

Schulz illustrated beautifully how we were, and still are, valuing the wrong things during the Christmas season. The money, the stuff, the decorations, the lights . . . .

Charlie Brown:  “I am in sad shape.”A-Charlie-Brown-Christmas-image

Lucy:  “Wait a minute, before you begin I must ask that you pay in advance. 5 cents please.” (Charlie Brown puts a nickle in the can)

Lucy:  “Boy what a sound! How I love hearing that old money plink! That beautiful sound of cold, hard, cash! That beautiful, beautiful sound! Nickles, nickles, nickles! That beautiful sound of plinking nickles!”

How we handle Christmas speaks volumes to our kids about our faith. If we treat the birth of Christ like it is no big deal, or ignore it completely at Christmas, our kids will see that it is less important than the ‘American Christmas.’

We must get back to teaching our kids the message of Christ at Christmas.

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”

The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”  Matthew 25:35-40

Christmas is one of the ways that we, as an American society have gone wrong.

3 Words that Capture the Sacredness of Christmas

A manger rests in the middle of a musty barn. A beam of moonlight shines through the window as I strain to see. I don’t smell a scented candle in the night. No, the stench of barn animals, hay, work and sweat overwhelm me. The people around are not wearing bright, matching pajamas with their initials on it. Their clothes are made of sackcloth and ropes.baby-jesus-2 Worn out sandals adorn their feet. And the candles aren’t fancy, they are functional.

A tiny fist thrashes up into the moonlight as dust swirls against the darkness of the barn. Could it be? Could it be the savior?

The woman looks down at the baby with such love and almost awe. What is she thinking? She tenderly picks Him up and holds him close. He looks up at her with such peace. There is something about Him.

When I think about what it must have looked like when Jesus was born, I don’t think about shiny or sparkly things. I don’t see bows, candles or ribbon. I don’t see red or green.

I see a baby. I see a savior. I see the hope of the world kicking about in a manger.

Today, the scene is not quite so ethereal. The exquisitely divine nature of this miraculous event can be so easily missed.

Three simple words can help you focus on the sacredness of Christmas.

1) Advent

Advent in Latin means arrival. It consists of four Sundays starting with the Sunday closest to November 30th. This year it began this past Sunday, November 27th.

It is believed that Advent was a season of preparation for the baptism of new Christians at the January feast of Epiphany. Advent begins the new Christian year with the twelve-day celebration of Christmastide.

Did you know that the twelve days of Christmas actually begins on Christmas Eve and lasts until early to mid January?

And Thanksgiving is the perfect springboard for the season of Advent. What better way is there to prepare our hearts and minds for the arrival of our Savior than focusing on thankfulness?

2) Epiphany

Epiphany means appearance, manifestation, or revelation. It is the 12th day of Christmas and the official end to the Christmas season. It is also known as Three Kings Day because the wise-menWestern world associates it with the visit of the wise men to the baby Jesus.

The feast at Epiphany celebrates the appearance and manifestation of God among us. The idea of God in human form through Jesus Christ is breath taking. How can it be?

Unfortunately, most of us have heard the virgin birth story all our lives, and it no longer thrills us. However, I pray that God will restore awe and reverence in His people this Christmas season.

If we focus on the appearance of Christ and what the manifestation of God in human form means, we can experience His power and presence this Christmas.

3) Immanuel

Immanuel means God with us.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.  Isaiah 7:14

Seven hundred years before Christ lived on earth, the prophet Isaiah first used the word Immanuel when he predicted that Jesus would be born of a virgin and dwell among the people.

If I think about who God is and who we are, it blows my mind. How could HE be with us? God and man are diametrically opposed to each other in so many ways. And sometimes I wonder how He can even stand us.

God with us.

There is such power in these three little words. Knowing that God wants to be with us can change everything. It gives us our worth. It gives us peace knowing He will always be there. And it gives us assurance of our future.


To the follower of Christ, Christmas is all about anticipation and preparation for the coming of our King.

How do we let these concepts dominate in our hearts and minds this Christmas season?

Close your eyes.

Imagine the black stain of sin in your life. In your mind, picture the darkness of humanity. As a species, we have lied, slandered, lusted, murdered, raped, abused, molested, tortured, and perverted everything God has made. Think about a world where everyone is out for themselves.

Imagine being cold and alone, so cold it hurts. And there is nowhere to go to ease your discomfort, and nobody to help you.

Now imagine seeing light off in the distance moving toward you. It takes over the darkness a little bit at a time. You feel warmth as the light grows nearer. This warmth eases the pain of the cold and comforts your soul. The pain turns to pleasure and the cold to warmth.

You start to see a face and the form of a man. You are no longer alone, there is an extraordinary presence with you. Pain, discomfort, fear, loneliness, and despair melt away. You are left with a peace unlike any you have never known.

I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  Ephesians 3:17-19

Bask in that for a while.

We have to be intentional about setting our minds on the things above (Colossians 3:2). That is how we keep our minds free from distractions during the Christmas season. If we meditate on Advent, Epiphany, and the concept of God being with us, we will truly have something to celebrate.

My Thanksgiving Resolution; WWJD

I am not big on New Year’s resolutions. I figure, if I want to better myself, why wait until January 1st? Why not not better myself on March 1st, August 24th, or today for that matter?

“But, it’s only Thanksgiving,” you may say. I know that it isn’t officially time for resolutions, but bare with me.

When pride isn’t blocking my view, the Holy Spirit convicts me of the many offensive ways in me.

As I pray the scripture, “See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting,” (Psalm 139:24) He promptly obliges. There is no shortage of material in that regard.

However, I choose to change on the Holy Spirit’s terms, not the world’s. Therefore, my resolution needs to start now, right before Thanksgiving. So, here it goes . . . .

I resolve not to be bitter this Christmas season. I resolve not to have a spirit of anger or judgment. I will not be snarky or walk around with a self righteous attitude. I resolve to shine with the kindness, love, and grace of Jesus Christ this Christmas season.

This is a tough one for me.

Each year I grow more annoyed with Christmas. Sometime in October, the soft, subtle sounds of jingle bells can be heard somewhere in the distance. And, once those jingle bells start ringing, we all go a little nuts.

I don’t have the shopping gene. There isn’t anything I would rather do less than go to a shopping mall. Especially in November and December.

I have nightmares of shiny and sparkly things. The scents of holly berries, apple crisp, Pumpkin spice, Christmas Cookies, and Balsam & Cedar candles mix into a nauseating odor. How do they know what Christmas Eve smells like anyway? Or Home Sweet Home? Or Sparkling Snow?

I dread being asked the question, “Do you have your Christmas shopping done?” With it comes pressure, so much pressure!

We are victims of Christmas. We are doomed to suffer; doomed to shop incessantly; doomed to bake candies and cookies unceasingly; and doomed to endlessly decorate our homes. We are gerbils spinning in our wheel, getting nowhere. Using up our usefulness on useless things.

It just seems like this is the season to celebrate anything and everything except Jesus Christ.

Okay, now it is out of my system. Whew! Sometimes changing starts with purging.

From now henceforth I resolve to see the best in people, not the worst. I resolve to show girl-prayingthe kindness and love of Christ no matter what goes on around me. And, I resolve to carry thankfulness in my pocket long after the leftover turkey is gone.

Why?

God has been so good to me. But more than that, it’s because God has given me life when I deserved death. How could I ever stop being thankful for that?

According to Priscilla Shirer’s Bible study, The Armor of God, “Trust fuels thanksgiving and thanksgiving activates peace.”

Trust is a choice. Having an attitude of thankfulness is a choice. And peace is our reward.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.  Colossians 3:15

Do I trust God regardless of my circumstances or feelings? Will I choose to be thankful among the chaos of the Christmas season and the seeming pagan worship?

Though the fig tree may not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail,
And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,
And there be no herd in the stalls—
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.  Habakkuk 3:17-18 (NKJV)

Jesus Christ is Lord and He has overcome the world. Even though everyone gets a little wacky at Christmastime, nothing has changed. God will be worshiped, and He will be victorious.

A tiny baby was born in Bethlehem who came to save the world. And, He did!

Our mission as followers of Christ does not change because we feel we have the right to be bitter and angry. Some of the callous ways that people treat Christmas feel like a slap in the face. However, we are told to turn the other cheek.

Let’s not be offended at something that is not an offense to us. The offense is to Jesus and He isn’t worried about it. In the face of insult, He responds with love, kindness, and grace. If He can do that, then so can I.

We must trust God with everything we have. We must be thankful always, everyday and in every way. And if we do these things, we will have peace this Christmas season.

The road to peace is paved with thankfulness.

Thank you so much for reading my blog post!

VOTE! Just Do It!

VOTE! Just do it!

If for no other reason than the Supreme Court appointments that will be chosen by the next president. Who is appointed will greatly impact religious freedom. We have been losing this freedom more and more.

But more importantly, just vote and forget about it. Everything that happens on this earth only happens because God allows it to happen. He will always be our ultimate Ruler and King!

God can use anyone for His good purposes. He is not limited by who we elect. He is not limited by anything.

So, go, exercise your God given right to vote. And have confidence and peace in the fact that Jesus Christ is Lord and He will prevail!

And, God can bless America, no matter what we do to it!

 

 

Joy in the Knowing

Pops of joy. Bursts of light. A rush of excitement that travels up and down my spine. Moments of hope. Reminders of redeeming grace.

Moments of complete satisfaction come, accompanied by joy. Moments of pure light. Moments of the precious presence of the Father. But they are only moments. They quickly fade like the evening sun.

What does stick around, however, is the cold, hard, reality of life.

If our joy is honest joy, it must somehow be congruous with human tragedy. This is the test of joy’s integrity: is it compatible with pain? . . . Only the heart that hurts has a right to joy.  ~Lewis Smedes

Joy was the topic in a sermon series about the fruit of the spirit at my church.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.  Galatians 5:22-23

Everything about the Gospel is about love. And we are instructed to love above all else. Of course it is first. Love is central to our faith.

I find it interesting that joy is listed second. Why would joy be put in such an important position? I pondered the thought.

Recently in a conversation, I found myself saying that I wasn’t sure if I was capable of joy anymore. My life has been complicated and messy and I have experienced numerous losses. . . like most people have.

And, I don’t do joy very well. I never have.

So, I felt the prompting of the Holy Spirit to study joy.

We all know that we are supposed to rejoice in our suffering.

We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope  Romans 5:3,4

And always be joyful.

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Knowing my current state of joylessness led me to feeling guilty. I wasn’t feeling joyful. I wasn’t rejoicing in suffering. I wasn’t being obedient. Or, so I thought.

Not only was I not joyful, but I was in more turmoil because of the guilt. So, in the spirit of Yoda from Star Wars, study joy, I did.

What is joy anyway? How do I know that I am not being joyful?

What if most of us have a wrong understanding of joy? What if joy and happiness are not the same thing?

Happiness comes from the root word, “happening.” Therefore, happiness is based on what happens to us. Any number of things can make us happy. At least temporarily.

  • getting married
  • having a baby
  • fulfilling your calling in life
  • being successful

If I get a lot of likes on Facebook or Twitter, it makes me happy. Pumpkin Spice Lattes from Starbucks make me happy. Meeting a friend for coffee makes me happy. And, finishing writing my book will definitely make me happy!

Joy, on the other hand, is not the same as happiness. According to author Tim Hansel in his book, You Gotta Keep Dancin’,”happiness is a feeling, joy is an attitude.”

He goes on to say, “(joy is) . . . A posture. A position. A place.”

Wow. That hit me like a ton of bricks.

If joy is an attitude, what is my posture? What is my position? What is my place?

Joy is that deep settled confidence that God is in control of every area of my life. ~Paul Sailhamer

Like love, joy is not simply a feeling or an emotion. It is so much more. It is a choice.

In the Greek, joy is translated more specifically as gladness or delight.

And, according to Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, delight means, a high degree of gratification of mind. In other words, satisfaction.

Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.  Psalm 37:4

Then there is this curious verse in Hebrews.

Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Hebrews 12:2

How could enduring the cross be considered joy?

One commentary I read said the word joy in this context is referring to the joy of Christ’s accomplished purpose and the glory with which He was crowned.

The joy that Christ is talking about could be His knowing. Knowing that He created a way for salvation; knowing that this one event offered hope to the world; knowing that God’s purposes were being fulfilled.

He wasn’t looking forward to the insults and mobs crying out for His death. He wasn’t looking forward to the flogging and the crown of thorns. He wasn’t looking forward to being hung on a cross.

But, it was the joy set before Him.

Could my joy be in the knowing? Could my joy be knowing that I have been given life when I deserve death? Could my joy be knowing that Christ has made a way for me? Could my joy be knowing that He is preparing a place for me in glory?

Joy is simple (not to be confused with easy). At any moment in life we have at least two options, and one of them is to choose an attitude of gratitude, a posture of grace, a commitment to joy.  ~You Gotta Keep Dancin’

Could it be that I am joyful? Could it be that I can take that off the list of things to beat myself up about?

I am filled with gladness and I do delight in the Lord. I am overwhelmed  with the magnitude of what was accomplished on the cross. I am immensely grateful for the redeeming power of grace that I have been freely given. And I feel the Holy Spirit working in me.

I know Him who saved me. Therefore, I have joy.

Do I feel happy and wonderful most of the time? No. Life is hard. God makes it clear in scripture that it will be. But, do I have joy? Maybe I do.

As a follower of Christ, I can see the big picture. God has given it to us in His Holy Word. And I know the joy that awaits me.

So maybe God put joy second on the list of the fruit of the spirit on purpose. Love and joy are the greatest gifts from the Father. Because if we know Him, we will have joy.

Joy is in the knowing.

Tension With A Good God

If I had to describe my relationship with God in two words, they would be love and tension.

God gives unfathomable love, grace, compassion, guidance, wisdom, and joy generously to those who love Him. He is beautiful, tender, and an awesome Father. All of which fall under the umbrella of His great love.

But, human as I am, I cannot deny the tension. My Father and I have such different natures. How can there not be tension?

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.  Isaiah 55:8

I was listening to the radio and a caller was talking about her son nearly missing a car accident because he forgot his keys. The few minutes it took to run back inside his house caused him to miss a car accident in his path. If he had left a few minutes earlier, he would have been right smack in the middle of it.

“God saved my son!” she said.

The radio host got excited and reciprocated with a story about someone she knew that escaped a tragedy by mere minutes. “God is good!” she said.

There is no doubt that God is good.

However, these types of statements make me uneasy. When people assert that God saved them from this or that, I start to squirm. Do we claim to know the will of God? How do we know what is good or bad?

We have to be careful about proclaiming blessings in anything and everything that happens. How would the statement that God saved this caller’s son sit with the parent of someone who was killed in that accident?

Also, there are near misses every day. In any given car accident, there are a handful of people involved. Yet, there are many more that are not.

Let’s say that there is a 5% chance that you will get in a car accident every time you get in your car. That would mean that there is a 95% chance that you won’t. Is God’s hand in each of the 95%? Or, does the world just run its course, and sometimes accidents happen?

Did God save all of those 95% because that was His will? Or, is it just that statistically, some people get in a car accident and some don’t?

Obviously God can do whatever He wants at any time. However, to say that His hand saves every single person that does not get in a car accident is a little presumptuous. Again, do we claim to know the will of God?

If you asked my kids they would tell you that when I say goodbye I am not really leaving. They know I will come back in at least once because I forgot something. It’s just one of the many joys of getting older! So when someone calls that a miracle, something I do daily, I squirm a little.

Tension.

At the same time I am very thankful every time I pass a car accident that I was not involved in. But, do I think that God orchestrates who is in every car accident and who isn’t? He certainly can. And, I think at times He does. But, I wouldn’t say that every time I avoid an accident, it’s because of God’s hand.

It’s entirely possible that more good could come out of it if I was in that car accident.

We cannot begin to understand the ripple effects of things happening in life. We cannot know what is ultimately good or bad. What we see as tragedy could trigger a set of events that could lead an entire nation to Christ. We don’t know.

Only God knows.

Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.  Psalm 139:4-6

A friend of mine’s daughter was in the middle of the attacks in Nice, France this past summer. She was not hurt and quickly got a flight home before they closed the airport.

Was I rejoicing with this relieved mother when her plane landed in the U.S.? Was I thanking God for protecting this precious child? I absolutely was! And if it were my child, I would have been on my knees praising God and thanking Him for keeping her safe.

But . . . 

What about those whose loved ones were not safe or protected?attacks-in-nice

At least eighty four people, many of them children, were killed on that fateful day in France.

How could God let children die so horrifically?

Tension.

As a Christian, one cannot ‘square’ everything to complete satisfaction. My pastor once said, “Life with God is about sitting in the tension of unanswered questions.”

Do I feel settled or ‘squared’ with my understanding of everything in scripture or in the world?
Am I OK with the suffering of children in the world?
Am I content with the scripture about women not being permitted to pastor/lead in the church?

No, I’m not. I am not squared. Not with a lot of things.

To be human is to experience tension with the world, AND tension with God.

We experience tension when our will conflicts with His. We feel tension when we can’t square certain things in our limited minds. We experience tension when our nature rubs up against the perfect nature of God.

Tension.

But we have a patient God. A God who is full of love and mercy. A God that goes above and beyond. And a God who gives life when we deserve death.

God is OK with my tension and with yours. In fact, I think God delights in the wrestling. As long as it moves us toward Him.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever.  Psalm 136:1