Sunday, April 26, 2015

A Joy-Jolt

I had a bit of a joy-jolt this week while contemplating Galatians 5:22 (where Paul lists for us the fruit of the Spirit). I totally get that joy (or any of the Spirit's fruit) is a Gift of Grace. I completely understand that it is an empowerment from the Lord. What caught me a little off guard is the reason we are given love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. It's obvious fruit is never meant to be kept just for the tree's benefit. Fruit is supposed to plant seeds of righteousness, to aid in reproduction; fruit is supposed to be refreshing and nourishing. I know this in the back of my mind.

What struck me is how totally selfish I've been in my pursuit of joy. I want joy for me! In fact, just yesterday afternoon, as I reconnected with a dear friend I had not seen in close to twenty-five (yuck!) years, I heard myself telling her, about my study on joy. As we chatted, I admitted that what I would love to have people say about me some day is that I was a woman of joy. That in spite of hardship, or trial, or any of the curve balls life might throw my way, joy ran parallel to all other appropriate emotions, and was quite obviously noticeable. Yep, I want joy FOR ME.

That's not why God gives us fruit. It isn't meant for just me. It's meant to refresh others (perhaps to generate hope where hope is faint), and to point them to the Vine, not the branch. As it does, a desire is created on the part of The Other to also be grafted into the Vine (reproduction). Yet, on my part, a prayer to that effect has never even been whispered.

That's when it dawned on me that my prayer for joy needed to be edited. My prayer for joy ought to be redirected. My prayer for joy needed to become missional: Lord, may I be a joy-encourager, not just a joy-seeker. 

However, ironically, I greatly suspect that I will discover this is a backroad to more joy.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Junk Drawers and the Man of Sorrows - Is there a correlation?

This week I read a blog in which the author described his mind as a junk drawer. I didn't have to ask, "Really?" I understood. Then, I took a minute to look in my "proverbial junk drawer," and yes, that is reflective of mine, as well.

I thought about labeling it (for warning's sake); or, come up with some cute quote about it: "Your mind is only as tidy as your junk drawer." "Open at your own risk." It's amazing what I find in the junk drawer...keys (I have no idea what they unlock, but, I have them just in case I remember where they go); lip ointment (how long has it been in here and should I take a chance, or possibly end up with an unidentified lip fungus); screws of random sizes (why aren't they in what my husband calls his man cave, but is really a junk closet); luggage tags; batteries; best of all there's this (I may have little IDEA what it is, but I have one, if I need it):

This is highly indicative of my random mind. So, with this said, for whatever reason, in the midst of all this reading, and looking up verses, and thinking about, JOY, I found myself humming this hymn:
Man of Sorrows what a name
For the Son of God who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim
Hallelujah! What a Savior! 

Why would that come to mind in the middle of all this purposeful longing for JOY? Then came this question, "Does that name (from Isaiah 53:3) reflect my Jesus completely?" Do I tend to think of Him only in these terms? Was He only sorrowful, or did He resonate the kind of JOY I'm looking for in my life, as well?

I have a picture hanging on my wall. I love this picture. It has traveled with us to Africa and back; well, it has gone every where we have moved over the course of the last 41 years of marriage. It's called The Laughing Jesus. Recently, I heard a story about a similar picture, published in the January edition of a 1970 Playboy magazine. Hefner had been so taken by the idea that Jesus laughed, he published an article (For Christ's Sake), and the picture, printed, caused all manner of controversy (I can only imagine in the 70's). The point was Heffner couldn't fathom Jesus laughing. What a sad indictment, not just on his flawed view of Jesus, but on the image of Christ we portray.

Of course, Jesus was a Man of Sorrows: He wept over sinners, and greatly desired those He came to seek and save to KNOW Him; His passion was GREAT for lost things to be found, and He grieved over unbelief. Yet, even though He struggled with legalism and longed for loving relationship; and while it angered Him that the temple was turned from worship to business, all the while, I just KNOW that He was a man of joy. Remember, the two can run parallel in our lives at all times.

I believe my Jesus was so full of joy, He was attractive and drew a crowd. Why would anyone be drawn to sorrow - and people were drawn to Him like metal to a magnet? I believe He wasn't just invited to parties (weddings, the feasts of sinners), but He could be the life of the party. It's my opinion, He wasn't showy in personality, yet humbly exhibited such gratitude, that it spilled out of Him as joy. As a mentor, I think He must have been a lot of fun...I don't think life on the road with Jesus was just teaching 24-7. Don't you know they laughed...a lot (with someone like impulsive Peter around sticking foot-in-mouth, I can just imagine the deep belly laughing)! Speaking of teaching, I have come to think that the humor in His messages has often been lost in translation and across the distance of time, as well as, culture. I imagine His crowd often chuckled at His exaggerated metaphors...

Those are just opinions. Yet, as a younger Christian, it seemed I took that one verse and it became my mind set alone... My perceived story (my twisted story, actually) was that Jesus was a Man of Sorrows because He was disappointed with me. If, for some reason, He were to come, once again, and physically sit across from me, the look on His face would be one of sorrow with me. I just didn't measure up, or do the Christian life quite well enough. My mental junk drawer was filled with such useless, not true, garbage. 

What else does Scripture teach us? Jesus, Himself, said, "I tell you these things that my joy might be in you...and that it would be FULL!" HIS JOY. Why would I want His joy if He was just a Man of Sorrows? Then, there's Paul's famous passage in Galatians regarding the fruit of the Spirit. Number two on the list is joy. Jesus perfectly portrayed each of these nine. Fruit, the refreshing fruit of joy, is delightful to those we rub shoulders with, making them desirous of the Kingdom. Of course, Jesus was joy-full!

But the Scripture that connected the most - Hebrews 12:2..."who for the joy set before Him endured the shame..."  What joy? You. Me. I was Jesus' joy as He endured shame and death. The more He looked down the road and kept me (I'll make this personal) in view, the greater His joy grew. Fulness of joy. What a thought...I am the joy of Jesus. Thinking of me kept Him steadily marching toward the cross (voluntarily, I might add).

I find it so ironic...Jesus kept His eyes on me and found joy.
I keep my eyes on Jesus and I'll discover the same...especially, when my focus is on the Man of Joy.

Where are you gazing? 


#lessonsonjoy: That Jesus was simply a Man of Sorrows is just a myth; He was, indeed, our role model of joy as a Man of Joy. Learning to dispel the myths about Jesus allows me to discover even more joy.

#lessonsonjoy: When I remember that I am the joy of Jesus, He becomes my only source for joy.

#lessonsonjoy: The more my eyes are on Jesus, the greater my joy!

#lessonsonjoy: Harboring myths and lies only lead me away from the joy I desire.

#lessonsonjoy: I may need to clean out my junk drawer...

Monday, April 13, 2015

Behind the Scenes: Even the Trees Sing for Joy

This past weekend I had the honor of speaking at a women’s brunch in West Texas. (Side note that has nothing to do with this blog: there’s a reason there are so many fun windmills spotted along the highways in West Texas. I’m thinking whoever invented hair spray came from that part of the world…) I love nothing more than getting to talk about Jesus, who He is, and how He rescued me. I love that the Lord allows me to share stories of “aha moments,” where He has revealed truth to me in the midst of my mess, and used that truth to start a transformation process. I’ve learned the importance of sharing my stories, and that was exactly what I spoke on this weekend. The whole message centered around the fact that my (our) stories matter. They matter to me (as I vulnerably learn to walk out of shame); they matter to others (who need encouragement on the journey); and they matter to the Lord (who is the true hero of our stories - the ONE who redeems them for His glory). In the process of speaking this weekend, I wandered down a back road to JOY. I should have known it would lead there; but somehow it took me by surprise. 

Vulnerability moment here. I always get a little nervous before I speak. Yes, even still, after all the years, and all the times. In some ways, there is a good side to that - it keeps me sharper, and humble, dependent on the Lord for my every word. However, a few years ago, I started to experience some mild anxiety issues. They come and go. There is no rhyme or reason to them. They hit unexpectedly. There is no specific “trigger.” I don’t like how I feel in the midst of them…and, sometimes it’s very hard to think clearly when I’m trapped in that place. So, if anxiety hits before a speaking event, it compounds the little bit of nervousness that is natural. This often turns to fear (unnatural); the Lord does not give a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7). In this case, anxiety and fear are JOY robbers. As I prepared to go this weekend, out of nowhere came some intense anxiety that threatened to choke me… It’s happened before a time or two, and the Lord has faithfully sustained, allowed me to rise above and press on. So, I steadily continued forward…one foot in front of the other. Somewhere in the middle of this messiness, the thought occurred to me (probably from the Lord, it sounded like Him): There is no better time to practice what you’ve been studying. After all,faith without works is null and void…” and, we don’t just “hear the word, we do the word.” I began putting everything I had learned, thus far, about creating space for joy to reign in my life: time in the Lord’s presence, meditation on Scripture, filling my mind with praise, taking some special “Sabbath moments”… Still, while the pressure eased, enough remained that I definitely felt a bit discouraged. 

As I went to the event on Saturday morning, I prayed a few words from Judges that have become a focal thought on some days: Oh, my soul, march on with strength (Judges 5:21, NASB).”  I gotta tell ya, somewhere between the car door and the church door, God stepped in and stooped down (another favorite verse from Psalm 18:35) to work on my behalf. He’s still a miracle worker, don’t ever think otherwise. However, here was the back door to joy that I found in the midst. As I began doing what I had been called to do; as I began sharing my stories - recounting God’s faithfulness in my past, there it was, FULL JOY, “bubbling over.” It’s not just in the remembering, but in the recounting, of God’s deeds that hidden joy is given room to burst forth. 

As I headed back to the hotel following the brunch, I thought of David dancing unashamedly with JOY as he brought the ark back to Jerusalem. I looked up the verses, and discovered amidst his song of thanksgiving and joy, he recounted the stories of God’s faithfulness to Israel. He not only remembered; he sang about them…loudly, cheerfully, rejoicing. His heart soared the more he recounted the stories of Israel’s history with the Lord, and one line stood out above the rest in that passage:  Even the trees of the forest sing for joy…(1 Chronicles 16:33). Later, Isaiah made this declaration: For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands (Is. 55:12).  

#lessononjoy - Recounting and sharing our stories of God’s faithfulness sends us out with JOY! 

Speak the faithfulness of God - even the trees of the field will clap their hands!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Sorrowful But Rejoicing

The question rolling around in my mind this past week was this: Can I still be filled with joy, and yet embrace the strong emotion of sorrow? It's a valid question. In today's world (even in today's church world), we often bury sorrow. After all, Paul tells us to "rejoice," and he says it again (like it's written in capital letters), "REJOICE!" In fact, he tells us to "rejoice always," and "at all times." If I'm going to look like a good Christian, then how can I feel sorrow, too? Obviously, good Christians don't struggle with those kinds of emotions. But, this must not be true, because sometimes I feel sad & my heart aches. Each morning I pick up my computer and browse quickly through Facebook posts. Far too many entries become moments of whispered prayers for loved ones who are hurting. Far too many! When my friends are in pain, my heart is heavy. I feel grieved. Likewise, when I'm hurting, I sometimes land in a pit of discouragement. So, are these things wrong: sadness, grief, sorrow, discouragement, heartache...? Are they sin? Or, do we have permission to feel the emotions the Lord created us to experience? That question alone seemed to give me answer, but...

I kept asking the questions, sat with them most of the week, and little by little different verses from Scripture, which I have read on this joy-journey and tucked away, started to slip into the vault that is my brain. Words like these:

"Those who go to and fro weeping...shall indeed come again with a shout of joy... (Ps 126:5)."

"Weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5b)."

Job's words: "My face is red with weeping, and on my eyelids deep darkness (Job 16:16)," BUT then these words to him had to keep coming back: "He will yet fill your mouth with laughter, and your lips with shouting (Job 8:21)."

"Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh (Luke 6:21b)."

"There is an appointed time for everything. There is a time for every event under heaven...a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4)."

"Jesus wept (John 11:35)."

Even in the garden, as Jesus prayed His high priestly prayer, His heart broke, He wept, and became so grieved, He sweat drops of blood... The Psalmist tells us of His agony in the 22nd song, "O my God, I cry by day, but Thou dost not answer; and by night, but I have no rest (v 2)."

I don't know where it all started that Christians felt the need to "buck up." Maybe Nehemiah's words became the end-all verse:
"Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength (8:10b)."

However, we could learn a lot from our Jewish heritage. These folks knew how to be sad. When their heart broke over sin, they wept. When a loved one died, they wept and tore their clothes. When life hurt, they wept (correction, they wailed deeply). They gave themselves permission to grieve. Even reading in context, Nehemiah's words, I got the full picture. The people were heartbroken over their sin, as they heard the words of the law read to them. The Word that had been buried for so long. The Word that Ezra had just spent "from early morning until midday" helping them understand. Nehemiah and Ezra gave the people pause to feel the extent of the sorrow, so that the JOY would be that much greater. It was as if they said, "Grieve deeply for a season, then step into the joy of the Lord. Don't stay there. Don't make your home in the grief. Take the next steps into joy. It is the joy you will need to strengthen you for the journey ahead."

Here's what I've learned this week (#lessonsonjoy): Sorrow isn't the antithesis to joy; it is part of the pathway to joy.

And, this (#lessonsonjoy): It is joy that strengthens us for each step along life's journey.

So...permission granted! Are you sad? Experience it. Indeed, Jesus said you will be blessed all the more for your weeping (Luke 6:21). Allow the tears to flow to make room in your heart for the joy to fill you up.

Caution: Don't dwell there forever. Take heed from Nehemiah: Be grieved no longer...grief will empty you of all energy; but, the joy of the Lord will be your strength.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

It's Sunday, but Friday's Coming

It's Easter Sunday. A favorite day. Meaningful. It's not my intention to put a wet blanket on this glorious day of declaration that Christ is Risen - INDEED! In fact, it's my hope that the following little "thought" makes that declaration even more meaningful in days to come. Easter is a BIG DEAL (that was last year's Easter Sunday blog -  access link HERE).


Friday night, Bay and I went to a Good Friday service. As a part of the evening, we watched & listened to the great message preached by S.M. Lockridge, It's Friday, but Sunday's Coming (if you'd like to follow that impactful three minute soliloquy, you'll find it HERE).

I kept thinking, "It will, indeed, soon be Sunday, but Friday's coming again."  Remember James-the-brother-of-Jesus said these words, "Count it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials...(James 1:2)." The word "when" is important; he did not say "if." It's just a matter of time, when it could feel very much like Friday in my life. Confusing. Dark. Shaken-to-the-core fearful. Despairing. Difficult to breathe, let alone believe. I've experienced a number of Friday'sFriday always threatens to shut me up in a tomb of despair. Friday always threatens to suck the air out of my life. When Friday comes, again, I'll need to remember Sunday (gotta admit, just listening to the news feels like Friday, and as I read Facebook posts, some of you are there right now!).

There are a lot of words I'll hear on Easter Sunday: new life, restoration, redemption, salvation, forgiveness, victory, freedom... These are among the apple-of-my-eye life experiences; and, each word is important to remember when Friday comes. Truth is that every Friday will open me up to embrace each one of those experiences again and again. However, there's one other word, that is replaying itself in my mind: power (I bet you thought it would be joy!).

I frequently hear the phrase "resurrection power," spoken at Easter time. It was God's power that rolled that stone from the tomb; God's power that raised Christ from the dead. It was God's power that accomplished redemption.

So, it is resurrection power that I have been reflecting on this morning. The same Greek word for resurrection power (dynamis) was used by Jesus before He ascended to heaven, as He gathered His disciples together and said, "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit  has come upon you...(Acts 1:8)." Jesus, reminded the Apostle Paul that even though he felt weak and ill-equipped, that same resurrection power would strengthen and equip him. Paul turned around and reminded Timothy that God didn't give him a spirit of fear, but of resurrection power and love and self-control.

Those promises are for me, too; and, honestly, I long to experience that same kind of resurrection power in my own life...especially during the Friday's of my life, but also at other times, like when I stand in front of a group of women (as I will this coming weekend) and re-present Jesus. The Apostle Paul prayed the same kind of prayer, asking that he might "know Jesus intimately and experience the power of His resurrection" - so I know it's a prayer I can pray. I also know it's a promise I can claim. I know I can do the impossible, because the impossible is made possible with that kind of power.

That is good news...of GREAT JOY!
(Ha! This is about JOY after all....)