Monday, August 31, 2015

Meant to be a JOY-Giver

I believe I'm coming to the end of my study on joy. Just a few more blog entries and I think I've exhausted my look into this one word. I didn't have a clue, when I began, where this journey would take me. I tried to map it out one afternoon. At least, I thought I knew where I might be headed, and so sat in an airport coffee shop with a napkin, and sketched where I thought the roads were leading me. I was wrong. What I was after was (duh!) JOY. In my mind, JOY was the destination; it was the consummate end-all-place.

I didn't want to just exist in the middle of a HARD life, I wanted to exude JOY at all times, in all circumstances, as Paul rather commands in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, "Rejoice always..." So, as I was mapping my journey, and the places I thought I had to visit, in order to reach the destination, it dawned on me, that JOY was not the destination. JOY was the journey; and, in the middle of the journey, in order to be a joy-filled Christian, there would be places I'd have to take the time to visit, in order to create space for JOY. I also discovered that joy-robbers would be ever hiding along the road, often in the most unsuspecting places, but I did find that the Lord gave me warning signs, if I were ever-mindful. On those not-so-rare moments, one of the sneaking fast-acting thieves attacked and stripped me of my joy (leaving me with the wondering thought, "What just happened?"), the Lord sweetly showed me ways to restore my joy. He thinks of EVERYTHING!

Now, this: I've been particularly selfish about JOY. I have wanted JOY for ME! For what it would do for ME! For how others would look at ME in the midst of the hard. I can be so narcissistic about my spirituality at times. Deeply convicted, however, right now! (I've blogged about this before, but it just keeps coming back...I know FOR ME, I've needed to revisit this whole concept about giving joy away...)

As I began my morning journaling detailing a summary of all that I've learned over the last eight months, the Lord planted a seed in my mind. It came as I was looking at Jesus words in John 15, and Paul's words about the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. I am a part, a small part, but a part, of God's garden. His garden is for fruit-bearing. Refreshing fruit. Fruit that others receive and, as they partake, enjoy, and find themselves renewed. The fruit is to attract attention to the True Vine and the Gardener. I'm just a branch, and my purpose is to be as fruitful as possible (love, JOY, peace...). Life-giving-fruit-bearers: this is what we are all called to be.

Instead, I've wanted to be a hoarder. I want fruit, but I want to put it all up for myself. I suppose this is relevant right now, because I'm spending so much time putting up peaches, pears, apples, corn, jerky, fruit leather, zucchini, kale, spinach, pesto, carrots, onions, tomatoes, marinara (most from my "harvest" this summer). It's fine to have all that on hand when winter hits, but I have more than I could ever use. So, what have I done with the excess? I've given it away for others to enjoy. I've been blessed to "share the wealth." If I tried to keep it, it would spoil before I got to it all. What a waste!!!!

The fruit of JOY - it's meant to be given away. To hold it all to myself spoils it in my selfishness; and, that, too, is a WASTE! So, this is how I'll close this study over the next few weeks. How do I give away the fruit of joy? As I've thought about it this morning, I've come up with a few thoughts. Hope you're ready to bag up a little joy and share the wealth! Odd thing is, when I give fruit away, I also fill up with more JOY. That's today's lesson on joy: We can't out-give God when it comes to fruit; the more we give away, the more we receive. 

He thinks of EVERYTHING!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Joy in the Journey - The Right Community (2)

Now and then, we find ourselves traveling on some difficult roads. Not only are they steep, leaving us breathless, but they are dangerous, as well.

Joy-robbers hide all along the way, and before we know it, they attack us, leaving us beaten, bruised, and half-dead. I've been on roads like that - roads I never expected to travel, but simply because of the destination at the other end, found there was no other way to journey. Some make it unscathed; many (probably most) do not. It's best not to travel those types of roads alone; there is safety in numbers. It's great when we get to have traveling companions; encouragers, cheer-leaders, partners who push us up the steep grade... Yet, every now and then, for whatever the reason, we attempt the journey alone...

Such was the case of the man who had to go from Jerusalem down to Jericho in one of Jesus' most famous parables. He had to go. The road from point A to point B was known to be dangerous (see picture above). There was no other way to get to Jericho, and for some reason, he traveled alone (perhaps there was no other option). The inevitable happened. The ever-present bandits, who hid along the precipitous, arduous, dry, and dangerous trek, attacked. They stripped him of everything, beat him, and left him for dead. Others passed, saw the man, didn't want to get involved, or in their defense, didn't have time to get involved, so they walked to the other side of the road, ignoring his plight. However, the least expected passerby stopped, filled with compassion: The Good Samaritan.

This isn't a blog about "the least expected" man who helped the un-named journeyman. It's about the fact, that at one time or another, in the midst of our arduous, steep, dangerous roads, when we find ourselves beaten up, robbed of our joy, and bloody messes, we, too, need Good Samaritans who tend to us with compassion. Good "Sam's" who aren't afraid of our messiness. Sam's who bind up our wounds, anoint us with whatever "oil and wine" we need for recovery, and sacrifice time and resources to care for our spiritually beaten-up souls. Good Sam's are hard to find in today's world. Maybe it's because of fear. Perhaps it's because of time restraints. Very possibly it's because of ignorance - we just don't know what to do to help. There's even the probability that the "body" is so well-hidden that those who pass by, don't even see the need. Undoubtedly, there are good reasons for the fact that there aren't many Good Samaritan's, or Nathan's, for that matter, to be found in today's church...but, I do have to wonder why they are so rare...

Just as there were qualities to look for in a Nathan, those GS's, who take the time for the wounded, have their own skill set. They are:

-Merciful and full of compassion. 

-Gifted with thoughtfulness, service, and "helps".


-Overlook cultural taboos and prejudices.

-Sacrificially generous.

-Practical and resourceful.

-Willing to go out of their way

-Comfortable taking time for the inconvenient; and, they see time as opportunity.

-Educated in how to wash wounds with the "water of the word" and anoint with "oils" that balm the soul

-Non-judgmental (there was no condemnation, or "what were you thinking?" comments)

-Willing to follow up

Truth is we all need Good Samaritan's in our community. I have needed one or two, and, frankly, in my hour-of-need, it has often been the least expected. They've come just in time, and their words were medicine for my soul. They made the recovery possible. I am indebted. Their actions made this not-naturally-thoughtful-individual want to pay closer attention to others who may be hidden along the roadside. I'd like nothing more than to pay-it-forward for someone else. So, truth is, not only do we need them, we also need to be one... Good Samaritan's are true JOY-RESTORER'S! 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Joy in the Journey: The Right Community

Hot on the heels of last week's blog on confession, I've spent quite a bit of time thinking about the circumstances surrounding King David's situation. Prior to his written confession in Psalm 32, followed by Psalm 51, David was in a place of STUCK. He was miserable in his sin. "Waxing old," those were his words. His heart was broken, but his mental and physical state were so covered in shame that he hid behind a little something called denial. He'd almost convinced himself that if he was silent about his sin, maybe it would all go away, or maybe God wouldn't see, know, or care... David's sinful state had him confused and misguided, even though deep down inside he knew the truth. For a lengthy season, he decided he'd rather be silent than admit to his deceit. Oh, how the mighty had fallen!

How great is the Lord's love for David! How great is His love for me! So great, that God won't let us stay in the places of STUCK...or denial. Though we fall, He, by nature, is a Savior, who wants to pick us up. Oh, how the MIGHTY stoops low in order to rescue us. God knew well in advance just what David would need. So, the Lord had strategically placed in David's circle a wise prophet by the name of Nathan; and, when the time was right, God sent this man to confront the King. Confront, he did, and the wrong became whole, the fallen restored, and the sin washed clean. (2 Samuel 12)

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven and whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
Psalm 32:1-2

All of us find ourselves in places of STUCK, miserable in our sin, hiding in shame, and mentally misguided. All of us come to a place where we'd rather be silent than admit to our transgressions, holding our iniquity inside, "waxing old" in body and soul. That's why we need community. That's why we need Nathan's in our circle. Nathan's who are for us. Nathan's who know us so well that they can speak truth to us in such a way that clarity comes and brings repentance, not judgment. Nathan knew exactly how to speak to his King is such a way that David's broken heart would spring forth true repentance: I am that man! Those were the most freeing words King David had ever spoken from his throne.

I've listed a few qualities of a Nathan, because we all need them in our lives. Our Nathan's should be people who will:

-Spend time in God's presence, so they aren't just bringing their opinion, but God's Word to our Hearts. Our Nathan's are spiritually in tune with the Lord, teachable. We can't "teach," if we're not teachable.

- Walk in obedience to the Lord, surrendered, no matter what the cost. Confronting a king, could not have been a welcome or easy task. Confronting ANYONE is not a welcome or easy task - most all of us run from that job.

-Walk in the confidence of their own identity and calling, which makes them COURAGEOUS.

-Walk in a spirit of love, kindness and gentleness. 

-Know how to diffuse self-defense, self-righteousness, and self-promoting in such a way that truth hits its intended mark. Nathan's know their audience.

-Don't beat around the bush. Nathan's are straightforward with facts, lacking judgment, but SAFE (meaning, there is no question about whose side they are on, "for not against"). They correct in private, praise in public.

-Speak out of wisdom. Note: Nathan used the art of story telling, playing on his past history, in order to help David relate.

There are times when all of us get into a position where we lie to ourselves, validate, and attempt to justify our sin. That's why we need Nathan's. Where do we find them? This is where the church is supposed to come in, helping to raise up leaders who will be all of the above. Yet, in an age of the mega church, it's easy to just be anonymous and to keep hiding. It's become too easy to allow ourselves permission to slip in and out, without being known. Sometimes I think it's time to rethink size, and get back to the true art of community...

Just something to think about.


There's another person we need to find in our community, as well. So come back next might be a bit surprised by this one.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Joy in the Journey #5: House Cleaning

We've enjoyed a great summer thus far. It certainly isn't over, not by any means... What makes summer, well, summer, is warm weather; visits from a lot of friends; barbecues; freshly mowed grass;  afternoon rain showers; kids laughing and playing in the yard, running to muddy corals to feed horses (hoping Papa will be there to take them riding); full refrigerators; grand-dogs chasing grand-children; and a lot of hiking (& hunting for who-knows-what-boys-hunt) at the back of our property. We've had our own kids home, sprinkled with visits from other "kids" who feel a lot like family, and friends from afar. In between company we flew off to take advantage of some amazing ministry. Yesterday morning, we hugged our good-byes to the last batch that filled our home with JOY (a total of 3 adults and 8 kiddos). As they pulled out of the driveway, I believe I heard my house groan, or was that a sigh? This old homestead felt the weight of a few months of NEGLECT. It did. From somewhere deep inside, I acknowledged its great need, and scrounged up the energy to start paying it some attention. What began as just a routine pick-up, wash-the-sheets-to-get-ready-for-the-next-group, and clean the bathrooms, became a deeper cleaning of time-consuming-effort. Every corner, every cupboard, each nook-and-cranny, got sorted, wiped down, and scrubbed. My cleaning agent of choice is white vinegar with a little squeezed lemon juice. At the end of the day, my house was smiling, and less-burdened. I, on the other hand, collapsed, but felt satisfied. Lesson learned: The satisfaction following the cleansing far out-weighed the energy spent!! I can testify to this truth.

Sometimes our hearts feel the weight of NEGLECT, as well. Sometimes, the hectic lifestyle for which we opt, leaves the home of the Spirit of the Lord a little burdened. While there has been good stuff happening around us, we've let the corners, the cupboards, the nooks-and-crannies get dusty, dirty, "cobwebby,"and, oops...dead flies have accumulated along the baseboards. Yuck! Our hearts, like our homes, need a little extra TLC. This kind of spiritual work is hard, and exhausting, but needs to be done regularly. My cleaning agent of choice is confession.

When the word confession runs through my brain, my mind turns to David, the King. What an example he set for true confession. While I may not be a murderer or an adulteress, I have my own issues...and the results are the same as David's: worn out, used up, mind groaning and stuck in a whirlwind of ridiculous thoughts, heavy-hearted, and dried up (see Psalm 32:3-4). I was there a little over a week ago, stuck and spiritually unhealthy from a bad attitude I thought I deserved to relish and enjoy for a bit. 'Til I heard myself groaning and sighing, a lot like my house did yesterday. David set the bar for us all who get to that place where we need to open a few cupboards and clean out the mess, or vacuum up some dead bugs in the corners.

I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the Lord," and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah! (Psalm 32:5)

The result of David's confession? Gladness and joy!

Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart! (Psalm 32:11)

David confessed, and the Lord "washed him thoroughly from his iniquity, and cleansed him from his sin!" He was purged, cleansed, washed, and what had been blackened from his transgression was washed whiter than snow. The joy of his salvation was restored. (Psalm 51:2, 7, 8, 12). Not only that, but again and again, he mentions how embraced by God's love he felt...Sigh!

I grabbed a rag of confession and cleaned up some yucky corners, baseboards, and cupboards in my own heart. After paying a little attention to the house-of-my-soul, I found my joy a big way. That lightness of spirit that comes following a good house cleaning is definitely satisfying. It does not minimize the hard work, but what a feeling when it's done!

As Jesus hung on the cross, He spoke few words. The three I love the most? "It is finished!" What was finished? The high cost of shed blood to cover my sin. I often need to go there for a good shower...then I remember, "It's done!" The red of the blood poured out to cover the blackness of my heart, and when God looks at me, He only sees snowy white! Hallelujah. Embraced by God's love! It's something to rejoice in over and over again!

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9)!

So, not everything got finished yesterday, this is a big house. Time to tackle the upstairs!!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Joy in the Journey #3/#4:A Joy-Job & Faithful Children

Bay and I have served in ministry for years. For the majority of our years, we were blessed to work with youth. What a joy-job! We loved nothing better than planning, preparing, producing events, food, outreaches, food, worship nights, devotions, retreats, more food... It was a delight to spend time with the youth with whom God crossed our paths. They were our Friends (yes, with a capital "F"); almost to the exclusion of adult friends. The opportunity to serve the students of our community, as well as in other churches, and other countries, blessed us HUGELY. We lived, ate, slept, dreamt, breathed in and out youth ministry. Over the years, as we've gotten older, that has now transitioned more to adult ministry. It's as much a joy for us as loving on youth. Of course, ministry can be tiring. Yes, ministry involves a lot of sacrifice: time, personal finances, energy, laundry left undone... Yet, I am never more full of joy than when I am serving and operating in my strengths and spiritual gifts. This would be yet another joy-restorer... Label this #3: Ministering in my joy-job!

Each summer, we are blessed to return to a family camp where we have served off and on since about 1994 or '95. That's a lot of years under our belt (and reminds us of how old we are getting). The upside to this is that we've seen a lot of familiar faces over the years. By nature of what we do in ministry, we don't often get to see follow-up-results to our ministry. The exception to this was when we were privileged to work within our home town for a number of years fulfilling the dream-of-our-hearts: The P.O.W.E.R. House Youth Center. Anyway, I have digressed. The last couple of years at camp, we've had summer staff approach us, and the story has different dates attached, but a similar theme: "You spoke here about 12 years ago (8 years ago, 4 years ago...) and I was 13 (10, 12...), and the night you spoke, I gave my life to Jesus. I just wanted you to know that was the best decision of my life, and I'm still serving Him."

Those words. No greater joy! No greater JOY!!!!!! I so relate to the words of the Apostle John as he talks about the joy that comes to him when he hears the good news of his "children" (spiritual, in this case) walking in truth, being faithful to Jesus, loving on others, and refreshing the hearts of the Lord's people (3 John 1:3; 2 John 1:4, 2 John 1:12).  Indeed, Paul, the Apostle, said, "You (meaning the spiritual children he helped birth) are our joy and our glory!" I've never needed, or wanted, a thank-you for ministry...that is not necessary, since the service is the joy. Oh, but to hear the stories of those who are still moving forward with Jesus, loving Him, walking in truth, and serving Him by refreshing the hearts of others - nothing fills my heart more! I'd have to insert here, this is joy restorer #4: The good news of faithful "children." 

There's always a flip side to the coin. What often restores my joy can also deplete it. So, when the news arrives on my doorstep of those we've loved and spent time with not continuing on with Jesus, my heart is heavy. What follows is always these questions, "What more could we have done?" "How could we have been better examples, mentors, encouragers-of-the-faith?" God interjects amidst these questions (joy-robbers) with reminders that we are human, mistake-makers, still growing in faith till the day we leave this earth, so of course we won't do ministry perfectly. The better question is: did we serve with the best knowledge & passion we had at the time? I think so... Therefore, I am not responsible for another's choices, or their walk...

When joy seems low, I remain faithfully serving, because in that place is fulness of joy; and when joy starts being sucked dry as the coin is tossed, I remember those who've continued on, and are, also, loving, serving, and persevering in faith.