Wednesday, June 12, 2013

June - I Claim a Month of God's Peace

Well, with a new month comes a new aspect of God's Spirit fruit for me to focus on.  This month I'm up to peace.  As is so often the case, it comes at just the right time.  God is so good in all that he has planned for me and he knows that this month I will need his peace.  Two things happened right at the beginning of this month.  First, everyone in my family got sick.  Not with a terrible 24 hour flu (although I did have that added into the mix for just me), but with a cold that is strong enough to disrupt lives and won't seem to go away.  People are tired and cranky.  I've blown my own nose AND the noses of my three little ones way too many times to count.  I'm exhausted.  Did I mention we're all cranky?  We are all trying to live life on not enough health and energy and that does not lend itself to a peaceful household.

Second, I started this month off by connecting with our church about the possibility of me coming on staff half time in the children's ministry program.  It is a job I would love.  Tim and I have talked for a couple years now about me going back to work and I've thought through different scenarios, but this is by far the closest we've come to actually stepping into it.  It has moved from the theoretical to the practical.  Is this the right time?  How would we pull it off?  Is it the right job?  It is enough to bring knots to the stomach, fear to the heart, and stress to the mind - none of which offer peace.

A couple of days into the month it occurred to me that I should start to focus on the next fruit from Galatians.  I thought for a moment, realized it was peace, and almost laughed out loud.  Yes, LORD, I'm going to need your peace this month, because I've got little to none of my own.  How absolutely perfect!

So my next task was to look for a theme verse for our study here on peace and I was quickly drawn to Phil. 4: 7.

Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God's peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4: 6-7 

Do you see the recurring theme?  Peace comes from God and we get it through connecting with him.  Peace is not something I need to work on achieving in my life.  Instead I need to cast all my cares upon God and His Spirit will provide the peace.

Let me share with you three thoughts I've been pondering about these two verses:

*Pray about everything.  Notice that the verse mentions both telling God what you need and thanking him for what he's done.  Chaos seems to me to be one opposite of peace.  When I pray out of chaos it seems easy to tell God what I need.  God, I'm fighting with so and so.  God, I'm nervous about this.  God, this is just not going the way I hoped.  But thanking him doesn't come to mind as easily.  However, I think that it is a vital part of opening up our lives for God's peace.  Thanking God reminds us of times he has already proven faithful.  It opens our eyes to the good currently in our lives.  Basically it takes the focus off of us and our troubles and shifts it to God and his goodness.  And that in and of itself can help to bring peace.  God is good.  He is bigger than anything in this world.  He has things under control.

*God's peace exceeds understanding.  Peace doesn't make sense in the midst of chaos.  A peace conference is not successful at the height of the conflict.  Giving out "I'm sorry"s and hugs in the middle of a fight doesn't happen.  Being able to relax and sleep well isn't normal during times of stress and decision making.  But God is supernatural.  His peace can pop up anywhere at any time.  His peace can end conflicts and provide rest.

*God's peace guards our hearts and minds.  In my month of sickness and insecurity it is God's peace that guards me.  His peace allows me to rest and heal.  His peace allows me to think clearly.  His peace keeps me from going crazy.

Yes, that is the peace I both need and desire with all my heart right now (and for the rest of my life).

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

His Joy Our Strength

Nehemiah 8:10 - Nehemiah helps rebuild the wall around Jerusalem and the people gather to hear readings from the book of the law.  They are moved, probably by understanding how much they have been sinning.  Nehemiah encourages them saying, "Don't be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!"

Do you see it?  The word of God brings them and us to repentance.  This is of course a good and necessary place to be.  BUT it is not the fullness of the life God has called us to.  He doesn't want His word to leave us in dispair.  And it won't.  Not if we really get it.  "But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners." (Romans 5:8)  Yes, I am convicted and grieved that my sin is so well sinful - unholy - that Christ had to die to save me.  But now it is finished.  God showed his love.  It is already accomplished.  God loves me that much.  While I was still a sinner - when I did not even ask for saving - he sent his son to die.  It convicts me, but it also fills me with joy.

When I was starting to date my now husband there were times when I could not stop smiling.  People wondered what was happening in my life that brought out such joy in my every day.  I simply could not stop thinking about him and how he liked me.  He wanted to spend time with me.  He told me I was beautiful.  He loved me - little old me.  I felt so special.

Well here is the God of the universe wanted to clear a path to spend time with me.  He says I'm beautifully and wonderfully made.  And he loves me.  That is joy.  That is the true source of joy.  That is His joy and that is my strength.

"I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him.  Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit." (Romans 15:13)

"The Lord is my strength and shield.  I trust him with all my heart.  He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy.  I burst out in songs of thanksgiving."  (Psalm 28:7)

So it can be for us as Nehemiah encourages.  The word of God can give us joy.  "The commands of the Lord are right, bringing joy to the heart." (Psalm 19:8)  "If your instructions hadn't sustained me with joy, I would have died in my misery." (Psalm 119:92)

Monday, May 13, 2013

What are others saying about being joyful always?

I took our theme verse for May and googled it - "Be joyful always."  Here are some things I found:

*Being joyful is more than a feeling.  It is a state of mind or attitude.  One reason we can be joyful always is that joy is not related to our day to day experiences or situations.  Joy says that when things are going well we can approach life with a positive attitude and a smile on our face.  Joy says that when things are rotten in our lives we approach life with a positive attitude and a smile on our face.  My saddest, scariest, most angriest time of my life was when my mother passed away suddenly at only 60 years old.  It was joy that got me through that time without slipping into a massive depression.  I know that my redeemer lives.  Joy in knowing that God is in control and that he has a plan for my life allowed me to weep with sorrow and still live positively.

*True joy comes from Jesus and his good news.  When the angels announced the birth of Christ they said they had good news of great joy!  Why can we be joyful always?  Because God loves us so much. Because Christ came into this world to heal and save the lost.  Because Christ's blood on the cross washes away my sins.  Because God's spirit is in us, equipping us to do "even greater things."  Because I have a hope and future with Christ one day, praising God in heaven.

*Joy comes from contentedness and assurance.  Reminds me of the truths in the old hymn.  How can you sing these words letting the truth wash over you and not be joyful even in the tears of life:
Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long;
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.

*It is God who whispers the joy into my life.  It is when I stop to talk to him that he can remind me of his love for me.  He tells me that I am His daughter.  Now because of what I can do but because he made me and loves me.  I was crafted by the great Designer.  I'm loved by an all-knowing Father.  I'm the daughter of THE KING.  I'm called by the God of heaven.  Sure I make mistakes, but he who is in me is greater than he who is of the world.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

What is the opposite of joy?

While I was pondering how I could foster joy in my life I started thinking through the non-joy things I could take out of my life.

The obvious opposite of joy is sadness.  When I look up joy in the dictionary it says the antonyms are "misery, unhappiness, sorrow, grief."  But really these seem to be opposites of happiness, and I don't think that the joy God's Spirit brings is really the same thing as happiness.  I mean that I don't think joy is just a feeling we have, I think it is more of a state of mind.

So what in my life keeps away joy?

Anxiety.  This is a big one for me.  If I'm anxious about something I'm not displaying joy.  We have a big event coming up and things are not going as I had hoped for it.  I was feeling anxious about it.  Anxious that it wouldn't go well.  Anxious that people would think less of us because of it.  Anxious, anxious, anxious.  The Lord has been laying on my heart that this is not from him.  He wants to give me joy.  I've been working on letting His joy fill me and low and behold the troubles don't seem to be nearly as big as I was thinking.

Worry.  My, oh my how worry can zap away joy.  What will we do next year?  How will I pay this bill?  What if my child gets sick?  What if, what if?  I think worry is such a big one because it takes our attention away from the present and on to the future where there are so many unknowns.  But God tells us NOT to worry about tomorrow.  Instead we are to pray and give thanks.  This is living in the now and this lets God's joy come out in our lives.

Depression.  It is easy for me to slip into mild states of depression.  I get lazy and shy and simply don't get excited about things.  Simply forcing myself to get out and do things.  Get off the couch and get to work.  Play a game with my kids.  All of these activities help to lift the depression and make room for joy in my life.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Joy always

It's a new month and I am moving on to practicing Joy - the second characteristic listed as a fruit of the Spirit. When I thought for a moment about a passage in scripture that talks about joy, the first to pop into my mind was 1 Thess. 5: 16-18: "Always be joyful.  Never stop praying.  Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus."  I have always recited those verses together, but I've always thought of them as three separate instructions to us from the Lord through Paul.  Be joyful.  Pray.  Give thanks.  This time, though, when they came to my mind I instantly saw them as connected. My thought process went something like this:
"Always be joyful."  
The command is obviously from God.
And yet it doesn't say how we can be joyful always.
Wait, maybe it does.
We can be joyful always through prayer and thanksgiving.

Praying keeps our focus on God.  Giving thanks helps us to see all that is good around us.  That is the perspective we need to be joyful.  Always.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

To Love - simple and yet complex

Last week I looked through verses that used love as a noun.  This week I focused on love as a verb.  We can love so many things.  People: God loves us, we are commanded to love each other, our neighbors, and our enemies.  Things: God's sanctuary, money, Mount Zion.  Concepts: good, commands, salvation, justice.  Actions: quarreling, talking.  God.

I know that in many languages including those in which the Bible was written, there are multiple words for love.  I wish this were true of English.

Some kinds of love come easy but seem fleeting.  I can go shopping and buy a pair of shoes I love.  I can love playing a game with my kids or having a night to myself.  I can love watching my daughter smile or my son hit a home run.  I can love the song I heard on the radio.

Some kinds of love come naturally based on the circumstance.  When my children are born I feel overwhelming love for them.  After bonding with good friends I can feel that my love for them has increased.  When I was dating, "being in love" felt fun and easy.

Some kinds of love are tougher.  I love my children even when they disobey.  I love my neighbors even when they speak badly about me.  I love my husband even after we fight.  I love the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength even when I can't feel his presence.

Not surprisingly, the first two kinds of love I mentioned can be talked about in passing in the Bible.  It is this last kind of love that the Bible treats as a command.  In fact, the biggest command - to love God and others.  Not to love when things are good.  Not to love when we first meet people.  Just to love.  Like all the time.  It's hard.

But God doesn't leave it at that for us.  He tells us and shows us all through the Bible how much he loves us.  He loved us at creation when all was good.  And he loves us each day when we give in to sinful desires.  He love us.  There are no ifs or ands or buts attached to that love.  That is tough love.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

What love does

Love can be a noun. I looked through my Bible at a few of the many many passages about love and looked at the verb following the word love. Here are a few that I found.

1 Chronicles 16:41 God's faithful love in endures forever.

Psalm 23:6 Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life.

Psalm 31:16 In your unfailing love, rescue me.

Psalm 32:10 Unfailing love surrounds those who trust in The Lord.

Psalm 119:76 Now let your unfailing love comfort me.

Song of Songs 4:10 Your love delights me.

Lamentations 3:10 The faithful love of the Lord never ends!

Romans 13:10 Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God's law.

1 Corinthians 8:1 But well knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church.

Philippians 1:9 I pray that your love will overflow more and more.

1 Thessalonians 3:12 May the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow.

1Peter 4:8 Love covers a multitude of sins.

1John 4:18 Perfect love expels all fear.