Tag Archive | Joy

Fixing Our Eyes on Jesus During the Holiday Season



Keeping our eyes on Jesus is a discipline many of us fail in daily. Yet Scripture teaches this is an important, even essential part of running with perseverance the  race God has marked out for us.

If  you live with the daily challenges of chronic illness, loss, physical or emotional pain, financial struggles or a variety of other issues that are a part of daily life on this earth corrupted by sin, keeping a godward focus becomes even more difficult during the holiday season with its added pressures.

Even though I’ve been doing daily posts this month on the meaning of twenty-five of the names of Jesus, I’ve had some days that it was very difficult just to keep going. Earlier this week, I had a day where brain fog made it really difficult for me to write. By the end of the day my post for the next morning was done, but little else. I was exhausted and on the verge of depression. I knew I needed to do something to stop this downward spiral before it got worse.

The first thing I tried was to relax by playing a couple games on my iPad. In my current frame of mind, that just made me feel worse. So I decided to go in my bedroom, get ready for bed, and read for a few minutes before going to sleep (something I do most nights). This also didn’t help.

Then I remembered what usually helps when I’m feeling discouraged or anxious about something, using worship music to turn on focus off the problems I’m dealing with and onto the One who loves me and is working in my circumstances for my good and for His glory. So I turned on my iPad and listened to some Christmas worship music. This helped me relax and prepare mentally for sleep. And when I woke up the next morning, it was with a completely different frame of mind, one that enabled me to have a much more positive day.

The holiday season with all its extra activities and pressures is naturally stressful. For those who are living with the daily limitations of chronic illness and the often associated financial pressure and emotional pain, it can feel overwhelming. Here is a YouTube link to some Christmas worship music that I’ve found helpful this Christmas season in turning my eyes off the problems of life and back on the One who is our refuge in the hard places of life.

Have you found something that helps you cope with the added pressures of the season and keep your focus on the One whose birthday we are celebrating? If so,  please share what has helped you in the comments below.

Jesus, Head of the Church

When Hurricane Harvey stalled out over Houston, Texas, and our part of the city was deluged with over forty inches of rain, our church campus received major flooding, leaving several of our buildings unusable. But the Church was not damaged. How is that possible? Simply because the Church is not a building or group of buildings.

While most churches meet in physical structures, the Church itself is made up of people who know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and who meet together in a locality to worship their Lord, study His Word, be trained to do the work God has called His people to do and have fellowship with one another. And this week, we will be examining several names of Jesus that relate to the church, beginning with His headship over the church.

The Church is the Body of Christ and Christ Jesus is its head. The word translated church in the New Testament comes from the Greek word ekklesia, which is defined as “an assembly or called-out ones.”

The universal church consists of all those who have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” (1 Corinthians‬ ‭12:13‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

Local churches are gatherings of members of the universal church in a certain locality.

In Matthew 16:18, Jesus told Peter that He Himself would build His church, and the “gates of hell” would not prevail against it. Acts 2:47 explains that Jesus was the One who was building His church, and that it was being made up of “those who were being saved.”

  • As the Head of the church, Jesus is its governing, ruling authority. According to Matthew 28:18, all authority in heaven and on earth has been given by God the Father to Jesus, and one area where His authority is exercised is in the church.

And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” Ephesians‬ ‭1:22-23‬ ‭ESV‬

  • As the Head of the church, Jesus nourishes and cherishes His body.

For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.” Ephesians‬ ‭5:29-30‬ ‭ESV‬‬

  • As the Head of the church, Jesus desires to see His nature and character expressed through His body. Ephesians 5:25-27, using His love for the church as an example of how husbands are to love their wives, explains His plan for this to happen. Christ gave Himself up for the church, He is the Sanctifier of the church, cleansing her by washing her with the word, and His end goal for the church is that He might present her to Himself without spot, wrinkle or blemish.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” Ephesians‬ ‭5:25-27‬ ‭ESV‬‬

  • As the Head of the church, Jesus continues His work and ministry on earth through His body. What Jesus did while He was on earth, His church is now called and empowered to do.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke‬ ‭4:18-19‬ ‭ESV‬‬

And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’” Matthew‬ ‭28:18-20‬ ‭ESV‬‬

While each church will have its own local leaders, the ultimate leader of any church is to be the Lord Jesus. The church belongs to Him. He is the head and the only One equipped to adequately lead the church. He is to be given the preeminence, the highest place in rank and influence. And that’s a good thing, because Who better knows how to lead the church than the One Who laid down His own life for her members.

As 2017 comes to an end, our church campus still hasn’t fully recovered from the damage caused by Hurricane Harvey. But our Church is thriving, under the Headship of Jesus Christ and the skilled leadership of its local leaders. And that is something which fills my heart with gratitude.

Memorable Monday: Choose Joy

A couple weeks ago, I started doing these Memorable Monday posts, on books I had recently finished reading. This week, I’m choosing a book I read in January, shortly after deciding that God wanted me to make JOY my word for 2016. This was the first book I read on walking in Biblical JOY.

To better understand joy, I started reading Choose Joy: Because Happiness Isn’t Enough, by Kay Warren, wife of Pastor Rick Warren. A free 30-day devotions with the same title is also available, at the following link: http://kaywarren.com/devotions.

Kay begins by clarifying that joy isn’t “feeling good all the time.” Joy is not about our feelings or circumstances. Joy is a choice, a decision we make no matter how we feel or what circumstances we are currently facing. Then she gives her own definition of joy, one of the better ones I’ve read:

img_2153
Another point that stood out to me from this book is that no matter what we are currently facing, it is never all good or all bad. In a difficult situation, there is also good if we look for it. And even in a good situation, there are things we would like to change. 

A few more quotes that stood out to me from Choose Joy:

  • “An untested faith is an unreliable faith.”
  • “We want the product of trials – maturity – without having to go through the process.
  • “By how we act under trials, we can earn the right to testify to who God is.”

As you read the above quotes, you may be asking yourself what this has to do with JOY. This is primarily a book that teaches us how to walk in joy when our faith is being tested. Some personal testimony is given, but the focus is on teaching. If you want to better understand how to choose joy regardless of your circumstances, it’s an excellent source of instruction. It was a good choice for me as I stepped out in January to really understand how to walk in a way that pleases God in the midst of chronic illness and pain. It built a good foundation, on which I’m now building by reading books that are more experience oriented.

Memorable Mondays: JOY

I’ve been reading some outstanding books recently, and starting today I’ll be sharing a brief book review and a memorable quote every Monday from a book I recommend. Today’s quote is from One More Step: Finding Strength When You Feel Like Giving Up, by Rachel Wojo. 

This book definitely was my favorite read in 2015, and I still find myself going back to it frequently.  Last year was a difficult one for me, as I dealt with chronic pain and a growing list of chronic illnesses. Before reading this book, I was close to the point of giving into despair. This book literally changed my life, starting me on the pathway of looking for JOY in the midst of my circumstances.

Rachel Wojo also knows what it is to face devastating situations. In this book, she transparently shares some of the heartbreak she has faced, and gives practical steps that helped her keep moving forward, one step at a time. She reminds us that God is in control, even if our lives appear to be out of control. If you want to learn how to persevere in less than ideal circumstances, taking hold of hope and finding joy in the Lord even if He does not bring miraculous deliverance, I highly recommend this book.

One More Step is filled with memorable quotes, and choosing one to focus on was my hardest task.  I chose a quote about JOY, since this is my word for this year. If you haven’t read this book yet, don’t delay any longer. I truly believe it has the potential to change your life.

image

 

 

 

Chronic Illness and Joy

To understand how all the bad things that touch our lives could possibly be a source of joy, we need a basic knowledge of the effect of sin and the curse that resulted from it. The history of mankind can be divided into three time periods:

  1. The time right after creation, before sin entered the picture. God and man lived together in perfect harmony.  God Himself described this time at the end of the six days of creation by saying, “It is all very good.” (Genesis 1:31)
  2. The era we currently live in, when earth is under the curse because of sin, and life includes mourning, pain, illness, and ends in death. When Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, came to earth, lived a sinless life, and then through His death on the cross and resurrection, paid the full penalty for the sins of those who receive Him as Savior and Lord.
  3. The future time, when the present heaven and earth will have been destroyed and redeemed mankind will live with the Lord in the New Jerusalem, in the new heaven and the new earth. Then, those who have surrendered their lives to Jesus, will not only experience freedom from the penalty of sin; they will be freed from the presence of sin. And the curse that accompanies it.  

As it says of this future time in Revelation 21: 3b-4, “God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

    I look forward to an eternity spent in the presence of God and with sin and its effects wiped away. But that is still future. We still live on an earth that has been corrupted by sin. Until God destroys the present heaven and earth, and we go to live permanently in His presence on the new earth, the presence of sin will continue. And with it, the presence of pain, mourning, disease, and death. Living with chronic illness is just one part of the curse that has personally touched my life.

    The Curse of Chronic Illness: My Story

    At first, it looked like I had minimal lasting damage from the accident in November 1975 that took the life of our firstborn daughter, Teresa. Though I left the hospital using a wheelchair, with my husband’s hard work making a set of parallel bars for me to use to learn to walk again, and then him being the “bad guy” and insisting that I exercise on it several times a day, I was soon walking with crutches. Before long, I was able to walk with a cane and a little later with no assistance.

    But a few years later, I started having problems with arthritis, which my doctor said was “secondary to the accident.” As years have passed, my physical condition has continued to deteriorate, with new diagnoses many years. Then a couple years ago, one doctor’s office suspected that my symptoms were being complicated by neurological issues, and things started moving downhill at double-time.

    Then, in July of last year (2015), my pain management doctor did an injection in my right shoulder to see if it would help the pain in the shoulder and numbness in the fingers of my right hand. But instead of helping, it made my overall condition much worse.  I spent a week in bed to treat a spinal fluid leak. And when I was able to get up, I had severe pain after less than five minutes of standing or walking. The doctors were stumped. They ordered several tests, but even then had no explanation for the sudden change in my condition. I am no longer able to drive or do most of the housework, and trips out of the house usually now require using a wheelchair. 

    As of today, I still have no answers. I now have over twenty-five diagnoses, and since I’m still waiting to learn some of the more recent test results the list could possibly grow even longer.

    Word of the Year Update

    In the midst of all of this, when I was praying last December about picking a word of the year for 2016, God clearly spoke to my heart that my focus for the new year was to be joy. Frankly, that wasn’t what I wanted to hear. But after walking with God for almost fifty years, I’ve learned that it isn’t wise to fight His leading. So I began studying Scripture and Scripture-based books about joy.  It’s still January, so I have over eleven months left to focus on joy.  But here are just a few of the things God has already taught me:

    • Joy isn’t the same thing as happiness, which comes and goes with changes in circumstances.
    • Joy isn’t affected by our outward circumstances. In fact, difficult circumstances are the ideal soil for learning to “count it all joy” (Philippians 1:2).
    • Joy is closely tied to giving God thanks in all circumstances.
    • Even in our desert situations, God delights to give us His gifts. We need to be sure to look for them.  (God actually began teaching me this last year, during a group study with God-Living Girls, on Rachel Wojo’s book One More Step.)
    • Joy is the inner assurance than everything is going to be alright in the end, because God is in control.
    • Another way to cultivate joy is by praising God for who He is (His character) and what He has done (His works).
    • Counting it all joy – seeing every circumstance we are facing as an ultimate source of joy – is the key to growing to spiritual maturity.


    The natural response to all that I’m facing is fear and anxiety. But those who are in Christ are no longer limited to natural responses. The supernatural God lives in us, and He will work within us if we will allow Him to do so. And one of the primary ways He is working in my life during this season is through a double focus on joy and on my life purpose of writing (through #Write365). Do you think it’s a coincidence that the next study for God-Living Girls, beginning on February 1st, is entitled “Finding Joy & Purpose in Chronic Illness”? I see it as a God-incidence!

    Embracing the Life You’ve Been Given

    Today, I am linking up with Tuesday at Ten, the weekly blog link-up where you have six days to use the prompt word or phrase as a part of your writing. This week’s prompt word is EMBRACE.

    As I was reading my #First5 devotional this morning, God spoke to my heart. The question was: “What harm has the Lord delivered you from?”  Immediately, I saw one of the most difficult events in my life in a different light. In 1976, we were hit by a drunk driver, and our eighteen month old daughter Teresa was killed. This morning God spoke to my heart, “But I spared your life.” Yes He did, but this had never been my focus.

    Since the accident, my life has been different. Not only did we lose our precious daughter, I also left the hospital in a wheelchair. I was later able to use a walker, and for a window of time even to walk without support. But from that time, my life was different. My health began a downward spiral, to the point where I now have over a dozen chronic illnesses that are directly or indirectly related to the accident. This is the life God is asking me to embrace. And since my Word of the Year is joy, to embrace with joy.

    So how is this possible? It requires letting go of the past and turning my focus on the future. Or as Philippians 3:13b-14 says:

    “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” 

    There are some positive things about living with chronic illness. First, I have lots of free time to spend with the Lord. My daily quiet time is one of the delights of my life, as I spend unrushed time in God’s presence, in prayer and God’s Word. This has helped me grow spiritually, as I seek to be more than a hearer – or reader – of Scripture. God’s Word is gradually becoming the guidebook by which I live, as I lean daily on God’s grace. As James 1:22-25 says, this leads to being blessed.

    “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.”

    And 2 Corinthians 4:16b-18 makes it clear that God values inward renewal above what is going on outwardly. I can identify with Paul’s words in this passage:

    Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

    Yes, outwardly my body seems to be “wasting away.”  My chronic illnesses could be considered “a thorn in the flesh.” Like Paul did concerning his thorn, I have pleaded with the Lord to take this thorn away from me. God’s answer, for now at least, has been similar to His answer to the apostle in 2 Corinthians 12:8-10,

    “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  

    Finally, Scripture makes it clear that life on earth involves warfare and suffering. Jesus has already defeated the enemy,  but the full effects of His victory won’t be experienced until we go to be with Him in the new heaven and the new earth. Therefore, suffering of some type is usually a part of life on this fallen planet. As it says in 1 Peter 5:8-10,

    “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”

    Father, I am choosing to embrace the life You have given me with joy. These are just a few of the blessings You have revealed to me in this particular wilderness. So today, I embrace the life You have given me in love, and the writing that is a part of Your purpose for me.  Thank You for opening my eyes to the truth that you spared my life, so that Your purpose for me would be fulfilled. Help me to seek Your will daily, and to walk in the fulness of what You have for me. In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

     ‭‭

    ‭‭


    Word of the Year: Joy

    In December, as I began reflecting on my normal pattern of making a list of New Year’s resolutions, I sensed God showing me there was a better way. I did some research about the effectiveness – or rather ineffectiveness – of making New Year’s resolutions, and I was convinced that choosing  ONE WORD to focus on in 2016 was a wiser choice.

    God spoke to my heart that I needed to focus on inward change and my outward problems would fall in line. That made sense. After prayer and several confirmations, I knew what my Word of the Year for 2016 was to be: JOY.

     

    Well, the new year is now here and I’m doing some reading to better understand what JOY really means. First, joy isn’t the same thing as happiness. When my circumstances are favorable, I’m happy. But happiness is just a feeling. When something hard happens, I’m definitely not happy. 

    On the other hand, Scripture makes it clear that joy isn’t a feeling. In James 1:2, we are told to “count it all joy” when trials come. Other translations say to “consider it all joy.” Count and consider are both words that have to do with the mind, with how we’re thinking.  So joy is a choice we make in our minds, and it is unrelated to what is happening to us. Joy comes from God. Not circumstances. Not pleasure. Not possessions. Not a healthy body. Not positive emotions. Instead, joy is a choice to honor God’s Word in spite of everything that is happening around us.

    To better understand joy, I started reading Choose Joy Because Happiness Isn’t Enough, by Kay Warren, wife of Pastor Rick Warren. In the first chapter of the book, I found one of the best definitions of joy that I’ve ever read. According to Kay Warren, joy is:

    • The settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life,
    • The quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright,
    • And the determined choice to praise God in every situation.

    While the three points of this definition are all important, I think unfortunately one important point was left out. In my own personal experience, joy usually begins when I make the decision to consciously look for something I can thank God for in the midst of my difficult situation.

    Or as Rachel Wojo says in her book One More Step: Finding Strength When You Feel Like Giving Up,  “No matter your testing or trial, God has gifts for you right where you are. Smack-dab in the middle of your desert…When we find ourselves waiting in the desert, we can unwrap a few gifts to hydrate and nourish us.”

    Gratefulness in the midst of my desert situation has been my most effective entry into joy. During a recent group study of Rachel Wojo’s book, I made a “Gifts in the Desert” jar,  using the below graphic. When I’m feeling discouraged, I usually start by asking God to show me His gift in this wilderness situation. Then, I write it on a strip of paper and add it to my jar.  For example, I might be feeling down because physical pain is keeping me from attending our Sunday morning church service. But I see God’s gift in the situation – our church services are broadcast live via the Internet.  So I record this gift on a slip of paper, put it in my gifts jar, and lean back in my recliner and enjoy watching our church service.

    Yes, God is in control.

    Yes, everything is going to turn out alright, in eternity if not before.

    And yes, I make the choice to praise God in the situation I personally would like to avoid.

    But before I’m ready to acknowledge these truths and take these actions, I usually start with looking for God’s gifts in this place where I’d rather not be.

    This understanding has made a major change in the way I handle difficult circumstances. I encourage you to try it.