A Certain Kind of Joy

Photo Credit: Kim Clayton Lance

There is a certain kind of joy that can occur when we endure an impossibly hard season. Be it a pandemic, a terminal diagnosis, a death, shattered bones, infertility, betrayal by a spouse or friend or colleague, loss of employment, or persecution because of our faith, we can still experience the unique! Joy. If we know Jesus as Lord, in particular.

I’m not talking about happiness. This joy is more about confidence. It is more about hope being fixed on what is unseen, what is coming, what is promised. It is more about security in eternal terms. No way will we be happy about what we are enduring in the now. But we can be happy that God is lovingly showing us whether or not our faith is genuine. Fire turned up on high. Dross burned off. Hindrances vaporized. What’s left? Strong faith.

There is JOY IN THE SHOWING. I Peter 1:6-7 (NASB) says, “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” This proof reveals lives miraculously transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. This evidence lets us know where truth faith is bubbling up.

There is JOY IN THE SEEING. God already knows the status of our faith. Weak or strong, marginal or steadfast. He already knows. The testing happens so that we can know it ourselves or that others can see the real live picture of Christ’s character in us. God sometimes uses the disastrous to thread perseverance through our lives. To make us dependent on Him. To make meaningful our wrestling. To prevent us from abandoning hope. To make us like Him.

Too, I have noticed that in Christ, one kind of suffering prepares us for the next season of suffering. When I replay God’s faithfulness and provision in the former seasons of my life, even if waiting on Him seemed endless (and it always does), I know His strength for the next season is accessible. This is a repeated revelation for me but, in one faith experiment I learned that I had a self-sufficiency problem. This was when I broke my upper right arm (after a trip and fall in CW). And yes, I am right-handed. I clearly saw the dross God wanted to remove. The testing of my faith was not wasted on that painful healing process! God exposed my dependence on myself and it definitely needed to be taken down a few notches.

There is JOY IN THE KNOWING. Settle assurance. I can make sense of my pain when my faith is being purified by my suffering. God allows it and God uses it. Like childbirth, I can even call pain productive. But, only if the process forces me to focus on the age to come instead of the temporal “sparks flying upward” (Job 5:7) life here on planet earth. I must see the unseen to be weaned away from obsession with the earthly. My heart must be lifted to unseen glories. Kate Warren defines joy this way: “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 all right, and the determined choice to praise God in all things.” Unseen glories. Still learning this lesson…

Romans 5:3-5 (NASB) says, “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God have been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

In this, there is a certain kind of joy.

The Great Initiator

My musings are usually triggered by books I’ve been reading (or walks I’ve been taking while flowers are in beautiful bloom). In the last few days, I put my favorite historical novels aside to read Michael Horton’s book Christless Christianity. As a former math teacher, I am intrigued by directionality as an underlying theme in the universe (except when it comes to my driving acumen). I still see the number line posted above the chalk board in all my classes. I’m always interested in the sequence of things…

Somewhat crimped by Zoom meetings, my church community is still alive and mostly well. Staying at home as the pandemic marches on, I’ve had time to think about what I’ve been missing, especially in church. But, maybe some other things too. Horton’s insights have helped me decipher the negative and positive directionality of my faith.

Although the answers should seem obvious, Horton’s questions challenged my thinking: Do I measure everything by God’s holiness or by my happiness? Did Jesus come to improve my life on earth or did He come to usher me into a new creation? Do I default to WWJD instead of meditating on “what Jesus has done?” My direction is usually in the negative direction, unfortunately.

Just now finishing up the study of Acts and Letters of the Apostles in BSF (Bible Study Fellowship), I have hovered over Acts 2:42-47 as the true picture of the church: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

Sorting through some dichotomies that are in conflict in my heart.

Given: God is the Great Initiator. Then, He is the One who establishes the conduit to us, not vice versa. Positive direction. Horton says our devotion to Christ “is not a private inner garden where we walk and talk with Jesus,…but in a public garden with visible means of grace – there He forms a people, not just a person, by consecrating ordinary human speech as His Word, ordinary water as His baptism, ordinary bread and wine as His communion.” The public garden comes first. The private inner garden is secondary. Positive direction.

Grappling with the means of grace that God has initiated, I have come to understand that the Lord’s Supper is really a declaration of God’s action, not my willingness to remember something important. Direction. I see that baptism is an expression of God’s commitment, not mine. Direction. Preaching of the Word is God’s gift to us, but not the way I often receive it as a challenge to do more. And singing. No matter what my musical ability might be, singing is the vehicle for reviewing God’s countless mercies in His great Redemption story. It is the embodiment of Colossians 3:16 as we serve one another, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”

God is the Great Initiator. He serves us through ordinary means of grace rather than what we often imagine – that we serve him through means of works. His intent is that we mature in Christ, become the new creation, through the ordinary life of the covenant community. He is forming a people. Ordinary speech, water, bread, wine. The preaching of His Word, baptism, communion, singing. The public garden. The positive direction – His initiation.

Measure all things by God’s holiness. Meditate on what Jesus has already done. God is the Great Initiator.

Do You Still Love Me?

Back in the day, my then young son would repeatedly ask me, “Do you still love me?” Granted, this was after some kind of misbehavior and some kind of “losing it” that I displayed. Shouting, screaming. Wondering why kids just can’t simply behave. I did all the things that parents probably shouldn’t do. Before kids, I remember witnessing moms losing it (maybe even smacking their children) in the grocery store while their kids were throwing tantrums. So public! So embarrassing. I said to myself, “I’ll never do that!” Of course, I would eat my words later.

“Just say, yes ma’am, and do it!” was my favorite phrase during my child- raising years, and I dreamed that my kids would just say “Yes ma’am” and actually do what I asked. Fat chance. Looking back, I’m pretty sure that I routinely overlooked the part of the job where parents are supposed to persuade their children that blatant misbehavior does not negate their love. That love is unconditional. That I would stand in front of an oncoming train to protect my kids. But, apparently that assurance of love was questionable in many cases. Either because of my lack of patience or my projected feeling that their misbehavior was a personal affront to me.

The little “Count Your Blessings” heart was actually given to me by my young son, I imagine for a Mother’s Day gift, but I didn’t keep the best records back then. Even this little treasure begged the question, “Do you still love me?” I’m pretty sure that my messaging was unclear, and at best, advanced a performance-based approach to life that continues to plague and uproot grace.

All I can say is – I prayed a lot when the kids were young. Through mistakes and traumatic scenes. Always asking God how I got myself into this intense parenting thing? Especially when everybody else made it look so easy? And how could I fix them into perfectly behaved little people? Was there a way? I surely wanted to find it.

Well, God’s answer to my prayer was that He was trying to fix me! Through and through. Yes, He was using my family, my children, to sanctify me and make me whole. Wish I had known early on. I would have preferred an easier route. After all, I was a first born achiever who fancied myself in control of outcomes. Oh no. OH NO! Instead, this was God’s priority for me – I Thessalonians 5:23 “May God himself, the God of peace sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Taking time to count your blessings is the antidote for insecurity. So, I’m counting my blessings now. The blessings of three beautiful children who were gifts from God to me. The blessings of three beautiful, but wildly different personalities that God used to get my attention. The blessings of three beautiful souls that, by God’s grace, call Him their Heavenly Father. The blessings of three beautiful thinkers that challenge me with their provocative ideas. The blessings of three beautiful influencers who are passing on the heritage of faith in Jesus Christ to their children. Talk about blessings. There is no argument here!

It is God Who is in control of outcomes. Genesis 49:25-26a says, “Because of your father’s God, who helps you, because of the Almighty, who blesses you with the blessings of the skies above, blessings of the deep springs below, blessings of the breast and womb. Your father’s blessings are greater than the blessings of the ancient mountains, the the bounty of the age-old hills…”

My prayer is that my grandchildren will feel the deep assurance of first, God’s unconditional love, and then their parents’ unconditional love. No matter what the circumstances are. Including outright rebellion. Including wayward seasons. Including the small little foxes that spoil the vine. Including the unsettling or careless remarks that can’t be taken back. Including the most repeated word in the English language – “NO!” And, that the answer to “Do you still love me?” will always be an emphatic YES because of the love of Christ made manifest in their families.

I Corinthians 13:4-8a says, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

My Cup Runneth Over

I have the privilege of grandparenting with three other sets of really wonderful grandparents! What a gift! These are the in-laws of each of my children. Turns out, they are all amazing, just the kind of grandparents you wish every child could have! But, there’s something else. There is an added gift among these in-laws. These are all praying grandparents!

I am serious. All these grandparents know the Lord Jesus and faithfully pray that God will watch over and protect our grandchildren, both shared and those whom we don’t share by marriage.

One of the grandmothers recently gave me Stormie Omartian’s book entitled THE POWER OF A PRAYING GRANDPARENT.

Here’s a portion of one of the prayers:

“Lord, I lift up my grandchildren (by name) to You. Help me to clearly see the spiritual inheritance I leave each one when I pray for them. Thank You for all of the wonderful promises in Your Word that declare You will bless my children and grandchildren when I live Your way. I know that children are a gift from You and grandchildren are a crown of glory upon my life (Proverbs 17:6). I know that whether I can see my grandchildren often or not, I can still be close to them every time I pray for them.”

During this time of pandemic anxiety, one of my grandchildren was born into the world. March 2020 will always be a memorable month! Her entrance into our family was a great reminder that God is indeed the Giver of the great gifts of life! And God indeed entrusts grandparents with the privilege of praying for these precious ones.

When those grandbabies were born, my heart overflowed with joy. Like a cup overflowing. Psalm 23:5b-6 says, “…You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

It’s good to know that I can still be close to my grandchildren when I pray for them, even when social distancing makes it difficult to visit at the moment. I can still experience God’s goodness and love, even when circumstances would prefer to steal my “grandparent joy” away and replace it with worry. I can still pray that God’s mercy surrounds my grandchildren all the days of their lives.

Since God’s dwelling place is unshakeable, I know one way to pray for these young ones. “That nothing can separate them from the love of Christ, not tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword (Romans 8:35).” That God’s goodness and love will follow them all the days of their lives. That they will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

This is my prayer for you all – Kayla, Brooke, Ella, Caroline, Jack, and Ava. What gifts you are to your grandparents. And what a privilege it is to pray for you!

But Our Eyes are Upon You

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(Photo Credit – Kim Clayton Lance)

One of my favorite pastors is Dr. David Jeremiah (senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in California and founder of Turning Point Radio and Television Ministries). I love his books. I love his style. Mainly, I love his steadfast passion for the Lord! He is a great teacher. A great preacher. Yesterday, I saw a YouTube clip from one of Dr. Jeremiah’s current sermons offering a great perspective on the Covid19 pandemic. It was very encouraging. Dr. Jeremiah highlighted the prayer of King Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20:5-12). It is an ancient prayer, long past. But, the prayer could so appropriately be the prayer of our hearts right now.

Years ago, I had already highlighted this prayer of King Jehoshaphat in my Bible…

2 Chronicles 20:5-12 New King James Version (NKJV)

Then Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the Lord, before the new court, and said: “O Lord God of our fathers, are You not God in heaven, and do You not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations, and in Your hand is there not power and might, so that no one is able to withstand You? Are You not our God, who drove out the inhabitants of this land before Your people Israel, and gave it to the descendants of Abraham Your friend forever? And they dwell in it, and have built You a sanctuary in it for Your name, saying, ‘If disaster comes upon us—sword, judgment, pestilence, or famine—we will stand before this temple and in Your presence (for Your name is in this temple), and cry out to You in our affliction, and You will hear and save.’ 10 And now, here are the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir—whom You would not let Israel invade when they came out of the land of Egypt, but they turned from them and did not destroy them— 11 here they are, rewarding us by coming to throw us out of Your possession which You have given us to inherit. 12 O our God, will You not judge them? For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.”

Most of our responses to things are based upon our focus. This I know. When my eyes are upon Jesus, there is no room for fear. When my eyes are upon anything else, my anxiety will surely rise up. I heard it said one time that “we are what we look at.” Ouch! So true. What we look at indicates what our heart desires. I am praying that the eyes of my heart stay focused on the God who rules over all the kingdoms and nations. The God who hears and saves. The God whose power and might no one can withstand.

Psalm 141:8 (NIV) “But my eyes are fixed on You, O Sovereign Lord; in You I take refuge – do not give me over to death.”

But keep our eyes upon You, Lord, I pray.

A Whisper of Easter

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God surely has a way of lifting up His countenance upon us! My husband and I recently welcomed a beautiful new granddaughter into our family. A baby! In March 2020. In the middle of a pandemic. God has a way! We recently enjoyed some home-smoked barbecue from our son-in-law. Delicious! God has a way! We have had regular FaceTime visits with our grandchildren who live 45 minutes away. Ages almost 2, 4, and 6. Blessed chaos! God has a way!

I am not usually a participant in chain letters. I’ve never had much trouble saying no to invitations to anything “chain.” I’m not even comfortable with text chains with unrecognizable numbers. But, I recently made an exception. The purpose of the chain was to provide an “uplift” to women. And yes, I got a few “no’s” and I didn’t really expect the 20 of my friends that I thought might participate to actually participate… They might not even speak to me again…

But, I received some pearls in the desert! Refreshing. Encouraging. Unexpected. Smile-producing. Heart-warming. Grace-filled. God has a way! And, I happened to recognize two out of the four responders (small world!):

One sister-in-Christ wrote: “John 1:14 ‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory. The glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of truth and grace.’ One of my favorite verses. Praying for all. Hope this finds you and yours well. And sane!” The sanity part is up for grabs. But, this happens to be one of my favorite verses too!

Another sister wrote: “I want to encourage you today that, no matter what your circumstances say, God is Sovereign, Wise, and Good! He is love and He loves you. Trust in Him! I Chronicles 5:20 ‘…for they cried out to God in the battle, and He granted their urgent plea because they trusted in Him.’ Your sister, Angela.”

Another wrote: “Hope you and your family are well during this strange time in our lives. Here is what I wanted to share with you… Isaiah 41:10 ‘So do not fear for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.’ ” She attached a YouTube original song, written and sung with additional encouragement. God has a way!

The fourth one wrote: “Numbers 6:24-26 ‘The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace.’ Have a great night!”

Words can be used for amazing good. And yes, The Lord surely lifts up His countenance upon us. Even now. These words provided me with a whisper of Easter.

 

More Than Conquerors

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Photo taken from AMAZING ANIMAL FACTS by Christopher Maynard, 1993, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. (Illustrations copyright 1993 Dorling Kindersley)

I have always loved the analogy that Rose Marie Miller gives in her book FROM FEAR TO FREEDOM about a caterpillar in a ring of fire. More about that later…

While the boundaries for venturing out are getting tighter and tighter, I am asking myself what, if anything, can be the silver lining in a pandemic crisis like Covid-19? I once went to see a movie with my husband called CONTAGION. Only minutes into this movie, which I wouldn’t have chosen but was being a “good sport” to go see, a real emergency happened. A member of the audience was having a life threatening episode which required the call to emergency personnel and a shut down of the movie. We did not discover if he was resuscitated or not. Yet, I am personally glad that I didn’t get a technicolor and surround sound movie experience of what a true pandemic could look like. My BP returned to normal and we went on with our day.

One thing about being cooped up now is having time to think. In my case, it’s having the time to do things that were on my back burner wish list – quilting, reading, and writing…

Romans 8:35-39 says, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him Who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

So, back to the caterpillar. The picture. If a caterpillar is stuck in the center of a ring of fire (just imagine), there is literally no way out. Unless. Someone pulls it out. Straight up. Out of harm’s way. When we are crawling around in the center of the flames, wondering what to do, we must look up instead of outward. We must reach heavenward instead of earthward. We can’t poke our way out. We will get singed. We must remind ourselves that the only Hand that pulls us out is Jesus.

Conquering faith is how we avoid the heat. Facts can be helpful. But, facts do not save us. Jesus saves. Just a reminder. We are more than conquerors.

The Other Side

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“Calgon, take me away!” was a slogan made memorable in a 1978 Calgon Bath Powder commercial. If only a bath powder could transport us out of our daily circumstances and into the soothing warmth of a heavenly hot bath! The “other side” is what our hearts long for when life’s heaviness becomes too much.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 says, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot…” The hardships of life are “a given;” however, the ability to wait on the Lord’s timing and to persevere through circumstances is not “a given.” For that ability, we need the Holy Spirit to enable us, assuming we are His believing children.

Sweet roses (lots of them) on Valentine’s Day took me briefly to the “other side” as a much-needed excursion from the worries and concerns of the last 6 months. Within my family, an array of circumstances unfolded ranging from kidney stones, dental and orthopedic surgery, failing vision, airline delays, a mild stroke, melanoma, a newly widowed friend, and another friend’s pancreatic cancer diagnosis. The roses reminded me of the best blessings in life, not the least of which is a thoughtful husband. Definitely the “other side!”

In this brief 6 months, though, we will also welcome a 6th grandchild into the world! We will celebrate an 89th birthday! We will celebrate a 6th birthday! We will see two more babies born to my nieces before summer is finished. There is always the “other side.” And, a time to be born.

Through all circumstances, I am grateful to be able to claim Psalm 34:4: “I sought the Lord, and He answered me; He delivered me from all my fears.” I certainly have a few fears these days as I prayerfully contemplate the “other side.” I hate flying, but I have to do it if I want to get to certain destinations (other sides). I dread having my thoughts consumed by coronavirus panic. But, I do live in this world. I’m tenuous about aging and figure it will take significant courage to get older and do it well. Nevertheless, time marches on. Aging happens. My attention is absorbed by difficult things. I am saddened by the self-centric evils and obsessions of our culture. But, as my personal list of fears gets longer, I never stop looking ahead with hope. I know the reality of Psalm 34:5: “Those who look to Him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.” Calgon radiant. Secure. Hopeful. Transformed. Transported in spirit to the “other side.”

Hope is full and green on the “other side,” where trust finds its home in Jesus Christ. Nothing compares to God and His glory and His mighty control over all plans and plots and circumstances on this planet. The “other side” is the great promise for those who can say Psalm 33:20-22: “We wait in hope for the Lord; He is our help and our shield. In Him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in His holy name. May Your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord, even as we put our hope in You.”

As a believer, I already have a heavenly inheritance on the “other side.” Now is my temporary season to be a resident alien on earth, accepting its hardships, but trusting the Creator. While my eyes are fixed intently on that “other side,” I will enjoy the red roses of God’s daily mercies and grace, the sweet fragrance of enjoyment with God’s people, and the beauty of family and friends – all the valentines of my life made possible by God’s love.

 

Fallow Ground

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Photo Credit: Kim Clayton Lance

After Job’s ordeal (Job 42:2-3), he says, “I know that You (God) can do all things; no plan of Yours can be thwarted. [God] You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures My counsel without knowledge?’ [Job says] Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.”

I have felt a burden in recent years for women suffering infertility. Recently, I’m asking God what He wants me to do, if anything to provide support to some of these women nearby. I agree with author/ministry leader Susan Radulovacki that “they are trapped in a story they cannot escape, separated by silence, vulnerable to any suggestion that sounds promising, and often believe they are cursed.”

Susan has written an amazing book entitled Pregnant with Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples. I was deeply drawn into this book, not because of any fertility issues that I’ve faced, but because I was so convicted by the spiritual truths that laced every page regarding desperate and painful journeys of life. Every journey contains sustained intensity, but the infertility journey is probably a 10 on the rating scale.

What grabbed my heart was the idea of infertility being like “fallow ground,” defined as “cultivated land allowed to lie idle during the growing season.” I realize that God is the Allower of “fallow ground” in life’s journey. But, I sure don’t like idling. Like Job’s heart- wrenching journey, intense journeys are sometimes required for us to learn that God can be trusted and that His plans are perfect. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ ” This is one of my favorite scriptures. But in the matter of infertility, it poses a big problem. Yes, God knows the plans; but I don’t. “Fallow ground” isn’t for sissies against the backdrop of biological clocks. Remember Sarah’s and Abraham’s journey.

With a slightly different twist, Radulovacki goes on to compare infertility to “tilling” of land, she defines this as “preparation with the intent to wait for the ideal time.” Can God be trusted this much? For the ideal time? This reminds me of God’s perfect timing and provision in my life, that I can only see in hindsight, although I see that it was always there. All the things that might have gone devastatingly south if God had fit His plans to my own. His rescues have been endless in my life. When He has pulled back the veil to remind me of these provisions, I can always see the timely preparation that was necessarily going on. God was at work all along.

The end game really is God’s perfect plan, because we will find in the intensity that He can be trusted. Although infertility is an experience of multiplied losses, intense grief, a sense of helplessness, thoughtless questions and advice from friends, and possibly emotional separation from a spouse, we all will eventually answer the very same questions as the infertile couple seeking God in the intensity. Is God really faithful? Should I have faith or hold onto my illusion of control? Should I admit personal weakness or lean on the power of God? Will I choose peace over fear?

Granted, it’s an excruciating leap to trust God as He is writing a much different story for us than we would ever imagine and that His story is far better than ours. In our desperation, we can see God often invites us to active waiting, actively pursuing the seeing of things the way Jesus sees, actively pursuing the choosing of things as Jesus would choose.

Thankfully we have God’s Word, His love letter to us. In it He says, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23). We are not consumed. A promise.

What an encouragement to know that, in God’s Word, infertility is continually shown to be a precursor to astonishing miracles. Sarah, Hannah, and the list goes on. The unthinkable death of Jesus Christ on the cross was likewise the precursor to His resurrection and our eternal salvation and deliverance from the power of sin. The unthinkable was necessary. The unthinkable was fore-ordained. The plan was the perfect plan of our trustworthy God. And, the astonishing occurred.

At the end of Susan’s book, without fail, all the couples who had authentically shared their infertility stories, chased after God to know Him better and search for answers. Like Job, they had to arrive at the realization that, no matter what the outcome, God is still the Almighty God. He promises to move toward us when we move toward Him (James 4:8). God will use our circumstances, no matter how dire, to prepare us for the gift He is planning to give us. Maybe it doesn’t end with a biological child. But, it is the plan that glorifies Him most when we draw near to Him in the intensity of despair.

Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Again and again, I have had to remind myself that all things includes very good things and very bad things. The good God works is my eternal good. If I believe that, then the journey of fallow ground or tilling, though possibly turbulent and not dream-come-true, ends with God’s perfect plan, and not mine. Then God Himself becomes the center of my story, where He truly belongs, and He becomes my actual dream-come-true.

 

 

 

Best for Body, Mind, and Soul

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Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “Possessions, outward success, publicity, luxury – to me these have always been contemptible. I believe that a simple and unassuming manner of life is best for everyone, best for both the body and the mind.” Despite Einstein’s resistance to biblical truth and faith in Jesus Christ, there is what I call “common grace” wisdom in these words that moves beyond body and mind to the core of the soul. Let’s consider…

I Peter 1:17-19 says, “If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with the precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.” We were redeemed with the imperishable gift of the Lamb who was slain to remove us from the bondage of sin and eternal darkness apart from our Creator. The imperishable gift came to us at Christmas time. It’s really the only gift that matters. The only gift that creates newness in our lives because of what Christ is doing in and through us for His redemptive purposes.

So, the perishables. Possessions, outward success, publicity, luxury. The time of our stay on earth is fleeting and temporary. The perishables are obviously going to perish. Including our earthly bodies. As Christmas approaches, do you ever wish you could put on the brakes and bring the season back to a simple and unassuming celebration of the birth of our Savior, the imperishable gift? Without possessions and publicity? Without the checklist for success? Without the trappings of lights, tinsel, luxury?

Best for the body, mind, and “last but not least” – soul, is the wisdom found in I Peter 3:4: “But let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.” Let Christmas be about what is imperishable. A simple and unassuming manner. A quiet joy. A secure stillness before the Lord. An eternal Savior, a compassionate King, the Good Shepherd of our souls, Jesus. The imperishable gift of Christmas.

I Peter 2:9-10 says, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

So, the perishables. About outward success. It is not about anything I can accomplish. It is about what God accomplished through the miracle birth of our Savior and His saving work accomplished on the cross. My salvation. Your salvation. We are a chosen, royal, holy people because of God’s mercy. He accomplished it. His success.

So, the perishables. About possessions. It is not about what we possess. It is about what God possesses. His people. I am thankful to be a believer, thankful to be one of His people. This is the focus of Christmas that is best for body, mind, and soul. This Christmas truly is about the “thought that counts” in gift-giving. The tangible items we exchange, are good for the soul if intended to be an expression of the love of Christ, the imperishable gift.

So, the perishables. About publicity. Surrounded by media in all its forms, the simple, unassuming retelling of the greatest story on earth is the only message that needs conveyance. God’s plan for the redemption of our souls through the incarnation. His Word. The manger. The gentle story. The powerful result. All found in God’s Word which has been preserved throughout history. The imperishable gift.

So, the perishables. Finally, about luxury. Glitter fades. Lights burn out. Parties cease. Rich food doesn’t satisfy. Excess leads to poverty of the starving soul. Trees get put away or die. Treasures get lost or forgotten. The only gift that lives on is Jesus Christ in our lives. The imperishable gift.

John 6:32-33 says, “Jesus said to them, ‘I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He Who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ ” This is the bread that is best for body, mind, and soul.

Merry Christmas!