Ultimate Joy

Archive for March 2012

Yesterday, I visited my local post office arms laden with packages to mail. Also needing stamps, I asked the attendant to pick out some pretty commemoratives. Wanting me to chose, she brought out every one in her drawer.  One set caught my eye, not because they were beautiful, but because of the stirring words printed on them:  Justice, equality, freedom and liberty.

ImageJustice, equality, freedom and liberty.

I have not written much about these issues because I have been unable to find my words around or through them. I could write more readily about anger, injustice, racism or suppression. That’s because what I desire to write about most is the sadness and sorrow I can not shake.

I am deeply distressed that every second of every day children are orphaned by disease, women are widowed by conflicts, families are devastated by natural disasters and refugees are relocated to new countries. I am deeply shaken that the roots of racial prejudice run so deep it is difficult to imagine a world without it. The world has done such a good job of teaching and fostering suspicion, fear and hate between people of varied backgrounds. If you want to spark a lively discussion just ask a group a people where they stand on immigration issues. That’s when the ideals of justice, equality, freedom and liberty get hazy.

Sitting comfortably in my living room, I could always fall back on “How can I change the injustices around the world if I can’t even impact the ones in my own backyard?”

Despite my sadness, I know what to do. God has whispered the answer to me, softly and gently, “Just follow your calling.”  You see my heart’s desire, my calling is to know God and make Him known.

I have been called to reclaim my world for Christ – my little piece of it, anyway. How that is facilitated looks different every day.

Daily, I need to point my focus towards Jesus. Daily, like Jesus, I desire to reach the hearts of those around me and connect with them on a soul level. Daily, I crave modeling for others the heart of a woman whose focus is on Him.

Appropriate words, healing words, redeeming words, resurrecting words should flow out of my mouth. The words of those who point me towards God are always welcome. Prayerful words are lifted up for those who seek to bring these four ideals into the dark places of the world – yes, even into my city, my heart because injustice, anger and sorrow live there, also.

Proverbs 3:3 says, “Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.” Oh, if it could only be that easy.  I have built bridges, but I have also burned them down.  I have been both cowardly and brave. I have followed God even when others do not see why I chose this path.  It is sometimes difficult to speak redeeming words, but in that I am building endurance.

Haven’t you battled the same thoughts? We are all works in progress, yet already by the grace of God, amazing God, He see the beauty in us even when all we see is the dirtiness of the world. He will do great things through us – acts that bring justice, equality, freedom and liberty.  He’ll put those redeeming, resurrecting words in our mouths as long as our faithfulness to Him never leaves.

For some of you who have been lucky enough to receive a card from me, you know I sometimes sign my letters, “Keep smiling and keep looking up.”Image

That line is added because some days can be very discouraging and despite their unsightliness, I want to remind my readers to smile. Whatever circumstances arise in their lives, there is Someone who cares deeply for both them and what they care about.

One starry, summer night, I laid on the grass in front of my home and looked up. The vastness of space and the infinite number of stars reminded me how insignificant I am to the world, but how indescribably significant I am to God. When I looked up to the night sky above, I heard God’s tiny whisper telling me, “Child, continue to look up.  Look up to me when you are happy.  Look up to me when you are sad.  Look up to me.”

I’ve continued the practice of looking up in the bright sunshine, the dark clouds of rain or snow, but mostly at night under the quiet, serene glow of the stars.  It is during those times my disquieting longings settle. Some times when I can’t sleep, I’ll go outside in my pajamas just to look up at the stars. When I look up, I feel God’s soothing warmth alight on me.

It’s as if His arms break through the layers of sky to cuddle me.  The Holy One, The Perfect One brings calm to my incomplete with His Fully Complete.

And for a moment, standing breathlessly under the sky, I stop my inner grumbling. I rest in Him.  I hear Him say He loves me. “Yes,” He whispers, “you are unraveled, but I am the One that strengthens you. I am the One who finishes you.”

During those times, I trust God will conquer what troubles me – emotional or physical.  I feel Him standing close beside me and can truly say all is well with my soul.

The annoyances of daily life are nothing to Him – who put the world together, who made stars dance in the sky, who provides grass to lay on.  So, when I get unsettled by life’s trouble, I am reminded to look up.

Look up, past the worries – to the life, the beauty that surrounds me. Look up to my Perfecter, the Lifter of my Head. Look up to my God, who prepares for me an eternal home.

To you He says the same: Look up, dear child. Look up.

“$15,000!”  I screamed into the telephone. “Who needs $15,000 of adult incontinence diapers?”

 “Not to worry,” the lady on the other side of the conversation calmly told me.  “I can see someone has hacked into your credit card. We’ll remove the charge and issue you a new credit card.”

Yet, even after I hung up the phone, an anger smoldered in me. A thief had stolen from me. Well, Imagetechnically from the credit card company. Still, I was miffed. I felt like part of me had been taken, also. And adult incontinence diapers?  I was getting old, admittedly, but I still didn’t need those – yet.

Knowing I had to quickly douse my rage, the Holy Spirit reminded me it was a thief Christ ushered into His kingdom with the words, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43) A thief similar to the one that charged over $15,000 on my credit card was in heaven now.  Because he believed. And Jesus granted the thief grace.

Which is exactly what I needed to do – grant the thief grace. That’s when the tears started. But these weren’t tears of frustration, of pain or even of sheer exhaustion. In the midst of thinking of the thief on the cross, I was overwhelmed.  I was taken aback by how completely and utterly loved I am by my Savior. A savior that has given me His story to tell, something to live for, something to hold onto.  In a word, grace.

Because, truth be told, I am no better than the thief. Yet Christ spoke His love to me in a powerful and consuming way; He died for me. His death was confirmation of so many promises. A promise that He will never leave or forsaken me.  A promise that all things work together for good for those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose.

There is tough stuff in this life, challenges that seem too heavy to bear. (And honestly, challenges that far exceed those of a stolen credit card. ) My encouragement to you is to remind yourself daily of the promises wrapped up in those nail-scarred hands. The promises that comfort from His ever-sustaining Word. You see, He is writing our stories in the midst of our trials:  stories of His faithfulness to you, stories of His relentless pursuit of you, stories that will become your testimony to His goodness towards you.

The story He has woven for me is a gift only He can give. A story I can reflect on and praise Him for His goodness towards me. A story that overwhelms me with His love.

And as life moves forward, He will continue to shape it into what He wants it to be for me.

Recently, a large pod of dolphins was spotted swimming off the California coast – maybe thousands of them or so the news reported.  As I watched the video on television, I was whisked back to elementary school science class where I learned dolphins form these groups for protection.  And it made me think how we, as Christians, follow the same behavior.

This “school of fish” is exemplified in Acts 2 where believers “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 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 people.” (Acts 2:42-47).

The members of the early church surrounded themselves with others who were of the same mind and were committed to growing in the Lord. This was a time for them to be encouraged, to learn and to get recharged to share the gospel. Verse 47 continues to say “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”  They were not isolating themselves in a Christian bubble but were still meeting others and sharing the good news message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I’ve heard this passage read many times in church, but I never related it to fish – until now. You see, God places people in our lives who offer us protection and encouragement.  They may be new friends or others that have just recently come alongside us.

But their importance can not be minimized.  My school of fish continually encourages me to stand firm in my faith, teaches me the joys of a Christian life, models Christ’s love and protects me from sin.

  • My Husband: Over twenty years ago, God worked a miracle in my life and caused me to cross paths with my husband. Richard is a man whose faith and unwavering resolve to trust God’s goodness constantly inspire me as we face various challenges and situations in our life.
  • My Friends: I always pray to God to shower me with godly friends. {After all, who can’t benefit from another friend?} Each day I am amazed at how the Lord answered that request beyond what I could imagine. My band of women friends have held me accountable, cried with me, laughed with me and shared in my pain and joy!
  • My Small Group Members: While I’m not sure if they were ever officially called mentors, I’ve always had wonderful role models pouring God’s truth in me, teaching me how to study the Bible and so much more.

Who is in your school of fish? Whatever life situation you are in, be like the early believers who put a premium on learning from fellow believers and committing to growing in love and faith.

If you are blessed with a large school of fish surrounding you, protecting you and encouraging you, please take time this week to lift a prayer of thanksgiving up to God.

But most importantly, ask God to make you a fish – to give you the strength, wisdom and love to impact another’s life in a positive manner. And like the early church, continue meeting together, encouraging one another and praising God together.

Albert Einstein once said, “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.”  The satisfaction of incorporating service into our lives and making a difference in our community and country are plentiful. The intangible benefits alone—such as pride, satisfaction and accomplishment—are worthwhile reasons to serve. But, most importantly, it is only through service to others that we truly become Christ-like. He reached out to those minimalized by society; unloved and unwanted.

Each day, He orchestrates opportunities for us to help others. He cares about even the littlest things in our hearts. And it is our privilege to bring the Father’s affirming whispered message to others: “You are loved! You matter!  I have wonderful things planned for you.”