Ultimate Joy

Posts Tagged ‘friendships

Frustration grew in my heart as I rushed to be on time for an appointment the other day. I had just put the car in drive and was preparing to back out of the driveway when my cell phone rang. I shoved the gear selector back into park and picked up the phone. It was a dear friend of mine from graduate school and her voice was heavy with hurt. Recently, there had been two deaths in her family and just last night, her mother-in-law suffered a terrible stroke and was not expected to live.

Man Holding Cell Phone Camera
Her sorrow broke my heart. I wanted to reach through the phone and hug her. I wanted to lift her burdens and reach through the phone line to hug her. I couldn’t do any of that, so I listened and prayed.
Do you feel overwhelmed today? Discouraged by the complicated challenges in your life? There are so many burdens being carried by souls weary of the task. So many people are desperate for a miracle from God.
God knew we would struggle with difficulties. That’s why so many times the Bible points us back to the hope of Christ. In Mark 5: 25 – 29, for example, we learn of a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years. She heard about Jesus and thought, “If I just touch his cloak, I will be healed.” I love how the Message translations says about Christ’s response to her after He has healed this precious daughter, “Live well, lived blessed.”
Like this woman, the best thing you can do is take your needs to Jesus. Purposefully place your faith in the Faithful One. When you pray, He will strengthen you. But if you try to handle things in your own strength, you will remain weak and ineffective.

If you are desperate for healing, help and hope, ask God to increase your faith today. Make a determined choice to trust Him. When you do, He will meet you at your need and carry the load of your burdens for you. He will whisper to you, “I am here. Now live well, lived blessed.”

The Christmas rush is on! Many of you are still looking for the perfect gift, wrapping presents, baking your famous sugar cookies or packing the car for a long trip

Stop right where you are! Take a deep breath and travel back with me to a time when there was no hope and no celebration. I can’t imagine a world without Jesus and yet, many times I live my life as if He doesn’t even exist. A trial comes and I try to handle it on my own. Loneliness floods my heart and instead of reaching out to Him, I withdraw into the darkness.MH900399587

He then interrupts my life and fills each black corner with Light. His love flows over the pain like a soothing balm and once again, I experience the manger. Once again, He steps into the smelly, unlikely and very ordinary existence that is mine to change everything – everything!

Jesus could have come to us in many ways, but He chose to interrupt the very ordinary with the most extraordinary. He could have chosen to be born in a palace. After all, He was a King. Yet His life on earth began in a manger housed in what amounted to little more than a dirty, smelly barn. The simplicity of His birth is one of His most precious gifts to me, and one of my most profound life lessons.

Every year I am reminded of the very heart of Christmas — Emmanuel, God with us. God wants to be involved in the simple, ordinary happenings of daily life: where we go and what we do, the smile we give the harried stranger and the patience we exhibit in the crowd of impatient shoppers, the love that prompts the secret gift and the heart that constantly celebrates His birth through every sparkling light, every beautifully wrapped gift, each special meal, every card, phone call and visit.

Celebrate Him and His birth in everything you do. Have a birthday party for Jesus. Bake Him a huge cake and invite neighbors to join in the celebration. Adopt a family in need. Reach out to the lonely. Look for Him in the crowd. Emmanuel, God with us!

Prayer:  Father, today we celebrate the reality of Your presence in our lives. I celebrate Christ’s birth, His life, His death and His resurrection. And as we celebrate, Lord, help us be “God with skin on” to those in need around us. Open our eyes and let us see them as You see them! We love You. Happy Birthday, Jesus! In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Are you a Black Friday fanatic? Please tell me you aren’t! This year, I was thoroughly disgusted that major retailers started the Christmas shopping season on Thanksgiving. Instead of giving us a few more hours to bask in the thankful glow for all God gave us, for all the blessings this country has received  –  instead of sitting with family and friends relishing deep community and fellowship – something we all need – folks were out sleeping in tents, standing in lines, pushing and shoving all to save a few dollars on an item that will probably be obsolete in a couple of months.

The saddest commentary for me was a man sleeping in a tent in front of a big box realtor. He explained, “I brought bats and pepper spray; just in case someone tries to cut in front of me.” How very sad that the holiday meant to pause and offer gratitude has become one of battling it out for the latest electronics.

Especially this year, I didn’t want Thanksgiving to end. It’s quickly becoming a holiday that is skipped over in our dizzying rush to Christmas. Instead, I like to make Thanksgiving a time I reflect on all God has done for me. In Luke 8:15, Jesus reminds us, “But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it and by persevering produce a crop.” (NIV)

I long for all of us to have the noble and good heart – to reflect the love of Christ in all we do. There is no better way to express thanks to Christ than that. Could those at the first Thanksgiving dinner ever imagine their holiday of love, peace and thanks would get sandwiched in between Blackout Wednesday and Black Friday? America showed its nobility when it became the first nation to set aside a national day of thanks, yet now we seem to be the laughing stock of the world as we drink ourselves to oblivion the night before and shop ourselves silly on the day afterward. Has that become the sign of a thanking God for our country, life, family and friends?

Thanksgiving for Richard and I has always been a slow holiday. We enjoy each other; we cook dinner together, we talk, we laugh – we open up space to love each other. We both want the same thing, a heart that is humble and fertile enough to receive God’s Word, retain God’s instruction and reflect on God’s character in both action and reactions.

Want a noble heart during this frenetic season?  Here are three simple suggestions:

Focus on People – Open your heart to all. See everyone as someone who deeply matters to God. Place a higher importance on people than on anything you could ever purchase in a store.

Be Generous – Think of your favorite Christmas memories. Most don’t involve the gifts, but the people. Create fantastic new memories for your family. Give your time and your treasures to those around you – even if it means giving up an afternoon of shopping to work in a homeless shelter. That precious gift will bring more joy than anything wrapped under the tree.

Slow the Season – Avoid hurry. Replace it the community, with friends. Sit on the sofa with those you love reflecting on how Christ’s birth impacts you. People are shaped by two things: trust and truth. And those two things require time.

Above all, with a noble and good heart, thank God for the miraculous love He showers on you.

Founded in 1776, the Mission at San Juan Capistrano was a Christian outreach to the indigenous people of the area. Still a working parish today, its 10 acres include historical ruins, restored buildings and lovely gardens. While visiting the Mission’s grounds, I sat in the peaceful courtyard, drowning out the traffic noise of modern civilization, easily lulled into imagining how pleasant life was when the mission was surrounded mostly by vineyards.

I envied the slower pace of earlier inhabitants. They didn’t have to deal with an over-flowing email box, schedules so crowded an electronic device is needed to store all the appointments or the frenetic speed of California’s crazy traffic. I imagined them working lazily in the fields, enjoying nightly community dinners where laughter and music abounded plus strolling through the garden drinking in its aromatic beauty while deep in prayer.

That feeling stayed with me all the way to the parking lot, but abruptly ended the minute I turned over the ignition in my car. The moment the engine caught, I asked myself, “Who was I kidding?” These folks worked hard; their days longer and filled with more drudgery and exertion than mine. They did life without refrigeration, pure drinking water, electricity, telephones or computers. They battled disease at every turn without antibiotics, X-rays or vaccines.

And yet, every Sunday, they stopped everything to worship at the Mission. For the early inhabitants, life revolved around God. They listened to the Mission’s bells calling them in from the fields at night, gave up working on Sundays to partake of the Eucharist, spent years building the church – meaning they hauled stones sometimes by hand from over 6 miles away! Which started me wondering if I merely tack Christ on to my busy life? Is He just another app to get me through the day? Or do I give Him everything I am?

Their Christianity was not a half-in existence, nor should mine be today. Christianity is all-in, devoting your life to Him and Him alone. They knew making Jesus the Lord of your life requires dedicating all you do to Your Heavenly Father. Jesus warned his disciples, “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will find it.” Matthew 16:24-25.

As a Christian, He becomes your life. This is sometimes hard to determine in mine given my unwillingness to find the time to daily study His word, prioritize solitude to be with Him and listen to His still small voice. I don’t ever wish to make my relationship with Christ something that I just check off my list and neither should you.

Because when I allow Him in, when He truly becomes the Lord of my life, when a true union occurs between Him and me, – when I hand my life entirely over to Him – a sweetness like none here on earth pervades all my life. I want Him to have all of me!

People were downright angry…ready to riot in the streets. Some were outright indignant about the wide-spread television coverage of the political convention. Their normal television routine was disrupted causing strong emotions escalating almost to the level of rage!

Don’t get me wrong. I like television. For example, don’t even think of getting between me and the television when Survivor is on!  And when I’m under the weather, there is something about television that soothes and comforts as I lay on the couch nursing myself back to health.

But what was the answer to all this passion exhibited about convention coverage cancelling shows? More television, of course! Different shows on different channels or worn-out reruns of beloved favorites. Which left me shaking my head. Why is the answer to stale television more television?

Why can’t the answer be turning off the television and enjoying life a bit more? How about writing a letter, calling a friend or even an impromptu visit? What about playing board game face-to-face with lots of laughter and conversation? Ever thought about going to your favorite coffee shop and starting a conversation with someone you don’t know? Or baking a pie and taking it next door – yes, talking with your neighbor instead of waving at each other as you pull into your perspective garages! How about taking a walk around the neighborhood or just sitting under a tree enjoying the spectacular sounds of a summer’s evening?

The prophet Zephaniah said,  “He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” I don’t want the soundtrack of my life to be so loud I miss God singing over me. And how better to hear it that to be surrounded by friends – laughing and telling stories?  Living side-by-side with people who care about you, sharing fun and hearing God’s laughter in the background. Or just spending time alone with God simply because He knew before the beginning of time how deeply satisfying it is for us to enjoy fellowship with Him.

The point is, we all yearn to be cherished as an extraordinary treasure. But to me, that longing isn’t satisfied by sitting all evening in front of the television. We dream of life’s adventures, rather than living a life that is fresh every morning with eager anticipation of what the day may hold. We long for a love that transcends meaning, yet are often unwilling to do the hard work of experiencing that love lavishly tucked in moments spent with each other.

So, don’t keep changing the channels hoping for something better.  Make life something better! Listen to God’s love song, the exquisite melodies He crafted just for you, for your life, for now! In your soundtrack, you’ll experience God romancing you towards an adventure with Him that beats any show on television.

I hate my fingers. They are small, stubby and by no means beautiful. Not at all the long slender ones belonging to models that move through the air with such beauty and finesse, poets could write sonnets about them. But maybe it is better mine are so short because they fly over the computer keyboard when recording the creative musings of my mind. Could that be why God gave them to me?

What it is about your body, personality or life you dislike? Doesn’t it make you just a teeny bit frustrated when reminded you are made in the image of God? You wonder “What was He thinking when He imagined these fingers, or this nose or this hair?” When I look closely at my body, it is sometimes hard to believe He took time to create the chaos that is me. But He did and in that, I can rejoice. And you should, also.

You see, the world needs you. You and only you. God fashioned you so that you can reflect back His glory, light and love in a way no one else can. Not anyone else on the face of this earth now, in the past or in the future.

Christ came to set you free to be all He created you to be. A healthy self-image is not rooted in pride. That’s because success happens not because we place ourselves above others. It only comes when we give Him permission to make us exactly who He created us to be. Celebrating our uniqueness requires that we blossom into the incredible, exceptional individuals God made us to be.

By focusing on our identity in Christ, we allow His handcrafted individuality in us to flourish.  As we thrive in our identity, we come fully alive. That happens only when we let our lives reflect the hope of Jesus Christ. His sacred hands behind the scenes molding us with His love and grace.

We have a role in this celebration, also. When we accept our distinctiveness and hold tightly to who God made us, we can soar above self-criticism, other’s judgments, feelings of low self-esteem and a posture of unworthiness.

God tells us in Philippians 1:6, “And I am sure that God who began the good work within you will keep right on helping you grow in his grace until his task within you is finally finished on that day when Jesus Christ returns.”  Knowing who we are in His eyes, covering ourselves in His grace leads us to a life of peace and purpose.

Christ in us furnishes the ability to rise above fear of rejection or failure. Because of His sacrifice, God sees us all clean and sparkly. We are an empty canvas waiting for the precious strokes of a loving God. Only He can paint our lives anew with beauty, quality and brilliance.

It is only through Christ that we can walk well together in value and worth – and lead others to do the same. Isn’t that worth celebrating?

The pressure was unspeakable. King David was alone, desperately trying to survive. In the throes of one of the darkest periods in his life, he puts his feelings out there for all to read, “No one cares for my soul.” (Psalm 142:4) Obviously, David was in the midst of one of those “nobody loves me, everybody hates me” type of days. We all want to be noticed, cared for and loved. But how much effort do we put into caring for one another’s souls?

For my daily Bible reading, I recently decided to tackle the book of Romans. I hadn’t even gotten through the first chapter, when I felt like I had been shot between the eyes. Romans 1:12 speaks of being mutually encouraged by one another’s faith. And I had to ask myself “How often do I take the time to spiritually encourage another person? Do I go out of my way to let people know they are significant?” In my journal, I wrote truthfully that I’m not the best spiritual encourager. I’m probably bringing up the rear.

What is amazing is that God gives us in each day, an opportunity to positively shape and mold those whose paths we cross with simple words of prayer. There is great power in prayer. It tells another that we have their back, that we are there to cheer them on, that we believe the best for one another. Prayer unites us as a community that delights in each other’s successes, celebrates each other’s joys and uplifts each other’s broken hearts.

Prayer for another is not simply a nice thing to do. When we are praying for another, we are locking arms with another. We create a God-sized defense around that person by letting them know they are not alone – that there truly is someone who is caring for their souls.

We all need a community of people who pray for us, who lovingly tend to our soul care by initiating a conversation that reverberates in heaven. Prayer is a powerful expression of faith bringing us into the very throne room of the Almighty God. When we pray, God listens. And He knows exactly what is needed even if our words tumble out and we struggle with their meaning.

Is there someone God is calling you to pray for today?  Someone, who like David, might think there is no one around that cares for their souls?

Then why not give them a call or send them an email? Better yet, email them a prayer or pray for them over the phone. Whisper to them what a privilege it is for you to share life with them. Tell them they are truly beloved of God, and yes, you truly do care for their soul.