Ultimate Joy

Posts Tagged ‘righteousness

Used

Posted on: May 14, 2012

Listen up, all you coffee drinkers and Starbucks devotees. This is probably the only time we’ll be talking about coffee on this site.   I never developed a taste for it and I probably never will.  Love the smell of it, though. 

My husband has a bad habit of leaving his used coffee grounds in the sink. Why he can’t put them in the trash is beyond me. One day, as I got ready to toss them into the garbage, I took a minute to ponder them. Do you feel ever feel used up liked old coffee grounds? Tired and past your prime.

I searched the Internet and found there are many ways to use old coffee grounds. Everything from exfoliant to hair conditioner, plant fertilizer to temporary tattoos. So even when we think we are used up, we’re not.

Think about Paul.  Prior to his conversion, he was dedicated to the persecution of the early followers of Christ. In his writings, he called himself the worst of all sinners. Despite this, once converted, he maintained a healthy identity in Christ. He did not wallow in his sins or let his guilt over them prevent him from doing God’s work. Paul knew Christ’s death set him free from all his sins and their condemnation. Something utterly amazing happened to Paul; he moved onward and didn’t stagnate because of his inner failings.  He asked for forgiveness from sin and moved his eyes toward one goal – becoming more like Jesus.

Looking at those used up coffee grounds in the sink, I was overwhelmed by God’s love. My identity in Christ is secure…even when life grinds me up, uses me up and spits me out.  Paul was not a spiritual anomaly. The freedom he found in Christ, the positive, uplifting, inspiring identity he found in our Savior, is ours, also. We only need to own our mistakes and move on.

Like old coffee grounds, there are a myriad ways God can use us, even when we think we’re not good enough to be used. So like Paul, let’s be quick to receive God’s grace so guilt won’t paralyze us. Let’s make room in our hearts and souls for the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit to fill every inch of our heart and soul. May the only things we wallow in be His light and His love.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:1-2.

It was an unusual assignment to say the least. Write a blog entry celebrating the life of a long time church volunteer. While unusual, how difficult could it be? Which is what I always say when I’m scared to death to write what I have been assigned.

Could I pull poignant words together to sum up the character of a man I’d never met in 500 words or less? Add to that the pressure of invading upon the family’s grief to acquire necessary data, insecurities about my writing began to show.

But in the end, the writing was easy, not because I’ve honed my craft, but because the subject’s life captivated me.

Bob was a teacher and counselor in the education system for many years.  But after he retired, he wanted to remain active. In his 70’s he discovered a new side of himself. He crafting crosses out of nails, screws and, for the sports fans, golf tees.  Even when the disease that finally took his life was ravaging his body, late into the night you’d still find Bob making these little crosses.

The work was a labor of love for him as the nails signified the ultimate sacrifice Christ made for us on the cross. But they became something else. A changed life starts with a defining moment. Those little crosses were used by God and Bob to influence individuals in the most important decision they’d ever make.

Someone would compliment Bob on the cross he wore, and boom!  They received not only a cross of their own for Bob kept dozens in his pockets; they also heard a compelling personal account of how the redeeming work done on the cross saved Bob and could save them. As I wrote about how Bob changed the eternity of so many, I wondered if he ever questioned why God chose to use him in the first place.

It’s not dramatic to create crosses out of nails, but it is cathartic to know God meets us in our brokenness to transform lives. Even as he was close to death, Bob was still creating – still trying to find ways to inspire men and women, students and adults to surrender their lives to Jesus. What an unspeakable privilege Bob received from God!

Bob and I have one thing in common – we try to reach the word for Christ through a creative process. And while saddened because we’d never discuss it in this realm, I rejoice there are others who spread the Christ’s love.

True contentment is found only at the foot of the cross. It is joy unspeakable.

Amen

Posted on: April 2, 2012

Was it some peculiar Bahamian tradition?

On this tour, whenever the guide wanted our group to move along he’d say, “Amen, sisters; let’s go brothers!” His signal was both hilarious and memorable.

Every once in a while, I need a “amen.” Not the tiny little one you whisper at the end of a personal prayer.  No, right now I need the loud, riotous one where the preacher shouts, “Can I get an amen?” and the congregation rises to the challenge with a roaring “amen” that literally shakes the rafters and can be heard down the street.

Do you ever need a good, old-fashioned, “amen” to remind you you’re not in the minority?

Christianity isn’t for wimps. Our God is a radical Being. God pulled on skin to help us fit into ours, made His love lesson into words we can read.  The God who renovated this fallen world with nails driven right through His hands expects us to not only receive His love, but also share it with our world.

Our job description is deceptively simple – to “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)  I don’t know about you, but that requires more strength than I have, more compassion than is in my heart, more love than I am capable of. It’s only when we know we have extravagantly received grace that we can extravagantly reach out in grace.

When extending myself in a difficult situation, I’m left with questions that haunt us all: “Was it worth it?  Did it make a difference?”

That’s when I take a good long look at His nail-scared hands.  They pierce my pride and self-importance. Because I believe in my walk with Jesus, I have wounded Him enough for Him to ask the same question about me, “Was it worth it?”

Christ doesn’t see it that way, I know.  He willingly laid down His life to save mine so I would be saved by His grace.  Aided by this, I have the courage to live a radically different, sold-out life for Him.  I Corinthians encourages us, “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” Christianity means risking being wrong with the world to be right with Him.

Knowing His grace covers me motivates me to live a life reaching out to others, helping to meet the needs of others and throwing a servant’s towel across my arm and digging in.  Knowing even if my attempt is imperfect, a child precious to God was shown His light today.

The more I accept His grace and am filled with His mercy, the more I can spread His love throughout the world.

Can I get an “Amen?”

Happy words!  Joyful words!  Exuberant Words!   That’s what I long to fill the empty pages of my Christmas gift journal with this year.  Normally it chronicles my fears, longings and urgent prayer requests.

I want to do things differently this year!  Maybe you long for a new dynamic, also.

For 2012, I feel as if God is turning everything topsy turvy, which is one thing I love about Him. Although He never changes, the way He chooses to grow us moves to different rhythms during different seasons of our lives. I love that He is entirely creative, and that He invites me into that wild creativity.

2011 was the year I transitioned from weeping to rejoicing. From looking back too much to joyfully anticipating the future. From stagnating to genuine growth. From winter to spring.

My entire countenance changed.  And while I still carry reminders of the past, they now look beautiful instead of anguished. A remembrance of winter, but more like a fading memory.

Isaiah wrote, “Do not call to mind the former things or ponder things of the past. Behold I will do something new. Will you not be aware of it? I will even make rivers in the desert, roadways in the wilderness.” (43:18-19). 2012 is a year for new. For flourishing. For abundance. Despite outward circumstances which inevitably fluctuate, abundance will thrive deep inside me.

That’s because 2011 taught me a very poignant lesson. When we live constantly in reaction to the past, we sabotage our future. Letting Jesus in heals us from the inside out, allows us to live in His strength when we are weak. The Christian life is not about us being strong and trying hard to overcome; it’s about entrusting ourselves to our strong God.

This year, I want to feast on His grace, relish His forgiveness and inspire people by the way I live my life.  I want to pray joyful prayers, but also to use that time to unleash my concerns and intercede for hurting friends.  I want to clear my mind of the cobwebs of the past and walk solidly with the God of the irresistible future.

Most importantly, though, as I put my hand into God’s and walk with Him, I want to deepen my friendships.  There is tremendous joy when we invest in people.  I yearn to hold the hands of some of the bravest people – those who transform the world by doing life changing, kingdom changing things. I’m ready to listen, to cry with you, to laugh alongside you in life’s choicest moments and to rejoice in answered prayers.

In 2012, I know the Lord has plans for us.

They might be (well, probably are) different from our own plans. But like you, I aspire to be open to what God has for me. I pray the voice of the Holy Spirit will be a loud megaphone directing my steps. I want the desires of my heart to reflect His desires.

Let’s walk boldly into this New Year by holding loosely to the things of this world and tightly to everlasting things.

Yesterday, I attended a dog show featuring obedience and protection trials.  What amazed me was how the dogs obeyed their masters, willingly giving up their own minds in order to please.  Dog after dog went through the paces of a well-rehearsed routine and enjoyed the praise of their masters.  The ballet of retrieving weights especially when it required jumping over a 3 foot high fence or an A-frame obstacle was remarkable.

But it also gave me pause.  Each day, I walk with my God, yet I wonder if I show him the obedience the dogs showed their masters.  The importance of obeying the guidance God gives us can not be minimized.  God will be very specific as He guides our lives. When Peter was troubled over something Jesus said to another disciple, Jesus’ answer in John 21:22 was clear, “…What is that to you? As for you, follow me.”

We must know what God is asking us to do and not be led astray by what others want us to do. As the Holy Spirit guides us, He will not say “yes” to every opportunity that presents itself to us. Not every urge we have is necessarily the Holy Spirit prompting us to do something. Don’t be troubled if the Holy Spirit is telling someone else to do something and He is not telling you. Walk in His peace and only do what He is asking you to do.

Micah 6:8 states, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.  And what does the LORD require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” If we put our complete trust in God, as the dogs did with their owners, we’ll find strength in His grace, assurance in God’s word, contentment if God’s provision and fulfillment in His purpose for our lives.  We’ll learn to live with the desire to walk each day in the presence of God.  We’ll crave the peace that comes from following God to His desired place for us.  We’ll rejoice in the understanding the every decision that God makes on our behalf is for our protection and our benefit. 

What is more pleasing to the LORD: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams. 1 Samuel 15:22

I admit it:  I’m an Olympic junkie.  For two weeks during the Vancouver Olympics, I sat transfixed in front of my television set watching sports that I only watch once every four years.  (Can you say “skeleton?”)

The human interest stories capture my attention.  The skater, Joannie Rochettte, who skated to a bronze medal despite her mother’s death a few days before the competition started.  The Georgian team performing admirably even after a team member’s tragic death.  Or the American bobsled team, who won gold at the hands of a driver suffering such severe eye trouble that he brought along his own eye doctor!

Every athlete participating in the Olympics has disciplined their bodies and mind.  Careful exercise routines and diets are laid out for them by their coaches.  They spend hours and hours practicing; beating response from their bodies because events are won or lost by fractions of a second or less than a point.

That dedication never fails to nudge me to be more dedicated, more faithful to God.  The Olympic athletes train years upon years, putting in hundreds of hours for the chance to shine on the world stage, to possibly win gold, silver or bronze.  But there is another reward even greater than those medals and I cringe in horror at the times when I realize I rarely match the time these athletes practice for a shiny piece of metal.

In II Timothy 4:7-8, Paul explains our reward.  He writes, “I have fought the good fight, I have kept the faith.  Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge – will award me on that day – not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearing.”

Paul knows, just like the Olympians, that he has been in a battle, not against the clock or each other, but against Satan.  We are at war, but we also know the outcome.  God wins, Satan loses.

But what about us?  Sharing in God’s victory, we will receive the crown of righteousness if we remain faithful like Paul.  But do I work as hard as an Olympic athlete?  Do I pray daily?  Do I open my Bible and study it every day?  Do I always treat others with care and compassion?

Sadly, I have to say no to all of those questions.  Does that mean my crown of righteousness means less than an Olympic gold medal?  Definitely not!  It is just so easy to put off heavenly pursuits because the prize is unseen.  Yet, they seem so little to ask given the majestic glory of God’s heavenly kingdom.  Every day, I must remind myself that God will crown me with righteousness for what I exhibited here on earth.

The choices we make every day exercise our will the same way a treadmill exercises our muscles.  They determine whether we grow spiritually strong or remain spiritually weak.

I pray each evening that I can give a positive response to one very simple question:  “What have I done today that will make heaven different?”