Ultimate Joy

Posts Tagged ‘Salvation

The symptoms hit me during a Saturday morning meeting. A low grade headache, nausea and muscle aches came on suddenly. All I wanted was the comfort of my bed. It wasn’t the onset of the flu. No, I recognized the symptoms as burnout brought on by a long, busy week. Because of the frequent times I operated outside of my comfort zone that week, my body was simply telling me, “I need some rest.”

Not wanting to give in to my fatigue, I did the next best thing or so I reasoned. When I got home I grabbed a good book and laid down on the couch. My thought was to read a chapter or two, then get up and tackle my list of chores. But you know the story…I got comfortable, warm, contented. Quickly the book was put aside and I took a much needed nap.

When I woke up, my body felt rested; so much so I also didn’t want to get up. I was cozy, relaxed, ready to camp out on the couch for the rest of the evening. Only one problem, though. I had signed up to serve communion that evening at church. That’s when my contentment started speaking to me. “You don’t really have to go. It’s a big church. They don’t need you. They have plenty of volunteers. Someone else will do your work.” I snuggled even further under the blanket lingering longer on the couch.Trays of Bread and Wine for Communion

Yet the Bible is very clear about situations like this. Matthew 5:37 tells us, “Let your ‘yes’ by ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’” A war began stirring in my soul. I didn’t want to get up. I simply didn’t want to go to church that evening. I wanted to savor one of the few moments of rest I had that week. “I don’t want to go,” I explained out loud to my dog curled up on the floor at my feet.

But I had given my word.

Reluctantly, I rose from the couch and drove to the service. There I discovered the most interesting dynamic: God didn’t tell us that our word should be our bond to be mean. No, He told us that to safeguard our character. Had I stayed on the couch that evening, I doubt anyone would have noticed. But I would have sold out my reputation, my integrity for a few extra moments on the sofa. In the long run, it just wasn’t worth the price.

After distributing the elements, I returned to my seat and held them preciously in my hands. They offered me redemption of another kind; soul redemption, an eternity with my creator. Having struggled to be there, I saw the sacrament in a new light.

When you say ‘yes’ to God, you become a living, breathing, walking display of His glory. All of us are just one step of obedience away from the next great, godly adventure and the mountaintop moments that follow. Are you willing to abandon what makes you comfortable to embrace what makes you fulfilled? Are you ready to exchange cozy for the confidence He provides?

Not only did God love us enough to die on a cross, He loved us enough to send a roadmap to a more joyful life. All we need to do is let our ‘yes’ by ‘yes.’

Chaos always reigns around the holidays, but it also reminds us of how rich and lovely and beautiful life is, full of vitality and laughter amidst lots of busyness. Which might explain why, to me, heaven always seems much closer on Christmas Eve. On this most holiest of nights, we’re done. We’ve shopped and partied, decorated and wrapped ourselves silly, but tonight, weMP900313865 recognize that none of our efforts really matters. Christmas – a true celebration of fresh starts and new beginnings starts tonight if we choose to focus on the tiny baby born in a manger who came to save us and give us true life.

Tonight is the night of new hope.

That hope is available for anyone who wants it; for anyone willing to reach out for it and grab a hold of God’s hand.

His hope is for anyone who clutches to what is important about this night. It is the message brought to us by the child who came to light the world with His forgiveness, that perfect child born in a manger in Bethlehem so very long ago.

He is the gift.

It is all about His love.

And I hope His love comes to you, comforts you and remains.

My greeting and prayer to you is that you’ll create a time in these next few days to reflect on God’s goodness shone down upon you throughout 2012. That in those few moments, you’ll thank him, but also listen, weep, and be still.

Grasp tightly to that holy reflection to be fully present and fragile in the presence of a God who came to earth to be with you, near to you and connected to you.

Merry Christmas!

Most people think of Disneyland as the “Happiest Place on Earth.”  I call the post office that. Now don’t get all postal on me; I do realize it has its faults. I call it “The Happiest Plae on Earth” because it is the place that takes my cards and letters and delivers them to you, my precious friends. It also delivers your sweet greetings to me.  It doesn’t get much better than that!

The other day, I received an email from a friend about the post office.  I was on the phone completing some marketing research and I started to tear up. Seems that happens almost every time this old dog lover reads this email. I figure the sentiment was worth sharing on this blog:

The email states it is absolutely true. Even if it isn’t, it gives us a lot to think about concerning love…

Our 14-year-old dog, Abbey, died last month.

The day after she passed away, my 4-year-old daughter, Meredith, was crying and talking about how much she missed Abbey.

She asked if we could write a letter to God so that when Abbey got to heaven, God would recognize her.

I told her that I thought we could, so she dictated these words:

Dear God,

Would you please take care of my dog? Abbey died yesterday and is with you in heaven. I miss her very much. I’m happy that you let me have her as my dog even though she got sick. I hope you will play with her. She likes to swim and play with balls. I am sending you a picture of her so when you see her you will know that she is my dog. I really miss her. Love, Meredith

We put the letter in an envelope with a picture of Abbey and Meredith in it and addressed it to God/Heaven.

We put our return address on it.

Meredith pasted several stamps on the front of the envelope because she said it would take lots of stamps to get the letter all the way to heaven.

A few days later, she asked if God had gotten the letter yet. I told her I thought He had.

Yesterday, there was a package wrapped in gold paper on our front porch addressed, “To Meredith” in an unfamiliar hand.

Meredith opened it.

Inside was a book by Mr. Rogers called, When a Pet Dies.

Taped to the inside front cover was the letter we had written to God in its opened envelope.

On the opposite page was the picture of Abbey and Meredith and this note:

Dear Meredith:

Abbey arrived safely in heaven. Having the picture was a big help and I recognized her right away. Abbey isn’t sick anymore. Her spirit is here with me just like it stays in your heart. Abbey loved being your dog. Since we don’t need our bodies in heaven, I don’t have any pockets to keep your picture, so I’m sending it back to you in this little book for you to keep and have something to remember Abbey by.

Thank you for the beautiful letter and thank your mother for helping you write it and sending it to me.

What a wonderful mother you have. I picked her especially for you. I send my blessings every day and remember that I love you very much.

By the way, I’m easy to find. I am wherever there is love.

Love,

God

It was long, hard walk. Beads of sweat gathered on my forehead. My legs were burning; my breath coming in fits and stops because it hurt to fill my lungs with air. But the triumph I felt made all the exertion worthwhile. I made it; I finally made it – to the end of my driveway!

You see, I know what it is like to be lame. After surgery, walking was next to impossible. No, let me rephrase, it was impossible. Physical therapy helped, but recovery took longer than expected. I grew impatient, crabby. Then, one day the physical therapist said words that brightened my soul, “Let’s take a walk!” Delicious words, forward moving words, words that finally spoke about leaving my recovery behind and embracing wellness. I was ready. “Let’s go,” came my reply, wearied from too much time in bed.

But, it wasn’t that simple. The spirit may have been willing, but the body takes longer. So, by the time I made the round trip between bed and driveway’s end, I was spent. And ready to climb back under the covers.

Despite the triumph,  I also remember the humiliation of it all. Before my surgery, this was a distance I covered with little thought.  My driveway wasn’t that long – a few car lengths at most. The degradation of that slow, torturous walk chipped a hole in my spirit. I wanted to feel less lame, to skip, to jump…to feel affirmed, less burdened.

So the words Mephibosheth have always retained a special place in my heart, “What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?” (2 Samuel 9:8) A dead dog! Yep, that’s what I felt like that day.

Lame after an accident, fearful of King David, since he was the son of Jonathan and that lineage could threaten David’s claim to the throne, Mephibosheth is ushered into the palace and given a place at the royal table for the rest of his life. All because of a covenant David made to remember all Jonathan’s relatives with kindness.

God’s grace shouts through David’s kindness. We are all weak, lame and fearful before our King. We have all separated ourselves from the King, but because of God’s covenant with us, He seeks us out and showers us with the riches of His table. We can delight in our fellowship with Him and receive His grace which gives us more than we have ever lost.

But notice what David’s kindness doesn’t do.  It didn’t remove Mephibosheth’s lameness. In this world, no matter how healthy, we are nevertheless weak and lame.  It is God’s favor that restores our dignity and gives us a place of honor. God never wastes a hurt; He crams our lives with His love even in our most difficult seasons.

God comforts us through our distress. He soothes our wounds. He loves us so fiercely that He seeks us out even when we don’t always turn to Him. And in the middle of our hurts, He showers us with love. He loves us first before we even think about loving Him.

While I eventually regained my ability to walk, I’m still lame, frail in spirit mired by my wrongdoing.  That makes me realize even more how much He loves me. God is bigger than this world, stronger than the ills of this world.  Yet He never leaves me.

No matter what humiliation this world brings, no matter how difficult the steps we must take in life, this world is not all there is. God, like David with Mephibosheth, has not left us orphans.

I really thought I mastered it. I honestly felt I understood precisely how far to place things away from the counter’s edge so my German Shepherd, Lily, couldn’t get them.  At eighteen months, I believed she outgrew the curiosity of grabbing things placed there. I was sorely mistaken.

Silverware, paper, oven gloves, all found a way into her mouth! The most terrifying, though, was the pill incident. In my computer room, distracted in a Skype session with my out-of-town husband, I heard a crack come from the dining room. Investigating, I found Lily practically smiling at me with an empty pill bottle hanging out of her mouth. It was a full container purchased from the pharmacy only the night before.

I panicked. Abruptly ending the session with my husband, I desperately searched the house from top to bottom. No pill bottle top; no pills. With dusk setting in, my choices were limited; hunt in the backyard or immediately put Lily into the car and break land speed records to get her to the nearest animal poison control. Reluctant to put her through medical intervention, I opted to search.

Near the end my backyard investigation, I saw something white sticking out among the blades of grass. Could it be?  Yes, it was the top of the bottle. Now where were the pills?  In the growing shadows of evening, my flashlight beam illuminated them – faint robin’s egg blue tucked amongst the lawn’s dark blades.  I picked up all I could find, quickly went inside and counted them. All of them were there, now once again safe in the orange bottle.

Only when the bottle was placed on a cabinet’s shelf did my body react -folding in on itself, collapsing on the floor – too tired to do a victory dance, too exhausted to yell at Lily. Torn between strangling her or burying my head in her neck. The latter seemed more appropriate. Burrowing my head in her fur, tears started in earnest. How close had I come to losing her? And then I lifted up a quick prayer to God that she was more interested in the pill bottle than the actual pills.

When the tears stopped flowing  I realized how much I’m like Lily. How often do I strain my relationship with God for something that looks satisfying; that piques my interests? How often am I deeply tempted not to miss the pleasures of life even when they bring grief, fail to glorify God or, as in the case of Lily, can cause me real, physical harm?

In the darkening gloom of my kitchen, I had a moment when everything stopped. I realized how truly blessed I was – not because disaster was averted with my dog – but because I am loved beyond measure by a God who sees all the times I stumble off His chosen path for me; detouring to something unworthy of both Him and me.

Alone on the dirty kitchen floor, His love caved in on me; a love so strong it hangs on to me even on the most uncertain of days.  Even when I’m turning away, running away from Him.

Unlike the items on my counter, His love is never out of reach. And I’m truly in awe of all His love blessings even in the randomness of my days; aware I have no guarantees – except one. That nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39)

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?

Great drama always comes boiling to the surface at the Olympic Games.  The 1992 Games in Barcelona were no exception. A British runner by the name of Derek Redmond had his sights set on winning his 400 meter semi-final heat and running in the finals.  About 250 meters from the finish, Derek’s hamstring snapped and he fell to the ground.  Medical personnel rushed over to help him, but he waved them off and grimacing in pain, got up and hobbled down the track desperately trying to finish his heat.

His father, seeing all this and knowing his son needed help, barged past security, ran down to the field, wrapped his arms around his son’s shoulders and walked with him to the finish line. Once Derek crossed the finish line, the crowd of 65,000 rose to give him a standing ovation.

In 2 Timothy 4:7, Paul writes:  “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (NIV) There are days when we all long to quit. When life becomes just too difficult, too painful to move. Yet, we pick ourselves up and we keep going. Sometimes, there are friends and family cheering us on.  They walk the entire course with us providing support, “Come on, you can do it!  Don’t give up,  you are almost there.”

But then there are other times when you look around and you are all alone. There is no one with you, no one at your side and no one cheering you on. Loneliness and discouragement set in.  It’s easy to give up on those days. We become so discouraged we lose sight of the finish line.

But rather than giving up, it is on those days, I need, we all need, to listen more closely, more intently to the still small voice of our Heavenly Father. Like Joe Redmond, Derek’s father, God is there to pick us up when we fall, there to hold us when we cry, hug us when we are lonely, cheer us on when no one else wants to take on that job.  Even more importantly, He loves us just as we are; whether we win the gold medal or are disqualified like Derek Redmond. (Since Derek was helped across the finish line by his father, this officially disqualified him.  Olympic records state he did not finish the race.)

Our Heavenly Father is cheering you on.  He’s saying, “Keep going. Don’t give up! You are never alone. You are precious to Me. You can do it. I will help you every step of the way.”

We need to pay attention to the times God whispers just how much he loves us and is for us. It is not a matter of whether or not he speaks these words to us.  It is always a matter of whether we listen or not.