Archive for the “joy” Category

One of the ministries we follow and support is Orphans Unlimited in Mozambique, Africa. It was started by one woman, Pastor Brenda Sue Lange, in 1993. It has grown to serve many orphans and villages in the country, and it has grown as many come to Christ on a regular basis. This morning, her weekly update touched my heart. It was written by one of their newer staff members, Melissa Olmsdahl. Let this portion of her letter touch your heart and change the way you view the children in your life and ministry.

Footprints under the mango tree

If you go to our recreation centre, you will find thousands of little foot prints all over the show. When I look at these prints, during a quiet time, I always smile as I think of the kid’s joyful play in this area. The kids can be so silly, it’s so cute. There are so many activities that we have running up at the centre. We do sports programs for the bigger kids, during which, the little munchkins will often come and mischievously snatch the basket ball away. I’ll admit, most of the time I will hand the ball over to them, I can’t help myself sometimes Its getting it back that’s the challenge, some of these little guys know how to run, good golly!

We have the basket ball court and the soccer field up there, and at 8am and 3pm every day, our youth director, Bertino, runs the sports program. He is really reliable. Whenever I get a chance, I go up and play with them. I’m not the best athlete, but surprisingly, the boys let me in their games. It makes me feel really special.

Teenage Boys Ministered to by Orphans Unlimited

I really love those boys! They have all crept into my heart. They are the teenage orphans that are part of our orphanage. They are real teenagers, take chances, get into trouble, but they all are so special.

There are eight of them, they are all super different, but each of them have a special something lovely. They all help out with our Sunday school programs each week. They help with the lessons, and with controlling the kiddies. This week that passed they did a puppet show to tell the story of Jesus and Zacchaes in the tree. The little kids really love the puppets; they really get involved in what the “puppets” are saying.

Puppet Show at Orphans Unlimited Children's Sunday School Our Sunday school is always packed on a Sunday morning. Actually our churches are filled with mostly children. But a wise man once taught me that the kids are Jesus’s little evangelists. A child on fire is the best catalyst. If you could only hear the vibration in that little room when these kids sing, when they scream hallelujah! It’s intensely moving. Now imagine with me, all these children scattering after Sunday school, as little feet do, and go and play outside their huts, outside their friend’s huts, singing the praises to Jesus that they learned, all over the village…

These little foot prints in the sand are the foot prints of our little evangelists. Whenever I see these little foot prints, I feel the face of God smiling down, as a proud father, recounting the steps of His little children… Thanks you Jesus for these little babes.

Melissa Olmsdahl, Orphans Unlimited Staff Member I have started teaching them English words as well. Only three a day, I really love to watch their little brains soak up all they can. I have been teaching them body parts, and they really get a kick out of watching me use my body to show them the parts. I really enjoy spending time with them. And of course, play time under the mango tree is very action packed. I’ve been taken down and tickled, had ten little girls play with my hair, at the same time… and played horsy. As I said, it’s a dream come true.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Melissa letter stirred my heart for the children.

“A child on fire is the best catalyst…Now imagine with me, all these children scattering after Sunday school, as little feet do, and go and play outside their huts, outside their friend’s huts, singing the praises to Jesus that they learned, all over the village…”

I am not child-oriented, but what a vision to grab hold of and pray into – that the children of our churches would be on fire for the Lord and that they would run out with the enthusiasm and freedom that only a child has, telling the world about this wonderful man named Jesus.

And may we adults learn from them. Jesus said:

16Then Jesus called for the children and said to the disciples, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. 17I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.”
Luke 18:16-17 (NLT)

The Kingdom belongs to those who are like children – eager to be near Christ and tell others about him.

To learn more about Orphans Unlimited, visit their website. It’s a great ministry to give an offering to! They steward the Lord’s money well.

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Living God's HeartLiving Gods HeartEven in our most downhearted moment, we can reach down deep and rejoice at the freedom God has bought for us. There are so many Psalms in which David cries out from the difficult situation he’s in. Yet they always end with a praise to God – with a recognition of the goodness of God and the good things He has done. Psalms 31 and 35 provide two examples of this. Throughout the Psalms, David is not shy about expressing the severity of his situation, crying out to God in verses like this

“Free me from the trap that is set for me” (31:4)

“Be merciful to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and my body with grief. My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak. Because of all my enemies, I am the utter contempt of my neighbors; I am a dread to my friends– those who see me on the street flee from me.” (31:9-11)

“Malicious witnesses rise up; They ask me of things that I do not know. They repay me evil for good, To the bereavement of my soul.” (35:11-12)

David’s life wasn’t always pleasant (yes, that’s probably the understatement of the year). Yet in both of these Psalms, as well as most (all?) others, he returns to a rejoicing in his salvation and his God:

“I will be glad and rejoice in your love, for you saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul.” (31:7)

“How great is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you, which you bestow in the sight of men on those who take refuge in you…Praise be to the LORD, for he showed his wonderful love to me” (31:19, 21a)

“And my soul shall rejoice in the LORD; It shall exult in His salvation.” (35:9)

“I will give You thanks in the great congregation; I will praise You among a mighty throng.” (35:18)

“And my tongue shall declare Your righteousness and Your praise all day long.” (35:28)

Joy comes in part from what we choose to focus on. David faced exceedingly difficult times and he poured his heart out to the Lord during those times. But he kept the difficulties from overwhelming him by consistently praising – even rejoicing – in the One who is greater than the difficulties. The One who is sovereign over all things. The One who is our salvation. The One who loves us beyond our ability to fully grasp.

When Jesus made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, “the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen.” (Luke 19:37) “Hosanna! Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord” they cried (Mark 11:9).

The Pharisees took offense at the outrageous, joyful praise being given the Lord – “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” they said. (Luke 19:39)

Jesus’ response is instructive: “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:40)

If we do not rejoice, the very rocks we kick down the road will praise Him in our place.

Ron Kenoly released a song in 1995 (yikes, that was a long time ago!) titled “Ain’t Gonna Let No Rock.” “Ain’t gonna let no rock out-praise me. Ain’t gonna let no rock take my place.” You can check it out here. My sentiments exactly. I will rejoice in Him. I will sometimes dig deep for the joy within me, but I will do it because my Savior has bought my freedom!

We in America don’t understand the joy of freedom because we have experienced it all our lives. Here’s a video I found inspiring and instructive. The researchers spend an hour cutting away the netting that threatened to defeat a humpback whale. The whale was close to death when they found him tangled tightly in the nylon. After cutting and cutting and cutting until they were able to fully untangle him, the whale rejoiced over his new-found freedom. He spent the next hour making spectacular jumps out of the water, slapping it with is fins, twirling and totally blessing the people who had freed him. Did you catch that? He spent the next hour rejoicing over his freedom. We were once lost and now we are found. When was the last time you spent an hour simply rejoicing over your new life? Rejoicing is fun! Watch the whale! (The whole video is good, but the whale’s show begins at about the 6:20 into it.) You know he’s having fun! And listen to the joy in the rescuers voices as they enjoy the exuberant display. It blesses God’s heart when we rejoice over all He has done for us. Rejoice friends!

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Living God's HeartLiving Gods HeartThe world thinks it has the market cornered on celebration. They’ve got it wrong!

They think that Christians are sour and serious all they time. When we’re living as God wants us to live, they’ve got it wrong!

Ahh, there’s the rub – the “living as God wants us to live” part. It’s easy to get caught up in the seriousness of following God. When that fails, the seriousness of life is a huge draw. There’s so much to do and so little time. There’s so many challenges and so much frustration out there. Yes. There is. But God calls us to pull away from all that and enjoy life!

God instructed the Israelites to observe seven feasts each year. Two of them week-long celebrations of God’s goodness. The Feast of Weeks, also known as Pentecost, is a “festival of joy.” It celebrates the giving of the Law to Moses. Isn’t that interesting – it CELEBRATES the GIVING of the Law. The world thinks the Law – any law or restriction – anything that hampers one from doing their own thing (or what seems right in their own eyes as Judges 17:6 and 21:25 put it) – is a bad thing. Yet James says that the “perfect law” “sets you free” (James 1:25). The Psalms say that it revives the soul (Psalm 19:7). So God instructed the Israelites to have a week-long celebration commemorating the giving of the Law.

The second week-long celebration is the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths, rejoicing over the harvest, which represents God’s goodness and blessings. God instructed the Israelites to set aside a week each year to celebrate His goodness to them!

Other feasts included elements of celebration in their observance, but these two call for all-out, prolonged celebration. Stop your work. Interrupt your routine. And celebrate God!

God wants us to be joyful! Rejoice! He says.

And I’m guessing you’re like me and don’t do it enough.

The One who created us knows what we need. He knows we need to rejoice. He knows we need to celebrate.

A joyful heart is good medicine, But a broken spirit dries up the bones.
Proverbs 17:22 (NASB)

Developing a joyful heart by celebrating God’s goodness is “good medicine.” The phrase translated “is good medicine” literally means “causes good health.” Being joyful contributes to being in good health.

I’ll be honest with you. I’ve had a very tough week. Not just a normal tough week, a very tough week. Rejoicing hasn’t been easy. But life is easier when I push myself to rejoice. Before beginning to write tonight, I listened to some reggae Christian music (Christafari). Its fun, reggae beat, weird (to me) words and phraseology, yet honest message gave me reason to rejoice. That’s what it took for me to rejoice today. I started by reading Scripture and it laid the groundwork, but I was a hard case tonight. Scripture alone didn’t do it. But before turning off the music to write, I was singing at the top of my lungs with joy in my heart.

A joyful heart is good medicine. Push yourself to enjoy God this week. I know that sounds wrong. But it’s right! Because God wants us to celebrate! Enjoy God! Enjoy life!

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Living God's HeartLiving Gods HeartChoosing to take offense brings a seed into our lives that is the antithesis of the joy God wants us to have. It becomes a matter that occupies our thoughts, pulling us down from the heights of enjoying God’s glory to the depths of allowing satan to rent space in our head and heart. Offenses can easily take root that creates a stronghold of bitterness. Bitterness can result from two sources: disappointments of life and painful relationships. Let’s look at both.

Disappointments of Life
We will all experience disappointments in life. When those disappointments cause bitterness within us, it is because we have taken offense at the way God has dealt with us. We have ceased to practice thanksgiving. We have ceased to remember His goodness to us. Instead, the disappointment takes root and we believe the lies the enemy shouts in our ears.
You deserve better! God doesn’t care about you! God has rejected you and always will reject you! You’re not good enough for Him.
Lies, friends! They’re all lies! They lead to bitterness in our heart and soul. They rob us of all joy. Combat the lies of the enemy with the Truth of God’s Word.

It is out of God’s great love for you that He sent Christ to die for you. He has saved you and gifted you and has a purpose for you. He has gone to prepare a home for you so that one day you will be with Him. No, you’re not good enough for Him on your own – but He has credited the righteousness of Christ to you.

Make a concerted effort to practice thanksgiving – first thing every morning and last thing every evening. Praise Him before each meal. Look for His blessings instead of at what you haven’t received.

Painful Relationships
Just as we will all experienced disappointments in life, we will all experience being betrayed or hurt or disappointed by someone we love. If we take offense when that occurs, the bitterness root extends its tentacles. Those betrayals, hurts and disappointments must be released to God and healed by God. Forgiveness is not an option in the Kingdom of God.

14“If you forgive those who sin against you, [Jesus said,] your heavenly Father will forgive you. 15But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Matthew 6:9-15 (NLT)

We forgive out of obedience, but the wonderful thing about God’s economy is that obedience always carries a blessing. When we forgive, bitterness has no place in our heart or soul.

And that leaves lots of room for joy. Taking offense is the root of the two causes of bitterness. When we develop the unoffendable heart, there is bad soil in our heart in which bitterness can take root. But there is plenty of good soil in which joy can grow…and grow and grow.
A joyful heart is a blessing that transcends our circumstances. It pins its hope on the deep, abiding knowledge that God is good, that He has saved us and transformed us, and He will accept us with loving arms in heaven. In fact, Jesus is eagerly waiting for us there. He longs for us to be with Him. We are His bride.

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Living God's HeartLiving Gods HeartThis week Phil and I are celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary.

It coincides with the 25th anniversary of our business.

We have a lot to celebrate!

Yet it would be very easy to let the occasions go by with barely a nod to their significance. It seems that there’s always more “important” things to do or to spend money on. I’m reminded of a Proverb:

There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.
Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25 (NIV)

It may seem right to spend our time and money on things that are more important (and I’m not advocating squandering either), but that would lead to death. Celebration is important. Celebration remembers and Scripture is full of injunctions to remember. Here’s just one of them – God is giving instructions to celebrate the day He brought them out of Egypt:

14“This is a day to remember. Each year, from generation to generation, you must celebrate it as a special festival to the LORD. This is a law for all time…17“Celebrate this Festival of Unleavened Bread, for it will remind you that I brought your forces out of the land of Egypt on this very day. This festival will be a permanent law for you; celebrate this day from generation to generation.
Exodus 12:14-17 (NLT)

Remember the day, celebrate it with a festival. They are instructions that interrupt our “life as usual” living – instructions that cause us to pause and change our focus for a short time.

So this week we are remembering and celebrating – focusing on the goodness of God, remembering both the good and the bad because through it all, God has proven Himself to be good to us. When remembering the bad, we don’t focus on how horrible it was at the time, but on how God faithfully pulled us through it. We focus on how blessed we are to receive whatever it was that came from those horrible experiences. And when remembering the good – well, I confess to being as tearful in the good memories as in the bad – because I didn’t do anything to deserve all this good that has come my way.

It’s not that my life has been so much better than yours. We’ve experienced (and in some cases are currently experiencing) lack of finances, failure, depression, loss of parents, caring for elderly and disabled parents, loss of job, major health crises, betrayal, and disappointment. There are probably other things I could throw into that list, but I’m happy to stop there. 🙂 You get the idea. Despite it all – or more appropriately said “through it all” – I choose to see God’s goodness, even when I’m seeing it only through a cloud darkly.

After all, that’s how God sees me – my “goodness,” that is, not through a cloud darkly. He has no trouble with His vision – he sees me more clearly than I see myself. He knows there is sin in my heart. He knows my faults and weaknesses. He sees that there is no true, unselfish goodness in me. Yet He loves me and He sees me through the blood of Christ – “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:11a, NIV).

And He celebrates me! “He delights in me” Psalm 18:19 says. He takes pleasure in me.

Friends, take time out of your busy lives to remember those special days – birthdays and anniversaries. Don’t let your celebrations become such a hassle that you lose the time to remember and celebrate. Remember God’s goodness, His faithfulness, and the pleasure He takes in you. And enjoy life. We’re not able to live a life of celebration, why would others be attracted to our God?

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Living God's HeartLiving Gods Heart

12The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,

“Hosanna!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Blessed is the King of Israel!”

John 12:12-13 (NIV)

 

During our journey through 2013, we’re focusing on a different characteristic or quality of the heart each month. You can see all the blogs in the series here.) I’m pulling over to the side of the road this week and next to address the praise-filled heart. With Palm Sunday just two days ago and Easter (or Resurrection Sunday as it’s called at our church) just a few days away, the note I made in the margins of my sermon notebook was “radical praise – it’s a season of outrageous praise!”

I love description of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. It’s often called the triumphal entry because He was recognized as and given the reception of a King, even if only for a short time. People laid their coats on the ground before Him. And trust me, it wasn’t their spare jacket that they usually left hanging in the closet at home. It was most likely their only over-garment. That’s outrageous praise!

And they shouted “Hosannah! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” “Hosannah!” “Blessed is the King of Israel.”

Outrageous praise! To proclaim Jesus as the King of Israel. Yes, He had been doing miraculous works in their midst. Still no one had yet proclaimed Him a King.

In the midst of outrageous praise, the Israelites were reciting from a Psalm 118. Look at the phrase in context:

22The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone;
23the LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
25O LORD, save us; O LORD, grant us success.
26Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. From the house of the LORD we bless you.
27The LORD is God, and he has made his light shine upon us. With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar.
Psalm 118:22-27 (NIV)

Jesus is the stone the builders rejected. Let us rejoice and be glad. The word translated “rejoice” connotes a strong emotion. It’s not quiet joy. It’s outrageous joy. It’s loud, have-to-dance joy.

Some of the Phraisees weren’t all that happy about such an outrageous display of emotions. “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” they said to Jesus (Luke 19:39, NIV).

“I tell you,” [Jesus] replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
Luke 19:40 (NIV)

Stones crying out – that’s outrageous praise!

What does outrageous praise look like in your life? Let me give you some characteristics of it:

  • It isn’t temporary. When you’ve praised God outrageously, it’s going to have an effect that doesn’t dissipate before you’ve finished your morning coffee.
  • It goes beyond peaceful. It may bring you peace, but outrageous peace isn’t accomplished with a serene smile on your face while you sit quietly. I truly want to allow for individual differences, but I honestly don’t know how anyone can outrageously praise God silently. (If you disagree, let me know. We can still be friends!)
  • It may make you a bit uncomfortable! If you’re not accustomed to outrageously praising God (and most of us aren’t), you’ll be uncomfortable at first.
  • It’s likely to make those around you uncomfortable. I’m not advocating that you offend your neighbor for the sake of offending them. But I am suggesting that you not allow others to dictate how you outrageously praise God.

I have a challenge for you today. Before the end of the day, spend at least three minutes outrageously praising God. If that’s not a challenge for you, make it five or ten minutes. If you’re new to outrageous praise, start with some of the verses in Psalm 118 and add your own commentary after them. You might begin with verse 14:

The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.
Psalm 118:14 (NIV)

Read the verse out loud with enthusiasm, then praise God out loud for being that for you. “Lord, you are my song when I have no song. You are my strength when I have no strength. Hallelujah! Thank You, Lord, for saving me. Thank you, Lord, for lifting me up when I couldn’t reach up on my own.”

15Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous: “The LORD’s right hand has done mighty things! 16The LORD’s right hand is lifted high; the LORD’s right hand has done mighty things!”
Psalm 118:15-16 (NIV)

“Hallelujah, Lord! You have done mighty things for me! You meet my every need! You provide for me every day! Because of You I live in freedom! Because of You I live in love! Because of You I will live for eternity!”

That’s the beginning of outrageous praise. It blesses God’s heart and it will bless your heart.

Share this post with a friend who needs to be blessed this week. And tell me how your outrageous praise session went!

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My guess is that you’re planning your Thanksgiving weekend, and perhaps your holiday season. Don’t forget Jesus. Purposefully write in your calendar some time over the long Thanksgiving weekend during which you will sit with Jesus giving thanks. Use a small portion of that time to plan out times to spend with God during the month of December. Purpose to lay the world aside and spend time with the Jesus. Purpose to do the most important things this season, not just the urgent ones.

While I strongly encourage you not to plan a full schedule of things to do during those times with the Lord, a simple plan can be a good thing.

Three Reasons Why You Should l Have a Basic Plan for Your Time With God

  1. It can help you transition from full speed ahead in the world to peaceful worship and rest during your time with the Lord (without such a plan sometimes it feels like a crash landing instead of a spirit-led transition). Sometimes when we’ve rushed to our appointment with God it can be hard to settle into His presence.
  2. It can help you transition from servant to friend. If simply sitting at God’s feet isn’t something you do regularly, having a plan may help you adjust from a mode of serving God to enjoying Him.
  3. It can help you transition from purpose-driven thinking to presence thinking. If you’re like me, it’s easy to feel like you’re wasting time or being selfish when you are resting in His presence (forgive me, Lord). Having a plan gets me over the initial hump because I am doing something – I’m following my list of things to do. Don’t read this the wrong way. I’m not saying we approach our time with God as an item to check off our To-Do lists. What I’m saying is that having the basic plan helps me resist the feeling that I’m wasting time at the beginning of my time with the Lord. It helps me engage. Once I’ve engaged, I’m no longer working the plan, I’m enjoying God.

Here are some ideas for your time with God. Don’t do all these things each time you meet Him. Plan the number of things you’re going to do according to the time you have. If I only had fifteen minutes, I would only do one, maybe two of these things. If I scheduled fifteen minutes every other day, I’d focus on different activities each time, cycling through them and then returning to those I found most helpful.

Worship – Whether through song or prayer or activity, let worship take you into the presence of God. Don’t rush from song to song or prayer topic to prayer topic. Linger. Play the same song several times. Pray different things about the same awesome character trait of God. (For example, “Lord, your love is incredible. It covers my sin. It surrounds me like a comforting blanket, protecting me, shielding me and healing me. Your love brings peace. Your love – how can I know the depth, breadth, height and width of it? I can’t, and knowing that it is bigger than me reminds me of how awesome you are. Lord, your love is incredible. It is by your love that your purposes are accomplished in my life. It is by your love that I can sit here with you at peace. It is in your love that I can do all things. Lord, your love is incredible.” Remember, don’t rush the prayer, linger over each phrase.)

Thanksgiving and praise – Scripture says that we “enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise” (Psalm 100:4). That’s what I want to do during my time with God – enter His inner sanctuary to meet with Him. Doing it His way only makes sense.

Prayer – Don’t pray your laundry list of needs (whether for yourself or others), but have a conversation with God. Have you ever asked God “Lord, what gave you pleasure today? What blessed you?” I never have! The idea just came to me as I was writing this, and it seems like a good one. I’m going to incorporate this into my times with Him! I’m looking forward to “hearing” His answers. (I put the word “hearing” in quotes because I don’t anticipate hearing an audible voice. But I do anticipate receiving an impression from God that will bring me joy as I get to know Him better.)

Read Scripture meditatively – If fifteen minutes is all you have, spend ten of them on one or two verses. Pray it back to God. Ask Him to reveal Himself to you through the verse. Then sit and listen for His response.

Express yourself creatively – Journal, paint, write a song or poem – Express yourself to God in some tangible way. It may feel awkward at first, but just go with it. He won’t be a critical judge of it any more than you were when your children drew their first picture of mom and dad.

The point is, schedule some time with God. Time just to be with Him. If you don’t schedule it, it’s unlikely that it will happen. (Although God’s been known to force the issue – it’s generally much better to put Him first than to have Him bring it to your attention that you haven’t been.)

Enjoy your time with God during this Christmas season and I am confident that you will enjoy the season.

Enjoy!

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Seeing Through a LensI woke up today thinking about lenses! I guess that makes sense:

  • I need to have my eyes checked. It seems I have been consistently making text on my screen larger over the past few months and everything looks a bit fuzzier than it used to.
  • A friend of mine has started taking photography classes and it is changing the way she see things.
  • Yesterday I started reading a book about confidence in God. It’s a lot about the way we view life.

I’m reminded this morning that you can only see the shadow when you turn away from the light. Standing facing the sun I am unaware of the long shadow it creates behind me.

Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.
James 1:17 (NLT)

He created the lights in the heavens. Doesn’t it make sense to keep our eyes on Him to light our path?

Some manuscripts have the second half of this verse differently. They read “He never changes as a shifting shadow does.” (NLT footnote)

The One who created the lights in the heavens and causes them to move to His consistent rhythm, remains unchanging. “There is no shadow of turning with thee.” Can there be a better lens from which to view our lives?

As I’ve thought about this, the question that comes to me again and again is this: “What lens are you looking through?” Two that seem likely candidates are these:

Self – my abilities – Am I looking at my life, my circumstances, challenges and opportunities through the lens of my own abilities? If so, I can tell you that I will be overwhelmed with my inadequacies for dealing with the circumstances, challenges and opportunities. At my very best, I’m not enough – not good enough, not smart enough, not energetic enough, not creative enough, not wise enough, not compassionate enough, etc. The list goes on and on. But God is enough. We could find Scripture for each of the “not enoughs” in my list, but let me just share two all-encompassing verses that promise God’s provision

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence.
2 Peter 1:3 (NLT)

And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:19 (NASB)

Other people’s opinions – Am I looking at my life, my circumstances, challenges and opportunities through the lens of what other people think? Danger, danger, danger. People are fickle. Our opinions change from moment to moment. Look at the crucifixion of Jesus – one moment the people are worshiping Him as the coming King “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” and they next they are shouting “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” (Matthew 26 and 27). When the opinion of others affects the way I approach my life, how can I be anything but like a child “tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming”? (Ephesians 4:14, NASB).

Viewing life through either lens leads to a pretty miserable life. With the former, I am overwhelmed and defeated. With the latter, I am thrown this way and that – and again overwhelmed and defeated.

There is a third and better option: Viewing life through the lens of faith – Trusting in His faithfulness and ability to meet all my needs. We have a choice. It doesn’t always seem like it, but we do. In the physical realm, I can choose to put my glasses on so I can read the text in front of me more clearly or I can continue to squint and read fuzzy words. I can turn on a light or sit in a dark room. I can turn toward the sun or stare at the long shadows that hint of dark forces.

If I stay in the world of fuzzy words, dark rooms and long shadows my life suffers. My emotional stability suffers. My ability to live for God’s Kingdom suffers.

If I turn to the world in which God is sovereign, in control and loves me unconditionally my life prospers. My emotional stability remains strong and sure (because it is held together by the One who holds the universe together). And living for (and in) God’s Kingdom is a reality.

Why would I choose any lens other than God’s? Why would you?

An afterthought: Are you looking at the doors God has closed or the ones you don’t see yet – remember, we walk by faith not by sight. (But that’s fodder for another blog.)

For fun:

Old Woman or Young Woman?

Do you see a young woman or and old woman?

  • If you see a young woman, and wish to see the old woman, imagine the ear as an eye, the necklace as a mouth and the chin as a nose.
  • If you see an old woman, and wish to see the young woman, imagine the eye as an ear, the mouth as a necklace and the nose as a chin.
  • Your brain wants to flip to either one or the other image but if you study it long enough you might see both images at once. Can you do it?

From: http://www.nobeliefs.com/puzzles/illusions.htm#checker

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Circus TentsAnd I can’t wait! I’ve been looking forward to it since the last time I went – about four years ago! Phil and I were so surprised at how much fun we had that we’ve been watching the circus schedules ever since and this is the first opportunity we’ve had to go back.

I’ve been telling everyone about my upcoming plans. The Animal Open House starts at 5:30. The Circus Pre-show starts at 6 and the circus starts at 7. We plan to arrive by 5:15. I don’t want to miss a bit of it.

And God’s been speaking to me about it for the past few days. He’s been tapping me on the shoulder and asking questions like this:

“Are you this excited about our times together?”

“Do you tell everyone how much you’re looking forward to our time together?”

Our God is such a wonderful God. He isn’t bringing condemnation upon me – there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. He’s gently nudging me toward the person He created me to be. His calling is so much higher than my calling. So he’s asking me if I’ve lost my first love and if I’m willing to tell others about my first love…or if I’ve started to take my time with God for granted.

Now granted, going to the circus is something I’ve only done a couple of times before, and only once in the past thirty years. But even so, I have the awesome opportunity to hear from the God of the universe every day. To hear Him say (usually through His Word, not through an audible sound) how precious I am to Him. To learn about what He has in store for me in this life and beyond. To discover some of the mysteries of the Godhead. To be myself and know I am totally loved.

So I’m excited about going to the circus tomorrow. It will be an evening of fun and adventure.

But even before then, I get to have an adventure with God – today, tomorrow and every day! How about you? Are you as excited about your time with God as other things in your life? If not, spice things up a bit by trying something new – a different pattern to your time with God, a different Bible translation, a different type of prayer, a different activity…or just sitting and listening more. Blessings on your adventure!

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1Faith is the confidence and substance of things hoped for – things we confidently expect to happen. It is the conviction and evidence of things not yet seen.
Hebrews 11:1 (expanded translation using NLT, NASB, NKJV, NRSV and Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary)

Faith is this wonderful, supernatural, practical, every-day living thing. I’ll use a word that might offend some and say it almost seems magical. Sometimes you have it and sometimes you don’t. When you have it, you feel like nothing in the world can hold you back and nothing in the world is going to discourage you. When you don’t have it, it’s so easy to slide into defeatism and wonder if you’ll ever have enough faith, if you’ll ever be able to accomplish things, maybe even if you’ll ever be good enough for God. Of course the answer to that last doubt is no, you’ll never be good enough…but God doesn’t require that you be good enough. He’s already done the heavy lifting and is ready to forgive your sins if you just turn your life over to Him. If you’ve never done that, I encourage you – I urge you – to do so. You can learn more about it here. Or send me an email (sandy@ApprehendingGrace.com) and I’ll respond.

Yet even those who are confident they are living in Christ can become discouraged. As we continue to walk with the Lord, He expects us to mature in our faith. He no longer spoon feeds us to help us get through our daily life. We learn to live in Christ and overcome the things of this world. Don’t misunderstand and think that Christ isn’t always with us. He is. Just as a loving parent, though, He allows us to grow up and confidently face the challenges and experience victory in Him.

So how do we encourage ourselves in our faith? How do we increase our faith when we feel it lagging? In this series we’re going to look at five specific actions we can take that will move us past discouragement toward faith and confidence. Each of the steps will strengthen your walls of faith. They will patch the weak spots and repair the broken edges.

Remember that if you’re at a weak point, it’s unlikely you got there overnight. You’ve probably been sliding for awhile and now you find yourself at the turnoff to discouragement valley. Or perhaps you’ve already taken the exit ramp. It may take a little time to get back to the road that leads to confidence and faith. Take your time and be consistent. Take these actions – starting today – and trust that God will restore you.

Faith Building Action 1 – Praise
There is no substitute for spending time praising God and it is the single-most important action you can take when your faith is dwindling. Often, however, when your faith is low, it can be difficult to remember how to worship and praise God. (Lord, forgive us. Lord, help us.) There are two practical things you can do to help you praise God when your heart is heavy and your mind is blank:

  • Remind yourself who God is. There are many ways you can do this.Here’s just a few.
    • Study or read about the different names of God. He Jehovah-Jireh – The Lord, My Provider. He has always provided for me and He always will. He is Jehovah-Raffe – The Lord, My Healer. He has made me whole!
    • When I’m having one of those medical tests that cause me stress I work through the alphabet identifying characteristics of God that are praiseworthy. He is the Alpha – He’s always been. He existed before the beginning of the world. He’s Big – bigger than any problem I’m facing. (He’s also Better at dealing with them than I am.) He Cares for me – like a mother hen wants to protect her chicks. You get the idea. If you’re working on faith building, don’t just do this in your head as I’ve done during uncomfortable medical tests, do it on paper – journal your way through the alphabet. It is a powerful exercise that can easily take several weeks. Make it a special time between you and God.
    • Read through the Psalms. Many of them describe God in ways that wouldn’t be on the tip of our tongues. He is the good shepherd (Psalm 23). He is a shield around me (Psalm 3:3). He is my rock (Psalm 18:3 and many others). You’ll also find example after example teaching you how to praise Him. “I love the LORD because he hears my voice and my prayer for mercy.” (Psalm 116:1)
    • I love to read the creation story in Genesis 1. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. Then God said…” (Genesis 1:1-3a, NLT). I am blown away by the power of God each time I read it – His ability to create all that exists from nothing. God’s Spirit hovered, then He spoke. And the world came into being.
    • Sing praise music. This Sunday, after each worship song our pastor had us call out things we were thankful for that we had just sung about. It made us think about the words we were singing – making it impossible to treat the worship time like a songfest. Engage while you sing praise songs and pause after each one to audibly praise God for things the song identifies.
  • Remind yourself of what God has done for you. Be specific.
    • Tell yourself your “God story.” How were you saved? What prayers has He answered? How has he protected you? How has He intervened in your marriage? How has He changed your life and the lives of your children? Who has he put in your life to bless you? How have they blessed you?
    • If you’ve kept a prayer journal, re-read it. Slowly.
    • Think through the major seasons of your life and identify how God has been a part of them.
    • Think through the major events of your life and remember how God has directed them.

Our pastor said something this Sunday that I put two stars next to in my notes:

“There isn’t a wall that satan can build that cannot be torn down – demolished – with praise.”
Pastor Dan Caudill

He followed it with a second double-starred note:

“Praise disarms a complaining spirit.”
Pastor Dan Caudill

How very true this is. It’s that complaining spirit that drives us to discouragement valley. Praise takes the keys away from it and returns them to the Holy Spirit. Then He drives us to faith and confidence.

Friend, praise Him! In the morning, throughout the day and before you go to sleep every night.

It will keep you off the road to discouragement.

In a few days I’ll give you a second action to build your faith when it’s wavering. For now, let’s praise Him.

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