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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Count It Pure Joy

Adversity is dressed in many shades of gray. The colors are shades of anguish, calamity, misery, misfortune, trial and tribulation. So many shades of gray threaten us. The colors foster groans and tears from the heart. Adversity, no matter what shade of darkness captures us, causes us to stop in our tracks. Adversity shakes our very foundation of life. We cry out in pain. We cry out in frustration. We long for what once was.

Questions arise as we try to free ourselves from the adversity that has captured us. How long? Is there a way out? Whose fault is it? Then comes the anger, grumbling and the whining…. How could this happen to me? Whose fault is it? No one is immune to our questioning when we are suffering, not even God.

One unknown author wrote - We have no right to ask when sorrow comes, "Why did this happen to me?" unless we ask the same question for every moment of happiness that comes our way.

Then the words from James seem grating – Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds. James 1:2

Recently the city of Joplin was shaken to its core by a tornado. Destruction of human life and of property crowds the landscape. Those who went to help come away, not with questions, but with a new awareness of the preciousness of life and peaceful living. Workers encountered sunburn and extreme physical exhaustion and sacrifice as they worked for hours along side the survivors. Strangers became friends.

More importantly there is an emotional shaking. An understanding that ‘this world is not our home, we are just passing through.” This is when reliance on faith in the Only One who can save us, is most important to our lives here. As recorded and played often in the media, is the cries of one man during the tumult of the tornado – Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. He knew.

After an email from my cousin, that directed me to the hospital to show support to his friend, I saw the tragedy of one family. A young couple, injured in the tornado, were sent to our local hospital. As I learned their story from the mother, I heard a terrifying story of a young couple that were transported by the tornado from the bathroom in their home to fly through the air and receive so many injuries that required more than a band-aid. Their story will continue to be one of intense pain and struggle. Yet I heard hope through tears. I heard joy through the pain. I heard faith in God. How can that be? When the father sent emails, he began with praise and thankfulness, from one of my favorite songs, “Oh what a beautiful morning…” to “This is the day, this is the day that the Lord hath made. Rejoice and be glad in it.”

I remembered many times when there was pain in our lives…. the death of a twin brother to Dan, on a Kansas form, huddled in the a concrete barn in our car with three little ones as a tornado flew so nearby, living in New Harmony and the coal furnace exploded filling the air with coal soot and we tried to protect our four little ones. The deaths of my husband’s parents. Sitting by my Dad’s bedside as he drew his last breath, the four last years when Mom gradually approached death. When Mom’s last moments came, I read Psalms to her as she took her last breath.

Psalm 37:3-7, 18-19 was one of her favourites - Trust in the LORD and do good; 
 dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. 
Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun. Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; 
do not fret when people succeed in their ways when they carry out their wicked schemes. The blameless spend their days under the LORD’s care, and their inheritance will endure forever. In times of disaster they will not wither; in days of famine they will enjoy plenty.

The words in James 1:3-6 explains counting it pure joy - because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.

Faith produces perseverance - Perseverance produces maturity. Ask for wisdom.

A friend told me about the 67th book of the Bible. I know there are only 66 books, and I wondered what the 67th book could be. The 67th book is the book that all who knows us read…. others watch how we handle pain and diversity. Are we faithful? Do we trust God? It is our testimony to our faith and to the Lord Jesus Christ.

We are in constant change, transition, on this earth. Nothing remains the same. We see this daily. Yet we are tempted to live as if we live forever. As the Lord prepares me, I hear verses such as….I Peter 4:7-8. With these two verses, I can be the 67th book for others, as my parents were before me. I can be at peace, as I trust Jesus. The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins

I count it all pure joy…


Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Commitment is not a theory; it is the continuing fruition of a dream.

The word commitment is the realization that choices in life matter. As a young girl, about 10 years old, a teacher told our class that when we were older we would be just the same as we were now. That one pronouncement caused me to ponder my life and decide I wanted to be more than I was at 10 years old. Slowly but surely I sift through thoughts and actions and constantly learn what the flashing sign – COMMITMENT – means to me.

When I was in high school, Mother gave me green onion plants to plant them in the garden. The rich soil was easy to work in, as I knelt, and placed each plant into its place. Pretty soon the monotony became almost more than I could handle. It was then the neighbor girl came to watch. “You just keep on keepin’ on.” Then she left for ‘greener pastures’ of activity. Her words stung and stayed with me. So often I saw later that ‘keep on keepin’ on’ provides promise. It is working toward a goal. Staying on a path. Moving forward.

The philosophy of ‘Keep on keepin’ on’ implies serving. Serving the Lord is the highest calling we have. Serving is worshiping the Lord and it is difficult to remember in the weakness of the flesh, when complaints find voice. There are many ways of serving. Ephesians 6:7 - Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people.

As a young mother, the words my young friend said, came back to haunt me, as I cared for our four children. How many cloth diapers did I change (not disposable), but to be laundered over and over? How many mornings did I make Cream of Wheat for our four children as they watched? Days upon days those words came back to me. “Keep on keepin’ on.”

Shortly after the birth of our fourth child, our three sons sat at the table for breakfast. I looked up from preparing breakfast and saw three pairs of eyes watching me. Their eyes pierced my heart as I realized the responsibility God had given me to care for these little ones. They depended on me for nurture, for food, for guidance, for being strong even when I felt weak, for comfort and encouragement. (Encouragement, not only then when our children were young, but for a life time.)

While living in Indiana, the washing machine (no dryer, but we owned a washing machine) broke down. The five piles of laundry on the floor stared back at me, and grew into the size of five Mount Everests. There were no Laundromats then. I spent most of the day – bent over the scrub board in the bathtub, and scrubbed until my hands were almost raw and certainly ‘pruned’ as I washed the clothes for the family.

Did I consider walking away from my family? No. Commitment – was engrained in my being. Commitment is follow-through. It is not just a dream or vision, but steadfast commitment in the heart is followed by action that is soul-deep. It is being dependable, dependable, trustworthy, faithful, focused and fixed on one’s path.

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Always ineffectiveness. W.H. Murray.

Choosing the path to follow and allowing that commitment to grow is the hard part. Sometimes the path of diligence and truth looks less alluring than world success and adulation. It is then, when I most need assurance, that I hear a voice from the past quoting this verse: Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Psalm 51:10 (Thanks, Mom! Your comfort and encouragement reaches down from Heaven!)

Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Proverbs 4:26

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Isaiah 26:

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends! Philippians 1:4

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.

I Peter 5:10


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Forever Gift

What constitutes a gift? Some gifts are memorable – a forever gift. Gifts can be small or the most expensive. The ones we remember the most become the most precious. When a small boy picks a bouquet from the field and gives it to his Mom, he is giving his heart that lasts forever.

I’ve had many gifts – a hand-carved wooden knife, an ink drawing, bouquets of flowers, a wedding ring, children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, extended family of cousins, friends to pray with and for – from the smallest to the most expensive gift. Yet each gift touches my heart. Often there is no picture, just a mind-pic. A gift is like a hug. It keeps on giving in memories.

We relish the time we can give gifts at Christmas, for a birthday, a wedding or a baby. But the most special gifts are – for no apparent reason – just love. There is no special time for such special gifts. Recognizing a gift is important. Sometimes a gift is not wrapped in glitzy paper and a ribbon, but it is a plea

for attention, for forgiveness, or just an I-love-you gift because you are you. Recently I received a gift with a philosophy of life that touched my heart, from a dear friend. Whatever the motivation, are we thankful? Do we feel compelled to send a gift back?

What is the proper response when we receive a gift? We unwrap the gift and we send a thank you note to the giver. Can you imagine a scenario where the giver gives the most expensive gift, and we place this gift on an obscure shelf, never opening that gift or giving appreciation?

Thankfulness is an attitude of gratitude that accompanies giving and receiving gifts. Every thing we have is a gift from God. If thankfulness equals the preciousness of the gift, we may be woefully lacking. Being thankful for gifts can extend from the shelter and the clothing that we have, to the food we eat, and beyond. Imagine what would happen if the gifts we have received disappear if we do not give thanks. What would we lose?

If beauty is in the eye of beholder, thankfulness is in the heart of the one who knows God. All we are and all we have are gifts from God. (Mike Root) Realizing that a relationship with God brings us into a spiritual walk that includes love, joy, peace, patience, perseverance, gentleness, kindness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)

A wise man expressed it this way, “I am thankful for God placing me in the family I have, in the country I live in, the era of history of now and all the material blessings He gives me daily.” This man prays daily and gives thanks mightily to God, the Giver of All Gifts. Every aspect of his life is a prayer of thankfulness.

Recently I read a book, Empty Basket, by Mike Root. A chapter was devoted to the giving of the most precious gift the world has ever known. A man came to this earth as a babe and gave his life in payment for our sins. Why did Jesus give his life? The answer is simple – Jesus loves each of us - first. (I John 4:19) This gift was a sacrifice of His life, so that we might have salvation through the forgiveness to ready us to live with God forever. But the gift does not end there. This gives us a lifetime on earth, a journey, of growing to live ever more Christ-like. Mike Root wrote, “Spiritual maturity is an awareness and sensitivity to all God has given us.” The gifts from God impact our lives each day in every way.

The next time some one asks what we are thankful for, what will be the answer? The air I breath, the body I inhabit, the possessions that God has given me stewardship over, my family that extends to my faith-family, friends, the beauty of God’s creation – the birds, the sky’s enthralling canvas of beauty, the greenness of the color of growing, the food on the table, the clothes I wear, the piano I play, the smiles of the aged who know the secret of faith in God, the mail man, teachers who love God. The list is endless, and I am thankful. The next time you give someone a hug, think of the joy God created by giving us the extreme example of love by giving us His Son, Jesus. God longs for his children to be thankful.

These gifts that God gives us are to be used, and not lie idle. Proverbs 3:5-6 - Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. We are to trust God, but can God trust us? Are we faithful, trustworthy stewards of His gifts? I Corinthians 4:2 - Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.

Our purpose is to glorify God in all we do, say and think. Through the gifts He has given and our minute-by-minute thankfulness! Praise God!

I John 4:18-19 - There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us.

I Corinthians 10:31 - So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

Proverbs 7:1 - The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Ephesians 1:3, 7-9 - Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ.

Photo by Kameesha Williams

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

God of Joy

You are the God of Joy

It is my heart that You fill

With brilliant sunrises

Your boundless love holds me still.

When a phrase catches my ear, then I must write. Last Lord’s Day during a prayer, our young Worship Minister prayed to the ‘God of Joy’. And my heart stood still. Mother’s Day, and our children remembered me and showed their love, each in their own unique ways. I counted my blessings and gave thanks. I realized that it isn’t the gift; it is the remembering that brings joy.

Who is the author of the Joy that I feel in my heart? How does that joy continue to bubble forth like an ever-flowing fountain of thirst quenching water? Are there six steps to achieving that feeling of joy? No. Rather, it is a matter of relationship in a day-to-day living – that incorporates minute-to-minute attention. There is no ‘vacation’ from ‘being’ in a relationship.

Joy is not the vapid burst of happiness of ownership of the latest electronic gadget. Joy is not another step up the corporate ladder to the pinnacle of business success. Joy is not a frenetic shopping trip to fill the coffers with things. Sales wet the appetite for more. My dear husband’s response to a sale is – We would save more money if we didn’t buy it! Such logical financial wisdom is hard to argue with, and punctures the aura of anticipated ownership. Joy is not an event that gives the illusion of ‘happily ever after’.

Joy is a reflection of God through a smile and a soul-deep feeling of fulfilment that doesn’t disappear like a bubble in the sun. Joy is in God’s Creation – the myriad shapes and colors of flowers. The sky is a panorama of joy with its ever-changing clouds with tinges of pink, startling oranges. The majesty of trees lifting their arms to pray is a source of joy. The sweat of the brow in a job well done is joy. Joy is serving others in small ways. Letting them know you care in the name of Jesus is like a hug, it is returned.

Joy is an attitude of humility and thankfulness and sacrifice. Joy is an attitude of worship. Joy emanates from the heart, the mind and the soul – when one belongs to the Lord. Joy is knowing that God is omnipotent, omniscient, a Spirit cannot be denied.

Mother walked outside in her flower garden one summer day. I followed her and watched as she exclaimed over each flower in joy. She asked me if I didn’t think they were beautiful. With disdain I replied, “They are just flowers.”

Now I see God’s creation, not ‘just flowers’. I see His attention to details. I see His reflection in each flower. And I give God the glory and praise for His loving kindness to allow me to see the results of His Creation that He takes pleasure in. I give thanks to see His great love that would send His only begotten Son to die for our sins, and be raised from the dead. Even as I gaze upon tiny babies, I am seeing the hand of God Who knit them together. Is there anything as precious to see a little one smile or laugh with their whole being? It is then, as I respond with Joy, I know that God sees His little ones and rejoices as well.

Does this mean there are no tears? No struggles? Just as parents who teach obedience, the importance of truth, being responsible, God teaches us to live with Him in a God-centered dwelling - Heaven. Joy is the presence of God in our lives. From the depths of despair, there is an everlasting hope. A hope that sustains us and the hope that gives us His Forever-Joy.

I take joy in doing your will, my God, for your instructions are written on my heart.” Psalm 40:8

We live in an era when our faith in God as a people is questioned…and our search for joy and strength can only be in our Lord. These times have happened before when God is denied. Denial of the deity of God does not change the fact of God. It is what it is! King David wrote…."What joy for the nation whose God is the Lord, whose people he has chosen as his inheritance." Psalm 33:12.

Charles Spurgeon said of joy from “What Makes My Soul Dance”, “How sweet is it to think over all the Lord has done; how he has revealed himself of old, and especially how he has displayed his glory in the covenant of grace, and in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. How charming is the thought that he has revealed himself to me personally, and made me to see in him my Father, my friend, my helper, my God.”

Being Joyful, Thankful and Prayerful - “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” I Thessalonians 5:16-18

Ruth Bell Graham, “We can’t always give thanks FOR everything, but we can always give thanks IN everything.”

Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault. Jude 1:24


Tuesday, May 03, 2011

What Time Is It?

That is the question we ask most often – whether we ask others or ourselves. Time is of the essence. Even to be habitually late necessitates reliance on time. We are surrounded by constrictions of schedules and clock-watching. Even retirement requires appointments that require asking, “What time is it?”

Recently, a phrase written by Jim Cymbala caught my eye. The last thirty minutes…and what it intimates. Fear, anticipation, heart-pounding preparation encapsulates the last thirty minutes before an event that is planned. It could be a wedding, the arrival of a baby, an interview, a surgery or procedure, a production, a dinner party and for a soldier before a battle. Any of these events in our lives create tension and concern.

When waiting before the Lord in prayer, there is no time. There is simply waiting in faith. God is not on our schedule. His thoughts are not our thoughts; His ways are not our ways.

Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! Romans 11:33

How often we laugh when we hear a child say on a long trip, “Are we there yet?” A question we also often ask. How long? We long for a definitive last 30 minutes so that we can prepare our hearts for whatever is before us.

Long ago, on a hot summer day, I took our four children to the local swimming pool.

I sat in the car and studied for a class while they enjoyed the cooling water. Something drew my eyes to the pool, as I saw our daughter, Anna, climb up the diving tower. I watched as she passed the low and the middle diving boards and went to the top. What is she doing? She is only six years old, and can’t dive yet. I saw her three older brothers yelling at her as she walked to the end of the board. Then she jumped, her red hair, streaming behind her. I started to get out of the car, and then I saw her surface safely.

Later I asked her, wasn’t that scary? She calmly told me that she couldn’t see how far down the water was so she wasn’t scared. I knew her eyes needed glasses. She simply trusted she could do what she saw others do. She trusted. She taught me a lesson that day.

When life comes to the various points of impact, do we have a child-like faith in God and are able to leap into deep water of life? As Anna walked to the end of the board, did her heart pound with ‘what-ifs’? In mid-jump, did she try for a do-over? As she flew through the air, did she ask, ‘How long?’

When we trust God, His will becomes our will, and He trusts us. I recently read, God trusts us to do His will, to share His will and to live His will.” (“Empty Baskets” by Mike Root, pg 81)

Isaiah 49:8 – begins – “At just the right time, I will respond to you. On the day of salvation I will help you….

God is by our side and just at the right time He responds to us in our lives. We forget this, and we ask with David – “I am sick at heart. How long, O Lord, until you restore me?” Psalm 6:3

What Time Is It?

What time is it? I asked the nurse

As the pain dug deep, The time seemed perverse.

What time is it? I asked, as I waited

To hear how my child fared, And the illness is routed.

What time is it? As the minister speaks.

I look at my watch and wonder If it has been weeks.

What time is it? It is time to enfold

My heart in His, And let His story be told

What time is it? My slowing walk and

I know what time it is, Time to walk the talk.

What time is it? When my heart begins to slow

And I hear angels singing, It's God- time, I know.

And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. Ephesians 3:1