Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Peace Amidst Problems

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Jesus does not mince words. He is truthful, but not harsh. He is loving, but not sentimental. Clear-eyed, he tells his disciples that tough things are coming for them after he leaves them. They will even face death at the hands of those “who think they are offering a service to God.”

Maintaining a peaceful heart in the face of tribulation seems to be a bit much to expect of this fledgling group of disciples 2,000 years ago. Having a peaceful heart in today’s world seems improbable as well: we are inundated daily with distressing news from around the globe. The pace of life is rapid and change seems constant. The economy has created anxiety for people losing jobs, homes, good credit ratings. Many have had to take jobs far from familiar ground and family. Millions of Americans--nearly one in five adults--now take some form of anti-depressant or anti-anxiety drug. For some, coping with anxiety or stress is a daily, life-threatening battle.* How do we obtain the peace Jesus promises we can have?

He promises to provide the peace himself.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)

The peace of God is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and it is a fruit of the spirit that witnesses to the world about the truth of Jesus Christ and the Gospel message.

In our family, two years of my being under-employed has created some stress and some difficult decisions of late. I am sure I have not exuded the peace of Christ to others as well as I should--I know for sure that experiencing daily low-level anxiety is not a comfortable state of being. But the Holy Spirit reminds me of Jesus’ words to his disciples, and reminds me that as His child, His promises apply to me as well.

“Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” (John 16:24)

“Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

If you are struggling to produce peace, know that it can’t be  “worked up.” It is a gift that comes to those who place their trust in the One person who can never fail you. He tells you the truth about yourself, the world, and may even reveal that tougher times are coming. But our God is generous with His grace and His love. Ask Him for the “peace that surpasses all understanding.”

Here is the process the Apostle Paul laid out for the believers in Philippi: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-8).

At every turn, turn to God. Pray. In the prayer, give thanks. Ask. Trust. He will never leave you, nor forsake you. 

*If you are struggling with daily anxiety, or are currently taking anti-anxiety drugs, this article is not a suggestion to avoid seeking professional help or to cease use of medications. Under proper care, with the guidance of your doctor and along with counseling, medications can be helpful and may be necessary for anxiety disorders.  

Monday, July 30, 2012

Peace Like a River

Sometimes we get little pieces of advice that stay with us forever. A friend (who has now become a dear friend) told me she never made a major decision without peace. It was an off-the-cuff comment, not necessarily aimed or directed at me but I examined the word of advice and then I examined her life. By anyone’s observation, you knew she didn’t have an easy life but she wasn’t anxious about anything. I often heard her say, “Oh well, I guess I’ll have to deal with that now, too,” and then she’d give a little laugh about it. Not in resignation but in resolution that you might as well laugh and deal with it, otherwise the blame game doesn’t have long-term “feel good” effects. She has peace within herself and it’s not very long before it becomes obvious to everyone.

I liked what I saw in my friend and I started to emulate her decision making process. (Yes, I know Christ is our perfect example but sometimes a mature Christian who is living it out in our generation is a helpful model.) Before making decisions where I might feel anxious, I wait on it, pray on it and keep still until I feel at peace in my heart. A Bible lexicon describes peace as “to sit down with one’s own heart”.

I’m conditioning myself to maintain peace before major decisions, and that’s great. Rarely, a decision needs to be made on the spot, and even so, since peace is a fruit of the Spirit, God’s grace covers quick decisions too. I give myself a solid ‘B’, maybe even a ‘B+’ in major decision making. (Can I do that? Grade myself? It’s not pride, is it?)

My struggle is not as much in making life decisions but in interactions with people, especially online reactions. It’s easy to send a snap response back to a biting email, or make a snide remark on twitter. I’m confrontational; when I release the fruit of the Spirit, the effect is gentle but outside of the fruit of the Spirit, I used to be downright mean. When I exercise the practice of patience and wait until I have peace to respond, I’m much kinder and resolution is more likely than if I unleashed what is in my heart at first response.

When I keep peace in my heart and only hit ‘send’ on my email response when my heart is calm then I am confident before the throne of grace that as much as it depends on me, I am at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:18) That’s when I see the fruit of the Spirit in action in my life.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Costly Joy

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. ..
Hebrews 12:1-3

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways 
.James, 1:2-8

When I first read this verse, about the Joy Jesus had, I didn’t understand it. I was amazed. At His time of great need and vulnerability, He experienced Joy?

Along with another verse in Scripture, we are commanded to count all Joy, in our trials because they release attributes that work for our good.

 Yikes…these are not easy ones to understand.

It all seems upside down, doesn’t it? The world could never understand this explanation of Joy. I admit I didn’t either. Sometimes I still struggle.

This kind of joy is impossible to attain by self effort.  The ability, to partake in it, has to come from God. Himself.

Jesus knew what the cross would cost Him, yet He proceeded towards it. Why? …because your face and my face, were ever before Him. His Love and sacrifice for us, would give us eternal Life. To practice this kind of Love, it requires a posture of humility and a surrendered heart.

In addition, counting it ALL joy when we face trial and tribulations is for our greater good. The Lord knows we need to be strong and patient. We must gain experience in perseverance in this world. He doesn’t allow trials to punish us. Nor is He napping and not noticing. No…what seems like the worst things that could happen to us, can become a thing that the Lord will use to grow us up in Him.

 I can imagine a class, with the students giving their teacher their full attention. Their clean notebook papers are on their desk and their pens are poised. She asks, “What is Joy?” The answers vary. Some say things like gifts bring joy. A new car or unexpected money is a joyful experience. Some talk about getting married and having children.

She wants to show them a different facet of joy. She then tells them about Jesus’ attitude going to the cross. She tells them, as well, that we are to count it Joy, when we find ourselves in the middle of trials.

I see them scratching their heads. They look at each other and say “ Huh?”…Some even say it sounds pretty crazy to them. It just seems plain old wrong.

 One student says, “This makes about as much sense as feeling Joy, when you step into a pile of cow poop!”
Then she has them take out their Bibles. Just as the Bereans, they check this out for themselves.  Sure enough there it is. The Joy, Jesus experienced, before the cross, as well as Joy when we go through trials are good things.

Well, that burst a few bubbles.

Joy can be exhilarating and effervescent.

But what they learned that day is that Joy is sometimes costly.

Linda Maynard

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Secrets of a Joyful Life

One of the turning points of my life is when I learned to be joyful. Yes, joy is a byproduct of our spiritual life, and the mark of a true follower of Jesus, but we can foster it and we have choices to make. In my Bible reading I realized how many instructions there were about being joyful—it isn’t just automatic for a believer. There are many, many verses about how we are to delight in God, praise Him, thank Him, and rejoice always.

For the Lord takes pleasure in His people…Let the people be joyful…Let them sing aloud on their beds. Let the high praises of God be in their mouth.                            (See Psalm 149:4-6.)

Let my mouth be filled with Your praise all the day.                                                  (See Psalm 7:8.)

Make a joyful shout to God, all the earth! (See Psalm 66:1)

Another revelation to me is that complaining is a sin. I have had to work to break bad habits of complaining and criticizing. In The Scripture commands us (See Phil. 2:14.) to do all things without complaining. Whew! That is a hard one. One day I came across a verse, Numbers 11:20, in which God calls complaining despising the Lord. Yikes!
Have you ever tried to go a day without complaining? Or a week? Try it..it is not so easy! 

I took a 17 hour road trip from Washington to California with four teenagers. We had a contest where I gave a ticket to anyone who complained and whoever had the most tickets lost. It was my idea because I thought the time together would be so much more enjoyable if we were not complaining. Guess who lost? Me! I bought the four of them ice-cream to reward them. We still laugh over that one. Hahaha!

Complaining leads to self-pity. Self-pity is just that—a pit. It is just about opposite of joy. As a young Christian in youth group we were assigned prayer partners for one school year. Mine taught me a valuable lesson—turn each complaint into a prayer. This is what we see David did in the Psalms. “I cried unto the Lord…”  What happens when we turn complaints into prayers is a very interesting thing. We have to wait. Yes, we then wait on God for answers, so we have to trust Him with our lives and all the things we are unhappy with. When He answers, which He is always faithful to do, the result is…JOY!

In the classic book “The Christians Secret of a Happy Life” the author, Hannah Whitall Smith, repeatedly discusses the choice of happiness. She writes, “It is altogether the way we look at things, whether we think they are crosses or not. I am ashamed to think that any Christian should ever put on a long face…”

Our family home schooled for about fifteen years. We have one daughter, who we named Valerie Joy. (Yes, she is a joy in our lives!) When she was 11 years old she started a magazine for girls and called it “Joyful Heart”. She and I worked on this together and gained subscribers and each month mailed out a few hundred copies. It was a lot of fun researching, writing articles, getting articles and interviews from the subscribers, finding clip art to go with the writings, proofreading, and putting it all together. We xeroxed it at the copy shop with a pink paper cover. Those are happy memories of days long ago now. Joyful Heart Magazine was published for three years from 1999 to 2001. In the end we changed to a quarterly because it was so much work. Here’s a photograph of the 24 issues we published.
In every issue of "Joyful Heart" we included Bible verses, quotes from books, and stories from girls about being joyful. To write on joy today brings back memories of those “Joyful Heart” days. One of the quotes I like, that we published in one of the magazines, is from the life story of Laura Ingalls Wilder, the author of “The Little House on the Prairie” books. “If we expect to enjoy our life, we will have to learn to be joyful in all of it…the habit of mind…”

I have found the habit of gratitude and giving God thanks and praise leads to joy. Psalm 100:4 says we enter His gates, (His presence) when we have thanksgiving in our hearts.) In the Message Bible this verse says “THANK YOU is the password to His presence.” My very favorite verse in the Bible (it is actually in two places, in both the Old Testament and the New Testament) is about JOY.

“You show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy.”                         (See Psalm 16:11 and Acts 2:28.)

Monday, July 23, 2012

Joy Like a Fountain

When some people walk into a room, they bring joy; others bring joy when they walk out of a room. Which one are you?

This week on Kingdom Bloggers, we’re discussing joy, the second fruit of the Spirit.


I have a Mennonite heritage. Mennonites are known for their hard work but rarely are they known for their joy (probably because they aren’t “allowed” fermented drinks). I remember looking at old family portraits, and asked my oma why no one was smiling and she said, “Work in this life, joy in the next.” A few years ago, I buried my last living grandparent. I couldn’t help but be glad for her because finally she was going to enter into joy – true joy – joy she felt wasn’t for this lifetime.

I don’t want to wait until I’m dead to have joy. I want to be the party, not kill it. Blessedly, I’ve broken through the heritage of joyless work and learned to remain and abide in Christ, which expresses itself in joy. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit, and it is legally and rightfully mine to cultivate and spread in this life. There will be no other time in eternity to express joy in a joyless situation. Heaven is full of joy; I believe the blessing is to consider it pure joy, now, when I experience tests of endurance for the Kingdom. We won’t have that opportunity in the next life.

Joy is the fruit of knowing I’m loved by Jesus, by Holy Spirit and by Father God. Love is the first fruit of the Spirit and we wrote about it last week but I can’t get off the subject. I’m stuck on love. Love makes me joyful, it makes me rejoice and it brings me up from the pit so I can always have joy – no matter where I am or what is happening around me.

I walk confidently toward the future, full of joy, because my God wins. Full stop. Our God wins. Is there work to do now? Yes, but do it joyfully because our God wins. Joy is confidence in a God so big, there is none like him, nor is there none before him. In the face of injustice, I have joy because God’s heart is tender towards the orphan and the widow, and the crippled and the lame. He promises justice; God is faithful to his word so I can have joy about it.

Remember the old song from Sunday School days, I’ve got joy like a fountain? It’s true. The fountains in Rome are legendary and are a spectacle. People stop and look at them and enjoy the beauty. I want to be the fountain of joy, where people come to refresh themselves – a meeting place and a place to remind them of hope when all joy is gone. Because it’s a fruit that is meant to continually reproduce itself, I have joy to give others.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Love by Amanda Elder Silvers

"Love is a many splendored thing."  No other feeling or emotion can so thoroughly engulf one's soul that we are able to be transported to another planet through the euphoria of it or slammed down into the darkest pits of despair because of the heartbreak of it.  As a woman I love "love".  I appreciate the importance of it.  I enjoy both the giving and receiving of it.  I have seen firsthand the healing powers it possesses and I've seen the wreckage and the harsh aftermath of love gone bad or taken for granted. 

If you were asked to define the word "love" what would you say?  I could post a dictionary definition of the word, but I'd like for you to really take a second and think.  I love ice cream.  I love my children.  Is it the same?.... hardly.  Love can wear any number of faces and it can been seen through any number of actions.  First love.  Love lost.  The power of love.  The gift of love.  True love.  Eternal love.  I'm not sure there really is a right answer.  I believe that if we are blessed enough in our lives to have love then we base our definition upon our personal experience with it.

 In high school if asked to define "love" my answer would have most definitely been directed toward some boy who made my palms sweaty and heart race.  Books, music, and television all convince us that we are on a quest to find "perfect love".  <I've become a little hostile to the media because of this insinuation> In college my opinion was probably much the same.  Into adulthood however, after my children were born, my answer would become much different.  Enter unconditional love.  What an amazing thing to experience.  Before I even met these two little beings I loved them and would have given my life for them.  As a pregnant woman you eat healthy, you live healthy, and you're much more aware of your daily actions knowing now that everything you do won't just affect you, but this precious little being you have inside. Once I had the pleasure of meeting them I knew in an instant that the love I felt for them would never fade.  There is nothing either of those cute, loud, rambunctious little young'uns could ever do to diminish even 1% of the love I feel for them.  If anything it increases daily.

I like to think this is just a very small-scale version of the love God has for us, His children.  He was and is the supreme example of unconditional love.  While we were yet sinners, He loved us and gave His Son to die on a cross that we could have the opportunity for an eternal life spent with Him in Heaven.  THAT'S the most amazing love.  His love is the truest love and the one we should most desire.  The beauty is that we don't even have to do anything to deserve it.  He loves us even before we are born.  His love never fails. 

Psalm 136

Praise the Lord! He is good.
God’s love never fails.
2 Praise the God of all gods.
God’s love never fails.
3 Praise the Lord of lords.
God’s love never fails.

4 Only God works great miracles.[a]
God’s love never fails.
5 With wisdom he made the sky.
God’s love never fails.
6 The Lord stretched the earth
over the ocean.
God’s love never fails.
7 He made the bright lights
in the sky.
God’s love never fails.
8 He lets the sun rule each day.
God’s love never fails.
9 He lets the moon and the stars
rule each night.
God’s love never fails.

10 God struck down the first-born
in every Egyptian family.
God’s love never fails.
11 He rescued Israel from Egypt.
God’s love never fails.
12 God used his great strength
and his powerful arm.
God’s love never fails.
13 He split the Red Sea[b] apart.
God’s love never fails.

14 The Lord brought Israel safely
through the sea.
God’s love never fails.
15 He destroyed the Egyptian king
and his army there.
God’s love never fails.
16 The Lord led his people
through the desert.
God’s love never fails.

17 Our God defeated mighty kings.
God’s love never fails.
18 And he killed famous kings.
God’s love never fails.
19 One of them was Sihon,
king of the Amorites.
God’s love never fails.
20 Another was King Og of Bashan.
God’s love never fails.
21 God took away their land.
God’s love never fails.
22 He gave their land to Israel,
the people who serve him.
God’s love never fails.

23 God saw the trouble we were in.
God’s love never fails.
24 He rescued us from our enemies.
God’s love never fails.
25 He gives food to all who live.
God’s love never fails.

26 Praise God in heaven!
God’s love never fails.

(Source: Biblegateway.com)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Gospel of Love According to Kids

The Gospel of Love According to Kids

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails”….1 Corinthians 13: 4-8a

Love is patient

A little boy saw his elderly neighbor, who had recently lost his wife. The little boy saw the man crying, so he went over and sat on his lap for quite a while.

His mother later asked the little boy what he said to the elderly man.
 The little boy said, “Nothing, I just helped him cry.” 

Love is kind

“Love is when mommy gives daddy the “best” piece of chicken”

Love does not envy

“Love is when my friend had a bigger doll than me and I said,
“I like your doll”

 Love does not boast

Mommy…” You look so cute”…Child…”
 Thanks I like to look cute, but not too cute
 because it gives me a headache”

Love is not proud

“Mommy when we get home, could you smell my feet?”

Love does not dishonor others

Love is like a little old woman and a little old
 man who are still friends, even though they know each other so well.

Love is not self seeking

When my grandma got arthritis, she couldn’t bend down and
paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for heR
 all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too.

Love is not easily angered

Love happens when you want to punch someone
 in the face, but then you turn around and run the other way

Love keeps no record of wrongs

if you want to learn about love better,
 you should start with a friend who you don’t like to play
 with too much, even though they kept cheating
 at the game you were playing

Love does not delight in evil

Love is when someone hurts you. And you get so mad
but you don’t yell at them because you know that it would hurt them

Love rejoices with the truth

Mommy…” What do you want to eat today?”…Child “Candy”

Love always protects

When mommy makes daddy a cup of coffee,
she always sips it first. She wants to make sure it
 tastes good and isn’t too hot

Love always trusts

When someone loves you, the way they say your
 name is different. You know that your name is safe on their lips

Love always hopes

When you love someone, your eyelashes go up
 and down and little stars come out of you.

Love always perseveres
Love is like an avalanche, where you have to run for your life.

Love never fails

During my recital, I was on stage. I was scared. I looked out at all the people
watching me.Then I saw my daddy waving and smiling.
 He was the only one doing that and I wasn’t scared anymore.

Lord, let us come to you as little children, seeing the world with innocence. In addition , that we would believe Your Love without doubt or analyzing or rejecting or any of the other crazy thing we do to keep Your love at bay.

As our ABBA, I know that would put a big smile on Your face. I could even picture You saying to the angels…” They get it!...They FINALLY get it!”

Linda Maynard