Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The Joy of the Lord is my Strength



This morning, as I allowed myself to be still during our school’s customary moment of silence, a song from my childhood came crashing in. 

The joy of the Lord is my strength.

If you’re familiar with that song, you know it's the same line over and over.  It’s easy to sing and it’s one of those songs that embeds itself deep into a child’s heart.  Younger me didn’t necessarily understand its meaning, but it brought me comfort nonetheless. 

Some mornings I wake up with a song in my head, a gift from God whose mercies are new every morning.  There’s just something about a song in my mind that flows to my heart and allows me to meditate on His goodness first thing in the morning.

“Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy are in his dwelling place.” 1 Chronicles 16:27

Other mornings I wake up with no song.  Only my thoughts.

I’m so tired. How many days until I can sleep in?

Lord, I haven’t even rolled out of bed and already I’m dreading the day ahead.

How will I make it through what’s waiting for me at work today?

Help me, Lord.

My quiet time rolls around and I force myself to sit still and praise the one who gave me life and every good thing.  It’s this act of thankfulness that brings a song back to my heart. 

Every morning He seeks me out, but I have to tune in to Him.

The joy of the Lord is my strength.

True joy cannot be swayed by our circumstances, our possessions, our friendships, or all sorts of external things.  Joy comes from a deeper place. It’s a fruit of the Spirit.  It’s a gift in difficult times and refuge from the cares of life.  It’s light in the darkness. Joy satisfies the heart.

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forever more.” Psalm 16:11

If I’m being honest, sometimes it really hasn’t been my day, my week, my month, or even my year (thank you, Friends theme song). It’s easy to dwell on the bad and feel so disheartened.

The good news - no the GREAT news - is that joy is a product of the Holy Spirit working in us.  It is joy unspeakable and full of glory (1 Peter 1:8) that helps us through each day.  We know that trials will come, pain is inevitable, and brokenness is always present, but the words of Psalm 30:5 bring peace. Weeping may stay for the night, but joy comes in the morning.  Can I get a yes and amen?

Paul tells us in Romans 8:28 that God works everything for good. The good he is speaking of is our spiritual growth, our sanctification. It’s us becoming more Christ-like. When we abide in Him, our trials are still present, but they are bearable because joy and peace rule our hearts. Our trials are dwarfed by the power of our God. 

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

In times that can be so stressful, so full of the enemy’s attacks, the joy of the Lord is our strength.  It allows us see the good in others, laugh in the midst of trials, smile through adversity, and trust that joy really does come in the morning.

The joy of the Lord is my strength.









Monday, July 9, 2018

Drifting Away in the Waves of Life



I stood in the sand and watched my two kids who were oblivious that the momentum of the waves had moved them so far away from me. They were laughing and jumping as the ocean pushed them farther down the shoreline.

Earlier that morning, our family chose an empty stretch of sand and set up chairs under the protection of beach umbrellas in various primary colors. It was our home base for the day. The kids ran to the shallow water to jump the waves as they rolled to the shore. I watched as the waves came in at an angle, the strength of the water pushing the two of them down the shoreline, away from me and away from our sandy home base.

The ocean can deceive its visitors into feeling secure in the shallow waters while it pulls them away from those who can watch out for them.

I walked down the beach until I finally reached my kids.  I called their names over the roar of the ocean, motioned for them to come to me, and showed them how far they had strayed. They never even knew they had moved. They were surprised to be so far from where they started, but I assured them I had never stopped watching them and knew where they were the whole time.  Then I pointed to the line of beach umbrellas and guided them back.

When Life Happens

Sometimes, the waves of life move us away from God. Work and family are stressful, or we get sick, or death comes like a thief to steal someone we love. We drift away in the waves of life, moving away from our home base, not realizing how far life has taken us. We look up and suddenly see how far we’ve gone.  We look around in desperation, in grief, or maybe in anger. We’ve lost our way without knowing, but then we see Him.

God has had His eye on us the entire time.

Psalm 89:9 tells us our God, who created the vast oceans and the crashing waves, is in control.

You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them.

Our God, who created you and me, knows the number of our days, and chose us before the foundation of the world, also knows what waves will come crashing in on us. He knows our hurt, our fear, our insecurity, our heartbreak, and our loss. When the waves of life threaten to overwhelm us, He says:

Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you… (Isaiah 43:1-2)

“Fear not,” He says, “I will be with you.” When you look up to find Him, He will be there.

His eyes have never left you.

When We Choose to Drift Away

Maybe we are having so much fun playing in the waves of life we don’t care where they take us.  We let the ocean pull us away from home and we purposefully play the prodigal running away from our Father. 

Don’t you know our loving Shepherd will leave the 99 to pursue the one who strayed?  To pursue me? To pursue you?

He never takes His eyes off us.

Come Back to the Living Water

Whether we are pulled away by the cares of life or allow ourselves to drift, we can become so consumed by the water we’re swimming in that we forget about the Living Water. The Savior of the World, the Living Water, never takes His eyes off you or me. He pursues us when we stray, and he points us back to home when we drift away. 

But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. (John 4:14)

Turn your eyes to Jesus, friend, because He never took his eyes off you.



Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Reluctant Hospitality: When Opening Your Home Feels Overwhelming


I have a confession to make.  Practicing hospitality scares me.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of hospitality. My shelf is full of books on the subject and I’m drawn to blogs that center around opening your home. My heart truly craves being hospitable to both friends and strangers, but sometimes I am self-conscious about my home and my ability to welcome people in. It’s a beautiful concept, but one I find myself struggling to put into practice.


About two years ago, my husband and I started building our home on some acreage out in the country.  We drew a floor plan on graph paper, then took on the laborious task of building from the ground up with our own hands. With each long day that we swung hammers, raised walls, put down flooring, and finally rolled on paint, I dreamed of all the people I would one day invite into this space. We would have more room, more outdoor space, and it would be better decorated and more welcoming. 

Now that we’re moved in, it has all those things, but it is also full of unfinished projects like baseboards and ceilings that still need paint, patchy grass that becomes a muddy mess with every rain, muddy floors from dogs that track in that muddy mess, and a honey-do list a mile long. There is always an excuse for me not to invite people. 

It all comes down to fear.

I’m afraid my house is never clean enough and I worry my guests will see all the imperfections.  I keep putting hospitality to the side until projects are done, or life isn’t too busy, or I feel like things are finally settled. 

Sometimes insecurity creeps in that has more to do with me than the state of my house. Truth is, I’m not the best at making new friends and social gatherings sometimes make me feel awkward and lonely. These same insecurities arise when I think about inviting others to my home.  What if it’s not the home they’re judging, but me?

So how do I get past this fear, especially when hospitality is a common theme running through scripture?

Years ago, I heard a speaker talk about loving others. He spoke of his desire to be a “there you are” person instead of a “here I am” person.  A “there you are” person puts the focus on others. It’s a beautiful description of loving our neighbor.  It is other-focused, instead of self-focused. 
It is Paul telling us, “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor” (1 Corinthians 10:24). It is Jesus ministering to the masses, and to the individual. It is scripture reminding us that loving others is part of the greatest commandment.

Being hospitable means putting others ahead of myself.  When I’m focused on the guest and his or her needs, the wall of insecurity and fear I built around myself crumbles.

What does real, honest, open hospitality look like? 

It is inviting people over for a pancake breakfast on a Saturday morning even though there are dishes on the counter from last night.  It’s a backyard bonfire, while your two elderly dogs and one skinny, yellow cat snuggle up to your guests.  It’s taco Tuesday, minus the crunchy taco shells you forgot to grab at the store. Sometimes hospitality looks like picking up a few pizzas and bringing them to a friend’s house, so she doesn’t have to pack up all her kids and haul them across town during nap time.
 
Being hospitable is not extravagant and it’s certainly not about putting myself or my home on display. True hospitality puts the focus on the people who walk through my front door. When I make loving my guests a priority instead of feeling stressed or self-conscious about the state of my home, I create an atmosphere of comfort and fellowship. 

Hospitality isn’t about me. Instead, it’s about seeking what is good for those God calls me to love.  It is being a “there you are” person. I invite people in because I am imperfect, and they are imperfect, but together we can create beautiful fellowship and beautifully imperfect friendships.

If you let people in your life, soon they won't be just knocking on your door; they'll be knocking on your heart.

And you'll welcome them in with open arms.