Friday, December 18, 2009
1 Chronicles 16:27 Joy is in His dwelling place. We are called to be in His place. If we are in a joyless place, we can be sure we're not dwelling with God.
Joy and happiness are not synonyms. They cannot accurately be used interchangeably. True joy can only be experienced by Christians, as joy is a fruit of the Spirit and a gift from God. Happiness is determined by the happenings in our lives, and can change at a moment's notice. We can be unhappy, disappointed, etc, yet still have joy from God.
Galatians 5:22 Joy is a fruit of th Spirit. Just as we were given love, peace, patience...self control, we were given joy at the time of accepting Christ as our Lord and Savior. We are promised to have joy. But as with the other eight characteristics, we must choose to daily put on that joy, choose to exercise it. For example, we've been given self control, but often choose to eat one more cookie, say the mean thing on the tip of our tongue, etc. Self control must be exercised. Joy also must be exercised. It is a decision whether or not to practice having joy. It's ok that it doesn't feel natural! That's why it is a fruit of the SPIRIT and not a fruit of the flesh.
Ezra 6:22 The Lord filled the people with joy. It reminds me of an example I used at a Bible study years ago. Picture a huge bowl of popcorn, pretzels, nuts, raisins, m&ms, granola, butterscotch chips, etc. If you were handed the bowl, you'd likely pick out your favorite pieces and eat them. But if you were required to finish off the bowl, you'd probably not enjoy the last several handfuls. Imagine that God has a similar bowl containing everything He has chosen and ordained for your life. Each day He carefully and thoughtfully scoops one serving from your bowl and gives it to you. If you could choose what would go in that scoop each day you'd avoid the hard situations, the losses, the disappointment. But then the latter part of your life would be completely miserable and void of any good things! We must trust that God gives us exactly the right mix each day. One thing we can be certain is in our scoop each day is joy. He fills us with joy each day. Is your life reflecting that joy? Is it simmering in your heart, permeating every area of your life?
Nehemiah 12:43 God gave the people great joy. He gave it. It is not a natural human response to have joy. It only comes from God. The desires of our heart won't bring us joy. It's normal to think that having a baby or another baby, or _____ will bring joy - and there would undoubtedly be joy within those experiences. But true joy only comes from God - not from circumstances.
Esther 9:20-22 Mordecai encouraged the people to not forget what God had done (delivered them from Haman's evil plan), when their "sorrow was turned into joy and their mourning into a day of celebration." Joy and pain go hand in hand. They are two sides of the same coin. Without pain, we won't recognize the joy that comes. And when joy comes we only appreciate it by also remembering the pain. The are inseparable. God will flip the coin for you and show you the joy...but the pain side will always be right there. That's not a depressing thought! It goes along with October's theme of remembering.
Psalm 66 We are told to shout with joy, sing with praise. Sometimes we become so short-sighted and can't see all God has done that is worthy of praise - and really, everything He has done is worthy of praise! We must choose to shout for joy in spite of, and in the middle of our pain. Some of the losses you've experienced are very big. They're life changing. But in light of your entire life, in light of this century, in light of all time since Adam and Eve, and in light of eternity, right now is really short.
Psalm 71:20-24 Hard times have come, but God will bring blessings. We must hang on to these promises and trust that He has a good future for us. This psalmist is trusting God even before seeing the provision or the deliverance. Even before he feels like praising, trusting, or living with joy.
Psalm 126 Those who sow in tears will reap joy. Another promise to hang on to! There are layers of joy. First is the joy given us at salvation by the Holy Spirit. Second is the joy God fills us with each day. Third is the joy given to us in times of sorrow.
Proverbs 15:30 A cheerful look brings joy to the face. Good news brings health to the bones. Are we seeking good news or dwelling on bad news? Are we giving cheerful looks and good news to others? Even if the good news is small and seems insignificant - share it! This too is a habit worth developing. Focusing on the good things in life increase physical, emotional, and spiritual health.
John 15:9-11 "...so that your joy may be complete." When we remain in Christ, it is His joy in us that we experience. He makes our joy complete - wouldn't you love to have complete joy? Our job is to obey His commands and to remain in Him. This is a daily task.
Romans 12:12 "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." The commentary in my Bible said that "the certainty of the Christian's hope is a cause for joy." We are certain of our eternal destination. That alone brings hope, and joy. If God did nothing for us besides save us from eternity apart from Him, we would have more than enough reason to have joy. Yet we've been abundantly blessed. This doesn't negate the losses you've experienced. But it's important to hang onto a Godly perspective.
Romans 15:13 My job is to hope and trust. God's job is to bring the joy.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 "Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances. For this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." You want to know God's will? Do these three things. Sure, we'd like it to be more clear, more descriptive of our actual life happenings. But this is what God chooses to tell us.
Hebrews 12:1-3 Jesus...for the joy before Him...endured the Cross. This really stood out to me. Jesus found joy even in the terrible suffering of the cross because of joy - the joy of bringing eternal life to all of us. His eternal perspective was so firmly intact that He chose to endure the pain. His joy did not take away the pain, but made it worthwhile. Surely if Jesus could do that for us, we can choose to have joy in the midst of our trials.
Christmas is often a time that many find it hard to express joy, especially when also suffering a loss. It can be very difficult to rejoice with those who are sharing good things happening in their lives when you feel the good things have passed right over you. But others are called to find joy just as we are, so we must not rain on their parade. Yes, they are called to mourn with those who mourn. But we're all called to joy. And there is joy present in each situation for the Christian. It is promised. We can choose to practice it and reap its benefits.
Merry Christmas! Each one of you are a cherished treasure. While we would rather have met under different circumstances, we are so thankful and full of joy that you are in our lives!
*We don’t get to choose our trials, only our responses.
Do we ask for strength to be thankful? Or strength to have our dreams fulfilled? If we can separate from our deepest desires for a moment, we’ll realize that if our dreams are fulfilled but we are not growing spiritually, we will not find the true fulfillment we seek. The things in our lives are only rich and awesome and full of joy when they accompany God’s presence. His presence is the common factor in peace-filled lives. Fulfillment of our dreams does not guarantee peace or joy or even happiness.
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.
*It is a command to give thanks. Why? Because He is good.
Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love
They had a few small fish as well; he gave thanks for them also and told the disciples to distribute them.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
"Remember" is used 233 times in the Bible (NIV). Remembering is obviously very important to God!
Genesis 9:15-16 God will remember His covenant not to flood the entire earth. His sign - the rainbow. God made a covenant with Noah, and later with Moses. The covenant with Moses was broken by the people repeatedly, yet God did not forget His part. He remembered and stayed true to His word.
Exodus 17:8-16 The Amalekites were defeated by Joshua. Joshua was told to write it down so he would not forget. Isn't it easy to forget how God delivered us in the past when a new difficulty comes up in our lives? Write it down, tell you friends, figure out a way to remember. Seeing a pattern of His provision and deliverance will help next time you wonder if He's able to take care of a situation.
Leviticus 26:40-45 God WILL remember His covenant with Jacob, Isaac, Abraham, etc. Again, the people forget, disobey, etc., but God does not, will not, and cannot change. He will keep His covenant. He remembers.
Deuteronomy 5:15 We are told to remember the Sabbath - a day set apart. We are to remember how God delivered His people from Egypt. Reread that story...if it was not in the Bible I'd doubt if it was even true! God's ways are so far above our ways. If He can deliver slaves from a powerful king, surely He can deliver us from our situations of despair.
Esther 9:26-28 The people were told to celebrate two days every year, to remember how God, through Esther, saved the Jews from destruction.
Psalm 77 Affliction...pain...but I will (choose to) remember God's miracles, mighty deeds, etc. In the midst of hard times we are called to remember His goodness. After all, He doesn't change, so we can count on His goodness to reign right now...even if we can't see past the pain yet.
Psalm 105:5 "Remember the wonders He has done, His miracles, and the judgments He has pronounced."
Psalm 111:4-5 He causes us to remember His goodness; He remembers His covenant forever. If you're struggling to remember His goodness, ask Him - He'll help you remember.
Ezekiel 16:22-61 Even when we forget, and don't honor our promises to God, even then He will remember His promises to us.
Gospels Jesus often says to remember - remember miracles, promises, provision, etc.
Remembering God's goodness, provision, mercy, and deliverance is a great weapon against Satan's attacks. Find blessings in the midst of pain - it doesn't make you glad for the loss, just helps you gain a Godly perspective, and ultimately gives God the glory instead of the enemy.
Friday, October 2, 2009
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Friday, May 22, 2009
8 "For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,"
declares the LORD.
9 "As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts."
I find it freeing to realize and accept that my ways and thoughts do not and will not match up with God's ways and thoughts. Yes, sometimes it is frustrating, wondering why God would set life up in such a way that we cannot understand things. But in a sense it takes the pressure off of me, giving me permission to carry on with my life even though I do not understand why certain things did or did not happen.
I have been working through a Bible study by Jennifer Rothschild entitled Me, Myself, and Lies. I think I need an IV of the study continually pumping into my brain (not a perfect word picture, but you get the main idea!). The basic concept, at least so far, is that we each have a thought closet. Just as our clothes go into a closet and from that selection we clothe ourselves each day, we have a closet of sorts in our minds and hearts from which we mentally, emotionally, and spiritually clothe ourselves each day. If something is not in the closet, we cannot select it. And if one type of thing is taking up a lot of the available space, we're more likely to reach for it than a type that is scarce.
So if we choose to allow in and dwell on negative thoughts, or lies about ourselves, God, or situations, we are choosing to fill our thought closet with draining and harmful thoughts. When trials come throughout each day, and we reach into that closet, we're likely to pull out negative and destructive thoughts that we proceed to say to ourselves. And thus the downward spiral of negativity begins.
Each time something happens that we do not like - each time we are facing unmet expectations, we have two choices. We can either focus on the disappointment and enter the pattern of "this happened, and therefore I am ______ and God is ________ and there is no hope." Or we can focus on the unchangeable facts about God. At the bottom of the previous post I referenced Beth Moore's five point statement of faith (except I butchered it a little bit). Here it is:
1. God is who He says He is.
2. God can do what He says He can do.
3. I am who God says I am.
4. I can do all things through Christ.
5. God's Word is alive and active in me.
God cannot change. That is one of His glorious "limitations." He will always love us, always protect us and provide for us, always give us security, always treasure us. He will always have good plans for us, and will always care about even the smallest details of our lives - not to mention the huge issues.
Psalm 5:3 says: "In the morning, O LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation."
To me this is saying that God's job is to hear my voice, while my job is to lay my requests before him...and then wait in expectation. He already knows what we hoped for and how disappointed we are. He already knows we are sad or angry. We're not telling him anything new. But until we give back to him our thoughts and feelings, we cannot be ready for Him to fill us with His peace. Being disappointed when expectations are not met does not indicate that our faith is weak. Since faith is Biblically defined as "being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see" (Hebrews 11:1), it stands to reason that faith happens only in the context of hoping and expecting. If we are so in control of our circumstances that we do not have to hope, because we have somehow guaranteed our success, there is no need for faith. Faith and expectations go hand in hand. The challenge is in figuring out how to expect without worrying, how to anticipate good things without being crushed if they do not come to pass.
How do we do that? By building a strong foundation upon God's truths. Just as in the story of the wise and foolish builders (Matthew 7:24-27), when we have a rock solid foundation, we can better withstand whatever storm may come our way. We may get wet, and we may even feel somewhat battered by the storm. But we'll still be standing when it passes (or maybe on our knees).
A friend of mine, Cathy, called tonight as I was on the way to the Glory Babies gathering. She wanted to share a story that related to expectations. I will relay it here as best as I can, but know that some of the details may be a bit off! You'll get the main points :)
Cathy and her son were watching a mother robin build a nest outside their home. For days on end she made trips back and forth, preparing this nest for eggs. Finally she finished, laid the eggs, and then sat on them. Robins are supposed to lay on their eggs for 14 days, always keeping the eggs warm and dry, until it is time for the baby birds to hatch. So for 14 days Cathy and her son watched and waited, with much anticipation. Toward the end of that 14 days it began to storm. It rained and rained, and rained some more, but that mother robin just hunkered down and continued to lay on her eggs, seeming to have little concern for the pummeling she was receiving. Finally the storms subsided. It was time for the eggs to hatch, so Cathy and her son kept watching and waiting. But nothing happened. Day 14 came and went, as did day 15 and day 16. The mother robin would leave the nest, get some food, and return, only to stare into the nest perplexed. It became apparent that the eggs were not ever going to hatch. Eventually the mother robin flew away.
Cathy and her son were disappointed - they had fully expected to watch baby birds peck through those shells. And the mother robin must have been disappointed too! She had done everything right, but still her eggs did not hatch. The storms that came were simply too much. God knew before she ever began to build her nest that the eggs would not hatch. Why did He not redirect her? Or why did He let the storm rage on for so long?
Isn't life like that sometimes? We think we know what is coming, we plan and prepare, we give it our best shot. But in the end we do not experience what we had hoped to experience. Through no fault of our own, our expectations are met with disappointment. Does that mean we were foolish to expect in the first place? No. Does that mean we misunderstood God when we felt He was calling us to make those plans and take those action steps? Not necessarily. Sometimes there are no explanations. It simply is what it is.
The enemy of our souls wants to get us into that destructive spiral. He wants us to tell ourselves that we messed up. We're not worthy of the blessing we sought. We don't deserve it. God is punishing us. God just doesn't care about us or our situation. We need to get over it and stop making a big deal out of nothing.
At the same time, though, God desires to walk with us through the debris of our unmet expectations, and show us pieces of blessings along the path, leading us to His best for our lives. Who will you choose to follow? Whose hand will you allow to guide you?
A good friend of mine shared with me several years ago that when I was desiring to change certain behaviors or reactions, with little success, that perhaps I needed another method. She explained that A + B = C. "A" is the circumstance, and "C" is our reaction or behavior. We see the Cs in life and try to change them. But what little success we may have is often short lived, as we slip back into old habits. Or perhaps we decide that if the As would only change, the Cs would go away as well. Again, though, we miss the point. We cannot control our circumstances or the people in our lives. Difficult "A" situations will happen. Period. The key is to recognize what "B" stands for. "B" represents our beliefs and our thoughts. For example, another friend mentioned that her recent request for a certain week of vacation was denied. She was very frustrated, and had to fight against having a terrible day as a result of the news. Her "C" was frustration and a bad rest of the day. Her "A" was the fact of her request being denied. She can't change the "A", and trying to change the "C" is like trying to push a car when the emergency brake is on and it's in park. However, she can choose what "B" statements take up residence in her mind and heart. Will she choose to believe that life is just so unfair, she never gets the blessings, nobody else has been denied their choice of week off - just dwelling on the injustice of it all? Or will she choose to believe that God knows what He's doing, He loves her, He alone has the right to speak into her life, and that He has a plan far above the best she can imagine? That choice will determine the "B" part of her equation, and the "B" will determine the "C" - does that make sense?
To sum it up, we can rarely change our circumstances, and it is very difficult to simply change our behaviors. But we can become aware of our beliefs and thoughts, carefully choosing what we will dwell upon. Choose what fills your thought closet. Life will rain on us. We must choose, like that robin, to hunker down and wait out the storm. And then we must choose to trust God regardless of the outcome.
I often don't understand why those torrential rains come. But I can decide to lay my requests at God's feet, wait with expectation, and exercise my faith muscles. Expectations are not bad. We cannot live on perpetual mountaintops. In fact, perpetual mountaintops are nothing more than a long road at a high elevation! Mountaintops imply valleys. We don't need to fear or dread the valleys, or waste our time on the mountains in the name of preparing for the valleys. Some of our expectations will be met. Others will not be met. Who God is, what He can do, who you are, and what you can do, all remain constant regardless of your experiences. Keep expecting. Keep requesting. Keep choosing truth. Stand on the Rock.
Sunday, May 17, 2009
Thursday, April 9, 2009
The Next Baby (shortened version for church newsletter; full version follows)
We all have a natural curiosity about what is coming next in the lives of others. We ask about choice of college and major, timing of marriage and children…the list goes on and on. Perhaps you've been asked these questions and never thought twice about it. But for some people these questions serve as painful reminders of what is not part of their reality.
The underlying assumption behind these questions is that the next stage is better, more promising and fulfilling. That’s just not true. The struggle many of us have with contentment is not made easier in the face of constant reminders that we are not where we supposedly should be.
Most people do not advertise whether they are hoping to conceive, yet we assume that not being pregnant indicates not wanting a baby. Likewise, most people do not make large announcements when a pregnancy ends in miscarriage or stillbirth. They have started their family, but only God has met their children.
Questions about college, degree, job, marriage, kids, more kids, etc., do serve a purpose with people you know on a pretty superficial basis - when "hey, how are you?" isn't enough. While many times the couple you are asking has not experienced infertility or lost a baby to miscarriage or stillbirth, the emotional pain from well-intended remarks is not worth the risk. Clearly you are interested in the lives of these people. Clearly you care about them and are simply curious as to when they’ll add to their family. However, there are other ways to express that interest and care.
We need to guard against living through other people, and against trying to have their lives fit into the molds we believe to be right for everyone. And above all, we need to be sensitive to the fact that in many cases there is more to the story than we know.
So, isn't it about time [enter name of couple] had a baby? Instead of asking, think of other things you’d like to know about the couple. What are they looking forward to in the next season? What do they think about something in the news? Or even share something more about yourself – transparency leads to more transparency. Just a friendly request for you to see this topic from a new perspective. For more information, contact Glory Babies at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our blog: www.glorybabies.blogspot.com.
The Next Baby (original version)
Every week countless couples field an array of well meaning questions about when they're going to have a baby. Most are said in an almost joking manner, with a playful punch on the arm, or a wink and a smile.
"Isn't it about time you had another baby?"
"Come on guys, get with it!"
"You don't want them too far apart, do you?"
"You're not getting any younger!"
This article is not written out of anger, or even out of frustration, although that is sometimes the case with this issue. The goal is to cause you to consider the questions you ask people, and to begin taking away the dread that many feel when coming to church – a dread caused by anticipation of questions.
Let's go back in time. When you were in high school, everyone wanted to know where you were going to go to college. And then in college they wanted to know what major you were going to choose. Upon graduation the question was what job you would get, followed by when you were going to get married. After marriage the question is when are you going to have kids, and after that it's when you are going to have another kid. Perhaps these questions seem harmless to you. Perhaps you've been asked some or even all of them and never thought twice about it. But let me attempt to provide you with a new perspective.
It almost seems there is an underlying assumption behind these questions that the next stage is better, more promising, more fulfilling, and that staying any longer in the current stage is failure. That’s just not true. Couples who wholeheartedly long for a baby are not encouraged to "figure out how it works" by the questions. Instead, they want to avoid being around people so they won't have to come up with creative answers, pretending to not mind. The same is true for those who have one or more children and want more but do not yet have more.
There are several possibilities with the question of children. Perhaps the couple does not want kids. Should they be judged or considered selfish for that decision when you don't have any idea why they are making that decision? Maybe they want kids but would prefer to wait one year or five years or ten years. Perhaps the couple has been "trying" for quite some time but has yet to conceive. In these circumstances, well meaning questions can be very hurtful.
Most people do not advertise whether or not they are actively trying to conceive, yet we assume that not being pregnant indicates not wanting to conceive. And then there are the couples who have conceived - perhaps many times - but have yet to carry to term and deliver a live baby. They have started their family, but only God has met their children. Again, most people do not make large announcements when a pregnancy ends in miscarriage or stillbirth, so you likely do not know when that has been the experience of the couple of whom you are asking about children.
Just think about it. The above questions (college, degree, job, marriage, kids, more kids, etc.) do serve a purpose with people you know on a pretty superficial basis. When "hey, how are you?" isn't enough, these questions can lead to more dialogue. Yes, many times it is not a problem - many times the couple hasn't experienced infertility and has not lost a baby to miscarriage or stillbirth. But please believe me when I tell you that the emotional pain from well-intended remarks is not worth the risk. Clearly you are interested in the lives of these people. Clearly you care about them and are simply curious as to when they’ll add to their family. However, there are other ways to express that interest and care.
I understand the natural curiosity we all have about each other. I understand really enjoying the company of another couple, seeing them interact with kids, and imagining how great they will be as parents. But we need to guard against living through other people, and against trying to have their lives fit into the molds we believe to be right for everyone. And above all, we need to be sensitive to the fact that in many cases there is more to the story than we know.
So, isn't it about time [enter name of couple] had a baby? Please don't ask. Care, yes. Ask other questions, yes. But for the sake of all of the women (and men) who are struggling with the issue of having children, please stop asking.
Saturday, January 17, 2009
So how does God measure up? Can I rely on His integrity? Is His strength enough to sustain me? Is He really able? Is He a "sure" thing? Do I have ultimate confidence in Him? For me, asking those specific questions takes some of the mystery out of trust, making it easier to see through the right answers I've known for years and hear instead the cries of my heart. The fact is that many days my actions, words, and thoughts give evidence that I do not trust God. I often live as though my strength is all that is available, that I must watch out for myself and rely on my abilities.
Trusting God is not something to be reserved for the major issues in life. If I do not practice trusting God every minute of every day, I am sure to fail to trust Him when something goes wrong. Trusting is a habit, just as is not trusting. In a way, that perspective is encouraging because it indicates that with perseverance, over time I can grow my trust muscles by practicing and developing a new habit.
After losing a baby, it is easy to think that trusting God will be easier once another pregnancy comes along and ends with the birth of a healthy baby. However, if we cannot trust God through a miscarriage or stillbirth, we cannot trust Him through a healthy pregnancy or through the blessings and trials of motherhood. Fears that we hold when pregnant will have the same undertones as the fears we will have while raising our other children, or while working, or while ________ (fill in the blank with anything in your life). Fear is fear. It just looks for a good place to land; if that place dries up and becomes irrelevant, it will simply find another suitable host.
Many women have mentioned fearing that they will either be unable to become pregnant after a loss, or that additional losses will occur. This fear can be consuming, and frequently remains throughout the duration of any subsequent pregnancies. It is interesting to note that in the Bible, fear is directly contrasted with trusting God. "When I am afraid, I will trust in You" (Psalm 56:3). We are to put off fear and put on trust. It's like taking off your house slippers to put on your tennis shoes. It's one or the other.
God does not change. He is just as trustworthy when you do trust Him as when you do not trust Him. The difference is in our choices. Trust is one of those emotions that often comes after the decision. I choose to trust God this minute. I choose to trust Him this next minute too. Eventually all of those choices will become a way of life, and trust will begin to soothe, calm, bring peace, and restore balance.
Regardless of where you are right this minute on your journey with God, or on your journey through the death of a baby, know that God is trustworthy. He is able. And He can be relied upon to be your strength. Really, what can we gain by doubting Him? Without trust in God there cannot be peace, true joy, or contentment. Without trust in God things can easily seem to be without meaning or purpose. But through trust we find life-giving energy, love, and wisdom.
No, trust doesn't take away the pain, and it doesn't make life easy. But it really is all we have.
And it really is enough.