"God is rest, and where He dwells is stillness."
-Freda Hanbury Allen

Wednesday, September 21, 2016


                                  "For the joy of the Lord is your strength." Nehemiah 8:10b

        Joy is one of those words. We like the sound of it, we hope to experience it, but when it comes right down to it joy is one of those words that, ironically, generates guilt and shame more often than not. We wonder why we don't have it, feel it, or worse - choose it. We question our faith, our priorities, our commitment, our love. After we sit with it a while, we realize we aren't even sure what joy is. Is it an emotion, a choice, a state of being? We understand that it is listed in the fruit of the Spirit, so we should "have" it, but that alone is enough to get the guilt going because we know we don't - at least not often enough to count. On some level we are confident that we know what it isn't, because we have been emphatically taught, with tremendous caution and warning that joy is not happiness. Joy is presented as a shimmery spiritual quality, definitely not to be confused with the temporal, and as some say, almost idolatrous state of happiness. But if we aren't even sure what it is, or how to live joyfully, how on earth are we to experience its strength? If joy is so central to our lives and even our calling, as we see in Scripture, why is it so hard to find?
        Here's the interesting truth - joy is by definition "a state of happiness". Not only that, Merriam Webster Dictionary defines joy as "an emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires: delight." And lastly, joy is: "to experience great pleasure or delight; or something that gives pleasure or happiness." The greek word  "Chara", which is translated as "joy" has an added element - gladness/rejoicing, which conveys a sense of appreciation or gratitude as a significant part of happiness. So joy in its essence is "a state of happiness rooted in gratitude." Unfortunately the inadvertent end result of the well-meaning attempts at keeping joy "spiritual" and happiness "worldly", is that the beauty of joy in the totality of its meaning is lost, and the freedom and strength that are available in it are missed. Joy is not something elusive or reserved for the "spiritually mature". It is a calling and a blessing for all who follow Christ.
        Perhaps where things have gone off the rails, at least in part, is in a preoccupation, however well intended, with defining and compartmentalizing what is holy and what is unholy, instead of focusing solely on the Holy One who is the source of all joy; yes, all joy, all happiness, all blessings, all gifts in whatever form they take. We like to divide life into the sacred and the secular, which in the end causes us to miss the Lord, as he does not separate his gifts into "more-spiritual" or "less-spiritual" categories. He gives from the overflow of his eternal and abundant love, and this encompasses every aspect of our existence. When we get to understand the heart of God for us in every part of our lives, the joy of the Lord does indeed become our strength. This means we need only look to Him to understand and experience joy. He is the One in whom we find ultimate happiness, because he is the giver of "every good and perfect gift." The first and foremost gift is himself - his life to save ours, and His Spirit who dwells in us. This is staggering enough, but he goes further and gives more. All of the blessings that he pours out on us, large to small - from gifts of the Spirit to a sunny day or a great cup of coffee are in actuality him giving of himself, extending his heart to us. We miss joy because we have missed the Source of all joy.
        Jesus, during his life on earth, experienced the same wide-range of circumstances and emotional states as we do. His life, sinless as it was, consisted of laughter, sorrow, delight, pain, suffering, comfort, affirmation, rejection, longing, fulfillment, frustration, triumph, beauty, ugliness, celebration, mourning, even temptation. Our lives are no different, except we fail when he did not. But even our failure does not have to thwart our joy; it can actually drive us deeper into it. How? Grace. When we begin to understand the heart of God as expressed through his abundant grace, joy will no longer be a word or concept that stirs up guilt and shame, or one we attempt to redefine or force in order to ensure a safe and superior spirituality. Rather, joy will overflow from our hearts when we experience Christ and all of the blessings found in him and because of him  - those received now and those yet to come. Our joy flows out of experiencing the beauty and generosity of our God who showers us with grace that touches every corner of our lives.
        All is grace. When we embrace this truth, joy is no longer confusing or elusive. It is abiding and sustaining. There is grace as much in our suffering as in the times of comfort and ease, because both reveal the heart of Christ for us. When we allow ourselves to receive both as from the Lord, it brings perspective and offers protection. It allows us to rejoice in all of his gifts, in whatever form they come, without becoming dependent or ensnared by those that are more obviously pleasant, or becoming overwhelmed and hopeless by those that are painful and jarring. In the light of grace joy suddenly makes sense and becomes tangible and possible. It is not dependent on circumstances or our mood. It is not something that we make ourselves feel or try to force when life is caving in. It doesn't disallow sadness or seek to diminish the pain and reality of our trials. Joy is not, nor does it require a sugary, shallow attitude toward life's brokenness. At the same time, joy is not different or separate from, or somehow on a higher or more spiritual plain than the happiness and delight we experience when enjoying and reveling in what are often considered, unfortunately, "earthly" gifts. All good gifts are in their own way eternal because they flow out of the heart of our eternal God. Joy is happiness, delight, and pleasure found in the person of Christ as revealed through his love and grace in every aspect of our lives. The joy of the Lord is our strength because it knows no bounds. Joy cannot be diminished by anyone or anything because it is our precious Lord who is the source of all our joy, and he is boundless.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Battle is the Lord's

                                  "Surely the LORD was fighting for Israel."  Joshua 10:14

        It started before we were born. It began before light was created and separated from darkness. The decision had already been made. We were chosen. We were fitted for battle; to enter into a war that had already been set in motion. Good vs. evil. Light vs. darkness. Life vs. death. The stakes have always been high, and yet, the outcome has always been sure.
        We have been invited into, even created for, an epic showdown. We have been given armor suited to the task, and our marching orders are clear. And while our battle is not with the seen things of this world, it is no less real or perilous. It is the unseen nature of this battle that makes is so dangerous. We forget what we are here for, what we are called to do and be, and more often than we'd like to admit, believe we have been deserted in the war zone by the One who set it all in motion.
        Alone. Deserted. Overwhelmed. Too weak to take one more step, much less engage in one more  skirmish - this is often how we feel. We look at our armor and start to question how effective it is, if we are this battered and bruised. And, if we are honest, we would prefer to tear off our armor and go home. Give up. Quit fighting. But there in lies the problem. Somehow we come to believe that victory is all up to us, and we begin to buckle under the pressure. It is too much for us carry. We were never intended to carry the weight of war on our shoulders.
        God's people, Israel, struggled mightily with the same problem we do. What got them into trouble as they entered battles was believing that victory was up to them - their strength, their strategy, their numbers, even their status as "God's chosen people".  God's design for Israel and
for us is to secure our armor, show up, follow God's lead, and stand firm in faith against the enemy. The battle belongs to the Lord, and he is the One who fights for us. Our God knows of what we are made and knows that a cosmic war is too much for us in ourselves. God's intent was for his people then and now to experience him in all his power, love, glory; rest in his plan, trust in his provision,  believe His victory is sure - and therefore ours is as well. Every victory Israel secured was because the Lord was fighting for them, and they trusted in his presence and power. Every time Israel lost, it was a direct result of their dependence on their own wisdom, strength and a disbelief in the intervening care and love of God.
        War hurts. It is vicious, terrifying, and no one comes out unscathed. There are gains and losses, wounds and scars. Sometimes it feels like too much and our strength gives out. That is when we hold on to Him who fights for us, intercedes for us, and loved us so much that he surrendered himself to secure victory - His and ours.
        It is a strange thing to say that we were created for battle, but it is the truth; even stranger to say that it is a privilege, but this is also true. To be invited into the eternal plan of God and called to play a role in the victory that Christ secured on the cross is amazing. Knowing that we do not carry the weight of the outcome, but get to share in its spoils is humbling. To be positioned on the field of battle in a way that allows us to observe and experience the love and power of God in action on the front lines is a gift, and perhaps the ultimate purpose. We get God himself. There is no better gift. God in his sovereign wisdom knew that his people needed to be put in the trenches, given an eternal calling in order for them to need him, desire him, seek him, depend on him, and through it all know and love him. He knew creating us for battle was the best way for Him to reveal himself in all his glory. And the beauty of it is, when all is said and done, we will get to share in his glory.

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Cross

                        "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing,
                       but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."  I Corinthians 1:18

        The Cross. It embodies all that we try to deny and cover up about ourselves: our shame, our woundedness, our pain, our despair, our desperation, our depravity. In and of itself the cross is a horrific representation of all that is wrong with mankind. The violence, indignity, inhumanity, and torture manifest in this object are incomprehensible. In the face of crucifixion there is no achievement, no compensation, no excuse, no cover, no justification, no apparent progress known to man that can mitigate the reality of who we are and what we are capable of as human beings. We are utterly and completely lost.
        The Cross. Foolishness to those who don't want to acknowledge their bottomless need or own their helplessness. Foolishness to the cynics, who believe that nothing in this life is redeemable. Offensive to all who want to save themselves, or worse, believe they don't need saving. Foolishness to those who deny God exists, and to those who create God in their own image.
        The Cross. Only a God of grace could use our sin to bring about our redemption. Only a holy God could take our evil on himself in order to declare us righteous. Only a sovereign, merciful, loving God could take the most depraved means of torture and death and transform it into an eternal means of life and love.
        The Cross. The instrument of the most horrifically loving act the world has ever witnessed. Love stripped, Love beaten, Love mocked, Love spat upon. Love tortured. Love impaled, not just with nails, but the sin of all mankind. Love forgiving the murdering sinners, Love welcoming a soul to paradise, Love providing for his mother. Love abandoned and forsaken by his Father. Love killed by the wrath of God. Love pierced. Love flowing down in blood and water.
        The Cross. Only Christ gives meaning to the cross. It is Christ who surrendered himself to its evil in order to conquer it for all time. It is Christ who took on its shame, in order to free us of ours.  It is his blood, and his blood alone that has forever made the cross a tree of life instead of death. Only Christ.
        The Cross. It embodies all that is profoundly wrong with us, and the ineffable beauty of the One who suffered and died upon its beams. It offers hope, it declares victory, it defines love. It calls forth life from death and joy from sorrow. It draws the humble and repulses the proud. It invites surrender and calls for sacrifice. It beckons all and provides no excuse. It speaks to who we are in ourselves, and who we can become. It truly is the power of God for those who believe.