Friday, December 30, 2011

"How Can I Hear From God?"

Recently I was stopped in my tracks, as I was excitedly telling a friend about some direction that I had intended to take in life, and how God had stepped in to redirect me. God bless them! They wanted to make sure I wasn't presuming and going off in some direction I would later regret. They asked me how I knew God was speaking to me. Another in the study asked, "How can I hear from God like that?" I then remembered back about 20 years ago, writing on this very subject, and I've gone back into my old journals to find the following articles that I wrote on the subject, for some new believers, and for some believers who wanted clarity, before we could move deeper into fellowship. This will take a few entries for sure. But here we go. Mind you, this was 20 years ago when I was writing some of this:

It is wonderful to be a part of a church, and to sit under good solid teaching. I was very blessed to be a part of a church which taught me to listen and to hear God's voice. In my home church, it was common to have people come up during a service and say to me: "Do you know what God told me yesterday?" or "I believe God is leading me to...." Everyone from the Pastor to those in the newcomers meeting, were encouraged to testify as to what God was doing in our lives. And this testifying only led to more hearing it seemed.

So when I first left for the Bible College, I was really very surprised to find that, at this interdenominational school, some of the students, though born again Christians, did not feel very comfortable around me when I would try to testify to them as to what God was saying to me. I would start to share and still be all excited about a scripture that God made clear to me, or how He had shown me a sin that needed expulsion from my life, or how He told me to write a letter to tell an old friend about Jesus. The smile on my schoolmate's face would sometimes drop and a distance and wall was established. There was something threatening about what I was saying.

For some of the students, I found that it was my lingo. They used words like "felt led" in describing something God was saying to them, where I would probably say, "God told me..." One classmate and I laughed at lunch one time, as this tension needed to be dealt with. They loved me enough to ask me what I meant when I said that "God told me" something. They questioned that I should say such a thing as it sounded mystical. Then they told me that what I was testifying about, they would put into the category of "feeling led" to do something. "Felling led!" I blurted out. "That sounds to me much more mystical. Like did you sort of sense a presence causing you to ooze across the room blindly?" He laughed. We decided that we had just learned two different dialects of Christianese. The joy was that both of us were able to break that misunderstanding and continue testifying to one another, what God was actively doing in our lives and ministries.

Sadly though, some people don't bridge that gap of misunderstanding; and the sense of fellowship remains strained. One temptation, is to just stop talking about it, in order to 'keep the peace,' as it were. But to testify that the Spirit of God is telling us things, is very much in according with the Bible. The only times we should not testify as such, is when the Lord has bidden us to keep something to ourselves. Jesus is every bit as alive today as He was when he bore human flesh. Now He speaks to us by His Spirit.

There are some though, and I found this out too late, that have been taught that God no longer speaks today. Once the Bible was completed, according to this teaching, there was no longer prophesy, or tongues, or divine healing, or personal guidance from God. So I have learned that it is important, whenever I sense that my testifying about what God is saying to me is being met with tension from a Christian, that I should ask the person what they believe about hearing from God.

It is really amazing what can happen to fellowship when the silence is broken. I have kept silent when I sensed that the person listening to me was not comfortable with my testifying. And I have later felt convicted of not loving my brother or sister enough to pursue the tension and see it broken. Likewise too, it is not loving if someone is testifying, and you feel a tension, not to clear things up as well.

I’ve come to see that the tension comes from this: That the person who is testifying is claiming that they hear from God directly. The person getting tense, either doesn't use such strong words as "God told me…" or "I felt led by God to…," and they are afraid that the person speaking to them is going too far, and that any smile or relaxation on their part will only encourage the speaker to testify more. Perhaps the listener is embarrassed because they believe that the brother or sister who is telling them about what God has revealed to them is either deceived, or worse, a liar. It is an awful thing to think that of someone, and so they keep silent, stir their coffee, stare into space, and pray for an out from that conversation, or else they quickly change the subject with a "hmm, that's interesting. . . how is the job going?" This leads the one testifying to realize that they are either not being believed, or that the listener is spiritually dead or cold. They don't say anything either and so the two parties just end the conversation and go away with nothing cleared up, and only unflattering thoughts to think concerning the other. What a terrible feeling and sin it is to sit in such judgment on a brother or sister! Much better to just come out with it!

Now, since I cannot see you while you are reading this, I don't know if you are rolling your eyes, or if you are encouraged, or in my other entries, do you just skim past my testimonies and get to the punctuation marks. So in this and the following 2 blog entries, I feel I need to write a few words about hearing from God. What do I mean when I say, "God told me" something? Maybe there is no wall between us. If so, I hope these words will encourage you. Maybe there is a little wall between us whereby you will find that what I am saying you understand, though you wouldn't say it that way. And maybe you have been taught that God doesn't really speak today. If so, you and I both need to admit that we think the other wrong, and express our concern for the other. This is Christian love. What I am going to express now, is why I believe that hearing from God and faith in God go hand in hand. If at the end of this, you still think I am either deceived, or worse, a deceiver, then I hope that you will write to me and let me know that. But let us not just think the other deceived and let it go without expressed concern. Here is my discussion on hearing from God and how it relates to our faith in Him. I hope you will receive it.

So what is faith? Why do we need to hear from God today? The Scriptures tell us that "faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." And we are also told that "without faith it is impossible to please God." I do not need faith to see that God says "Go ye into all the world," I do need faith if I believe that God is saying to me, "stay here and wait, and one day I will send you to Cambodia." The mistake that many make about faith is that a lack of faith is simply not believing what we can already see about God. For example, if the black and white (or red-lettered) pages of my New Testament tell me to "go into all the world." And if I stay home, then some would say I didn't have faith in God. But that is not so. I simply don't have faith that the Bible is God. The Bible is God's word (Logos), as Jesus is also the "Logos of God." Jesus was seen and touched by human hands. We can touch and feel and read our Bibles. But what is it that makes us to believe Jesus, or to believe what we read? Is it logic? Is it brainwashing or an overly submissive disposition and religious upbringing? No. What makes us believe Jesus, and what the Bible reveals about God to be true is 'faith.' Faith is what makes us act according to our belief in God.

I've never seen God with my earthly eyes. I'm not sure I could see Him and live. The Scriptures I have read on the subject make me think that if I really did see God with my earthly eyes, that I would not be able to handle it; that I would die. Moses saw God's back and God shielded him at that. Still for so long afterwards, Moses' face glowed and terrified the Israelites. Saul, before he believed and became the apostle Paul, says that he encountered Jesus, the Light of the world, on the road to Damascus. It left him blinded, and it took an obedient servant of God, at God's speaking, to go to Paul and to lay hands on him for divine healing. To be honest, in light of these two examples, I'm not sure I am willing to see God with these earthly eyes. That may sound wimpy, but I'm just a bit too self absorbed yet, to want people to shriek in terror when they see my face, or to be rendered physically blind. If I ever feel so led to pray to see Jesus face to face this side of Heaven, I hope I will be obedient and pray accordingly. But indeed, I believe that I will one day see Him face to face, and when I do, it will be with eyes that can handle it. And by faith, I am sure that I will receive these new eyes when that day comes. And for now, I am required to live and walk by faith.

Where do we get faith? Do we look at a Bible verse and then repeat it to ourselves until we believe it? That is brainwashing. No. God gives us faith. Faith is a gift from God. The Bible says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God. . ." So if it is a gift, then I guess the response to my receiving faith to believe is to thank Him. And if I don't think I yet possess that faith, then the appropriate response would be for me to ask Him for it. And when I read the scriptures, I can see that He gives faith and increases faith to people freely and gladly. The way I’ve come to understand it, even when God communicates His thoughts to me through His Logos, (Word of God that we can see and touch; my Bible) He is enabling me to perceive or spiritually hear or understand what He is saying to me by His Spirit. He creates in me the ability to respond in belief, and convinces me that what He is saying to me is really true.

When we have received faith to believe in God, we then look at scriptures in a very new way. It is no longer a set of stories or mandates that we are to believe or disbelieve. Instead, the whole revelation of scripture is to us, a revelation of the very nature of God. God uses the Bible to build into the faith He has given us, a true foundation in every way. The Bible and Jesus are the Logos of God. That is, they are the revealed Word of God. God spoke through Christ, and He spoke through the prophets and writers of the Bible. And today He speaks to each born again believer in Christ through His Spirit into our spirit. There is a kind of faith that we call "Saving Faith." Through this saving faith, we become born again. Once this happens, our spirits are reborn; made alive again; and our ability to hear God’s voice spiritually, is restored. What was lost when Adam and Even sinned, fellowship with God, is restored. That is wonderful news!

At least that has been my conversion experience. It doesn’t have to be in that order of events. In America, where knowledge of God is readily available, I think that most people consider saving faith the initial entry into God's kingdom. Like a Billy Graham Crusade, we tend to first hear God’s word, and after learning about His plan to save us from sin, we take a step forward in our lives, believing that He has done that for us, and then we begin to start actively hearing from God. (Hopefully). But after being in other countries and seeing people of other cultures receive revelation from God and take steps in believing more and more, coming eventually to this wonderful message, and coming to a saving knowledge of Christ, I know that God truly blesses whoever will believe what is true, with faith to dig deeper and to go the next step with Jesus. They may be hearing from God on their way to hearing the saving faith message, that we in America tend to proclaim about God first.

Saving faith comes when we believe the truth that Jesus Christ was God's Son, who responding to God the Father's mercy and love for the people He had created, came to do what was necessary for people to again become 'right' in relationship with God. That Jesus came to earth from Heaven; that He was the only person who was not a sinner who was separated by personal sin, from God, that He willingly gave his body over to be punished as if He were a sinner, thus becoming the perfect sacrifice for the sin of others. . . Without faith to believe, all of this can truly appear to be senseless or at least very odd. But after faith comes, all of this makes a great deal of sense. When faith comes, with that faith, as we actively search the Scriptures and continue to receive truth about God's nature and ways, we see that this was a very appropriate and noble thing for God to do for us. And our response becomes: "Oh God, you DO love me. Jesus took my sin to that cross and He paid the price of my sin. I no longer have to be separated from you, but now I can freely come to you. I do believe this and it is wonderful! Thank you so much!"

When we have come to this place of convinced awe, then we have received saving faith. For many Americans, this is the first step. Later we begin to discover so many and scriptures that challenge the way that we think about almost everything. As we learn the scriptures with our new eyes and ears, we then have to choose again and again, who is right; God or us. The wise will learn to not fret over such challenges, but to ask God to speak to them about this.

For example, I remember that I used to believe that people had many lives. You know, the new aged thinking that we have lived past lives and can connect with these? I didn't believe in reincarnation in the Hindu sense; that my well lived or badly lived life would determine what I would return to this world as. But I did think that God was so good, and so kind and so forgiving, that He would let a person continue to come back to life repeatedly, giving them chance after chance, until they accepted the Gospel, and believed. Then after that, the next time they died, they could go to Heaven, finally leaving this hard earth; to spend eternity with God in His glory.

I believed this based upon my former thinking and reading about people's experiences with afterlife and from my own personal hopes. I did not yet realize that, "it is ordered for man to die once, and then face the judgment." So when I read this verse in the book of Hebrews, it was as a part of a teaching that a minister was giving in a church. I had to admit to God that this was a hard teaching for me. When I was growing up my family had not told me about Jesus. I didn't know any relatives from the past who had walked with Jesus. Did this mean that my dear Great Grammy and Grampy might be in hell today? This was a moment of crisis for me. For until that moment, in my then present understanding of having multiple chances to live and find Christ, at least they would have another chance. This verse and this teaching however, was telling me that those who have died, will not get another chance to decide. It caused me to cry out to God. If I had simply religiously believed whatever the Bible had written in it was right, then I could have really become a malcontent. God would have seemed to me to be unreasonable.

But in crying out to God, He was able to impart some doctrinal faith to me. That is, He was able to build around this crisis, an understanding of the teachings of the Bible concerning His nature. Soon, I could see that it was not a person's right to have many chances to be born again. It was instead a proof that God was good, that He would allow anyone to be saved at all. Some have asked how a good God could send anyone to hell. The question when faith is received changes to, "Knowing how rebellious and hateful people are, is it a wonder that God would be so good as to make a way that any of us could be accepted into Heaven?"

Once saving faith and one’s understanding of God has begun to bear fruit upon our souls, another kind of faith comes into play; whereby we begin to hear from God. Well, that order again, may be presumptuous. That was the order with which I had experienced this commencing to “hearing from God.” Maybe some people find themselves being led to do this or that according to God's leading, before their understanding of God is challenged. More likely though, all three kinds of faith: saving faith, doctrinal faith, and practical faith, are working together from the very beginning of our coming to God through Christ.

So we have saving faith, understanding God faith (or doctrinal faith), and now "practical faith," which is "hearing from God" and results in walking with Him. That is where the adventure begins for many of us; and that is what I hope to post in the next few weeks.

So check back as I hope to answer the question: “How can I hear from God?”

Friday, November 11, 2011

What Keeps Christians From Adopting

What keeps Christians from adopting? It can’t be anything found in the scriptures. The Bible is clear on what our religion is about; and caring for widows and orphans means in some form or another, adoption. When it comes to a small child in need of a family, adoption is rather a given if you think about it. So we must have some pretty convincing reasons for not adopting. I’ve both heard and thought of many:

“Adoptions cost a fortune; we could never afford it.” “It takes years to adopt.” “Birth mothers can come back in ten years and just take their child back and break your heart and the child’s.” “We are too old. You have to be a young married couple to adopt.” “Adopted children have more emotional and psychological issues that I’m not equipped to deal with.” “What if I don’t bond with the child? That would be terrible for the kid.” “Adopted children tend to grow up causing more trouble than birth children.” “There are actually very few babies that are being placed for adoption.” And the list goes on. The list of myths surrounding adoption! All of the above “reasons” not to adopt are myths.

Church, it is time to take back adoption! And believe it or not, we are doing just that. And you can get involved in this move of God, by informing the loving people in your congregation, and thus, advocating for orphans. It is no accident that so many myths should revolve around adoption. God has declared that He defends the orphan and that means our involvement. Consider for example, the myth: “Adoptions cost a fortune; we could never afford it.”

“We could never afford it,” is one myth that I once believed to be true. Then our local church put together an “Orphan Care Ministry Team.” The team consisted mainly of people who had adopted, had volunteered in orphanages on missions teams, were interested in foster care, and who just want to see hurting children helped. Getting involved with that team, I soon began meeting many parents who had been through adoption processes, both domestic and overseas. Upon completion of their adoptions, these folk received back most if not all of the money they paid out in adoption costs. Some funds came through tax credits available for those who adopt; some through the companies that they worked for, from grants readily available, and from fund raisers that church friends and family organized for them. So many people want to help! Our Orphan Care Ministry Team, among other things, plans to assemble a fund that those in the congregation who are in the process of adoption can draw from in order to pay the various fees involved upfront. The family will agree to reimburse what they take out, as tax credits and grants and funds from adoption advocates come through. In this way, this in-church adoption fund will be replenished for the next family that wants to adopt.

While the fact may be that adoptions can cost anywhere from zero to as high as $30,000, there is also a lot of assistance available to those who do adopt. Governments, grants, companies and adoption advocates every year help people finance their adoptions. What seems impossible on paper for a single family, the church can come together and make happen, adoptive family by adoptive family.

Do you want to see your church family increase in the number of children they rescue and adopt? Start an Orphan Care Ministry team. Drop me a line. I know one very fun bunch of people from my church, who would love to walk you and your like-minded friends through the process. Orphan Care Peeps get into helping one another for the sake of the children! We're kinda weird like that.

Then, together with those in your congregation who likewise have this calling, you will see God begin breaking down all of the above mentioned myths that people have generally come to believe. God has an answer for each “reason” we have not to adopt. And in Jesus the answer is "oh 'yes' we can;" and “amen.”

"I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you." -- Jesus

Monday, September 26, 2011

"Don't I Deserve Better Than This?"

In 1971, McDonalds commercials sang, "You deserve a break today. So get out and get away, to McDonalds!" I remember coming in from the pool. Too young to get a job, summer vacation for me meant swimming and playing with friends, watching TV, and reading one Hardy Boys mystery after another. The lawn mowing and the hedge trimming could wait! This day, as the McDonalds commercial played, I looked up at my mother, who was busy vacuuming around me, and asked, "Hey mom, can we go to McDonald's tonight?" (I'd seen the casserole that she had prepared, waiting to go into the oven.) She looked at me, lounging still in my swim trunks, and then she looked over at the TV just as they sang, "you deserve a break today." Mom told me to lift my feet, and said that we could go just as soon as I deserved a break. As I recall, the casserole was creamed tuna, noodle and peas.

Later, when I came to know Jesus, one thing that struck me, was that in Christ:

1. We do not get what we deserve.
2. We get what we do not deserve.

How much one loves reading the Bible depends upon what they perceive that they deserve. "T'was grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved." When I remember what I deserved: death and hell; and when I remember what I don't deserve and yet have received: eternal life, forgiveness of sins, adoption into God's family, His power flowing through me, purpose and hope; I have joy. I have so much that I don't deserve, while the deserts of the sinner that I was I am not going to receive after all. All this because Jesus took my place on that cross! God is awesome! Who really needs "two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun?" (Gag! I am like so brainwashed!!! )

Years ago, people corrected each others' English. I wish we still did that. We'd be so much happier people! I remember rolling my eyes as I was told to ask "May I...?" instead of "Can I...?" I just wanted answers to my questions while my elders droned on about the difference between being capable and being permitted. But now I find as I get older, that I really do want for people to say what they mean. They’d have more joy if they did.

Take this word, "deserve" for instance. When people say "I deserve," they usually mean, "I really want …." It is not simply bad English. It also breeds discontentment. If I don’t get what I “really want,” then that is life. I deal with it and grow. If I don’t get what I deserve then there is some injustice being done. Frustration!

I'm usually hardest on Christians when I hear someone say, "I deserve..." My friends know that as soon as it is said around me, the hand will go up, and I'll say matter-of-factly, "Actually, you deserve Hell." Sounds like I'm tons of fun to be around, I know. And yes, "I do parties."

But I don't say this to be a downer. I say, "You deserve Hell," to put things into proper perspective when my friends say, "I deserve better...", so we can then talk sanely. The person who says "I deserve" followed by something nice has already crossed the line into deception. As Christians, our joy is going to be robbed if we tell ourselves such lies.

To "deserve" something, one has to do something that specifically merits them to receive what was promised or agreed upon. For instance, if I have signed a contract for work, and I did my job and then I got paid the agreed amount; I deserved that paycheck. But if I got paid more, or less even, then I did not receive what I deserved.

Adam and Eve plunged mankind into sin state when they did precisely what God told them not to do. He told them that they would die if they ate that particular fruit, and in every way mankind got the death sentence that day. They got what they deserved.

"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus."

Romans 6:23

I’ve sinned and so deserved death too. But I didn't get what I deserved. Thanks to Jesus, I have gotten instead, eternal life. Heaven is not something people deserve just for existing! It is a gift from God; to be either received or not.

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast."
Ephesians 2:8,9

Salvation could only come to us in gift form. All are in need,

“For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

Romans 3:23

We can only be given salvation by God's wanting us to have it and by our willingness to receive it.

One of my English students overseas, was reading an article from a popular American news magazine, entitled something like, “America’s Poor.” The pictures showed a well-fed woman with three children, in an apartment that had a TV, huge American refrigerator, doors that obviously led to more than one room, and I think there was even a computer there. Nothing that let this student think they were poor, except perhaps the forlorn look on the mother’s face. She asked, “Teacher Tom, why is the article saying that she 'deserves' a better place to live? What did she do to deserve something better? The article doesn’t say." She knew what "to deserve” means. The writer and I dare say, the woman in the article did not.

I'm not advocating that we all get poor so that we appreciate what we have. But I am saying that as native English speakers we have got to stop putting on sad faces and telling ourselves that we "deserve" better. If we want more for ourselves and for our families, we need to just be honest and say so.

If I say that I want a new car, that is different psychologically, than if I say, “I deserve a new car.” While advertisers may try and butter me up to buy their car, I mustn’t deceive myself. Because if I believe their lies about what I 'deserve,' and then don’t get that new car, I’m going to become frustrated, feeling that some injustice has been done to me. But if I just want the brand new car and don’t get one, then I simply have to keep driving my Gremlin. That's all. See? No frustration.

This lie that we deserve better, is in all facets of our American lives. Some athletes may say, “We deserved to win the game.” But there are no guarantees in fair sports. Had they lost would some injustice have been done? They are misusing the word again. It is simply bad English. They deserve Hell.

I’m ranting, I know. But it is important to think truthful! Jesus had this to say about what our attitudes should be with regard to Christian service:

“Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, “Come along now and sit down to eat’? Would he not rather say “Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”
Luke 17:7-10

We are worth a great deal to God. We apparently are worth dying for. (See Jesus) That doesn’t make us “worthy.” Note too, that the servant mentioned, does have time for food and a break. But it’s the Master who decides when that will be and what that break will involve. God will give us what we need!

When I was 16 years old, I worked at a McDonalds. I was told by the swing manager, when I could take a break, and for how long. I was even told what size drink, sandwich and “crispy golden brown French fries” (Gag, I did it again!) that I was allowed, depending upon my shift’s length. I didn’t just take a break whenever!

McDonald’s says we deserve a break, but scripture says we were created for good works, and that the servant is truly happiest when he is serving in the way he was created. If you are tired, it may be that you are not using your spiritual gifts. You may be muscling it out, serving in ways that do not motivate your heart. I recommend going to Romans 12, verses 3- 8, and asking the Lord what motivates you. You may be surprised. The world sees our talents, but God knows what makes us tick. They aren’t always the same thing.

In our Bible Concordance, the word, "deserve" has many references. There isn't one nice thing that is mentioned which mankind deserves. In fact, this word is overwhelmingly most used in the negative. If you want to find out your worth, don't look up “deserved;” try "Loved." Because you were loved and valued so much by God, He has not given you what you deserved. Instead, if you are in Christ, He has given you what you do not deserve.

"He does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is His love for those who fear Him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has He removed our transgressions from us."
Psalm 103:10-13

Thank you, Jesus!

Monday, August 22, 2011

In Memory of Uncle Moe

Such a wonderful uncle! Comparing our childhoods once, Danny and I got on Sandy’s case because of the three of us she had the best godparents assigned to her: Uncle Moe and Auntie Barbara. Sandy had to concede that point. She got the best! During a visit, Uncle Moe and Auntie Barbara would sometimes pull Sandy aside and give her a special card or special present, or just mention that she was their godchild. Uncle Moe and Auntie Barbara took that responsibility seriously. Ha, Danny had to sometimes ask “Who are my godparents again?” after such a visit. And I remember years later, being at a wedding and introducing a friend of mine to my godmother, who in turn, and as if stunned asked, “I am?” She then asked nervously how my parents’ health was. Sandy we knew was covered with Uncle Moe and Auntie Barbara. They’ve always made their love obvious. (Not just to her either, but to all of us).

Uncle Moe was the kind of uncle who would speak into your life too. He’d want to know what you were up to, who you were hanging out with, what your plans were, etc. You never left a visit feeling unknown by Uncle Moe. I wish I were more like that. He could be funny and serious and then funny and then serious again, in the span of a minute, as he spoke into your life too; tearing up either way; never ashamed of emotions. In fact, of all the “grown-ups” in our family, he always seemed to me the freest with his emotions. I remember one time years after the fact, I was casually mentioning to Ann, a pet from my childhood that had 'run away;' until Uncle Moe stopped me mid sentence. To my surprise He remembered the very pet, and how that pet had REALLY died. Then, tearing up and with a choke in his voice, he told me he wanted me to know the truth about our black lab, "Snowball." He cared! I think I just said, “Oh.”

How children are treated; how the elderly are treated; how animals are treated; I'll always remember him caring about these things. You feel very safe around someone like uncle Moe.

Well, safe, unless you complain about something unimportant! Like when I complained about how sick I was of these warts I’d had on my hand and kneecap. They’d been fine for grossing out girls before, but I was starting into my teens. So hearing me gripe, he told me that he could get rid of them for me that day. I was delighted! Then he told me to have my dad light a cigarette and to bring it over to him, and he’d simply burn them off. Suddenly my concern with my outward appearance seemed so vain! It was what was inside a person that counted after all!!! I never knew if he was kidding or if he’d have actually done it. But I never complained about them around Uncle Moe, again.

Uncle Moe also introduced me to financial security. He came over and gave each of us cousins a real Silver Dollar. It was so big, and so shiny and new! I still have mine. Then he looked at me and as if the coin were magic said, “Tommy! If you never spend this silver dollar, you will never be completely broke.” I just looked at it like I had it made. “Wow! Cool!” Afterwards, I quoted that to impress several of my friends. It was some time later when someone finally said, “Well, yeah, duh! You’ll always have at least one dollar!” The next time I saw him, I asked if that was what he meant and he just cracked up.

Uncle Moe’s voice quality was special. Husky and kind. I’m told some Harveys have it. I do not, but I always wished that I did. And today I really miss hearing it, and I know that all my cousins and Auntie Barbara does too. I’m really praying for you folks in the coming days and weeks, and hope to come see you in September.


Thursday, July 28, 2011

God's Remedy For Loneliness

Paul’s loneliness seems unbearable. He aches to get mail from home! He has faith in God, but really struggles and asks, “Am I not trusting God enough for this? Why am I so lonely?” He’s been told the usual, “Just remember how much God loves you!” He does, but this lonely feeling is so strong!

Saying, “You’ve got to get out and meet people!” isn’t the answer either. We can be in a room full of people, but that feeling of loneliness can still come upon us. Hey married people can feel extremely alone even if they are together. The remedy for loneliness isn’t companionship. The cure for loneliness is being known. Meeting more people won’t help. It isn’t about being well known. It's about being known well.

One almost gets the impression when searching the scriptures for a remedy, that God simply doesn’t consider loneliness. “Lonely” is mentioned 2 times in Psalms, and 2 times in the gospels. But the word “lonely” here is not even talking about feelings. David was lonely amidst enemies. He was by himself. Jesus went out to lonely places to pray. It was the place He went to pray that was lonely. The word has more to do with being isolated or in solitude. Only once does the Bible mention lonely people, but even here, the Psalmist is talking about situation.

“A Father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families, He leads forth the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun scorched land.”
Psalm 68:5,6

Perhaps God never mention loneliness because He’s already remedied it. He “sets the lonely in families.” While we are on earth, He simply provides us with family. I’ve known so many secret believers who, after moving back into Muslim villages, would amazingly find themselves meeting other secret believers. God does this! You’ll often read such encounters in missionary newsletters. When brother Abdullah was assigned a room at the factory he’d just started working and living at, he soon found that his roommate Enwer, was also a secret follower of Christ. They caught each other reading the Bible and were amazed, thanking God. God sets the lonely in families!

If a believer feels loneliness, they probably have either not let God put them into a family, or they are not being themselves while in the family that He has put them in. People try to not be seen as needy. To be “successful,” we learn to put on a mask of confidence. To need others is mistakenly considered a weakness.

My friend in prison tells me that in order to survive, he must appear mean. He only takes his mask off when he gets mail from people who know him well. In prison culture, there are predators who go after those perceived as weak. So his tough mask stays on. While writing letters home he can put down the mask and make himself known. This being known time gives him rest from his loneliness. Maybe that is why inmates and missionaries love getting mail from home.

We Church folk are famous for our happy masks! Visitors might think we are problem free. Yet our church prayer sheets are filled with desperate need! If we consistently keep our masks on at church, we’ll soon feel that nobody knows us. Loneliness sets in, and soon we’re looking for a “more loving” church. You can’t be known if the mask is on. Be sincere!

Our Heavenly Father leads us into families. The early church folk would meet daily at the Temple courts, and after hearing the apostle’s teaching, they’d devote themselves to fellowship, communion and prayer. Then they’d go to one another’s homes, and eat together “with glad and sincere hearts.” (Acts 2:42-47)

Sincere hearts don’t wear masks. Sincerity allows you to be known. Find a group of people who honor biblical teaching, and enter with your glad and sincere heart. Get to know others too and help dispell their loneliness! As folk get to know you, your loneliness will likewise subside.

Ann and I once moved to a place where very few westerners had ever been seen. We were a novelty. Half a world away from all who knew us, the local people would turn and stare, point and talk. Some would touch my clothes or perhaps while feeling the hair on my arms, mention something about evolution, and then just walk away. With limited language ability, it was hard to be known.

I remember this one day, when I was really tired, and feeling so alone. The language was so slow in coming! After months it seemed, nobody knew me. The loneliness was intense! All we could talk was the mundane, for shopping and getting directions. Nothing deep! Once after a winter’s afternoon in the bazaar, I shuffled on home, sliding over the icy road toward our apartment. I saw a family standing there: father, mother and daughter.

The little girl was staring at me, and the father was explaining me to her, so that she wouldn’t be scared. I smiled at them, but they just stared back expressionless. In order to be friendly, I spoke to them. “Hello! How are you today?” No response. They just stood there staring at me. I decided to try again, a bit louder this time. “It’s not too cold today, eh?” I waited for a response. Nothing. Finally the father turned to his wife and looked down at his daughter and said, “It can talk!” Then the three just turned and walked on leaving me standing there with my mouth opened.

It was one of those freeing moments with Jesus, when we can either despair, or else realizing God’s there, burst out laughing. If Satan intended for me to despair that day, he overplayed his hand. God was there, seeing and knowing what I was feeling and experiencing. With Him there, it was just too funny! His being there and knowing us, made instances like this something that Ann and I could laugh about. Time and language would soon enough make us some good friends, but for those early months, it could feel pretty lonely. The remedy came whenever we, realizing His presence with us, knew that He knew.

“Be still and know that I am God.”

Psalm 46:10

We’ll sometimes feel lonely this side of heaven. But that isn’t God’s plan for us. He puts us into families and He wants the masks off! It is up to us to follow Him into His family, and we must each take off our own mask.

God already knows us completely:

“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
1 Corinthians 13:12

The power and joy of the Christian life is not that we love or know God. It is that we are loved by and are known by God.

“We love because He first loved us.”
1 John 4:19

Our very ability to love comes to us because we first are loved by God. If you love God, it is because He knows you.

“But the man who loves God is known by God.”
1 Corinthians 8:3

God has promised that we would not be alone in Him:

“God has said, “Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.”

Hebrews 13:5

Jesus’ final words to us in Matthew are:

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Matthew 28:20

The power of loneliness ends when we see that He fully knows us. Jesus died on that cross, so that He could reconnect us with God. Then He sent His Holy Spirit, so that we could know that He is with us, and realize how He knows us completely. When we see that God Himself is right here with us, the joy of the Lord will become our strength. Loneliness ends when we are being known.

Feeling lonely? Let God put you in with His family. We’ve all heard it said, “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.” If you are not thrilled with His family there, take your mask off first, and let your glad and sincere heart encourage others to remove their masks also. And if it takes them a while, know that God sees what you are trying to do and know that He delights in you.

“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—“

Hebrews 10:25

There’s just one friend
Who sticks closer than a brother.
Yet I fretted through one and then another,
and felt alone and sad and sighed
with Jesus right there by my side.
And all the angels here unseen
just cocked their heads and shrugged their wings
as I sat rescued and unharmed
through wasted days and slipped by hours
forgetting, ignoring, and begging Him too;
crying for friends as if He wouldn’t do.
And He will wait until I can see
that there’s no one greater who will ever love me.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Norman Harvey July 30th 1932 -- June 11th 2010

When it comes to understanding the love of God the Father, we often hear of people who struggled to “get” Him, because of their earthly fathers’ shortcomings. But this can also work the other way. Even imperfect dads can, in part, help their children to better see attributes of God, helping pave the way for us to recognize our Heavenly Father. Not that I would compare my dad to God, but there are definitely some ways that Norman Harvey rightly reflected the Father’s heart to his kids. So maybe it would be good to reflect today, on a few of these attributes that dad so shined.

First of all, he was faithful. Our dad kept his promises, honored his vows, and you could count on him. Secondly, he was committed. Whether to his marriages, to his children, to his family and friends or to his work, he was an example of what it is to be responsible. And thirdly, Norman Harvey reflected the nature of God in the joy that he so obviously had in being creative. He was an extremely creative mind and talent; and he brought great joy into our lives when he was creating. There are other ways I’m sure Danny and Sandy would add to this list, but for time’s sake, we’ll focus on these three attributes: his faithfulness, his committed way, and his joy in creativity.

How was this expressed in the way dad lived his life? How did him being who he was, reflect the Father’s heart? For one thing, he would come into your life, gently and gladly, whenever he was invited. He loved a sincere invitation, and he was faithful to come when invited. The Lord said, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20). Again, not that I am comparing dad with the Lord; but that dad, in being the way he was, made it perhaps easier for me to see God’s gentleness and gladness to come when invited; when it was my time to come to faith. Dad always came when invited; never barging in; but always with gladness.

And when dad did join you, he enjoyed you. In this way too, he reflected God’s heart for his people. “For the Lord takes delight in his people; He crowns the humble with salvation.” (Psalm 149:4). If you are here today in this congregation of the family and friends of Norman Harvey, you know what I am talking about. When he came to you invited, he enjoyed you. You were a “delight” to him. And he let you know it. We gather here today to recall his ways, and in that sense are “Norman’s people.” And so when it came time to consider how God enjoys those who come to him sincerely, my dad embodied that attribute. Dad delighted in you.

And while I can’t think of a Bible verse that spells out this characteristic of God (and you all know I would throw that verse your way if I could find it), it is clear from scripture, that whenever anyone ever invites God in, that they not only find themselves enjoyed by Him, but that He leaves them better off than He finds them. Dad was like that too. He would come to you if you asked, enjoy you while together, and leave you in a wake that would find you better off than before his visit.

For example, I think of the visits that he and June would make to Ann and I, over these past several years. I did not inherit his genius for building, and designing things; and so whenever dad and June would come to visit, a typical visit would look like this: After driving or flying down to Charlotte (no small trip), they would come in and enjoy us. We’d have a meal together, catch up some, laugh and hug of course, and it was just a joy to be with them. Day two, I’d come home from the office, when Ann would call and let me know they were on their way over, and I’d walk in on them, in great activity. During the first visit, unbeknownst to us, Dad and June would have taken some kind of mental inventory of ways to bless us, and with tools, paints, and accessories and gadgets they have found helpful to themselves, they would visit on day two, armed to bless. A visit may last one or two weeks. There would be lots of meals, hugs, laughs, and after we’d all waved goodbye in the driveway, Ann and I would walk back into our house, and look around and say, “Wow! Look at our house!” He always left us better off than he found us. And that is definitely a God thing!

During their last visit to our home, Ann’s dad next door, passed away. It was for sure a hard time for the family, Ann and her mom certainly grieving most I got to see a side of dad that I’d only really heard about. Over the years, as different friends and family members have had health problems or were grieving, I have been hearing how dad and June would come into that situation, and minister comfort, and really help. As sad as it was to be saying so long to Ann’s dad, getting to see my own dad, with June, spring to life and action, helping Ann and her mom, and helping me by their example was kind of a last minute gift to me too, as it turns out. I was getting to see dad in action, in a way I’d never seen before. Still learning about him, after knowing him for 51 years; I can tell you that's really something special!

Not long ago I was leaving a visit to a prison, where I’d listened to a man who was hurting. He was talking about a recent visit that he’d had from his two teenage children. Due to his own actions, he had been in prison for most of their lives, and ached to be with them. As he spoke with tears, of how he’d let his children down, I thought of something my social worker friend once told me about the kids in the city of Charlotte. Apparently 70% of the children in Charlotte, have no father in the picture at all. They either do not know whom, or else do not know where their father is. 70%! And here was this man in prison, who was rooting for his kids in life, praying for them daily, longing to be with them, and visiting with them for 4 hours every other week. Those kids know who and where their dad is. They know he loves them. They know he prays for them. They know that he wants to be with them, and that he is rooting for them to do well in life. I quickly sat and wrote this man a note, to let him know that his children were in the top 30% of the most blessed kids in Charlotte. While fully 70% of their peers had no dad at all to speak of; this brother's children had his love; for as much as he could express it.

Now I stand here and I have to say, that if this brother’s children are in the top 30% of those kids most blessed; then surely Danny, and Sandy, and I must be in the top 1% of those most blessed. Because our dad was always for us, always ready to visit and have input, always enjoying us, and always leaving us better off than he found us.

Not many kids can say, “My dad designed and built our house!” Not just the house we grew up in, but dad seemed to be able to make anything better than store bought. He made furniture for our rooms; and the very dining booth that we had our meals in all growing up. He built into our home special features that were cool; like the laundry chute that you could send just about anything down (and we did). After building a fence out back, he took the left over lumber and made a tree fort for Danny and I. Right up in the tree, with a rope ladder that we could climb up. Well, that Danny could climb up. I more had to be boosted and hauled in. But once in, we could pull up the ladder, where we’d be safe from all cooties and the Indians (or cowboys, depending upon the day). When we outgrew the tree fort, dad brought it down for Sandy to use as a clubhouse, under the tree’s shade.

What dad would build in the back yard each year, with lengths of lumber and rolls of plastic, and lots of water, a skating rink for his kids to skate on with their friends? Our dad did this every year. And when our neighborhood, full of steep roads, found kids buying soap box derby type “go carts,” I asked dad to get me one too. I had in mind one from the store; but the next thing you know, he’d taken the seat off of Sandy’s old high chair, and with wood, iron rods, ball bearings, wheels, and sharp blue paint, he in one afternoon, made me the fastest go cart in the neighborhood. All the kids would bring our carts up to Culter Farm rd. or to the top of Woodcliff, or when our parents didn’t know it, the top of Marlboro rd. itself, and race down. By the end of the first summer, it wasn’t whether or not my go cart would win; but how much of a head start could I give the other kids, and still have dad’s go cart win.

When Halloween time came around, dad’s genius would be tapped into. Harvey grown-ups annually held their amazing costume parties, and dad always came up with some really fun costumes. And he made costumes for us kids too. While most of my friends went out as boring ghosts and goblins, I got to go out as whatever I wanted. All I had to do was tell dad what I wanted for a costume. And I mean anything! My favorite costume ever was this very specific pirate costume he made for me. All I had to do was to show him the picture from some book. He made the hat out of material and cardboard and it looked authentic. Eye patch of course, but when he came up from the basement with a hard wood saber that he’d just fashioned out with his tools and spray painted the blade silver, I had me a great outfit. Ha! I remember another pirate that Halloween, coming up to try and swash-buckle me. I wielded my saber and that kid’s lame curtain rod was a bent into a disappointed droop with a single pare from my sabre.

Hey, I even got to be “Cousin It” from the Adam’s family once! Whose dad can do that? Trick or Treating in one of Norman Harvey’s originals meant never having to hear, “And just what are you supposed to be?”

One year I decided to carve my own pumpkin for Halloween. Whatever it was I was trying to do wasn’t coming out, and I was so upset; I was about to put my foot through the face of it. Dad heard me and came to my rescue. In frustration, I asked him to help me. Once again invited in, he took my pumpkin, considered it, and told me to go and get two black checkers. I ran to my toy box, and, thinking to myself, “Black checkers? What is he going to do with black checkers?” came back to find a funny mouth and nose, carved into the pumpkin. Then, he took my two black checkers and finished the amazing piece, by inserting them in ready cut slots, so that when lit, the eyes looked crossed, and while not scary, but more looking like Red Skelton or Mortimer Snerd, the pumpkin was a masterpiece, much marveled at by those visiting that night. Dad was cool for sure!

Danny and Sandy could tell you lots more! And much of dad was not appreciated until we left home. It wasn’t till I went to college and classmates and new friends would say things like, “You’ve never been to a barber?” Dad cut our hair. Or, “Where’d you learn to walk on stilts?”

Dad made Danny and I each a pair of stilts. One day when we were racing around the block, a guy drove up beside us, as we were making our way up Woodcliff road, and asked, “Hey, where’d you kids get the stilts?” We answered, “Our dad made them for us!” as we ambled along. The man said nothing. Just rolled up his window and drove off, apparently needing to come up with another idea for his kids.

When Sandy was a baby, we had a very white winter. Unable to stroll her around, dad made a really beautiful baby sleigh of wood and runners, so that she could be bundled up and placed inside. Then mom or he could pull her around the snow-covered streets. When you grow up with a dad who is both creative and humble, you just think these things are normal; at least until you start comparing notes with other young adults; or when you have children of your own, and you try doing half for them, of what had been done for you.

Dad passed on to his children, an amazing work ethic. Growing up with him for a dad, you naturally felt lazy by comparison. I only remember him missing work twice, and only for having a thrown out back. If he could get up, he was at work. If he ever thought to call in sick, he sure didn’t. I remember him saying to me, “Tom, you are spending more energy trying to get out of work than you would expend if you just did the job you were asked to do.” And he was right. It wasn’t till later when I started getting my first jobs that I realized that some people didn’t have a dad like mine, to point out the obvious to them. You have a job; you do it. Life doesn’t have to be so complicated. But I’d hear some co-worker at McDonalds complaining to the manager, something like, “You mean I’m supposed to come in every time my name is on the schedule?” As if that were too much! That kid didn’t have my dad.

My dad had me pegged! Seeing my character or lack thereof, he once told me, “Tommy, you love to play tennis and you come alive when you are doing what you love to do. You’d better train to do a job that you love to do, cause you’ll be doing it many hours a week. Do something that brings you energy, so you won’t be so spent at the end of your days.” Those words are still true of me. I’m sure Sandy and Danny had their own times of being advised according to what dad wanted for them. He wanted only and always what was best for us.

Dad leaves us impressed. He also leaves us an example of what it is to “finish well” in life. Over the years, we’ve gotten to see dad gain in personal freedom, in joy, and in peace. As we’ve been mourning, I’ve invited God my Father to come in, to sit with me; in expectation of Him making me better off than He finds me today, this verse came to mind as I was thinking of my father. Again; not that I’m comparing dad to Jesus; but he sure had some qualities that made it easy for me to recognize God when I finally did meet him! Jesus said: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Then as I found this verse, the very next one jumped out at me, as I felt the Lord’s blessing. It reads: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28,29) It was to me as if the Lord was saying, that if I would follow Jesus, that the Lord will work these attributes which I’ve mentioned about my dad, somehow into me. And I find myself wanting to let Him try and do just that.

Friday, April 29, 2011

"Thanks, I Think I'll Stand."

Thanks, I Think I'll Stand.

When moving to a foreign city, one of the first things that need tackling is public transportation. In Urumchi, there was never any temptation to get ourselves a car. For one thing we couldn't read the road signs at the time. And in 1988 the traffic and the roads were just being established as the city was going through a booming growth spurt. That "spurt" continued well past our ten years there, and the bus ride that I am about to describe to you would not be typical of today.

Even then in Urumchi, the public transportation ran smoothly. Once you knew the system of getting on a bus, or a mini-bus, or a cheaper and very long bus, (which appeared to be two long buses joined by an accordion looking type of folding heavy rubbery-canvas piece). You simply ask which number buses you need to connect with to get where you need to go, and most of the other passengers are glad to help you at each step of the way. Now they have mini busses, and lots of nice taxies, and some large busses too. But back in 1988, when we arrived and began settling into our new home, one of our friends took the time to explain the bus system. The only buses that year were the large accordion like connected double buses.

For catching one of these buses, there was usually only a ten minute wait, but they were often so crowded that one would have to pack themselves onto the bus, if you could get on at all. The polite, ladies-first approach meant you were waiting for the next bus. It took effort and sometimes the help of fellow passengers to get you onto that bus. And once on, it was your job to smear your way through the people at the door, and well into the bus. If you didn't do this, the folks getting off of the bus would soon be making their way towards the door that you were standing near. And if enough people were planning to get off at the next stop, and you were still standing there, you would be getting off the bus with them. And then you'd have to cram yourself back on with the crowd at that next bus-stop who were waiting to get on.

For the foreigner this could be a rather rough scene. But once the jostling and pushing and tugging subsided, there was usually a chuckle or two from fellow passengers, and no one seemed to really be upset. I saw many a cake crushed, hats trampled and seats won and lost. But an angry outburst was rare. The only times when people showed any anger at the overcrowding was when a pickpocket was having his way with the passengers.

Once on the bus, the test was being able to buy your ticket. The ticket salespeople usually sat right by the door that you just made such an effort to get away from. But the seasoned bus passenger knows that you simply hold out enough change as close to the ticket seller as you can get. If your reach isn't enough, a fellow passenger will usually help you by taking the money out of your hand and passing it along. You needn't worry about getting the proper change back. That is one thing I really liked about the buses. People interacted and generally helped one another. Literally, we were all in this bus trip together.

Another thing I liked about the bus culture in Urumchi we discovered right away because we had a 4 month old baby at the time. On Urumchi buses; elderly people, pregnant ladies and anyone holding a baby would almost immediately be given a seat. The generosity in this surprised us Americans and Europeans. Not that someone would give up their seat, but the seemingly gladness and eagerness for folk to give up their seat for such folk was impressive.

One day, when Ann was holding the baby, she was given a seat. A young lady got up and insisted that she take the seat. When she sat down she needed to adjust her bag and so she handed baby Joseph to me, to hold him until she was adjusted safely in her seat. Well, about two seconds after Joseph was in my arms, a man behind me shot up and pulled me down into his seat, insisting that I take it. I couldn't speak enough of either Chinese or Uighur yet to refuse that seat or explain the situation. I just turned red and thanked him.

So Ann had a seat now, and thanks to holding Joseph I too had a seat. One of our friends who was traveling with us, saw what had happened and laughed. I jokingly offered him Joseph to hold until he had a seat but he was of course, too nice to take advantage of the this impressive courtesy.

In order to get off of a crowded bus there was a system that was very organized considering the rush to get on the bus. As the bus leaves the last stop before the one you want to get off, you begin making your way to the door. If you need to get by someone, you simply say, "Sha-bu-sha?" Which literally translated is like: "Are you getting off or not?" Fortunately it is not considered rude to say it with this grammar in Chinese. If they are not getting off they simply get out of your way and you squeeze by them saying "Sha- bu-sha?" to the next person on your way to the door. Eventually you will get behind a person who is indeed getting off at the same stop. When you ask them "Sha-bu-sha?" they will answer, "Sha!" This is the person you want to get behind. It is now their responsibility to "Sha-bu-sha" the people between them and the door. You can relax and just stay right behind them. And when someone taps you on the back and asks "Sha-bu-sha?" you can assure them that you are "Sha!" They will then follow you.

Warning: If you get in the crowd going off the bus, you will go off the bus.

When the bus does come to your stop, don’t worry about whether or not you’ll get off the bus. Just as you were ingested with a crowd onto the bus, so will you eventually be spewed off of it when it comes to your stop. At least that is the way it was while the city was growing faster than the number of buses could accommodate. It seemed that these buses were always jam packed.

One day though, I remember that the buses were not jam packed. I had decided to take Joseph to "The Children's Park." It was only two stops down the street. We had just moved into our apartment and Ann really wanted to settle in. That meant to me that I should stay out of the way. So I took Joseph and left her to her unpacking. I envisioned her prancing about the apartment, imagining what would go where and how to decorate and etc. I was demonstrating my love for her by taking Joseph and going out to let her do her fun unhindered. How was I to know that she felt abandoned and would rather have done the decorating as a family!? But back then, Ann and I were not only culturally adjusting to life in Urumchi, but also to married life and life as new parents. Lots to learn!

Anyway, there we were out of the house, loving Ann. And so Joseph and I got to the bus stop feeling pretty good. It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining and everyone seemed out and walking. In fact the buses seemed empty. I later discovered that the winters are so long in Urumchi, that if there is a nice autumn day, people would rather walk. It is as if they know that soon they will be bundled in 4 layers of clothes and heavy coats, and taking buses the few times they would dare to venture out in such cold. But not knowing that, I was glad to get on the bus with Joseph, without having to push or shove.

Most of the bus was empty that day. One or two people were in seats but there were empty seats all around. But I knew that I was getting off in just two stops and so I didn't plan on taking a seat. I would first buy a ticket and then wait by the door. What a beautiful day it was!

As I turned to face the door, a stout older woman pointed to my Joseph and jumped up from her seat, offering it to me. I was so touched! Here this woman doesn't know me at all, and she would give me her seat. It was a lovely but unnecessary gesture. After all, there were empty seats all over the place.

I gestured "No thanks." But the woman seemed insistent to befriend me and Joseph. I thought her to be so kind and I thanked the Lord for bringing me to this lovely city.

But I couldn't take the seat even if I wanted to. Our stop was next. So I gestured again and stepped closer to the door to show that I was about to get off the bus. She seemed to understand and sat down with a smile. I smiled back at her, and she smiled back at me, and pointed to Joseph. Then I faced Joseph towards her and waved his tiny hand. Her eyes crinkled and she smiled and I felt all at once that it was going to be a joy living here.

Then the bus stopped and the doors opened before me. I paused to take in the fresh air and sunshine. Suddenly, I saw something bolting towards me out of my peripheral. I was then knocked so hard from my side that I almost hit the door on the side that I was holding Joseph. Usually, on a jammed bus, I’d have been tensed and holding my ground, ready for any push and jolt; my body protecting my son. But I’d let my guard down of course, as the bus was so empty. "What the!!!..."

Stunned and trying to regain my footing, I got off the bus. It was all I could do to keep Joseph in my arms. I looked up and saw the same woman who had just been offering me her seat. And now she just about killed my baby! The anger in me erased every good thought I had just been thinking about her. Suddenly I felt that this kind woman hated me and had no regard for the life of my child. I felt Urumchi was NOT going to be a nice place to live. And if God had allowed me to learn the language in two weeks, I would have shouted at her: "If you intended to kill me and my son, why did you offer us your seat, you ......!!!!???!"

By God's grace, language learning for me that year went very slowly. Miffed, Joseph and I went into the park and the walk around did me a lot of good. As I talked with God, I started to see that this woman was probably not thinking much about me at all. In Urumchi people culturally get up to offer people with babies their seats. And when those doors open you get on or off before the doors close. And you do it fast and to the new resident, seemingly aggressively. What that woman was doing never had anything to do with me or Joseph. It was culturally the right thing for her to do, both in offering us her seat, and in rushing past us (who were just standing there) to get off the bus. Indeed, the buses at that time would sometimes have closed its doors and taken off before some of the people could get on the bus. On extremely crowded days, it was the only way the buses could cope. They couldn't hold everyone. People just learned to get on while the getting on was good.

I had interjected all kinds of meaning into the woman's actions. Her getting up to offer us her seat meant that she was a kind-hearted person who wanted to show friendship. When she near knocked me flat, she was an ill-willed rude broad who disliked foreigners. In actuality, I have no idea who she was.

I wondered often after that, what my actions were telling people. What could be interpreted as a gesture of friendship in Urumchi, might just be a greeting in Boston. And what might be considered rude for me to do as a host in China might actually be the politest of gestures in the States. We would have to depend much on the Lord's love covering over a multitude of our countless faux pas over the next few years. But likewise God was also reminding us that we would need to overlook a multitude of unintended offenses (offenses without any intentions) which we would perceive in our new city and this new culture. “I’m clueless here, Lord! Please help us out!” was probably our most often prayed prayer.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

"I'm Born Again. So Why Do I Still Sin?"

There are men eager to find fault with the guys who go to the prison chapel. Jim wants an answer for when they say “Aha!” every time a brother stumbles. "Why do we still sin, even after we’ve been born again?"

Short and sweet: re-born people sin if we have 1) forgotten who we are, or 2) if we don’t yet know who we are in Christ, or 3) if we take a time out in our increasing. We are to be ever increasing. The Apostle Peter tells us how not to stumble and fall:

“ . . , make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

2 Peter 1: 5 – 13

Paul too, after listing several specific manifestations of sin; let’s believers know that whatever they once were, in Christ they are no longer so:

“And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
1 Corinthians 6:11

We sin when we forget who we are. When a believer sins and repents, God of course “is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) But what if we started each day, remembering who we are now? What if we lived out who we really are? Who you believe you are greatly influences how you live your life.

Confession Time: When I was young, growing up in multi-ethnic America; friends would ask each other, “What is your nationality?” (Meaning, ‘where were your ancestors from?’) I knew that my mom’s side of the family had several nationalities in the mix. But my dad’s side of the family was quite straightforward. He was from Quebec. And since he had jet black hair, dark skin, and high cheek bones, none of us questioned when told, that he was half Iroquois Indian. And for a skinny little blond kid, let me tell you, it was very exciting to think I had such noble blood flowing through me. You can bet that whenever we played “Cowboys and Indians,*” that I was always an Indian.

*Note: For younger readers, “Cowboys and Indians” is the politically offensive game we kids used to play many moons ago, by the shores of Gitche Gumee and its surrounding suburbs. You probably played: “Beef Industry Personnel and Native Americans.” But instead of lobbying and litigation, we fought with toy six shooters and tomahawks.

Anyway! I always chose being an Indian, because, well, I was one after all. And it wasn’t until many years later, when my cousin researched our family tree, (and I have since forgiven her), that we discovered that there actually was no Native American in us at all. Dad was all French! And while he took this news in amazing stride, I was mortified.

Do you know how much time I spent being Iroquois?!? All those Native American book reports I had done at school!?! Never mind my life after school!

Ever try wearing cheap moccasins all Massachusetts winter long? I did! As an Iroquois brave after all, I needed to perfect my ability to walk as silently as a deer. My feet about froze! And my family was no help at all! “It doesn’t count, Tommy, if you have to wear 8 layers of gym socks in them!”

Whenever we kids played “Hide-and-Go-Seek” in the woods, I wouldn’t just “seek” my playmates, when I was “it.” I would track them! My poor little friends would freeze in hiding while I painstakingly checked for broken twigs, felt fresh tracks for relative warmth, and sniffed the snow. Did you know that if you sniff enough cold snow, you can kind of get one of those ice cream headaches?

And speaking of which, do you know how many popsicle-sticks it takes to make an Iroquois long house and village? A lot! Kids today have it easy! Now you can just buy popsicle sticks in the crafts section at Walmart. I walked around with a purple tongue and an ice cream headache for two solid weeks that spring, rushing to get that diorama done!

It gets worse! I still wake up sometimes in a sweat, remembering the day I told all the kids at the bus stop that they could run off and play, and that I'd be "on lookout" for the bus. And so they ran around playing while I knelt down in the street and put my ‘ear to the ground,’ listening for that bus! If it wasn’t for Lenny Kleibenhoffer I’d have got run over!

(If there had been a drought that year, this might have started to get embarrassing.)

Oh yes! Who we believe ourselves to be, will largely determine how we live our lives. That’s the point! People take notice when you don’t act like who you claim to be. A little blond boy dulling his father’s hatchet, by throwing it at a tree all summer, and yelling “woo-woo-woo-woo-woo!” as he runs to retrieve it, is much easier to pardon, than an ungrateful grown-up who, sporting a fish pin and quoting scripture, is blatantly living a selfish life. God’s family has a culture, and His children are expected to embrace it.

Note: I’m told that dad’s hatchet would not have dulled so quickly, had I sometimes hit the tree.

That day in my uncle’s kitchen, when my cousin told me I was not Iroquois, but that dad was completely French, it was either laugh or cry. I flunked French in 9th grade. “I’m French?” “Just French!” What does one do with French? Kiss funny and cook with butter?!?! This was not good news!*

*Note: For you nature over nurture people; my art teacher, Miss Boha, did say that my paintings tended to look better the farther back one stood.

But my point is that in Christ, I do not belong to this world. I’m not Iroquois or French (or Scottish, or Swedish or whatever else my mom added to my misinformed mix). In Christ, I died and was given new life. I’m a “new creation.” God’s word tells me that my citizenship is in a place called Zion, and that my heritage is such that I belong in the family of Abraham. Seriously, that is what God says of me. He also expects me to believe it, and to live accordingly.

Scripture says of my heritage:

“ So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
Galatians 3:26-29

Ultimately believer, God defines us. I can call myself a Frenchman all I want. God is going to work this world out of me, as He transforms me into the person I am eternally. God gave me my heritage and birth announcement when He chose me. Scripture says of father Abraham:

“As it is written: ‘I have made you a father of many nations.’ He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.”
(Romans 4:17)

My current birth certificate and passport read “Massachusetts.” One day, I will go to Zion, the New Jerusalem, and it will be declared of me that I was actually born in that glorious place. And I will declare on that day, that every blessing ("fountain") I’ve ever known, is found in Zion.

Psalm 87 reads:

“He has founded his city on the holy mountain.
The LORD loves the gates of Zion
more than all the other dwellings of Jacob.

Glorious things are said of you,
city of God:
“I will record Rahab and Babylon
among those who acknowledge me—
Philistia too, and Tyre, along with Cush
and will say, ‘This one was born in Zion.’”

Indeed, of Zion it will be said,
“This one and that one were born in her,
and the Most High himself will establish her.”
The LORD will write in the register of the peoples:
“This one was born in Zion.”
As they make music they will sing,
“All my fountains are in you.”

Children of God mess up when they think they are just earthlings. God's people have a culture. If you are experiencing culture shock, find out who you are, and live accordingly. Sinning is totally inappropriate for those whose citizenship is in Zion! You were created for good works, and for living a righteous life. Our heavenly culture has us spending our time and energies so. Today you may not look or feel like a son of Abraham. That’s unimportant. If you are now in Christ, then learn and remember who you really are.

I enjoy some days more than others. Sometimes when asked how I’m doing, I choose to recall the verse that says:

“And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,”

Ephesians 2:6

…and then I can honestly say, “I’m doing much better than I think I am.”

Posted below is something I have on my wall, for when I need a reminder of who I really am. Maybe you will find it helpful too. Try reading through it aloud and see. And have a great day; because now you can.

From “The Bondage Breaker” by Neil T. Anderson (pp. 239-244) and is also has been taken from his book, Victory Over Darkness, and adapted.

I am the salt of the earth: (Matthew 5:13)
I am the light of the world: (Matthew 5:14)
I am a child of God. (John 1:12)
I am part of the true vine; a channel of Christ’s life. (John 15:1,5)
I am Christ’s friend. (John 15:15)
I am chosen and appointed by Christ to bear His fruit. (John 15:16)
I am a slave of righteousness. (Romans 6:18)
I am enslaved of God. (Romans 6:22)
I am a son of God; God is spiritually my Father. (Romans 8:14,15 / Galatians. 3:26; 4:6)
I am a joint heir with Christ, sharing His inheritance with Him. (Romans 8:17)
I am a temple—a dwelling place—of God. His Spirit and His life dwell in me. (1 Corinthians. 3: 16; 6:19)
I am united to the Lord and am one spirit with Him. (1 Corinthians. 6:17)
I am a member of Christ’s body (1Cor. 12:17 / Ephesians. 5:30)
I am a new creation. (2 Corinthians. 5:17)
I am reconciled to God and am a minister of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians. 5:18,19)
I am a son of God and one in Christ. (Galatians. 3:26,28)
I am an heir of God since I am a son of God. (Galatians. 4: 6,7)
I am a saint. (Ephesians 1:1/1 Cor. 1:2; / Philippians 1:1;/ Colossians 1:2).
I am God’s workmanship-His handiwork-born anew in Christ to do His work. (Ephesians 2:10)
I am a fellow citizen with the rest of God’s family. (Ephesians 2:19)
I am a prisoner of Christ. (Ephesians 3:1; 4:1)
I am righteous and holy. (Ephesians 4:2)
I am a citizen of heaven, seated in heaven right now. (Philippians 2:6)
I am hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:3)
I am an expression of the life of Christ because He is my life. (Colossians 3:4)
I am chosen of God, holy and dearly loved. (Colossians 3:12 / 1 Thessalonians 1:4)
I am a son of light and not of darkness. (1 Thessalonians 5:5)
I am a holy partaker of a heavenly calling. (Hebrews 3:1)
I am a partaker of Christ; I share in His life. (Hebrews 3:14)
I am one of God’s living stones, being built up in Christ as a spiritual house. (1 Peter 2:5)
I am a member of a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession. (1 Peter 2:9,10)
I am an alien and stranger to this world in which I temporarily live. (1 Peter 2:11)
I am an enemy of the devil. (1 Peter 5:8)
I am a child of God and I will resemble Christ when He returns. (1 John 3:1,2)
I am born of God, and the evil one—the devil—cannot touch me. (1 John 5:18)
I have been justified—completely forgiven and made righteous. (Romans 5:1)
I died with Christ and died to the power of sin’s rule over my life. (Romans 6:1-6)
I am free forever from condemnation. (Romans 8:1)
I have been placed into Christ by God’s doing. (1 Corinthians 1:30)
I have received the Spirit of God into my life that I might know the things freely given to me by God. (1 Corinthians 2:12)
I have been given the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:16)
I have been bought with a price; I am not my own; I belong to God. (1 Corinthians 6:19,20)
I have been established, anointed, and sealed by God in Christ, and I have been given the Holy Spirit as a pledge guaranteeing my inheritance to come. (2 Corinthians 1:21; Ephesians 1:13,14)
Since I have died, I no longer live for myself, but for Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:14,15)
I have been made righteous. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. The life I am now living is Christ’s life. (Galatians 2:20)
I have been blessed with every spiritual blessing. (Ephesians 1:3)
I was chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy, and I am without blame before Him. (Ephesians 1:4)
I was predestined—determined by God—to be adopted as God’s son. (Ephesians 1:5)
I have been redeemed and forgiven, and I am a recipient of His lavish grace. (Ephesians 1:6-8)
I have been made alive, together with Christ. (Ephesians 2:5)
I have been raised up and seated with Christ in heaven. (Ephesians 2:6)
I have direct access to God through the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:18)
I may approach God with boldness, freedom, and confidence. (Ephesians 3:12)
I have been rescued from the domain of Satan’s rule and transferred to the kingdom of Christ. (Colossians 1:13)
I have been redeemed and forgiven of all my sins. The debt against me has been canceled. (Colossians 1:14)
Christ Himself is in me. (Colossians 1:27)
I am firmly rooted in Christ and am now being built up in Him. (Colossians 2:7)
I have been made complete in Christ. (Colossians 2:12,13)
I have been buried, raised and made alive with Christ. (2 Timothy 1:7)
I died with Christ and I have been raised up with Christ. (2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 3:5)
My life is now hidden with Christ in God. Christ is now my life. (2 Timothy 2:11)
I have been given a Spirit of power, love, and self-discipline. (2 Timothy 4:16)
I have been saved and set apart according to God’s doing. (2 Timothy 1:4)
Because I am sanctified and am one with the Sanctifier, He is not ashamed to call me His brother. (Hebrews 2:11)
I have the right to come boldly before the throne of God to receive mercy and find grace to help in my time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)
I have been given precious and magnificent promises by God, by which I am a partaker of God’s divine nature. (2 Peter 1:4)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

How Can I Get the Joy of the Lord Today?

In the early 80s, our church sang lots of scripture. One particular scripture song was from Nehemiah. It went like this: (Remember to clap your hands. This was the 80s). Ohhhhhhhh…

“The joy of the Lord, is my strength!
The joy of the Lord, is my strength!
The joy of the Lord, is my strength!
The joy of the Lord, is my strength!”

I think the songwriter was trying to tell us something. Since then, the Lord brings such songs to my heart, not only this song; but many of the other scripture songs I had learned too. Though only finally starting to get it, this song has always edified me because of its truth.

I'd not understood this song because my understanding of ‘joy,’ was cultural, rather than biblical. I understood joy as happy, giddy, or extremely cheerful. But how could that explain God’s joy really being my strength? I'm not so selfless that, when during hard times, the very thought that God was happy, would make me strong. That would be cool though, eh?

Last fall, I met some neat folk who were really going through hard times. I committed myself to praying for them. That week while praying for them, “The Joy of the Lord Is Your Strength,” kept coming to mind. So did that song from Nehemiah! And after 30 years singing it, I wondered for the first time, “How can God’s joy be our strength?”

For days I concentrated prayer for our new friends. I began searching the scriptures for more understanding of joy. Actually God was leading me because I needed to find His joy myself! Funny how that works! I needed His joy for something I was facing. I needed His strength.

So in my reading scripture on joy, here’s what I learned: There are too many verses to quote. But if you do a word study on “joy,” using a concordance, I think you’d see this too.

“What is joy?” and “How can we get ‘the joy of the Lord?’”

Joy’s not simply 'happy' or glad! Joy is a profound surety that right now, our situation is in God’s all-powerful and completely loving hands; and the strength from this, His joy, enables us to do His will. Scriptural joy was not only, not simply 'happy;' joy is also not at all trouble free. When Nehemiah told the people that the joy of the Lord was their strength, they’d been weeping! He said:

“This day is holy to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.

Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”

Nehemiah 8:9, 10

Jesus endured the cross, “for the joy set before him.” (Hebrews 12:2) Despite the anguish He felt in the garden that night before, He was strengthened to endure the cross, “for the joy set before Him.” People can even be afraid and yet have joy:

“So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.”
Matthew 28:8

Fear and happy don’t go together. But these women were both afraid, and yet filled with joy. The first time I experienced both fear and ‘joy of the Lord,’ together, I was a new believer. Walking home to my trailer one night, I was quite nervous. My boss couldn’t pay us yet, and rent was due that night. I had never been late on rent before. I knew the landlord would be by that night for it. I was young and scared.

Crossing a field towards home, the Holy Spirit brought a praise song to mind. As I sang the song, new lyrics were added which suited my present situation. I sang of God’s amazing love, and of how He would not let me be put to shame, because I trusted in Him. I had joy.

I can’t say I was happy seeing my landlord’s car pulling out of the trailer park; heading towards me. But I had joy. I smiled and waved, having no guarantee of his response. I only knew that I could face him now. God’s joy had become my strength.

Stopping, my landlord rolled down his window and asked, “Mr. Harvey, do you mind if I collect rent next Friday? I’m just heading out of town.” I assured him that that would be just fine. “I can work with that! Have a great week!”

I went home singing that day. God had made me glad! Maybe that’s why people equate joy with happy. That day, joy enabled me to face my fear, which then lead to my becoming very happy!

In reading scriptures on ‘joy as strength,’ joy is found in several ways: Firstly, joy is found in the presence of the Lord:

“You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.' “
Acts 2:28

Secondly, joy is found when people see God working on their behalf:

“The seventy-two returned with joy and said, "Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name."
Luke 10:17

One day some new believers invited us to dinner. Among the group of about 15, were several who’d come from a Muslim background. They were praying, anticipating telling their families about Jesus for the first time. Earlier too, some men from the Islamic College had come threatening the men physically if they continued reading the Bible.

As brother Ahmetjan prayed, the room we were praying in shook. It felt like someone had lifted the building 2 or three feet, and just let it drop: ‘Thump-bump!' All our eyes were opened wide! It didn’t feel like a tremor. Those in the very next room asked what the noise was. They’d heard things rattling loudly, but they felt no shake. Just that room shook!

The urge to joke, “Wow, Ahmetjan! When you pray, you really pray!” was strong. But these new believers were seriously and rightly awed. One sister asked if the Bible ever mentions God shaking a room like this before. Immediately Acts chapter 4 came to mind, and we read it together. And amazingly, the prayer recorded in verse 29 was so similar to what Ahmetjan had been praying when the room was shaken, we became quite convinced. Still, one of my fellow foreigners suggested we check with the papers to see if there was an earth tremor.

So we all agreed to come back the next week, to share how the Spirit of God will have given us boldness to speak His word, like He did for the believers in Acts chapter 4. And indeed, each came back the next week, filled with testimonies of God emboldening us to speak about Jesus in surprising ways. Situations where prior to the room shaking, we’d have been too cautious or not even thought to be an opportunity to share, God gave boldness to speak.

And yes, one brother did call the weather bureau. (And it wasn't me!) There was no seismic activity that week. We had joy.

Thirdly, joy is simply a blessing given by the Lord:

“You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,”
Psalm 30:11

My favorite discovery is that this 'joy' is not an option for the believer. If the Spirit of God indwells you, you have His joy. That's because there’s only one Fruit of the Spirit:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
Galatians 5:22, 23

The fruit of the Spirit “is,” not “are.” So instead of being different fruits, ‘love, joy, peace,’ etc. are all qualities of one fruit: “The fruit of the Spirit.” We can’t pick and choose between fruits as from a bowl of fruit. Paul is describing just one amazing fruit, whose qualities are many. Those with the Spirit indwelling have them all; including joy.

A peach is one fruit with many qualities: A peach is soft: sweet, juicy, has a wrinkly pit, is peach colored, round, and fuzzy. These qualities together make a peach! How many people would buy my peaches, if I shouted, “Come one! Come all! Buy my peaches! They aren’t sweet or juicy, but they sure are fuzzy!” I’d not be in business very long! Joy is not an option.

And fourthly, joy is found in obedience to God. When we honor God, we experience it:

“The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes.”
Psalm 19:8

“There is deceit in the hearts of those who plot evil, but joy for those who promote peace.”
Proverbs 12:20

We need each and every quality of the fruit of the Spirit. Yet joy often gets treated as if it’s not for all believers in all situations. Patience yes, kindness yes, etc. but not joy. If joy were giddy or happy, then joy at a funeral would be rude.

But God would give us surety of His goodness and power at a funeral. Believers are different. We grieve with hope and we're called to serve others. We need His joy to serve hurting people. I truly have experienced this joy at my own son’s funeral, and at my own mother’s funeral, and at my dad’s! I didn’t realize then that this was “the joy of the Lord,” because my definition of joy was not biblical. Ha! I remember after my mom's funeral, wondering if I was insane. I sure grieved later! But during the wake and funeral, I was boldly and with a gentle joy, telling hurting people of God's love. His joy made that possible. I just didn't understand in those days, that it was His joy.

We must tap into God’s joy. We do so by declaring the works and greatness of the Lord: by “shouting for joy,” by “singing for joy,” and by giving Him thanks.

There was a season in my life, when I was so ungrateful that I had started to become bitter. I’d praise God well enough when I got what I wanted; then minutes later grumble when things didn’t go my way. I was a mess! And so I sought help.

My brother challenged me to daily write 100 times, “Thank you Lord for _______.“ And I was to fill in each blank, reading them aloud. I was so far gone I didn’t even know how to begin! My brother said, “Well, you are breathing right? Try OXYGEN!” So I did. After four or five lines, I was on a roll, and it only took 10 or 15 minutes to fill in the 100 lines. Within three weeks of doing this daily, my soul was flooded with joy. It felt and was amazing!

If you aren’t experiencing joy, I recommend this. If the road ahead is daunting, let His joy be your strength. If you have His Spirit, you have His joy. Tap in! Sing, shout, declare His works, praise Him, and give Him thanks. His joy will be the strength you need.

Psalm 100

(A psalm. For giving grateful praise.)

Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.
Worship the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the LORD is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the LORD is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.