Tag Archives: joy

Joy – Nectar for our Hearts

It was the night before he would be cruelly murdered. He knew it, but they had no idea. To them what Jesus did was unheard of. He washed their smelly, grimy feet, a chore traditionally performed only by slaves. Peter was so shocked he almost refused it. But this sacrificial act of service began a demonstration of Christ’s love which would culminate with the sacrifice of his very life the next day.

After his betrayer left, Jesus said, “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”[1]

Later that night, as he made his way to the garden of tears, he unveiled his love in words, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Now remain in my love.”[2]

He went on to explain that if we love others with the same sacrificial love he demonstrated towards us, we would remain in his love. This establishes the great cadence of the Christian life, receiving Christ’s love and giving it away. After all, we only love because he first loved us.[3]

Then Jesus makes a connection between love and joy, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”[4]

Jesus wrote these very important things about love for the purpose of our joy. He’s basically telling us that if we focus on loving others as he’s loved us, we’ll have the joy our hearts crave.

As with our physical hearts, our spiritual hearts are vital to our health. We get our word “courage” from the French word for heart – “cour”. Without a vibrant inner heart we become “dis-couraged” and life becomes drudgery.

What’s the key to a healthy spiritual heart?

Consider the ancient proverb, “A joyful heart brightens one’s face, but a troubled heart breaks the spirit.”[5]

Our hearts were designed to run on joy. When we’re joyful, our inner core[6] is bright, otherwise, our spirits are broken.

Whether we realize it or not, we’re all searching for joy. We were designed for it.[7] But sustained joy can’t be found in worldly affections or smooth circumstances. Lasting joy, producing a vibrant, “en-couraged” heart, can only be found in nearness to God.

David wrote of God: “in your presence is fullness of joy”[8]

Joy is more than a “nice to have” add on to life. It’s fuel for the soul. Jesus wants us to have complete joy. It’s essential to our spiritual health and vital for the courage we need to face the moments of our lives.

Do you want joy?

Jesus tells you how to stay connected with his love and how to have his joy:

love others as he’s loved you.[9]

 

 

for the joy of the Lord is your strength” Nehemiah 8:10b

[1] John 13:34 (NIV)

[2] John 15:9 (NIV)

[3] I John 4:19 (NASB)

[4] John 15:11 (NIV)

[5] Proverbs 15:13 (CEB)

[6] From the Latin for heart – “cor”

[7] Ecclesiastes 3:11

[8] Psalm 16:11 (ESV)

[9] John 15:12 (NASB)

The Christian Life is a Dance not a March

Philippians 2:12-13 (NASB)  So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

It’s easy to read the above verses and get caught up with the word “work” in the beginning and miss the incredible freedom at the end.

I’ve lived in the “work” part for far too long and just about missed the essence of the Christian life.

It started before I truly believed. Until I was 21 years old, growing up in a socially Christian family, I thought I was going to heaven because I “believed” in Jesus and thought my good “works” outweighed my bad.  In other words, I hadn’t killed anybody and performed some good deeds like walking little old ladies across the street. In my uninformed mind, this made me good enough for heaven.

Back then, my idea of being “born again,” was associated with being judgmental and living a life of rules which choked out all joy. I had no desire to live like that.

Just like everyone else, I was searching for joy in the world around me. I had no concept that the hole in my soul was eternal and could only be filled with God himself. A trip to jail brought me to my senses and turned my attention to my creator. Eventually I surrendered my life to my Lord Jesus Christ.

This was a marvelous day, but it took me years to realize the Christian life is not just something else to “work” at. Living as a Christian is so different than anything else I’d ever experienced.

Over time, and I must admit, I’m still learning it, the true nature of living the Christian life began to become clear. Christianity is not primarily about rules, it’s about a relationship with Christ.  He did the work. Ours is to respond to what’s he’s already done.

Our life is not an arduous march to a set of rules. It’s more like a dance; us responding to Christ our partner as he leads us in a  dynamic relationship.[1]

This changes everything.

“for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.[2]

Spiritually, we’ve  died and Christ, by his Holy Spirit, has taken up residence in our lives. The “work” we now do is a work of dependence, yielding to Christ as he produces the fruit of his Spirit in our lives.[3]

We don’t march around like robotic soldiers to a sheet of rules. We dance with God as he leads us through difficulties as his life is formed in us.

Prayer: Most gracious, heavenly Father. I’m sorry I spent much of my life totally misunderstanding the way you interact with me as your son. You’ve not left me alone to fend for myself. You’re involved in every dance step of my life and want me to enjoy being with you through every circumstance. Draw me ever closer to you as we dance together here. I praise you that one day, I’ll see you face to face.

[1] From a conference at the Cove by Pete Briscoe about Galatians 2:20

[2] Philippians 2:13

[3] Galatians 2:20

[4] John 15:1-12

[5] John 15:5

Hello Silence my New Friend

New Time Travel Novel by the Author

Fighting for Silence

On a recent trip to the beach, I was alone for two and a half hours. Letting my Waze app chart my course to avoid traffic,  I enjoyed some rural scenery and small towns I’d never seen before. I fought the urge to turn on the radio or listen to a book on Audible and chose silence instead. I’m so glad I did.

In a devotional I recently completed, I was challenged to have a couple of minutes of silence before and after my times with God. It was extremely hard at first. I kept wanting to reach for my phone to check a text, mark a to-do or research an idea which popped into my head. Over time, I realized that God’s still small voice will fill the silence, but I have to wait on Him.

The Presence of God

As I drove through the low country of South Carolina, passing through Lynchburg and Lake City, people started coming to mind. Being concerned for their well-being, I began to present them one by one before the Lord.  This connection with God’s heart gave me a sense of his nearness.

Speaking about the nearness of God, David wrote of gazing upon his beauty in the temple. Asaph wrote that the nearness of God was his good and that apart from God he had nothing. Exodus compares the presence of God to bread. In the New Testament, we read of Rushing wind and Rivers of Living water when describing the Holy Spirit, God’s presence with us.

Love

What I was experiencing, started with love. All the lies which often block the knowledge of God’s love for me were held aside so that  I knew it in deeper measures. He loved me before I was born with a  timeless love which I can not change.

Peace

There was also extreme peace, a peace rooted in the Prince of Peace and not in any present circumstance. I understood what Jesus meant when he told us he himself is our peace and that we can’t expect it from the world.

Hope

There was hope, a firm hope anchored in Christ; a realization that regardless of what the future holds on this side of the grave, I know how my story ends. An eternity of experiencing even a greater measure of God’s presence awaits me.

Joy

And joy. There was no progression in the love, peace and hope I was experiencing. An awareness of God’s nearness came upon me quickly, as the sun emerges from a cloud.  However, it seemed to me that joy was the culmination of the other three. Could I experience this kind of internal glee if I didn’t have love, peace and hope? My heart said no.

More than Feelings

As I drove past a white country church against the graying sky , it occurred to me that what I was experiencing was more than feelings. Sure I felt good.  But I could’t imagine any great circumstantial news giving me any greater joy.

Nor could I imagine really hard news stealing the reality of his love, peace, hope and joy. At least, those were my thoughts at the moment. God is love. He is peace. He is hope. And in his presence is fullness of joy.

Lasting Impressions

Looking back on my solitary ride to Georgetown, South Carolina, I’ve emerged with a couple of huge realizations.

  • I would not have experienced the presence of God at the level I did if I hadn’t  chosen silence.
  • I don’t have to be alone on a rural road to experience God’s love, peace, hope and joy.

Since my trip, I’ve had similar awareness of God’s presence in the midst of life’s conversations and activities. And he’s just as present with me right this moment as when I passed that country church.

For me, choosing times of silence has become a necessity. I must preserve and fight for times of waiting on God. If not, I tend to carry on life without him.

And that’s never a good thing.

 

Jumping for Joy; It Happens in Football, but what about the Rest of Life?

Let the godly ones exult in glory; Let them sing for joy on their beds. Psalm 149:5

If you’ve believed upon the Lord Jesus Christ and have received His love demonstrated by His death for you on a Roman cross, the verse above applies to you. You are a “godly” one because of what Christ did for you and you can exult in His glory.

The word “exult” literally means to jump for joy. You may not think you know how to do this, but I bet you do, especially if you’re a football fan.

We’ll get back to the verse later, but first an example of exulting:

Think about two football teams. Your team and the one you love to hate. You know, the one you pull against no matter who they play.

Against all odds, these two teams have made it to the National Championship or the Super Bowl. You’re at the game,  on the 50 yard line, with your favorite person in world.

But things are looking bleak. Your team’s down by five points with 27 seconds to go and your hated team has the ball on your 22 yard line. They are trying to run out the clock. It’s 4th down and one and you have one time out.

Just to be sure you don’t get the ball and throw a miraculous “hail Mary,” your rival coach decides to put a dagger in your heart by kicking a field goal. After all, their offensive line is the best in the country and their kicker hasn’t missed from within 55 yards all season.

You can hardly watch as the teams line up. As expected It’s a good snap, a clean hold and a solid kick. The football sails between the goal posts with plenty to spare. It’s over. You hang your head in defeat.

But wait. Your coach used your last time out right before the snap. They’ll have to kick it again.

After the time out, the play starts off just like the previous one. A good snap, clean hold and a  solid kick. But your best defensive lineman, a senior who’s been hurt for the last month, was inserted into the play for his height during the time out. You hadn’t noticed.

As the kick reaches the line, your man, lined up over center, jumps as high as he can with arms stretched out, nicks the ball. This sends the ball spinning off course, landing near the goal line in fair territory.

Your rookie safety spots the ball and picks it up right in front of a tight end from the opposition. Your man has to spin into the end zone to avoid being tackled. Meanwhile, your team sees what’s happened and begins to block off a wall along the sidelines.

Hope re-ignites in your heart. Fans making their way to the exits freeze in astonishment. The rookie races along the sidelines, but the other team has a contingent hemming him off from his path to glory.

Around mid field, two defenders converge. Your man has no hope but to change course and breaks sharply toward the middle of the field. But as he does, he runs into the right guard, who grabs him firmly by the jersey. As the rookie turns to escape, he sees a teammate coming up quickly along the sideline behind him. Before his knee hits the ground, he shuffles the ball to his racing teammate.

Like the rookie, your new hero is forced to abandon the sideline route. He cuts across the field behind the tacklers who had focused on the rookie.

At the 30 yard line, he is able to escape a would be tackler and turns the corner, heading down the opposite sideline. The path seems clear, but out of the pack emerges a defender with tremendous speed converging on your guy. There’ll be an inevitable collision around the five yard line.

But just as the defender reaches the point of impact, your hero comes to a complete stop, causing the dashing defender to tumble out of bounds in front of him. Your guy then dances into the end zone.

Touchdown! The clock shows zeros. You are champions! You and half the crowd, including many on the steps and exit ramps, jump for joy. A deafening shout and triumphant cry erupts. You continue to jump and shout, hugging your friend in ecstasy.

You may not have experienced this kind of jumping for joy at a football game, but hopefully you could feel what exulting is like.

Let’s turn to life.  As improbably and exciting as the football victory, it can’t be compared to rejoicing in the glory of God in Christ Jesus. Being joyous for your team is good for awhile, but it won’t last.

Having that kind emotion for the weighty value of God Almighty and your future eternity with Him, is exponentially more exciting than anything we can dream of on earth.

“Let the godly ones exult in glory; Let them sing for joy on their beds.”

Regardless of your present circumstances, you have more reason to jump for joy and shout in gladness than all the fans of all the championship teams of all sports throughout all of time.

Challenge: Take a moment to focus on what Christ has done for you. Set aside your present temporary circumstances. Jesus loves you as much as God the Father loves him. He demonstrated this love for you by dying in your place, securing your place in with God forever.

Even now Christ,  by His Holy Spirit, has taken up residence in your life, filling your heart with joy.

And there’s more. Consider the following verse:

“The Lord your God is in your midst,
A [victorious warrior.
He will exult over you with joy,
He will [b]be quiet in His love,
He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.  Zephaniah 3:17

 Want another reason to jump for joy? The Lord your God jumps for joy because of you.

Open your heart to Joy.

Season of Joy? Maybe, but not Without a Fight.

Holiday stress is real, just Google the term. Most of us are adding additional spending, shopping, decorating, cleaning and traveling to lives which already lack margin.

Add over eating, under exercising and family dysfunctions and you understand the following exchange in the movie “Christmas Vacation.”

To his father, Clark Griswold asks, “How did you get through it?”

“I had a lot of help from Jack Daniels,” his dad replied.

Compare Grandpa Griswold’s  response to that of the magi when they saw the star above where the baby Jesus  lay.

And when they saw the star they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. Matthew 2:10

Debilitating stress, numbed with alcohol compared with having great joy?

We have gotten way off track.

The wise men’s  joy was a  reaction to the coming of  Emmanuel – God with us. They got it.  God coming to earth in human form is a reason to rejoice exceedingly with great joy.

“In your presence is fullness of joy.” Psalm 16:11b

If we want to experience true joy in a society fighting to keep Christ out of Christmas, we must fight to keep Christ in the center of every aspect of our lives.

The Magi’s joy preceded the timeless sacrifice Jesus would make for the sins of men.

Jesus said, “Truly, truly I say to you, he who hears My words, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” John 5:34

The word “believe”  above means  to commit to, trust in and rely upon.

If you have believed in Jesus in this way, the following facts are true about you:

  • You are not an orphan, but are a true child of God
  • You have been given an inheritance which includes the Indwelling Holy Spirit and an Eternal home
  • You have been made into a new creations, freed from the penalty of the law
  • You have been given supernatural peace, hope and joy which transcends all earthly circumstances
  • Your purpose is now clear. You are to love others as Christ has loved you
  • You don’t need anything else to give you the same joy the magi experienced

Pause: Don’t rush past these glorious facts. The tremendous significance of the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ on our behalf is a reason for even greater joy than the wise men experienced.

No matter how stressed we feel in this busy season, we must fight to find our joy in Jesus and what he’s done for us.

No matter how disappointed we feel when expectations aren’t met, we must fight to remember the significance of God coming to earth to grant us lasting peace.

No matter what devastating circumstance we may face, we must fight to  guard our hearts and bring our pain to Jesus, asking him to lighten us with the joy of His presence.

And no matter how magical the season becomes with family and gifts and celebration, we must fight to keep Jesus in the center of our affections.

No matter how society tries to take Christ out of Christmas, we must never forget the significance of  Emmanuel.  The calendars we use are based on His coming

Prayer: Lord Jesus, you are our true Joy. This world is filled with grief and loss, but You’re always the answer. I’m sorry for when I’ve allowed other ‘joys’ to compete with you in the deep affections of my heart. Please help me guard my heart. Show me quickly when I care too much about the world around me that I forget about you. And when pain threatens to steal my joy, keep me delighting in you all the day.

Thank you that if I had nothing on earth but your love and the hope of my eternal home with you, these facts alone would be reasons for exceeding great joy.

We celebrate You.

 

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Philippians 4:4

 

Life’s a Grind Without the Oil of Gladness

To grant those who mourn in Zion,
Giving them a garland instead of ashes,
The oil of gladness instead of mourning,
The mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting.
So they will be called oaks of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified. Isaiah 61:3 

Trying to live the Christian life without relying on the Indwelling Spirit of Christ is like running an engine without oil.

On a couple of occasions I’ve neglected the vital upkeep of adding motor oil to various vehicles. One resulted in the demise of the Wheel Horse tractor I inherited from my grandfather. And if it wasn’t for the durability of Toyota truck engines, the other would have left my brother and I stranded on the side of the highway between Columbia, SC and Athens, GA. Good thing he noticed the red light on the dash board. It was almost three quarts low.

Sometimes I’m a slow learner, but I got it now; Engine oil is critical for lubrication, minimizing friction and cooling the pistons. It’s the very lifeblood of an engine.

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Only with Jesus can we Live the Christian Life

I’m learning the same thing about the Holy Spirit in my spiritual life.[1] For years I thought my job as a Christian was to model my life after the Jesus I read about in the Bible; trying really hard to have peace, patience, kindness, self-control and joy. If you’ve tried this yourself, you know the futility of this kind of effort. Sooner or later we all discover that there’s only one person who can live the Christian life and it’s not us; it’s Jesus in us.

Coming to the End of Ourselves

Often it takes a crisis for us to realize we can’t live without Christ. We come face to face encounter with our failures and inabilities. Not fun, but necessary. More often than not these failures are revealed in our relationships with those we love. When this happens, we find ourselves at a crossroad in life.

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At the Crossroad

In the midst of emotional turmoil we often choose to numb our pain with our coping mechanism of choice, but this delays the inevitable. Pain is an alarm to be heeded. Pain screams, “Take your hand off the stove!” Denying the pain only deepens it’s affect until  it takes over our lives completely.

Another choice is to realize our desperate need for Jesus.  Humbly turning to Him, we admit  our inabilities to love without Him. There may be dark nights of the soul, huddled only with our Lord, but full surrender leads to life changes.  “Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5b

Summary of the Christian Life

Out of Paul’s sufferings He wrote:

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Spiritually, we have died.  Christ, by His Holy Spirit, has taken up residence in our lives. We no longer have to try harder, but must depend upon Him to be our patience, our goodness, our peace, our self control, our joy.

Ours is to rest in the fact that He is at work in us.

Ours is to yield to His Spirit, realizing that apart from our vital connection to Him, we can do nothing of true value.[2]

Trying to live without dependence upon the Holy Spirit is like an engine without oil, a ‘grinding it out’ in a swirl of activity; movement without lubrication, joyless friction.

Burnout or Joy

Recipe for a life of burnout: Live in the swirl of activities with no awareness or dependence upon the Holy Spiri; going through the motions in your own energy and strength. Just do it. It’s all up to you.

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Recipe for a life full of joy:  Realizing we were designed to run on the oil of gladness. [3]  choose a life of overflow as you yield to the Spirit of Jesus in you to love whoever God puts in your path.

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Challenge: Is there an area of your life in which you’re just going through the motions, an area in which you feel burned-out in? If so, come to Jesus.  Realize that you were not designed to operate without His Spirit, the Oil of Gladness. Recognize your inability to live even one moment without full dependence upon Christ,  allow His Spirit to refresh your life giving you His Joy.

“He must increase and I must decrease.” John 3:30

Prayer:  Dear Lord Jesus, thank you so much for dying for me and securing a place in our Father’s presence. Thank you for sealing us with the promised Holy Spirit, a pledge of our inheritance and the power and lifeblood of our lives. Keep me ever yielded to you that I might love others as you have loved me.

[1] The Holy Spirit is widely symbolized by anointing oil. See Luke 4:18

[2] John 15:5

[3] John 7:37-39

 

Turning Failures into Joy

I started the morning bemoaning. Rather than focusing on Christ and His work, all I could think about were my failures. They were like pesky gnats swirling around. But these unwelcomed intruders of my peace and joy found nowhere to land. God is doing a deep work in my heart. Father is teaching me that if I’ll bring these feelings to Him and not stuff them under a rock in my heart, He’ll expose them. So, I sat down, asking Him to center me in His truth.

Opening my Bible, headed one way, He redirected. Philippians 2:21 leapt off the page, “For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ.”

Isn’t that what I’m doing? I thought, looking after my own interests. Worrying about how I did instead of what Christ accomplished on my behalf, seeking my identity again in success instead of the fact that I’m loved by the Creator of the universe.

So what are Christ’s interests? Digging into the passage more, I see Paul is comparing Timothy to others. And in the verse before, I see my answer. Speaking of Timothy, Paul writes.

“For I have no one else of kindred spirit, who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare.”[1]

What are you showing me God?

Following is what I hear in my heart:

“Robby (this is my childhood nickname and I hear God speak to me tenderly as speaking to His loved child), you see I’m teaching you slowly, but very deeply that you can truly rest in what I’ve done. Those lies you woke up with can’t penetrate My love. Before they would have landed, taken root and spread. I’m healing your heart from deep lies and making you whole.

What I want to show you this morning is that you can trust Me with you. I’ve got you. I always had you and nothing can disrupt My incredible love for you. Being loved and cared for by Me completely frees you up for the work I have for you.

Look at every person I put in your path, starting with your wife and family, as my invitation to you. When you are with a person, or a person comes to mind, know these are from me. Don’t worry about what you think your work is. Trust all that to me.

My work for you is this:

Love them as I have loved you.[2]

I’ll show you how.

And it’s not really you doing it. As you yield to My Spirit in you, I’m the one really loving them.

And by the way, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be made full.” John 15:11

You will stay rooted in My love and walk around in full joy as you love others as I have loved you.”  [3]

Challenge: Think of an area of your life which consistently makes you feel like a failure, an area you blew it big time. It’s okay if there’s more than one.

Assuming you are a believing child of God, does God see you as a failure in this area?

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The answer is no. Remember, When God sees you, He sees His Son Jesus Christ, in whom He is well pleased.

You have a choice. Do you want to assess your value based on what God thinks about you? Or do you want to assess your value based on what you perceive others think about you because of your failure?

Based on your answer, either joy or sadness awaits you.

If you are not a child of God,  this one failure does not define you either. In fact, feel free to replace the failure you’ve been thinking about with your most shining achievement. The result will be the same. Or, feel free to use the moral record of Billy Graham or Mother Teresa. Same.

All fall short of the glory of God. If it weren’t so God wouldn’t be God. And the penalty for not being perfect is separation from God. Sounds very harsh if you don’t understand Christ’s rescue and deliverance.

Without Christ, we live with our failures. We aren’t identified as His children. We can’t be with Him now or ever. We’re left to fight for purpose, identity and hope in the roller coaster of  the human struggle to survive in a world filled with evil.

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With Christ, all our failures are taken away as far as the east is from the west. Our past, present and future is swallowed up in His great love. We have moment by moment purpose, joy and hope.

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There is great joy in resting in what Christ has done, forgetting failures and delighting in His everlasting love for you.

[1] Philippians 2:20

[2] John 15:12

[3] John 15:9-12

The Missing Guitar String ( A story of simple Joy)

“for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part”                   2 Corinthians 8:2

Arriving in Lima

When our group  arrived in Lima Peru, we took a bus ride past block after dusty, dirty block of thrown together wooden buildings where people lived and worked. Our destination was Scripture Union, a ministry dedicated to the service of abandoned boys and gospel outreach, located in downtown Lima. I was a chaperon for our youth group’s mission’s trip to the place known by its residents as the saddest city on earth. The evidence of this sadness would overwhelm us before the trip was done.

The Orphanage

Our focus would be to serve the boys in the orphanage known as street boys. A street boy can range in age from six years old to the late teens. These are boys who have been abandoned by their parents for economic reasons and left to fend for themselves in the cruel streets of Lima. Most live lives filled with theft, prostitution and glue sniffing. But some accept the help and rules of the orphanage and these were the boys we would love and care for. To our surprise, by the end of our trip, Peruvians, street boys included, would do more for us than we could have possibly done for them.

My Peruvian Friend

I met Saul Camarena while carrying sacks of sand to the roof of the orphanage. He’s a short man with glasses, dark hair and chocolate colored skin. He approached me on the stairway and introduced himself in English, inviting me to his accounting office to see his computer. He showed me his Spanish version of Windows and we chatted briefly about our families and faith. I felt an instant connection with him, amazed at how quickly a common faith in Christ can traverse cultural differences and connect hearts on a spiritual level. Our friendship has continued to this day.

As the days unfolded, Saul would occasionally translate for us as we worked beside the Peruvians on the roof, building more rooms for the street boys. On one occasion, I took a break and talked with him as we gazed over the half built wall, looking down on the dry, dusty streets below. Though it was July, since we south of the equator, we were experiencing the cool cloudiness of a Peruvian winter.

Though the buildings were smaller, Lima reminded me of a dirty, gray New York city; the constant sound of horns and motor rumblings with a pronounced smell of exhaust, trapped around us by the cloud layer.

Invitation to Dinner

As we stared down at the street, Saul invited me to bring a few of the boys from our youth group to his home to meet his family. I agreed and we settled on the Thursday night before we would leave to return to South Carolina.

The day before our dinner, Saul took me aside, his brow and forehead displaying concern. “I’m sorry,” he said, “but we are very poor.” At first, I wasn’t sure what he meant, but now I know he was concerned for the boys and me, that their poverty would affect us. His sorrow was that he couldn’t afford the luxury he knew we were used too.

Saul lived 50 kilometers from Lima, about an hours drive. Each day, it cost him a Peruvian Nuevo Sol coin (about 33 cents) to ride to and from work. As we boarded the bus, Saul insisted on paying our fair. I argued, but could tell not allowing it would have been against his deep desire and joy. It was very humbling, especially when I found out later that he made only $200 a month.

As the dilapidated bus bounced along the mountainous terrain, I noticed that each hill was crowded with small wooden shacks. They were brightly painted as if in an effort to dispel the dismal aura of poverty. I was saddened when I thought of each family crowded together, struggling to survive.

Saul’s Village

When we got to Saul’s village, we stepped off the bus into what felt like a scene from National Geographic; the poverty,  the trash, the sickly looking dogs in search of scraps. The sadness of the place dulled our hearts as we followed Saul down a couple of blocks and across the cracked street.

We walked up to what looked like a concrete storage area between two other buildings, but when Saul took out a key and opened the door, I realized it was his home. We followed him in and waited in the living room area while he went toward the back. The house had a concrete floor with a wooden post resting on two wooden blocks as a support in the middle of the room. A blanket separated the main room into a living area and a bedroom area. There was also a kitchen bathroom area that had only a portion of a roof and a little storage section that may have served as an additional sleeping area.

Thursday Night Church

Though it was Thursday night, when Saul returned he surprised me by inviting us to go to church with him. Before the trip, my pastor warned me to have a short sermon ready because I might be asked to speak at a church. I’m so glad he mentioned this because this is exactly what happened. Also, since one of our boys played guitar, we were asked to sing a song we’d learned in Spanish, using their guitar, which was missing a string.

Missing Guitar String

Though a missing guitar string would be a big deal in a church I might attend back home, I began to understand it was very insignificant in this little Peruvian church. We Americans would have maybe even delayed the service until the string was replaced, but not in Saul’s church. Peruvians had learned the importance of putting missing guitar strings in the proper place, behind relationships.

Saul’s church would have loved to have had a nicer guitar, but they didn’t. So, they went ahead and gathered together on Thursday night anyway, focusing on worshiping the Lord and each other; this spoke deeply to my heart.

Simple Joy

There were about 12-15 people at the church, dressed in simple clean but slightly ripped or worn clothing, fully focused on what we had to say and on the sermon Saul preached. During the singing, their zeal and joy was contagious. Though many of them were missing teeth, the delight of their smiles was beautiful. Their joy had absolutely nothing to do with what they had or how they were. It had everything to do with their relationships with God, with each other and with us.

When the service was over, the people gathered around and made us feel very welcomed. We then went back to Saul’s house to eat along with several of his friends from church. They seemed delighted to get a chance to get to know us.

The Love of Christ Demonstrated

Saul’s wife served us a wonderful meal of chicken, potatoes and fried yuca, which is similar to a potato. We drank a clove drink called chicha morada. They could only afford to give us portions of napkins (a forth of a napkin folded into a triangle), but by now I knew that they would have given us napkins of silk if they could have.

I’m sure the meal was very expensive. They sacrificed so much to make us feel welcome. Again I felt the contrast of how a similar meal might be experienced at home. We would have surely worked hard at being hospitable and making  our guests feel comfortable, but would we have spent so large a potion of our monthly income to make them feel welcome? I doubted it.

When the meal was done, Saul’s countenance displayed concern. Looking at each of us, he said, “We’re sorry we couldn’t do more.”

At this remark, tears began to well up in my eyes and as I looked around the modest room I saw it had the same impact on my boys. How could he say this? He had given us all he could out of his poverty and now he wanted to give us more. That moment, in Saul’s concrete home, I received an example of sacrificial love. Saul and his wife truly loved us as Christ had loved them. I feel the impact of their love even to this day.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” John 13:34 

As the conversation waned, I began to think about how we would get home. I was in the most remote place my life had ever carried me, yet I was responsible to get us all back to the orphanage. Earlier in the week, I heard someone say that the area we were staying was the highest crime district in all of Lima. I wasn’t even sure what bus to take and where to get off.

This turned out to be no problem because Saul informed me he wanted to ride back with us on the bus to insure our safety. I gladly accepted.

When the night bus pulled to a halt at the stop nearest our destination, we expected to get directions and say our good-byes. However, this was not the end of Saul’s kindnesses.

He got off the bus and accompanied us all the way to the front gate of our building, several blocks away. Then he waited for the security guards to unlock the gates. When he was sure we were safely inside, he turned to catch another bus and ride home. Looking through the bars, I watched his short frame walk off into the dangerous streets of Lima by himself; having once again given us all he had.

Back to the Rat Race

We returned to the States the next morning, back to busy duties and abundant prosperity and newer guitars with all the strings. As I write these memories years later, the impact of my visit to Peru remains fresh in my heart.

In my living room,  my gaze wanders over painted walls, lovely pictures, soft furnishings, a color television set and my daughter’s guitar. Yet as I think of Peru, joy fills my heart.

I pray God will give me a heart like Saul’s and his family, and like the people in his church; even like the Street boys, who delighted in giving us simple multi-colored bracelets to remember them by.

We had the audacity to think we were going to love and serve a few people in Lima, Peru. And by God’s grace, maybe we did. But far, far greater was the lasting ways they loved and served us.

Victory is a Person

Victory, from the Old French word victor, means to triumph or overcome in a struggle. A personal victory might be losing weight, breaking a bad habit or making the dean’s list. There are team victories, political victories and victories in war. Most victories require tremendous strain and effort, but are extremely rewarding.

In Christian circles you hear of a “victorious Christian life,” a time when sin is conquered, fear is overthrown and love for God and other’s flows freely.

Our natural tendency is to think a “victorious Christian life,” is gained in the same pains taking efforts other victories have been won, giving it our all, trying as hard as we can to win. This could not be farther from the truth.

It is true, Jesus desires for us a life free from fear and sin, loving God and others in the same sacrificial way He has loved us, but He is not asking us to change.

God is not looking for a changed life. He is offering an exchanged life.

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2nd Corinthians 5:21

Christ has exchanged His life for ours. Not only did He die in our place to rescue us from eternal separation from God, but He also imputed His righteousness to us. We have become the righteousness of God.

There is not trying hard to be righteous. In Christ we are righteousness.

But you say, “That might be true, but how is victory realized in my own life? How is sin defeated, fear banished, love unleashed and joy experienced?”

The answer is still the same. With His exchanged Life.

Consider the great summary verse Paul wrote about the Christian life:

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. Galatians 2:20

The victory is not in trying harder. The victory is in embracing the death of our old nature on the cross and depending upon the newness of our life in Christ. Christ did not die so that we could be changed. He died so that we might die with Him and be raised with Him in newness of life.

Victory is in realizing our crucifixion with Christ and depending upon Christ in all we do. Yielding to His abiding Spirit, we bear fruit for the glory of God. Apart from His work in us, we can do nothing. ( See John 15:5)

We need to stop trying so hard to pattern our lives after what we read about Jesus in the Bible. There’s only one person who can truly live the victorious Christian life and it’s not us. It’s Jesus in us.

We have been made new. In Christ we have all the love, joy, peace, patience and hope we will ever need. Ours is to realize our newness in Him (counting as fact the death of our old self (See Romans 6:11) ) and yielding to Christ in us to love whoever get’s in our way.

Victory is not in trying harder. I’m pretty sure we’ve all tried that.

Victory is in remaining in the love of Christ and yielding to His Spirit.

The old has gone the new has come.

Challenge:  Consider an area of your life in which you feel defeated.  Trust that Jesus wants you to have victory in this area even more than you do.

Bring this area before the Lord right now:

Lord, you know  how discouraged I am in this area. I’ve tried so hard to be like you, but have failed miserably. I know now that victory is not in trying harder, but in resting in You. Open the eyes of my heart that I might know your great love for me. Teach me to remain in your love and yield to your Spirit in me as I allow you to become my victory in this area.

You are my Victory.

 

Don’t Postpone Joy

Martha had enough. Her sister Mary did it again, left her to do all the work while she just sat there. Martha was distracted by all the preparations. And though the very source of Joy was with her, she was focused on what she had to do.

Sound familiar?

“But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:41-42

But how can life really be about one thing? Without Martha, no food would have been served.

On a slow morning, sitting on a dock facing the intracoastal waterway in Wilmington, NC, I’m once again pondering how to be a Mary without neglecting my responsibilities.

The mid-morning sun warms the steady breeze as it massages my face. I look across the gray blue waterway and see white caps ushering the tide to my right. The rhythmic waves lap upon the shore only interrupted by the rubbing of the floating docks along the pile driven wooden poles, the squawking of sea birds and the distant sound of a dog’s bark.

I have sought my own answers to this quandary for years, but this morning it all seems clear. No profound answers are given, only His strong hand outstretched; inviting me to give Him my concerns, so I can be with Him. Together, He will show me how to live a Mary life in a Martha world.

My cares are safely sealed, waiting for His commands to be revealed.

Two light yellow butterflies dart across the rolling tide. Above the water flow, there is a lime green strip of land below a line of emerald trees, couching white, multi-storied buildings in the distance. Above the tree line, a cloudless sky rises in deeper shades of pastel blue towards the heavens.

Wow! This is joy, this trusting, this resting, this enjoying His presence. Is this abiding? Is this what Jesus means when He tells me to remain in His love?

So, what now? I could regret millions of distracted moments in my past when I labored without a thought of His nearness.

But I won’t.

I will go forth with a deeper understanding of what Jesus means when he tells me not to worry, but to seek His business, His Kingdom, His supremacy in my life.

All that other stuff, the things I seem to focus on, what I’ll eat and what I’ll wear and what I’ll drink – He’s got that. He and I  have more important things to do, like enjoying this moment together.

And by the way, when I am doing that (Enjoying moments of life with Him) I will naturally love the people I meet along the way. When, like Mary, I’m in tune with my Lord’s nearness, when I’m yielding to His Indwelling Spirit, His love flows through me to others. My number one concern now is to love others as He has loved me. This  starts with resting in His love.

Jesus said, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.”

“Love is the overflow of joy in God that gladly meets the needs of others.” John Piper

In His Presence is fullness of Joy (Psalm 16:11)