Yesterday I chose joy! I anticipated a New Year ahead and upon reflecting on the last year or two, I recognize the losses are many as I continue to grieve my wife's death and wrestle with direction for vocation while parenting two young daughters on my own. I look at photos of Laina over the years and smile at the wonderful memories. Then my heart aches for wanting to hold her again and talk with her as I make decisions or wanting to share some crazy thing the girls said or did. I cannot escape the smiles or the tears. This will be a part of my life moving forward. But today I chose joy! As Laina stated in her Mother's Day video, joy is a choice. Each moment is a choice. We can reflect on the losses and circumstances that led to our grief, or we can find joy in the blessings that are right there in front of us. My daughters are blessings for sure! We spent time playing at home over the weekend. We played board games, had a snow ball fight with the neighbors, watched Mary Poppins twice and went sledding. I took Kysa to a Milwaukee Wave soccer camp and all of us attended their game. There are so many beautiful moments to live each day! I know I am not alone in the challenges of life. I see many Facebook posts of loved ones falling ill to cancer, deaths of young people, mothers and wives. No one is alone in the trials of life. Please know there is hope in Jesus! He leads us as a good shepherd. The trials of this life do not surprise God. He knows every pain, every tear, every heart ache. And He chose to enter our suffering with joy!
Hebrews 12:1-2 NLT
12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
I don't believe there is anyone who has suffered as much as Jesus. The weight of ALL of the worlds sin fell upon him. Yet he held onto the plan and promises of the heavenly kingdom of whom he is the king, who gave his own life to provide a way for ALL of us to enter his kingdom. He holds the keys - Do you know how to enter his kingdom?
I watched a YouTube video the other day showing crowds of people pressing into stores on Black Friday. It was ruthless! People shoving, pushing, hitting and even wrestling each other to the floor over what? TV's and other material items that probably wouldn't even work after the way they were roughed up. What if, we all had that type of enthusiasm to seek entry into the kingdom of heaven that way? We'd read our Bible's not as obligation or to check off the list of things to do today. But we'd read our Bible's to hear from the Living God who has all wisdom and insight into our world and our own lives. We'd also pray alone and with others and lift up burdens and praise God together! We'd watch for every opportunity to share the hope and joy that we have with others as we walk down the street. Have you ever experienced a "divine appointment?" Ask God for one right now. And then write back to me about it.
What a radical way to live! Wouldn't people be curious about why we have hope when we just suffered so much?
Today, I choose joy! I choose joy in the little things - while I wash dishes, pack lunches, clean up toys and snuggle my girls before bed. I choose joy while I wait for the Lord to show me next steps in my vocation and as I substitute teach. Even in loneliness I choose joy, because I am not alone - the Lord is with me! I feel Him with me right now as I write. It brings me joy to know someone else can benefit from the words I share.
One last thing, as I close. As a person who has lost his wife to cancer I've heard this statement often: "This must be a hard time for you without your loved one this Christmas." Or something to that effect. I know people care and mean nothing by it. Of course it is a hard time when losing someone you love. But I don't think it is helpful to state the obvious. It just adds to the grief. One time in response to someone that continued to say, "It must be hard for you... It must be hard for you..." in our conversation. I responded, "Actually I'm doing well. Everyone grieves differently and I grieved more the last two years than I have after Laina passed." I learned from Laina that I can choose joy today! It is a gift from God. What has been helpful for me and the girls is: time with family and friends, people who pray for us, people responding to my blog about how what I've written has helped them, people sharing a meal with us, people helping with the girls or cleaning our house. All of these are practical things that just make day to day life easier and more fun.
I choose Joy today - because I know that Jesus is fully in control and he gives good gifts to those that trust in Him! I am hopeful as God leads my girls and me into this New Year!
A joyful New Year to you all!
I’m reflecting on Hineni (Here am I!) this morning and came across this article. I long for God’s Presence yet the warning at the beginning of the article is so true. I shrink back from fear of harm or loss. My family has been through a lot of loss these last few years. What if God calls me to something else that hurts deeply? Can I really say Hineni? Am I willing to be fully God’s servant? I desire such, but I also fear loss. Besides the fact that I often forget God's Holiness and take Him for granted.
The digital art above is about Ezekiel's vision. However, Isaiah and Daniel had similar visions as well as the Apostle John. Holy, Holy, Holy! Can we even comprehend God's Holiness? Ezekiel falls down as though dead. This is the God we are calling upon when we pray. This is the God whom sinners should fear!
However, later in the article the author points out how God says Hineni to us! He is willing to pay the cost and take on the losses and pain to be fully present with us! This brought me great peace, comfort and even joy! God's Son was fully present on earth in the flesh. He was acquainted with suffering even to the point of death. He was fully present so that we could receive His Presence fully! This is my greatest desire and need! How about you? This is the God whom sinners should love, because He first loved us - even while we were still sinners.
Yes, Lord be fully present with me! Then perhaps I will be strong enough to be fully present with you and with others in my life! Thank you for entering into our pain, suffering, loss and total depravity so that we could enter your Presence fully! Though we are sinners and deserve death, you rescued us through Jesus! I praise You, Holy, Almighty and merciful God! Glorify your Son today in all of the earth! Make Your Presence known that the world may know the hope that is only found in you! In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit! Amen!
What do you need Jesus to do for you today? Ask Him!
My first thought using this title was,
"Who is going to read this that has had a meal with me lately?"
But that isn't the point I will be making to call out friends and family members or even myself - though we are all sinners. :) Instead I want to point out an issue more broad that I would have liked to comment on someone's ranting YouTube post. Responding to him directly most likely would not have had any affect on his convictions or have any chance of a civil discourse.
Recently a well known and up and coming Christian music artist Lauren Daigle toured on the Ellen Show. She sang a song from her latest album called "Rise Up!" She was soulful and vulnerable and filled with joy as she worshiped freely in her short one song segment. The YouTube-er that ranted was criticizing and even judging Lauren's faith based on her appearance on the show. He had several judgements regarding first Ellen's reputation, then how could Lauren dress in the attire she was wearing and how could she ever be a Christian and be on this show!
This response is an attitude that I see growing and becoming more pervasive among Christian's, especially on social media and the internet. Perhaps it's because this is a political season? We all vote on Tuesday. Or maybe there is something going on in our churches where "us Christian's" need a heart check. Legalism has always been an issue since first century Judaism and throughout church history. Many of the Apostle Paul's letters deal with this topic as the Judaizes who were wedging their way into the churches and causing confusion about the law and God's grace through salvation in Christ.
What is correct doctrine (teaching)? How should a believer live their lives? What is permissible? Can we watch that movie? Can we drink this drink? Can we spend time with those people? Can we perform our music on that show?
Can we eat with "sinners?"
When we encounter questions as these we turn to God's word (the Bible) for wisdom. What did Jesus have to say about "eating with sinners?"
Mark 2:13-17 New International Version (NIV)
13 Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. 14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.
15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and "sinners" were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the "sinners" and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and "sinners"?”
17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but "sinners.”
(Bold and quotes added by me for emphasis).
As Jesus made his tour of preaching and teaching he first called Levi (Matthew) to follow him. Then he ate with Levi at his home. This was extremely controversial for the Jews since it was against their law. The legal overseers of the law (the Pharisees) took notice. They noticed Jesus ate with sinners. It was difficult to miss because such large crowds of sinners followed Jesus. Did you notice? Jesus called only Levi to follow him. However many other tax collectors and "sinners" made their own minds to follow too. We know what was in the mind of the Pharisee's as they obviously saw what they considered the breaking of the law by Jesus eating with sinners. But what was in the mind and hearts of all of these "sinners"?
I want us to put ourselves in their shoes for a minute. Imagine you are a tax collector. You couldn't make ends meet in your community. You had no choice, so you took a job that would lead you to work for a company/ or the government who took more than their fair share of your people's money. Now you are becoming wealthy by charging more than a fair price. You live this life for a while and family and friends begin to despise you and call you a traitor. You are cut off from your community and are also expected to bring in more money from a government that is, let's say very persuasive. How are you feeling? What are you needing? What do you desire most?
I imagine I'd feel shameful, lonely, fearful and longing for relief and acceptance again. I'd miss my family and friends and would hope for some type of reconciliation and restoration of our relationships.
Jesus came along and by calling just one "sinner," gained many other sinners (the harassed, shame filled, lonely, fearful, longing for acceptance) as followers too. They were attracted to a community that would accept them and love them unconditionally, even with the acknowledgement that they were indeed "sinners." It is the sick that need a doctor, not the "righteous" Jesus said.
Let's come back to the news worthy topic of Lauren Daigle visiting the Ellen show. I don't know Lauren's or Ellen's hearts. I know only parts of each of their life stories. I don't know them fully as God knows them. So what is my or any Christian's purpose in responding to events like this? What choices could we make that would be in alignment with God's character and will?
1) We could choose to condemn and judge others and discredit their faith - basically calling condemnation on their Christian identity.
2) We could choose to (if necessary) remember what Paul taught Timothy. "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."
2 Timothy 3:16.
3). We could choose to stay totally out of discourse and say nothing.
Do you see the difference? One takes the posture of being judge and bringing condemnation on a sister in Christ. The other through relationship offers teaching and discourse to train a person in righteousness to be a servant of Jesus. The man who posted the condemning YouTube post took the posture to condemn. And I will just bet he hasn't read much about her story, he doesn't know her heart and has probably never met her previously. But if he had a Christian disciple making relationship with her I think the conversation would be more as stated in 2 Timothy.
Is it possible that by Lauren Daigle worshiping the Lord in such a public forum, on this one controversial show, could bring many "sinners" to follow Jesus?
It is amazing we can have such a broad reach to the world through the platform of social media while sitting at home or on our smart phones. But there are professing Christian's with several different and polarizing viewpoints speaking out through social media. So let's keep in mind our purpose as Christ followers to build up and encourage each other in disciple making and in our call to proclaim this "Good News" of the Kingdom to a world of "sinners" in which we all are included. There are times when we need to rebuke or correct someone. However there is a difference between these and condemnation. Do you see the distinction? Is this helpful in our own social media and relationship interactions?
Certainly there is more to this conversation, but for today try this: Inviting just one "sinner" to dinner or for coffee. One person who you've had conflict with or who holds different views than yours. Serve, listen and love them! I'd love to hear your stories if you are willing to do this.
The invitation is set - God invited us all to His feast! We all are invited! Will you join Him?
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