Wednesday, November 30, 2011

On Joy

Imagine yourself in a beautiful meadow.

This place is perfect. There are no insects. There is no humidity. There is only fresh, clear air, 72-degree temperatures and a wispy pleasant breeze for measure. Cotton-ball clouds dot an azure sky, and the golden sun bathes your back and shoulders in delicious warmth.

You're surrounded by flowers. These aren't just any flowers. They're all fragrant, but not the heady type of fragrance that gives you a headache. They're every imaginable hue on the spectrum ... periwinkle, scarlet, emerald, magenta and saffron.

Birds chirp a cadence of trills. And even the deer languidly graze near you, not even raising their heads to your presence.

You gaze at the beauty. You feel peaceful, secure.

Then one of the clouds blocks the sun. The breeze suddenly gives you a chill. More clouds gather, quickly. A drizzle falls. And then the rain begins. You look around for shelter, but there's nothing nearby to shield you, not even a thatch of trees. The air changes from warm ... to cold. The rain turns into giant fluffy snowflakes. The wind picks up. And now it's no longer even a pleasant snowfall. Now it's spitting sleet. You rub your arms and gaze at the sky, and the sleet turns to ice.

Now look around.

The deer are still grazing. The flowers are still colorful and fragrant. The birds are still singing. Nothing has changed, save what is falling on your head. You are in the midst of the meadow as the storm passes through, but the meadow is unchanged.

You close your eyes. You know you're cold. You know you're physically miserable. But you can still smell the flowers. You can still hear the birds. You can walk up to a deer and pat its head, and it doesn't run away. The only thing that has changed is what is being poured on your head and body. But the comfort of the place around you gives you strength to weather the storm.


This is joy.

We can't control what happens to us circumstantially. Yesterday started out great for me. I was standing in that meadow, and without warning, things overtook me. By the end of the day, I felt as if I'd been through a war.

But here's the thing.

My Christmas tree was twinkling.

My child was singing.

My dog was laying languidly at my feet.

My home was warm.

We were fed, not hungry.

We were comfortable.

We put on Elf.

We listened to Christmas carols.

We lit candles, and we put on soft flannel pajamas and laid down in a luxuriously comfortable bed with warm blankets and soft sheets.

We weren't in danger.

We laid our heads on our pillows, knowing that we were in the most secure country of the world.

My child is healthy. I'm not sick.

I have plenty of work coming in.

Do you see how many blessings I have?

There are more.

They're too many to count.

Despite the circumstances, I was still in the meadow. Despite what was falling on my head, I could rest secure.



God gives me joy. Humanly, I can't cope alone. But God opens my eyes to see the beauty around me -- the colors of the flowers, the song of the birds. I know, no matter what happens, He has me at His breast, hemming me in before and behind me, protecting and securing me.

And giving me joy.

You can rest in that today. You can rest in Him today.

And you can be grateful that joy is steadfast, even when the meadow weathers an ice storm.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Hug from Jesus

There are moments that can't be explained, miraculous things that occur that remind a person of God's continued presence and love.

I spent this afternoon wondering if I should actually blog this, because more than one person will say I'm certifiable. But in retrospect, I decided to take the plunge for two reasons: 1) Writing this down serves as a reminder to myself in the future when I need to know that God is by my side and 2) Writing this down serves as a reminder to the rest of you (who are also strong believers) that God is by your side, always.

Church is a time of strong communing for me each week, and I don't just mean the encouragement I get from other believers. I sink into deep reflection and thanksgiving each Sunday. I'm a Lutheran. I enjoy the liturgy, while many people may find it boring. I repeat the words, sing the cadence, listen to those around me and most importantly, concentrate fully on the meaning that each Scripture and reading has to my life.

There was nothing particular about this week's sermon that related to my circumstances. There was nothing expressly moving about the organ music or the attempts of the choir at staying on key. Most people might even say the hour-and-a-half service was boring and uneventful.

But something profound happened to me.

I got a hug from Jesus.

And I don't mean something I conjured or mulled over. I had a real experience in which I felt His presence today.

We'd just finished with Communion. Communion is my favorite time of the service, because I enjoy coming to the Table and considering all of the suffering Jesus experienced so that I might live. It's a time when I can tell Him how grateful I am, how much I love Him and also confess any sins or speak with Him about someone with whom I have a grudge.

I returned to my seat, grasping Neil's chubby hand in mine, and continued to sing hymns while others partook in the Meal. And then my mind wandered. I started to worry about the upcoming week. I started thinking about bills. I started churning about whether I would get paid on time by my clients. I started fretting that my child would be leaving for a 14-hour car ride with his father for Thanksgiving and would be apart from me.

All of the goodness from the worship service suddenly started evaporating. All of the peace was filtering away, like water in a tub after a hot soak, leaving me feeling cold and needing comfort. I looked at my watch. I shushed my child, who was rustling pages of a coloring book. I clucked my tongue and rolled my eyes and thought, "When will this be over? I need to get home and take care of things before Monday starts."

Then the last of the people in the congregation sat. Communion was complete. The service was almost finished. The pastor stood to give his blessing over the Communion table and say a prayer. I stood with everyone else and bowed my head.

And that's when it happened.

Suddenly in my mind's eye, unbidden, I saw clearly a snapshot of me, standing there with head bowed, and behind me, His arms around my chest, his head bent forward to rest on top of mine, his robe enveloping my arms ... was Jesus.

Jesus gave me a hug.

In that very moment, all thoughts, all worries, suddenly vanished.

I was flooded with peace. It was as if nothing, none of that, had an ounce of matter. I felt loved and cherished. I felt protected and upheld. I felt no condemnation for allowing worry to take over, but a gentle assurance that He was taking care of me. There was nothing, nothing, standing in the way of His love for me.


I left that service feeling blessed, calmed, thankful ... and most importantly, loved.

Jesus gave me a hug today.

And you know what? Those hugs are available for you, too.

"What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written:

'For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.'

Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
-- Romans 8:31-39

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The French Connection

When I was 16 and living in upstate New York, my family traveled to Montreal for a weekend getaway. I was studying French in high school, and my father thought it would be great for me to hear the language spoken around me.

In our hotel room, I discovered a New Testament in the traditional place: the drawer of the bedside table, placed by the Gideons. This NT was special, though. It was written in both English and in French. The pages were divided in half, so that while you were reading a verse in English, your eye could travel to the right and see the same message in French.

I wanted to take the Bible home with me, but my father said no. We'd write a letter to the Gideons, asking them how we might purchase a Bible like that.

About a month later, a package arrived in the mail for me ... and it was from the Gideons. Inside was one of the hotel Bibles with a beautiful note, saying they wanted me to have it for free. I took that Bible with me everywhere. In church on Sundays, as Scripture was read, I'd read it silently in French. I used that Bible in my personal devotions as I continued to study French in college.

I've lost a lot of the language knowledge in the past 25 years since graduating. But recently on Twitter, something interesting happened.

A person in another country suddenly started sending me Bible verses ... in French. His name is Mario, and he lives in La Ceiba, a port city on the northern coast of Honduras. When he sends me the Bible verses, he also includes the names of two or three other people who seem to be French.

I don't know why Mario decided to tweet to me in French, especially because he's in Honduras and I'm in the United States. His native language would obviously be Spanish. But I realized one thing: I suddenly was reawakened to connecting with other believers in their language.

Mario tweets Bible verses in various languages to people all over the world. I just happen to get his French tweet messages. What he's doing is taking on the role of missionary in cyber space -- ministering to those of us in other countries, despite our language, despite our culture.

I started to decipher the French and figuring out my old French grammar lessons. When something is too hard, I check it out on Google Translate. Then I go a step further. I look up another verse ... and I send it back to Mario ... in French.

We exchange one or two verses per day. And every day, when I get that tweet from Mario and go to the trouble of sending one back to him, something amazing happens: I feel the vital connection, the encouragement, the joy of sharing with another believer. When he sends my verses out to his 3,000 followers on Twitter, I realize that in French, I in turn am encouraging French-speaking believers, because Mario is willing to take that step for me.

We are commanded: "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord." (Col. 3:16)

Mario took that command and acted on it. I thank God for Mario. Through Mario, I've rediscovered the meaning of brotherly/sisterly encouragement -- and the ever-vital mission of sharing with the world the message of Jesus's sacrifice and love.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Abundant Living

Arctic air.
Azure sky.
Sun floods, bright and bold, enveloping, blinding.
Rhythmic drums.
Soulful song.

Heart swells.

Worship alone?
Worship in Presence?
Most definitely.

Heaven enfolds.
Peace invades.
Joy ensues.
Love clings.
God's promise to me.

Not alone.

Is this what He meant when He said, "I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly?"

Abundant Living.
Abundant Living, in the face of darkness.
Abundant Living, in the face of despair.
Abundant Living, no matter what the Thief steals and destroys.
Abundant Living, giving my all to One who experienced it all, too.

"I'll stand
with arms high and heart abandoned
in awe of the One who gave it all
I'll stand
my soul Lord to You surrendered
all I have is Yours."

I am living life abundantly
because of what He does for me
because He is my courage
He is my shield
He is my rock
He is my deliverer
He is mine.